Lobito and Benguela, Angola
This morning’s sunrise found us slowly slipping into the mouth of the natural harbor of Lobito, Angola. The water was flat calm, and as we waited for our pilot, thousands of cattle egrets washed like waves across the deep blue water. After the usual and unusual formalities of immigration, each of us stepped ashore, almost without exception, stepping into a new country to be explored and a new experience in Africa. We were enthusiastically greeted with genuine warmth on Palm Sunday by our guides, but even more so by the Boy and Girl Scouts of Angola.
The young Scouts were eager to talk with us. A young man, Zacharias, asked if we were scientists, then told me that, “the National Geographic Channel was his favorite.” This comment brought a big smile, and great appreciation for the global reach of the programs we are so proud to be associated with.
We set off in buses to explore the towns of Lobito and Benguela. Our group headed towards the Restinga area first, a spit extending out, protecting the harbor. Both ahead and behind us were police vehicles with red and blue lights flashing. Curious gazes followed us along the way. Construction cranes contrasted dramatically with the evidence of the civil war that ravaged this country until only ten years ago. Oil and gas reserves stimulate development. Coastal mangroves have disappeared to accommodate the development.
Along the way to the city of Benguela we see so many influences upon this region—various art deco buildings of days past, evocative contemporary sculptures, and Chinese signage that show the depth of their commitment to Angola. The modern bridge that spans the Catumbela River stands in contrast to the old Fort San Pedro on the hill above. Some of us hiked up the hill to explore the ruins of the fort, whose windows looked out on both the old and new, more contrasts in this reconstruction.
In Benguela, we had a chance to enjoy an energetic performance of regional Angolan dancers and Batuque drummers before heading to the Benguela Railroad train back to Lobito. We passed slowly along the rail line, with excited waves and shouts of greeting from the people we passed along the way.
Back in Lobito, we visited another square where a celebration to recognize our arrival was in progress, with greetings from the Mayor of Lobito to the visitors of the National Geographic Explorer, and to see a group of “Tchingange” characters demonstrating a traditional puberty ritual dance. Our visit created quite a press sensation with national and local radio and video interviews of both staff and guests.
After such a fabulous day, our experience was further enriched with an onboard performance by Wyza Bakongo, an Angolan singer-songwriter. His work incorporates modern, contemporary versions of traditional Angolan music, what we would call in America, “Americana.”