After some uneven back-and-forth kind of travel in the outskirts of Luanda yesterday, we “slept in” this morning until 8am before starting out day with a drive to Cacuaco for a stroll around a local fishing village.
My gut feeling here was that since tourism here is still raw and developing, I would recommend keeping on the periphery and not to getting in the way at the market.
So we spent about 10 minutes here before heading off to the airport for our 12pm flight to Lubango.
Not since Tuvalu since I got a handwritten plane ticket!
I think they accept priority pass at the domestic airport?
Alas but nobody was there to check me in. It was very rude.
After a half an hour delay passing the time over some coffee and two of us doing 300 pushups in the waiting area, we finally boarded our flight at 12:30pm.
We landed after an uneventful 1.5 hour flight in Lubango, where we got screened for a fever (COVID-19 fears are real even here!) and had our visas checked.
Picking up our checked luggage and driving off promptly at 2pm south for Namibe, we then had a quick lunch in the city proper before stopping at a viewpoint on Serra da Leba cliff:
There’s also some street art along the highway:
We then checked in at our hotel in the outskirts and had an early dinner before turning in at 10pm.
The next day was…not very efficient and a string of mishaps.
Although we had been informed by our local guide to wake up at 6:30am for a morning drive out to visit a few tribes, nobody showed up when we did just that. Half an hour went by before we got word that only one of the drivers “just woke up” and another car “wasn’t working.” So we shrugged our shoulders and went for breakfast where another hour went by. Then another. It wasn’t until 9:30am when anyone showed up with an update and a single 4×4 to take only part of the group. Not wanting to lose any more time and get back to Lubango too late, we sent half the group out on the itinerary while the 3 of us stayed behind for a second 4×4.
About 45 minutes later at around 10:15am a second jeep showed up, with the other guide informing us that there had been an additional delay because of some “oil issues” with his borrowed vehicle. Undeterred, the 3 of us remaining packed the 4×4 and set off.
An hour later we soon crossed through the town of Namibe and off-roaded into the desert. The litany of abandoned cars here became a fitting harbinger of what was to come.
About 45 minutes into the desert, our jeep suddenly stopped driving. The engine wouldn’t start, and we started to smell smoke.
Yep, you guessed it. Aforementioned “oil issues” turned into “engine failure.” We got out and began to pay our respects to a dead vehicle that was now stranded in the middle of the desert, 45 minutes from the nearest city.
And yet by pure dumb luck and before any sort of worry set in, we only had to wait a mere 1-2 minutes before a good samaritan — driving his family and 3 goats on the back of his pickup truck — stopped to help resurrect this husk of metal. He quickly took out his black toolkit, looked at our engine, picked up an empty aluminum can off the side of the road, ripped off a shard, and performed some heroic McGyverish maneuvers.
After about 10 minutes of trial and error, this good man finally got the engine back up running again but warned us to not to drive too quickly. So we thanked him, got back in our 4×4, shut off the A/C, rolled down the windows, turned around our jeep, and limped our way at 18km/hour back to Namibe. What would have been a 45 minute drive took us about twice as long at 1.5 hours.
Once we arrived back into town, we stopped back at the car shop where our guide had originally picked up the jeep and tried to switch to a new vehicle. By then our jeep was so murdered by the elements that the staff had to manually push it back out from the garage into the street.
To add insult to injury, the car shop had no other vehicle for us to switch into. So our guide ran off without explanation, returning about half an hour later with a small Volkswagen beetle (so much for a 4×4 and off-roading for today!). By then it was about 1:30pm. At this point I was amused at the whole morning, sitting in a café across the street, and enjoying the whole comedy of errors as long as we were all alive and safe. We decided to head straight to Lubango.
But then a different spectrum of emotions emerged.
Here’s a Preface:
I’m a big believer of not judging anything from your high-horse/backseat/armchair unless you experience it yourself and form your own opinions.
That said with all my experiences, I am far past a point of no return in being a perfect person. Travel can be fraught with so many ethical conundrums that it becomes a mess, and if we look through it from such a lens, my hands are filthy.
So at the very least I strive to minimize the impact of my sins on this earth by seeking “Truth” with a capital T, which has created a habit of constantly locking horns without the boundaries of what society considers “acceptable.” After all, most of the things we take for granted without a thought today would instead be considered taboo if it were not for those who have challenged the status quo of generations past. I thus relish in the rebellion in critical thinking, questioning established institutions and “rules”, reading between the lines, and then touching the burner (and yet the caveat being that as long as any of my actions and any downstream ripple effects don’t directly harm anyone, have unsolicited negative consequences, or interfere with anyone’s daily lives) — it’s the core of what excites me when I wake up every morning.
And then today, these feelings came: Even rebels have boundaries.
I have certainly taken portrait photographs on my travels more than a handful of times. But why does today feel completely different, even when having verbal consent? Why would it be today that I would reach some kind of personal limit where I couldn’t even bring myself to participate?
When our local Angolan guide insisted that we take photos of local tribes along the way back to Lubango, why couldn’t I help but feel he was being exploitative by encouraging and we were being equally exploitative by going along with this? Why couldn’t I help but feel as if our guide was some kind of pimp driving along the road asking us “you like this tribe? Want to stop for a photo?” Why couldn’t I help but feel we were on kind of objectifying dehumanizing safari?
It’s not so much the feeling that counts as much as understanding the meaning behind those feelings.
Our guide reported that from the tribes’ side, it was understood that members would agree to have their photographs taken if they got paid 500-1000 kwanza per person. So a monetary transaction was expected here? This was not a “Humans of New York” campaign where we could spend time to get to know them, hear their stories, invited into their homes, exchange a meal of perspectives, and they would in turn fully comprehend and understand the purpose of our photographs. Or even better, like in Mumbai’s Dharavi, photography is officially banned; instead you can tour around with a responsible NGO who then sends you an album of responsibly taken “ethical” photos for your personal use. I would have appreciated even a semblance of such efforts by our guides, but alas, at the same time Angola is still developing these infrastructures.
On a brighter side of better behavior, my fellow travelers made efforts to soften the blow; one had a Polaroid camera which photos he gave back to the tribes, and another tried to have a conversation with the locals and ask meaningful questions via the guide translating, but I still felt the guide wasn’t being very helpful and just wanted to drive to the next stop. There was no conversation.
At one point I thought maybe I should be giving everyone the benefit of the doubt in that the local tribes are also fully onboard? And yet because Angola is infamous for its extreme inequality gap and so underdeveloped in tourism, such a scenario would be on the unlikelier side of the spectrum. It also didn’t help that a random police officer had stopped our guide sometime in the afternoon, made us drive to the local station, and told him what he was doing was not allowed (The guide’s defense was that the officer wanted a bribe and there was no such rule).
Therefore I wince over how it is much more likely that our local guide is a willing participant in exploitation, where downstream patronage — foreign or domestic — further exacerbates an inequality. Furthermore, our local guide replied with an unsatisfying answer when we asked him about whether he was being respectful in his approach to these tribes: “I go to the tribe and I say I have these tourists who are interested in your way of life and would like to take a picture.” *Crickets*
So what ended up happening today was except for the police station, I sat in the car in a form of borderline bratty but silent protest. Despite the guide repeatedly asking me to pay the tribes to take a photo without otherwise starting a conversation with them, It just felt all wrong to me; I smiled politely the best I could and declined.
Circling back to how the very nature of travel is fraught with ethical dilemmas that it can never be perfect, I don’t want to come off across as ethically superior to anyone and I don’t want this to sound like self-righteous condemnation. As I have said in my preface, I myself am far from a perfect person and I plead guilty to having towed the line so much that my entire life has stretched ad infinitum into an endless gradient of grays. So instead of unsolicitedly imposing any sort of personal ethical standards onto others, I’m thus here on my own platform to describe and vent an intense feeling I couldn’t control, so that I may hopefully ultimately ascertain a meaning behind why I feel the way that I do, and that as part of the problem I may do better next time.
But where I can’t control emotions (who can, really?), I certainly can control my own actions — Tomorrow I’ll skip out on the second day of this “tribe safari” and finally enjoy some time alone to myself.
So after a whole afternoon of driving and discussing this, we finally reached our hotel in Lubango by 7pm where I continued this conversation with my other 2 fellow travelers over dinner and we all seemed to be on the same page.
But what about the other half of the group in the first car that had left earlier before us? They ended up driving back to Namibe instead of onwards to Lubango due to another miscommunication. So they turned back around, reaching our hotel by midnight where we were finally reunited. Oh Angola. Baby steps.
The next morning I stuck to my promise and sat out the morning’s activities while the rest of the group set out to visit a few more local tribes. I took my time with breakfast and caught up on a lot of housekeeping.
By the time the group finished, they picked me up at 12:30pm for a street stall lunch and then a city tour of Lubango’s surroundings.
We returned to the edge of the Serra da Leba cliff this time for a viewpoint on the other side to see the Tundavala Gap.
Then we headed up the mountain to the famous Christo Rei statue, a near exact but smaller replica of the one in Rio.
And we then were dropped off back at Lubango’s airport for our 5:30pm flight back to Luanda.
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- At time of posting in Namibe, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 81% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy