Plan A (before we arrived): “Let’s get a 4×4 and we can drive ourselves everywhere in Luanda just like we did in Riyadh. It’ll be even better Karen because this time you’ll actually be allowed to get behind the wheel yourself!”
Plan B (after we arrived and saw what the traffic is like, but before our own car was on the road) “Umm, let’s just keep Dino on and he can worry about the traffic while we watch the world teem by from the back seat.”
This weekend we put Plan C to the test. Plan C is a hybrid, a compromise where we venture out ourselves at the weekend when the roads are relatively quiet, and hand the keys to Dino during the madness that is Luanda’s roads on a weekday.
Saturday’s jaunt was out of town to Belas Shopping Centre in Luanda Sul. We picked this because a) it’s out of town so automatically easier traffic-wise, b) relatively easy to find (no sat-nav here), and c) there’s an ok shopping center at journey’s end complete with ok food court and cinema. I’d memorised the route on several previous trips from the passenger seat, and we got there and back without incident and returned home feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves.
Sunday mornings are even quieter than Saturdays’, so yesterday we chose to stay in town and get our bearings. Again I elected to drive a route I’d previously tried to memorise with Dino at the wheel: to Jumbo and Casa Dos Frescos (my two regular supermarkets). And again, I found both without much hassle. Every crossroads was a bit of a peep-and-creep affair with traffic in all directions slowing a little and then just keeping going, relying on other vehicles to stay out of your way. Most crossroads have no traffic lights at all, and those that do seem to only be in effect during the week. Either that or there was a power cut on as we crept past.
With Town successfully negotiated we headed onto the Ihla (pronounced Illeeaa) to meet some friends for coffee at a beachside restaurant. I relaxed at this point, because the Ilha only has one main road and there are hardly any junctions to worry about. We approached one such junction following an Angolan guy on a small motorbike. A woman driving her car the other way decided to turn left across our side of the road. The biker assumed she would wait for him, she assumed he’d get out of the way. They were both wrong. Her car went into the side of the bike, sending both him and bike flying amid a shower of splintered headlight and indicator glass. The biker actually landed on his feet and immediately yanked off his helmet and started remonstrating with the woman driver.
We had to overcome our natural tendency to stop and try to help. We don’t speak Portuguese well enough to have been any use, and protocol in these situations is not to get involved for security reasons, so we carried on past the scene feeling a bit guilty but relieved that no-one was seriously hurt.
Plan C it is then.