Friday, January 15, 2010

Africa Cup of Nations in Angola January 2010

This is Angola.

'I want to go to Benguela' - 'OK I need your passport'.

'When do I get my plane ticket' - 'by twelve'.

So you are in Luanda domestic air terminal and you're keen to get to Benguela to see two Africa Cup of Nations games and you have given your passport to a complete stranger.

How do you feel ?

Luanda is recognised as the most expensive capital city for visitors in the world.

If you do manage to get an Angolan visa not only do you face significant cost issues (hotels can charge $600/$700 per night) but for most payments you need cash.

Then you have major logistical hurdles to overcome such as negotiating the 3 hour commute into the centre. assuming you can arrange transport (Luanda is one of the few large cities in the world with hardly any taxis)

In the whole of Angola there are less than 200 petrol stations for a country many times the size of the UK. So when you do find a station there can be up to one hundred cars queueing to fill up.

Combine that with West-End style pricing in restaurants plus having to fly to most stadium locations (Cabinda for sure) and it means a considerable outlay.
And apart for allowing for delays you may well have extreme difficulty finding a hotel or guest house as what few there are usually have limited rooms available.

So there are many practical problems.


The delay of nearly a day due to bad weather and an incident at Heathrow was, perhaps, not so bad as it saved the price of a room in Luanda (whereas BA put us up for free)

Second time around the flight was routine and we changed from a freezing London to 27 degree heat in Angola.

As predicted (though difficult to believe) there were no taxis outside the arrival terminal but fortunately we had made contact with someone else going to the matches who had pre-arranged a car.

Travelling away from the airport the first inkling you get that something else is different is when you see cars waiting to fill up at a petrol station - at 5am in the morning.

After settling in to a Touristico Complex some way out of the centre of Luanda we took a car to a nearby shopping centre. Which was typically western style with pricing to match but without any money in the ATM's.

It was Sunday though.

Angola 4 Mali 4 in the 11th November stadium, Luanda.

The opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations was played in an impressive newly constructed stadium well outside of central Luanda. Newly constructed but not quite finished as the Chinese were still working on it for some time after the first ball was kicked.

Prior to the game there was a spectacular Portuguese-produced Opening Ceremony. It began with a constant rhythm and many dancers followed by the opening of the tournament by the popular President.

It continued with a projection of historical images onto the pitch and finished with a superb display of pyrotechnics. Then a brief silence for Togo.

The crowd were in the mood and their team continued to produce euphoria as they scored 4 goals without reply. But Angolans seem used to their team stumbling and so it was that Mali pulled one back, then a another from a Freddie Kanoute header and amazingly two more in added time.

The noise dissipated very quickly.

Back to our complex for a few hours sleep and a 3.30am alarm call.


If you have no transport and there are no buses (let alone trains) some improvisation is required to get to the airport for our early morning flight to Cabinda. We, five in total, took the only option available - hitch a ride.

Fortunately it was in a 4 x4 driven by a lady taking her son to school (at 4.30 am in the morning) in downtown Luanda. A cramped but brief ride as we were at the airport before 5am.

Our luck was to continue as the TAAG flight, not known for their reliability, made an on-time departure.

Bearing in mind the tragedy the befell the Togo team, attacked when travelling by bus from Congo into Cabinda province, there would be some trepidation on arriving in Cabinda. But as we went by taxi (they do have some) through the fairly nondescript centre of town to our 'complex' there was no sense of danger.

Talking to some oil workers later on it was rumoured that many of the bad guys had been rounded up before the start of the Cup.

Also there were few signs of any Angolan flags or football shirts. Interestingly to other Angolans, from say Luanda, Cabinda is not a place they tend to visit because of its separatist nature - not just physically separate, being an exclave divided from the rest of Angola by DR Congo, but also politically.

But personally I found the people very friendly. Getting to the stadium near the bay was easy enough - the 2nd car I asked took me there.

Ivory Coast 0 Burkina Faso 0 in the Chiazi National Stadium, Cabinda.

Security was extra tight with sniffer dogs, mirrors underneath cars and police you wouldn't want to argue with.

With just three teams in Group B following the withdrawal of the Togo team it meant there was only one game to see this evening. Again the stadium was impressive - this time seating 20,000 - with around 14,000 attending.
The game itself was dominated by the Ivory Coast but they failed to breach the solid Burkina Faso defence. Though Bakary Kone should have scored. The Michael Jackson impersonators provided and entertaining half interval.

An early evening conclusion then a meal in one of the few restaurants ended with a lift back to our lodgings by 10.30pm.

Cabinda to Benguela.

We are on the road by 6am and via two lifts, the second in a pick up truck, get to the airport for 100 Kwanza each (about 70 pence)

Time for an excellent toasted sandwich. And again, amazingly, TAAG airlines left on time for Luanda.

So I arrived at the domestic terminal in Luanda at about 10.30 am and wanted to get to Benguela for that evenings' games. It is not easy knowing where to buy an airline ticket or find out when flights are leaving though some details are scribbled on a board outside the terminal.

So you say - I want to go to Benguela - give me your passport is the reply.When will I get my airline ticket - by twelve is the response.

How do you feel ? Nervous, joining others waiting outside the terminal and wondering where the UK embassy might be.

But this is a common procedure - a way to expedite the system.

And so the passport and the ticket duly arrived and, much relieved, I handed over my dollars. I was booked on the 2.30pm Sonair flight to Benguela with just the check-in procedure to negotiate. Sonair are reckoned to be the most reliable of the local airlines and they didn't let me down.

Incidentally an alternative option experienced by a couple of media people who had their flight cancelled was to take a military flight. This involved cramming into a Russian plane with limited seats meaning they had to sit on their bags and hope for the best. An option you probably only choose once.

As there is only one road, once you are out of Catumbela airport, to Benguela -Lobito it was easy enough to get a lift and be dropped off near the stadium. For once there were stalls selling food/drink outside the stadium making it a more usual football event.

Egypt 3 Nigeria 1 in the Ombaka National Stadium in Benguela.

Ever reliable Egypt came back from a goal down, helped by a goalie error, to seal victory in another convincing performance in the Nations Cup watched by a nearly full stadium.

Despite the array of well known names Nigeria just couldn't handle an understrength Pharoahs side.

followed by :-

Mozambique 2 Benin 2

Benin went two goals ahead, including a penalty from Omotoyossi, but then succumbed to a Mozambique fight back. The locals gave good support to their fellow Portuguese speakers.

As was now customary I hitched a ride into downtown Benguela (many of the locals walked the 3 miles or so) eventually finding my very amenable lodgings.

I then enjoyed a relaxing day in the city - even finding an ATM that worked and a western-style coffee place in the centre of town.

The evening was spent pleasantly enough having a meal and some beer whilst watching two more games on TV.

Back to Luanda.

An early start and a lift to the airport where I buy a ticket at check-in ($135) for the first flight back to Luanda. This time it is in a compact Embraer 120 of Air26 airlines.

Being on somewhat a roll with getting lifts it seemed natural to accept a ride with a local businessman returning to Luanda. He lived quite close to our lodgings. It would have been fine in most places but after walking to his car and driving off it seemed like he was going in the wrong direction - towards downtown.

I enquired - he pointed to his petrol gauge - it started to go wrong.

We did find a petrol station that was open but there were a large number of cars waiting so the decision was to wait for an hour or so or try another option. We chose the latter and walked to a nearby large hotel. Where I booked a 'taxi' to get us to the stadium in good time for the first match.

By now it was after 1pm, not too late normally but this is central Luanda and the stadium is well out of town. Time passed and the hotel's estimate of about a 20 minute wait turned out to be 'african time'. The driver appeared at about 2.30pm and then he had to find two other guys who had also booked a ride. They would turn up eventually.

Meanwhile outside was the Mali team bus.

The Mali team were staying at the hotel and they were playing Algeria at 5pm. So we go to the car and our driver looks relaxed enough. Rather than speeding off he waits and says - jogadors (players) & then you realise that there is a plan.

Our man waited for the police outriders, the bus, the cars and the guys with the automatic weapons and slotted in behind them with lights flashing.

So on we sped through central Luanda in convoy waving away the traffic and making it to the stadium in an hour. Recommended.

Algeria 1 Mali 0 in Luanda.

The first of the double-header watched by a fairly small crowd that would grow as time went on.

A goalie error allowed Algeria to score the winner - a theme that would continue. That and the bad quality of the pitches (rainy Lubango apart) reported to be caused by repeated overuse and lack of payment for maintenance.

After their poor result in the first game the North Africans were kissing the turf and back in the tournament.

Angola 2 Malawi 0

These were the best moments for Angola. The real fans were here - not just those coming for the fireworks.

It was Flavio again who got the party started followed by a defensive mistake that allowed, the generally disappointing, Manucho to get the second.

Now we had the noise cranked up as the crowd celebrated.

As we drove back through some poor areas it was (I imagine) like being in Soweto when Nelson Mandela arrives with the people on the street going crazy and stopping cars. You realised what this win meant to the fans.

After that I had a relaxing day in central Luanda including a walk to the local TAAG airline office where I cre-scheduled a flight - about an hour of waiting but it was in air-conditioned comfort. The evening was spent in a local restaurant enjoying a caipirinha, beer and and some beef for around £30.


As my Luanda hotel was not too far from the airport the easiest way to get there, assuming you have a small amount of luggage, is to use one of the shared taxis. So for 100 kwanza (70 pence) you can be dropped fairly close to the terminal albeit in a very cramped mini bus.

Then you have to endure the sweat box that is the domestic terminal and the queue for the flight to Lubango. But at least once through security there is the blessed, air conditioned, relief of the waiting area (and maybe a toasted sandwich)

As we wait there are no signs of any flights departing but after a while one of the teams arrives and once they have gone through flights start to leave. Just the two hours late for the TAAG flight. But on-board you do get cheered up by the video of 'just for laughs' a Canadian candid-camera show.

Though everybody would trade an on-time departure instead of a funny film.

Once in Lubango there is a major problem with finding accomodation.

For me I was fortunate in getting help from the local tournament organisation. Some of their people drove me around various lodges firstly without success. But after some calls they discovered a hotel with a spare room. So off we went - towards the mountains.

Past the Che Guevara school and into a shanty town. It was evident they had never been to this hotel before and I was not feeling confident about this.

But after asking a local we negotiated the unmade roads and rocky track up to what turned out to be a new, medium sized hotel complex. It had European quality furnishings and a TV showing constant football (at $130 per night)

A haven between heaven and somewhere else, surrounded by poverty, with views up to the statue of Christ on the mountain and down to Lubango.

So I settled down in the restaurant with chicken & chips and a bottle of wine while watching Nigeria v Benin and nodding off to Egypt v Mozambique.

The next morning it was raining hard as I watched the Liverpool v Reading replay and some of an academy game from Liverpool TV, as you do in Angola.

This is when I met some of my fellow residents because staying in the hotel was the Cameroonian cultural delegation. So I got to meet musicians Sidney Tum (winner of an Africa Stars competition) and Richard Kings - both coming from an English-speaking part of Cameroon. They strummed and I chilled or something like that.

As there was a taxi waiting I took the chance to leave early for the stadium.

Which like all the others was impressive with two large side stands and very little at the ends. The mountains formed a picturesque backdrop and the cooler conditions (around 20 degrees and rainy) were a relief from steamy Luanda.

Gabon 0 Tunisia 0 in the Tundavala stadium Lubango.

Defences dominated and the Tunisian fans lit some flares. The crowd builds up.

Cameroon 3 Zambia 2

The second game of this double header and I was thinking about the Cameroon fans as their team went behind against the Chipolopolo. Rigobert Song made the error but Zambia's goalie would return the favour as he let in Geremi's shot from range.

From then on Cameroon took the lead then rather surprisingly got pegged back but captain Samuel Eto'o was there to score the winner. So the delegation could stay longer in Lubango.

I took the 4 x 4 route back though as before the driver had never heard of the hotel.

Finally back to Luanda.

Though I was booked on the 1.0 pm TAAG flight from Lubango to Luanda I decided to get to the airport early.
The equation was to wait for the very unreliable TAAG flight or take the first available option despite having to pay another $130. If I waited and the booked flight was late I'd probably miss the Angola game that evening.

Hence I lined up to buy another ticket, this time with Deixim airlines. Again far from reliable but at least they were scheduled to go at 11 am. Their organisation was, lets say, not the best as at least 3 people were left on the tarmac having not been given boarding passes.

Though they were over an hour late arriving in Luanda it did give us enough time to get to the stadium. I was told later that the TAAG flight I'd booked didn't arrive until 10 pm that night.

Angola 0 Algeria 0 in Luanda.

Back in the 1982 World Cup Algeria had missed out on progressing from their group after Germany and Austria had effectively played out an agreed result.

This time Algeria benefited at the expense of Mali as the game faded out from early in the second half. It was a shame that the crowd had to endure such a travesty of a contest.

At the end it was a time for a quick exit, another ride in a 4 x4 to downtown, and a meal near the lodgings.

The next day I saw my tenth and final game :-

Ghana 1 Burkina Faso 0 in Luanda.

Predicatably a much lower crowd (maybe 4,000) made the trip to the stadium for this Group B decider.

The Black Stars needed to win in order to make the quarter finals and they did so with an Ayew header.

My last hitchhike, though not quite as easy as before, worked OK and was back at my hotel by 8 pm.

Leaving the game for the last time made me contemplate what might happen to these superb stadiums. With a fairly weak local league watched by crowds of around 1,000 (and a pitch maintenance contract of one year) does make you wonder how they will used in the coming years.


Despite the pre-conceived impression it has my visit to Angola, including Cabinda, passed without incident. Of course there are many issues, particularly with logistics, but in some ways I found the people more friendly than in Ghana. Perhaps because they meet so few tourists.

You go there knowing costs are going to be high so there is less sense of being ripped off.

And where would you find somewhere, certainly in Europe, where it is so easy to hitch a ride ? Often for free.

My trip was just ten days and I only made one visit to each remote location so that made it somewhat less stressful. Also I hardly got bitten by any bugs and didn't get any stomach problems (for a change) so all that handwashing must have helped.

Perhaps in the future they will make it easier for tourists to visit Angola, build more reasonably priced hotels, licence some taxis and have many more petrol stations.

And maybe one day the oil money will filter down to the local population.

But it will take a while.

more pictures at

No comments: