Luanda, Angola, when I visited in December, 1968, was a beautiful little city; very Continental but very African. I soon fell in love with the place with its Portuguese Colonial architecture and friendly people.
I went for a long walk along that spit of land they call Ilha da Luanda that curves like a beckoning finger to form the western side of Baia da Luanda and Baia do Bengo. There were tall palm trees alongside huge baobab trees which made, for me, such an exotic contrast. I sat for an hour with a black fisherman from one of the several fishing villages there, who was mending his nets next to his sea-going pirogue which was hauled up on the beach. He taught me ‘What’s the time, please?’ in Portuguese, and how to understand the reply! Also along the narrow linked islands were cafes and bars where one could get snacks or meals of fish, prawns and crayfish. I didn’t enjoy fish at that time much, but tried some prawns for the experience. They tasted to my untrained palate like soap, gravel and pepper.
On the other side of the bay stood the huge old fort of Sáo Miguel which was closed to the public as it housed the headquarters of the Portuguese Army. I walked north along the mainland, one day, to another fort, Sáo Pedro da Barra which was well preserved with its iron canons still guarding the mouth of the bay from attack.
Everywhere were little black kids coming to try to shine ones shoes or beg a few centavos. Car drivers were all insane and pedestrians dodged traffic for their lives. Taxis were a fair mix of Mercedes and Peugeots, painted black with lime green roofs, and fares were very reasonable.
From a visit to the South African Consul on Avenida Paulo Diaz Novais, I got the names and addresses of the offices of various shipping lines as I had intended to get to Europe by ship, if possible. Shops shut from noon until 15h00 for a siesta, so, working around that, I visited a few to see if I could get to England by Christmas as I wanted to celebrate with bro’ Richard and my Uncle and Aunts at Donnington Brewery, but all would arrive in Europe too late. There was the Holland Afrika Line’s Senegalkust which would get to Rotterdam on the 31st December, costing £157, Lloyd-Triestino Line’s Afrika, getting to Barcelona for £91 or Trieste for £97. Later, I wished that I had gone by sea, regardless of the late arrival, but instead I opted for a flight to Lisbon for R198 (£99) which would leave on the Monday, giving me only three days to enjoy the city.
Following in the footsteps of Hemingway and others, I decided that my horizons should be broadened by a visit to a brothel. There was nothing appropriate in my Portuguese Phrasebook so I improvised. Approaching a taxi driver, I asked him to take me to the House of Women.
He said, ‘Ah, you want fukki-fukki!’
This, I suppose, summed it up pretty well. I don’t suppose he noticed that I turned beetroot, but off we went, out of the city. Here, there were no street lights, so I was expecting to get mugged at any moment. At length, he stopped at a blank wall with a single door, got out and rapped loudly. After a little wait, a panel was opened and a disembodied voice exchanged a few words with the driver.
He said to me, ‘You come to Casa Blanca! I wait.’
The wall enclosed a bungalow in a tangle of tropical gardens. I followed somebody to the front door and was ushered into a hall and told to wait. I was too nervous to take much notice of my surroundings except that there were lots of pot plants. There was a bit of shouting from off-stage then after a while I was led by the Madame to a lounge where four or so painted white women sat in upright chairs against the walls clutching patent-leather handbags, eyeing me with plastic smiles. Madame told me to take my pick in the same broken English as the taxi driver and the same choice of words.
Dry mouthed, I gestured at the youngest and her smile warmed up a bit. We went off down a corridor to a bedroom. No, this is not a porn blog, so that’s all the detail you’ll get. Wait for my steamy novels, maybe.
Her name was Maria; she was twenty two, from Portugal. Don’t laugh, but there was a visitors book where I gave my P. O. Box Swakopmund address. (In February, in the UK, I received a forwarded photo of Maria, dressed!) In the end I paid more for the waiting taxi who delivered me back to my hotel, unmugged, than I did for Maria. But the whole intriguing experience was well worth it. Innocence may be bliss, but it can also be quite scary. I only realized later that Casa Blanca probably referred to the colour of the girls rather than the building. Being a pale South African, I wonder what my reaction would have been if I had been taken to a Casa Preta?
The flight in the red and white TAP Airlines Boeing 707 to Lisbon left at about 21h30, Monday evening. Even this was a brand new experience, so my diary lists everything from the safety demo, altitude and airspeed to descriptions of the aircrew and even the toilets!