Jan 302014

We’d planned to leave my hotel three hours before the flight, allowing up to an hour to get to the airport, and wanting to be there two hours early since we’d already checked in online. The taxi driver from the night before told Jordan he “didn’t start work” that early, but would 2.5 hours work? Eh, it would be close, but good enough. Jordan showed up at my hotel a little in advance…and we waited…and waited. We were down to 2:15 before flight time and started to panic. The hotel doormen were completely non-phased, and called their taxi contacts. See, you can’t just flag down a taxi in Luanda, because they largely don’t exist.

Eventually, just about 1:45 until flight time, a taxi showed up that the doorman had called, and he wanted $50 to go to the airport. Sigh, no choice at this point, and we paid…and he made fast time of it, getting us there maybe 75 minutes before the flight, and 15 minutes before luggage cutoff.

The problem? The business class line was over 10 people deep once we finally found it (since it was unmarked) and we waited. Eventually I started pressing the guy manning the line to let us to the front, because we were running out of time. He spoke passable English, and told us “no no, we must process all the Havana customers first, their flight is 90 minutes before yours!” Um, we were barely an hour before flight time, so Havana was 30 minutes late and not everyone was checked in.

Knowing never to trust the first thing a semi-official person tells you in Africa, I kept pressing him. Are you SURE you are right. He points to a long line of 100+ people in the terminal. “They all go to Sao Tome too in economy, not to worry.” In the end, he was right. We checked in about 45 minutes before flight time, and no problem at all.  We did get probably the most festive lounge invite I’ve ever gotten before:


Security was next, and it was a big nonevent.  Well, except for nasty angry agents who made the TSA look pleasant.  They were yelling at passengers who didn’t know the procedure, and being generally rude and condescending to them.  Then, it was time for exit immigration.  They had a bit of a hard time finding my entry stamp, then when they did they seemed surprised by Cabinda, but it was no big deal and got stamped out without a problem.

Then, on the other side of immigration is where the fun started.  There was a room with a closed door, and a long line leading into it.  I ignored it and tried to head up to the lounge.  Nope, was told I had to stand in line.  What goes on in that room?  They bring people in one by one, and search their luggage for cash.   Since they “forget” to remind you to declare money when you enter Angola, of course, any money you have is undeclared…and subject to confiscation.  The Chinese guy in front of me told me that his first time in Angola he lost nearly $2000 this way.  OUCH.  The line was getting too long for the room, and the security goons were at a loss where to put the people who were clearing immigration.  They picked the two big white guys and said “YOU GO” and pointed to the escalator.  Score!  I’d already well-hidden my cash since I’d been warned about this online, but it was nice to not be subjected to it.  I guess their logic was that we were more likely to either be onto their scam, or put up a fight, so they let us go?

Up the stairs, and into the TAAG lounge to wait.  They said they’d call our flight since it was (obviously) late, so we had time to relax a slight bit:


The lounge was ok, divided into business and first sections, and the business section had plenty of free drinks and a few small crackers, cookies, and snacks.  After about 30 minutes without boarding, I decided to go check the small duty free shop, and they picked that moment, of course, to start boarding.  It was a bus gate, but it was a short ride and soon we were at the bus gate:


A view out the window of our plane, another TAAG 737 and a Son Air plane:


Goodbye Luanda Aeroporto Internacional 4 de Fevereiro – I’m not going to miss you!


Cold towels were passed out before takeoff, which were wonderful, and soon it was time to go.

TAAG flight 510
Luanda, Angola (LAD) to Sāo Tome Island, São Tome e Principe (TMS)
Depart 16:30, Arrive 17:30, Flight Time 2 hours
Boeing 737-700, Registration D2-TBH, Manufactured 2006, Seat 3A

Getting to Sao Tome had been the most difficult part of this trip.  There just aren’t many flights, save Angola and Cape Verde.  I was looking for a way in/out to continental Africa but just couldn’t find anything on line.  In the end, it turned out there were occasional flights to Equatorial Guinea, but try as I might I never found them.  Thus, we would be flying TAAG on their flight that goes Luanda – Sao Tome – Cape Verde twice a week, and making it a tour of Lusophone West Africa at the end of the trip.  Another nice view of Luanda shortly after takeof


Very shortly after takeoff, they came around with the meal.  It was pretty small, but for a 2 hour flight I didn’t expect much more.  The meat tasted very suspect so after one taste I skipped the rest.  Jordan finished it, though, and seemed to tolerate it just fine.  It would be bread, laughing cow cheese, and a sweet dessert and wine for lunch/dinner.  Not the end of the world.


But wait!  Ten minutes later there’s more!  “Meat or Fish.”


I went with “meat” which turned out to be a pasta with chicken.  Wasn’t half bad either…especially when combined with a few glasses of wine.


We landed in Sāo Tome about an hour behind schedule, and walked to the small terminal building.  I’m glad I speedwalked and used business class to my advantage, because there were only two agents to handle approximately 150 people!  …and they moved like they had all the time on the world.  When they found out we’d applied for the eVisa online, they sighed.  They took our passports, told us to go claim our bags, and come back.  The bags actually came out very quickly, and then we had to wait, until an immigration supervisor came for us.  He took us into a small room on the other side of the airport, where he had the magical visa on arrival stamp.

I think it was 20 euros each for the visa, and he happily stamped it into the passport, along with an arrival stamp, and even gave us a proper receipt.  It all worked rather well, and considering Sao Tome e Principe doesn’t have many embassies around to issue visas the whole thing went rather smoothly.

We had no trouble finding a taxi to our hotel, but I’ll leave that for the next entry, since the hotel managed to cause a BIT of drama…

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