Friday, September 12, 2008

Week 6: Shipwreck Beach & Luanda

Sept 6 – Sept 12; 08

What a relaxing long weekend! Four and a half days long – most of it admittedly spent at home, but we did get away for the day on Sunday – two days after the elections. Actually, as the polling booths ran out of ballot papers, & some opened late, the election was extended for another day & voting took place on Saturday as well as Sunday. It was very quiet around where we live & when we drove through Luanda early on Sunday morning (all the voting tents were already down), everything seemed quiet there too.

Sundays adventure was to find the “shipwreck beach” that we had heard of. Teachers had been in the past & reported on a surreal experience of many boats mysteriously beached on the shore – all at one location. However directions were vague & it seemed that it had been several years since anyone had been. We (naively as it turned out) requested a driver who knew the way to drive the four wheel drive. As soon as we got in it was obvious that our driver didn’t know anything – he didn’t even know the way to Jo & Marek’s apartment. It took a bit of explaining (thank goodness Jo speaks quite a bit of Portuguese already) that we weren’t going shopping & that we were in fact heading through the city to the other side (north).

Once we got going, the drive into & through the city was fast and easy (traffic in the city is the main reason why nobody really goes north of Luanda (we live right on the south edge of the city, so going south is usually straightforward). There is no bypass in the city at all – so we actually had to drive down to the marginal & then around the port to hit the coast road north. It was an interesting trip – our side of the city has lots of expats (which is why the school is there of course) & flash, expensive housing to go with it. Of course we see lots of poor local “slum” areas as we go into the city, and the housing on the north side was very much the same – just no “well off” housing in amongst it! Instead, there were lots of factories – including the coca cola factory!

We’d been told that the turn off we wanted was about 2 hours away & that it would be clearly marked. Amid the initial confusion with our driver over where we were going, we somehow were given the name of the beach in Portuguese. Our driver regularly stopped & asked directions (all of which were correct & happily given) & sure enough, about an hour or so out we saw the clearly marked road to the beach we were headed for. We quickly left the sealed road & bounced away along a dirt track for another half an hour or so. Eventually we arrived at a small fishing village which vaguely rang a bell with some of the directions we’d been given. However, we couldn’t see any shipwrecks! We proceeded to drive along the coast, but nothing looked promising. We passed a “tourist complex” on the beach so we decided to call in & see if we could find anything out. The complex was right on the beach & was very nice. The beach was a great swimming beach too with lots of sun shelters & seating etc. Hardly a soul there. Fortunately, we did meet a Portuguese man who spoke perfect English & when we told him we were looking for the shipwreck beach, he immediately knew what we were talking about. Turns out the name of the place we had been given was exactly where we had ended up, but was not the name of the shipwreck beach! He was able to give us both the correct name and directions – we had well & truly overshot the turnoff we needed!

As there was a nice restaurant there, & we were pretty sick of bouncing around in the car, we decided to have a hot snack & drink before heading back towards Luanda to try to find the illusive beach. Once feeling a bit restored & fortified with a much better idea of where we were going, we backtracked to the main road. Expecting that we had overshot the turnoff by at least half an hour, we were somewhat surprised by Bill’s announcement that the dirt track turn off in front of us (closed off by a wire) was the way we were meant to go. How did he know? He had seen some shipwrecks on the coast. So, we managed to persuade the driver to go through & we found ourselves in a newly constructed village. From there, we could clearly see the ships on the coast, but we couldn’t seem to find a road to get us to them. Eventually, we had to give up & we were back on the main road again. However, not much further on there was a real turn-off & our driver (who surely by now was thinking we were totally crazy) was able to ask for directions so we knew we were finally on the right track. I’d love to report that we simply drove straight to the beach, but between taking the correct turnoff & actually ending up on the beach, we took three more wrong turns! The school has installed GPS on all the school transport & we couldn’t help but laugh at how strange our “blip” must look with all the backwards & forwards paths we were taking.

But, despite all the wrong turns, we did eventually end up where we had set out to go – even if we’d arrived about 2 hours later than we thought we did. We took our picnics along the beach & walked past several of the stranded ships. It really was a strange place. There were a lot of Angolans there swimming or enjoying a day at the beach & we saw people fishing off the deck of one of the boats that was partly on land. A hole had been cut into its hull so people could climb inside & access the top deck. Of course Marek & Bill (being boys) had to climb through as well. Neither Jo nor I had the slightest urge to follow them!

We had our picnic along the beach, but it remained overcast the whole day & we were both a bit disappointed with how our photos turned out. However, Bill did discover what was going wrong with his photos – his telephoto lens is kaput – so he is borrowing mine (swapping lenses) until we can get him a new one. But at least now all his photos are now turning out OK. We actually were only at the beach for about an hour total – we hardly had a chance to explore properly, but our driver had been so patient with us that we didn’t want to risk getting back to school late (after his change of shift).

What really surprised us was how fast it took us to get home – it had been such a long-winded journey but we were back at school just an hour & a half after we left the beach. So close, yet so far when you take a heap of wrong turns!

Monday was another day off school – another very quiet one with our only outing to the supermarket (in a fruitless search for eggs – we hadn’t been able to buy any for days & days).

Tuesday was back to school & a few more new kids whose parents had decided not to come back to Angola until after elections (never mind that they miss a month of school). For some reason it has been a tough week at school – Bill in particular has found it hard – Wednesday was a particularly bad day, but it improved as the week progressed (despite Bill having to teach “with Aliens” in the science department). Today (Friday) saw the start of “clubs” a one hour a week extra curricula time for kids to sign up for. Bill is running “band” and has two bands he is going to work with. Part of the bad day on Wednesday was being told that the club can’t actually use the music room (you know, the one with the instruments etc in it) because there was a class next door! (Now we believe that actually most of the rooms in the high school are empty because there are no proper classes going on, so quite why the “class” can’t be moved is more than we can understand). But it didn’t make for a good moment!

My club is yearbook & quite how I ended up running yearbook is something I don’t quite understand. (I thought I might be able to help out someone else doing it!) So I had my first club meeting today also. Went OK – I think I have a keen bunch. We are going to make a DVD yearbook instead of a book to avoid the problems experienced last year with having it printed in the US, then having 200 of them DHL-ed to Angola (can you even begin to imagine how much that must have cost?) only to have it sit in customs for over 4 weeks & finally being released AFTER the end of school – so none of the leaving kids got one! We hope to be pretty self sufficient with production so that as a bottom line, everyone will get one at the end of the year.

Next week is another 4 day week (it is a national holiday on Wednesday) & we have booked the 4-wheel drive for Sunday to take us back to Shipwreck beach so we can explore a bit more (& see if we can find any of the reputed shark teeth fossils in the cliffs there). Tomorrow is a catch up with work & chill out & relax day.

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