Friday, August 29, 2008

Week 4: Kisama National Park & Luanda

Aug 23 – 29; 08

Well, we had an early start on Saturday morning to make the trip out to the National Park. We had booked a four –wheel-drive car (& driver) to take us there & then pick us back up on Sunday, but we didn’t really know what size the car would be. We were a bit concerned about the 4 of us (Bill & I, Marek & Jo) and the driver & our tents etc all fitting in – so we packed lighter rather than heavier. As it turned out, the car was quite roomy – so there was plently of room for the four of us & all the gear. What we hadn’t expected was that we had a security guy go with us as well as the driver (not quite sure why – maybe they don’t allow the drivers to be in the cars by themselves outside of the city – which the driver would have been on the return trip?)

Anyway, despite having to turn back for Jo’s papers (legally you need to carry papers all the time), and a long & dusty detour due to road works, we arrived at the entrance to the park in good time. That’s when the good road stopped & it was 49km of dirt track (hence the need for the 4-wheel drive). We weren’t really expecting much other than a bumpy ride, but within about 5 minutes, we had spotted the first monkey and after that there were a series of antelope bounding across the road in front of us! It was so exciting! Heaps of birds (mostly hornbills) as well. We arrived at the headquarters around 11am & got our gear deposited next to where we would camp (we were the only tents). We had a toilet block close by (& even better, a shelter with lights for cooking our meals in!) & just the most stunning view! We were camped up on a plateau overlooking a river valley below. The surroundings were baobabs (the most spectacular of trees) and surreal cactus trees – the grass was brown (it is the dry & cold season now) but down by the river, it was incredibly green (mostly reeds & papyrus we discovered later). The inner part of the park where we stayed is fenced in with electric fence (but we saw lots of antelope & birds on the “wrong” side of the fence).

We had arranged to go “on safari” with the park ranger in an old army truck they use for the purpose, & went for a walk down towards the valley after lunch. We saw & hear d lots of birds, & a 50cm lizard that moved way too fast to get a good look. We returned in good time for our safari – but other people staying there obviously wanted to go earlier, as Bill & I discovered the truck being loaded up a good half an hour earlier than the time we booked. Bill ran off to collect Jo & Marek while I held the back seat of the truck for us. In the end there were at least 14 of us plus the driver in the truck as we set off. I don’t quite know what we were expecting to see – we all knew the park had been decimated of big mammals & a rescue mission (appropriately called Noah’s Ark) had flown in pairs of various species to try to restock it. Teachers who had visited before had seen lots of antelope & zebra I think – the elephants remained mythical creatures (although we have seen them on TV). What we weren’t expecting to see within 10 minutes was giraffes! And baby twins! It was so cool!

After the giraffes we saw about 6 ostriches in the distance and then as we drove around the park for several hours, numerous antelope of various kinds, heaps of birds & more of the stunning scenery.

When we got back to camp (after about 3 hours on the “road”) we saw a troop of vervet monkeys around the restaurant. Vervets are uniquely distinctive – in the words of my guide book, the males have a “powder-blue scrotum”.

The restaurant had NOTHING vegetarian to eat of course, so we cooked our own meal - & Marek & Jo did the same. They had neat little alcohol cookers so we had a great meal – with the sun going down around 6pm & the temperature dropping rapidly with it. We were very grateful for the shelter we were cooking in.
But the cool night made for a great night’s sleep & Bill & I got up just at dawn to go for a walk. The dawn chorus was amazing & with a bit of luck I hope to attach a small sound file to this email that Bill recorded to give you an idea of what it was like. We walked for about 3 hours – right down by the river & the only animals we saw was a large black monkey (not sure what kind – possibly an Angolan Black & white colobus) and a squirrel in the euphorbia tree cactuses. Lots & lots of birds!

We came back & had breakfast & then lazed around admiring the view waiting for the driver to come to pick us up. We didn’t see nearly as many antelope on the way back as we did on the way in, but what we did see was a big group of giraffes again- real close!

On the way home (no detour this time) we stopped at a scenic lookout – we had seen patches of amazing looking erosion scenery from the road on the way to & from Rio Longa, but hadn’t stopped, so we took the opportunity to do so while it was just the four of us. We were in for a big surprise – we thought it was just a small area, but when we got out of the car, we could see it stretched for ages along the coast.

The only bad thing about the whole trip was that when we got home, just dying for a shower, there was a power cut & no water for an hour! However, as you can imagine, we had such a great time & we plan to go back often! It was very reasonable to camp ( they had small air-conditioned “units” which looked very nice but were expensive at US$200 a night). We spent less than that including our food & the safari trip.

The rest of our week has been somewhat more routine & less exciting than baby twin giraffes, but the week has flown by, despite Bill having to attend 2 (& me one) parent information evenings. Monday morning saw the arrival of a huge container at the school – we are still in the process of unpacking it – it seems to date from orders made around 2006! There aren’t many teachers left from that time to enjoy it! It’s kind of like Christmas, just a bit weirder as we try to make sense of some of the orders (eg the maths department has got even more American text books that none of us like!). We splashed out at the supermarket tonight & bought ourselves a decent-sized Chilly bin (cooler) to take with us when we go camping etc.

This coming weekend we are going to the beach to check it out (the surf beach) & school will be 3 days only due to elections next weekend.

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