Friday, November 28, 2008

Week 17: Eland in the Garden

Nov 22 - 28, 08

Kissama photos slideshow

We had an early start as we had booked the 4-wheel drive for 7am. Of course there was no sign of the driver that early, but we were on our way about 7:30. The drive out of the city was relatively fast (the main road south seems to be permanently congested) & then we had a really good run out to the entrance road to Kissama. We didn’t see any animals along the roadside apart from a few lizards & a few birds (& lots of starlings). The road was noticeably wetter than the last time we’d been & more of a challenge for the driver. We passed a car which had obviously gone as far as it could before turning around and abandoning the attempt. The lack of animals was wonderfully compensated for when we arrived at the fenceline surrounding the inner area of the park. There was a female bushbuck right there on the road next to the fence – I was able to get out of the car & walk up to the fence to take photos of it browsing in the bushes.

Once we arrived at the park headquarters, it didn’t take us long to put up our tent. There was a troop of vervet monkeys around our campsite & we got the distinct impression that if we weren’t careful, they would steal our lunch out from under us. about 3pm. We walked down to the river (about 30 minutes I guess) & took lots of photos – overhead eagles (Bill got those – he had the long lens), butterflies & various insects. It was much hotter than the last time we were here a month or so ago. We made the terrible mistake of not carrying water with us & by the time we arrived at the river, we knew we’d messed up. The trip back up the hill wasn’t very pleasant, with both of us feeling decidedly dehydrated, but fortunately we weren’t so far from camp. When we got back we both drank 1.5 litres of water each & vowed to never let that happen again!

After re-hydrating we still had a couple of hours until we could go out on safari – so Bill found a quiet spot to read, while I took my camera around the headquarters. I know he enjoyed the peace, & I had a great time – I saw more monkeys, amazing stick-like crickets that had wings like butterflies, cool cactus flowers & purple-banded sunbirds (which just happened to come & pose for me in the cactus flowers).

I noticed a crowd of people standing in the garden with cameras, so I wondered over to have a look & you can imagine my surprise when I saw 3 eland munching on the bushes. The male, who was as big as a large bull (very big in other words) was less than 10 metres away. The crowd took their photos & disappeared again, while I stayed to watch. What a magnificent creature! I got to within 5 meters of the male (the female had a young calf & they were much shyer) – I backed off first – he was so big, I was scared. The bull had an orange tuft of hair on his head & when he was under a bush & you couldn’t see his antlers, his face looked very cow-like (jersey cow to be exact). He had a huge blue-grey burlap – the flap of skin at his chin & then the rest of him just seemed like a large bull. When he walked, he clicked (this is typical, it is mentioned in my guide book, but I don’t know what part of him was making that noise). I realised that he had only one antler – because the broken one was mostly on the far side from me & I hadn’t initially noticed. The female & the calf also had antlers, which have a straight shape with a deep spiral groove twisting around it.

I went to find Bill & gave him my lens so he could take some photos also. The elands had hardly moved – we saw their footprints all around that area of the garden. Like me, he was only prepared to get so close, although he got some wary looks, the animals were more concerned about eating than being frightened by puny humans with cameras.

It was getting very close to the time we’d been told that the safari truck would go out so we returned to the area where it departs from & then waited about an hour before being told that the big truck wasn’t going to go out (not enough people I think) & instead we would be going out with a group of people on a tour. They had 2 extra spaces in their luxurious stretch landrover. The organiser of the tour was Mario from Eco Tur & it cost us the same $20 each it would have on the safari truck, but in a lot more comfort. Also (the best part) there were sunroofs over each seat, so we able to stand up through the roof & get the most fantastic view.

We had agreed that Bill would have the zoom lens on Saturday & I’d have it for Sunday. So I took landscape pictures in a way I’d never managed to from the roofed-in safari truck & Bill was able to take photos of (surprisingly little) wildlife that we saw. It was a bit disappointing in terms of animals – we saw a few herds of eland and the odd single animal, an ostrich which we chased down the road (they can run really fast), lots of birds of various kinds, but no elephant or giraffe or zebra.

We stopped for drinks about half way around & we were still out when the sun went down & were able to catch the spectacular sunset from our roof-top view. The landrover gave a much smoother ride than the truck (not so surprising really) so it was a very pleasant couple of hours out. The people we were riding with were working for one of the oil companies & were having a great day trip including breakfast at one of the luxury lodges on the way to the park. They weren’t staying the night, but heading back to Luanda soon after the safari finished. It was their first trip to Kissama, although they had been in Luanda longer than us.

We had to start cooking relatively quickly so we could set up while it was still light. The very nice thing about camping at Kissama is that you can use a covered Jango (thatched shelter) with lights and table and chairs. Very civilised. That’s about when we realised we’d made another bad mistake – for the first time ever, we’d forgotten all our mosquito repellent things. Normally we burn coils in our cooking jingo but without them, we were attacked by mosquitoes. Fortunately we did have clothes to cover up in.

The tent was very hot (don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to camp in summer) & much worse, we had a few mosquitoes in it. They will always bite me given a choice between me of Bill & I had a miserable time with mossies buzzing in my ears all night. Eventually the temperature dropped in the early morning & I got some sleep, but Bill was up about 5am for the dawn chorus & I was up not long afterwards as the sun was heating the tent up again. We decided to postpone breakfast until after we’d gone out on safari, & as we were walking over to the truck, we saw the bull eland clicking his way through the campground. What a cool start to my birthday!

The truck left close to 6am while it was still quite cool & we saw an amazing number of animals – mostly all antelope, but in large groups rather than as solitary animals. We think we saw more than a 100 animals in total – definitely our best ever trip despite the lack of the more “dramatic” animals.

As you can tell from the photos, it is still very dry, although the wet season is supposed to have started. Maybe that is why we saw so many animals – we don’t know, but it was wonderful to see such large numbers when you think about the history of the park.

It was hot & threatening rain when we got back to camp for breakfast. In fact, it started to rain just a bit after we’d eaten, so we took the tent down in case it got wetter & then retreated to the jingo with easy chairs to wait for our driver to arrive to pick us up. Bill was happy just to read again, while I took my camera out around the grounds to see what I could find.

I had a great time – I saw a posing dragonfly, an agama lizard – the first decent sized lizard I’ve been able to take a photos of here, lots of pretty flowers and the female sunbird (not nearly as glorious as her mate that I photographed the previous day). I also spent ages trying to take a decent picture of the big carpenter bees that were collecting pollen from a flowering tree right outside the restaurant. The lady who runs the place was obviously impressed by my patience, as she came out to tell that the tree was unique to the park. She told me its name, but I didn’t catch it properly – after trawling on the net for a few hours, I think it must be a sub-species of Bauhinia petersiana which normally have very similar white flowers. The yellow, bell-shaped flower is also a Bauhinia species.

Our driver eventually arrived – he told us that the traffic getting out of the city was particularly bad. Our trip out of the park was once again animal free, but for a while we were driving behind a ute totally full of people standing up in the back with just each other to hold onto, bouncing along the rough road in the sun. Our air-conditioned land rover never looked better!

On our way back, we once again stopped at the lookout point over the sandstone escarpment on the coast. No matter how many times you see it, it is always breathtakingly dramatic.

Despite a good fast trip for most of the way, we eventually hit the traffic jam which had delayed the driver in the morning. They had closed one side of the highway, so only one direct could move at a time. The lines of cars was backed up for ages!

Once we finally got past the roadworks, the traffic was still heavy so our driver asked if he could take an alternative route back to school. The way we went was through a poor residential area – the road was only wide enough for one car, so if something came the other way, you had to drive up the side of the road to let it squeeze past. But we made good progress & we were home to hot showers & fresh clothes by mid afternoon.

After such a brilliant weekend, the rest of the week was essentially mundane – the usual shopping, washing & school work. I helped update the school’s recruitment brochure with photos that had been taken this year & generally improve its graphical layout. It was a rush job as it had to in to the printers by Wednesday morning.

Friday was another early close, but we turned down an invite to go camping on the beach again. I’m still covered in mosquito bites & we were planning to go into the city to post xmas cards. However, we couldn’t get a bus, so in the end, just had a relaxing afternoon at home.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Week 16: Out & About in Luanda

Nov 15 - 21, 08

On Saturday we got a school bus to take us down to the Marginal with the plan to walk around a section of the city we hadn’t explored yet & have lunch. Bill’s twisted ankle from his soccer game limited our options somewhat. We knew where we wanted to explore & walked around for about an hour at the most before he simply couldn’t keep going. So we backtracked to the Intercontinental Hotel which sits one block back from the Marginal, and has just recently been renovated. It has a roof-top bar that we wanted to check out for view, general ambiance and food. Despite it being a very hot & sunny Saturday afternoon, the bar was virtually deserted. It had a great view looking down over a main pedestrian square (with a “map” of Angola laid out in huge rocks). We spent maybe a couple of hours there reading our books & watching people pass by. The final of the Angolan soccer season was due to start later in the afternoon (the stadium is about a 5 minute walk from the hotel) & we saw a huge police presence – blocking off roads around the stadium so no cars could go down, so traffic under where we were sitting got pretty congested at times.

There was also a good view out over the marginal, ilha & the bay in-between. The haze that existed when we first arrived in Luanda has virtually gone – so we had a clear view of all the container ships sitting out in the bay, waiting to be allowed to unload.

The rooftop was divided into three sections – the bar itself in the center, tables overlooking the square where we sat, & on the other side the toilets & a series of deck chairs, and an outdoor shower. No sign of a pool, but maybe that is still to be completed. Along that side of the roof, was a series of local paintings such as you see at Benfica market, with telephone numbers (possibly of the artist?). As there was absolutely no one around, I took advantage of the situation to rather cheekily take a few photos so you can see what the local art tends to look like.

To me much of it looks very similar to what we saw in Zanzibar, although the baobabs seem typically Angolan countryside. It is all very stylized.The bar only did sandwiches for food, so we walked back to our favourite pizza restaurant before heading back home. The pizzas are very good & it always amazes us that we manage to eat one each.

Sunday was a quiet day at home – we both had to go to school to get ready for Monday (Bill still had reports to write). The rest of the week was typically uneventful with the exception of Thursday night. The teachers were playing the gardeners at soccer & nothing would have dragged Bill away from playing, but I decided to go the Angola Field Group’s Thursday evening meeting at the Viking Club for the first time. The main incentive for me to go wasn’t the programme (a local movie about AIDS & HIV in Angola) but the fact that there was going to be a series of things being sold & I had xmas shopping on my mind. There was a bus-load of us going in & we arrived in the city just after 7pm. There was a DVD on Kuduru – a local music & dance style for sale (I didn’t buy), a bilingual (Portuguese & English) photo book on Angola (just published this month) which I did buy, as well as lots of craft items made by local orphanages. There were very cute African dolls with their baby tied on their back (unfortunately I couldn’t think of anyone the right age to give one too), table napkins, aprons etc made out of local fabric. I bought myself a small handbag made of crochet & coke can rings! Having gone for the shopping (& spent a ton of money within 15 minutes) I would have been quite happy to go straight home for an early night, but we stayed to watch the movie “A Strong Heart”. It was an hour long, in Portuguese, but with English subtitles. It was focused on discrimination faced by those with AIDS or HIV. It was excellent – I think it is the best film on AIDS/HIV that I’ve ever seen. I’m really glad that I got a chance to see it. I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t gone to any other of their presentations. So despite arriving home after 11pm, it was a very worthwhile evening & I’ll make a point to try to go more often.

The Angolan Field Group have their own blog at:

Friday was the usual hectic day with yearbook club & then packing to get ready to go camping in Kissama for my birthday weekend.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Week 15: International Day

Nov 8 - 14, 08

Saturday was International Day at school – opening at the rather civilized time of 2 pm, giving everyone involved in setting up country stalls plenty of time to do it without having to sacrifice a sleep-in.
Bill didn’t need to do anything, although there aren’t a huge number of Brit’s in the school, they hadn’t asked for teacher help. Not so for me though, with no NZ families, it was left to the Kiwi teachers on the staff to organize a stall for the day. I begged out of manning the booth, claiming responsibility for taking yearbook photos, but I did my share by producing several sheets of NZ-themed stickers to be used on the kids “passports”, as well as helping with the set-up of the stall. There was quite a lot of “inherited” stuff – fabric, flags, pictures etc, so it was mostly a matter of setting things up. A couple of teachers had made and iced about 80 afgan biscuits to give away & several of the teachers had items they’d bought back for display (a toy pukeko, a Maori doll, a flax kit etc).

After getting everything ready, I left to take photos of the chaos of getting ready for the Parade of Nations which would start the day off. (Experience of many other International days has taught me that this is one of the most fraught times for kids). Sure enough, I saw lots of despairing parents trying to force their little ones into a costume they didn’t want to wear, and lots of unhappy kids. The PTA organize the whole day & I don’t think the mum who was trying to organize all the countries for the parade was having a good time! Typically people turned up well over half an hour later than they were supposed to, but the parade actually got started only about 15 minutes late. This is the first school where they have let EVERYONE who wants to be part of the parade – so many parents and babies took part also. It also meant that the biggest nationality groups had huge crowds of people in the parade, whereas other countries had as few as two people.

After the parade, which did a circuit of the main playground, there were dances by kids from different countries. It was obvious that some countries are fiercely competitive about this & everyone is trying very hard to outdo each other. Fortunately, most of the kids looked as if they were enjoying themselves. The dances themselves were great & many countries managed to get almost all the kids from that country on stage (which is a real achievement when the ages vary so much). Another unique (in my experience) tradition is that the dance acts were interspersed by national costume demonstrations where the MC read out the descriptions of the clothes, where they came from, what they were called & when they would be worn etc. The audience was great and it was much more interesting than it probably sounds.

The stalls from each country had food and drink to try & they all had stamps or stickers for the kids passports (which you can see around their necks in some of the photos). After the dances, it was time to check out all the stalls (& get a drink as it was a very hot afternoon). A local martial arts group (Capoeira which is Brazilian-African) gave a display and some of the smaller kids gave it a go. (Everything was very slow motion – I don’t know if this is normal or was just for the display). The final act was bizarre – it was a local Angolan singer and two dancers who were performing a local style that was frankly risqué. Certainly not the most appropriate of performances for a school function. The adult males seemed to love it, almost everyone else was a bit bemused by the whole thing.
The dancers were very scantily dressed, all three were tattooed, and the dancing involved lots of body shaking! They drew a big crowd, so maybe the singer was quite famous – I never caught her name of the style of dance.

Another surprise was that the day ended on time - around 5pm, with the clean-up happening very efficiently and quickly. We were happy to go home & crash.

Sunday was another lazy day with report writing and accompanying marking hanging over our heads. A couple of teachers were flying out early Monday morning for PYP course in Mumbai, India, so we wrote a long list of food & spices for one of them to try and get for us.

The week was very nicely broken up by Independence Day – a national holiday on Tuesday, so we had the day off. Of course, with all the procrastination of the weekend, we both spent the day in school marking & getting grades for reports. The rest of the week was insanely busy & frankly passed by in a whirl.

Bill had a students versus teachers soccer game after school on Friday, where the teachers whipped the students 5 – 2. Unfortunately, Bill fell & badly twisted his ankle during the game & then had to leave the game (he was playing on the teachers side) to coach the kids as they were behaving so badly. So he wasn’t particularly happy afterwards.

Friday evening all the teachers had been invited to the official opening of the new apartment block (that has 14 units for teachers). The show apartment was open for inspection & there were copious amounts of food and drinks at the pool for everyone. Bill & I ate lots of cheese (virtually the only vegetarian option) and then left for an early night.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week 14: The Baobab Tree Flowers

Nov 1 - 7, 08

What a wonderful way to start a weekend – waking up on a beach & going for an early morning swim! The water temperature is so much warmer than just a month ago, although it is a bit “refreshing” when you first go in; it is very pleasant to swim in. The waves are fun & there were a heap of fish literally jumping out of the sea.

After our swim we went for a walk along the beach & right under the cliffs I found some fossils! Very cool! I am sure they are ammonites. I found both a big one (about 6 cm) and a small one (about 2.5 cm). It makes up for our inability to find sharks tooth fossils at shipwreck beach.

We returned to the campsite to make breakfast – eggs & vege burgers – with Bill as chief cook of course! We are borrowing school camping equipment to cook with – buying our own set is on our increasingly large shopping list for the UK at xmastime.

After breakfast the sun started to get very hot, so we went for another swim, took the tent down ready to go home, & then went back swimming again. Bill had another (unsuccessful) go at trying to surf, but this time he foolishly forgot to wear a t-shirt so by the time he gave up, he’d given himself quite a bad rash from the top of the surfboard. A rash shirt for him is another item on our list!

The bus to pick us up arrived about an hour late – about mid-day. By then the beach was already starting to get quite crowded & it was getting very hot. We were more than ready to get out of the sun & the heat & return to Luanda.

The rest of Saturday went by quietly & on Sunday we went into the City to have pizza lunch down on the Marginal after a drink at the rooftop bar of Bahia (we decided we weren’t keen on another banana pizza, which is why we went next door to eat). Very mellow! We also had Monday off school as it was the day of the dead & although we probably should have done more school work, we both had another relaxing & mostly lazy day. I finally got the blog I’ve been meaning to start up & running – initially with just the first few of these weekly missiles. But it means that I have everything all in one place & easily accessible for anyone who is curious about our lives here. It is tricky to embed photos the way I can in this document, so instead I have slideshows running along the side. You can click on them to see the slideshow as bigger pictures, hosted on a different site.

The week at school went by quickly as always – Saturday is International day, so everyone is getting ready for that. It is a PTA event, so fortunately, not a lot of extra work for us, although I had to help out the Kiwi contingent as it is only teachers.

What has been a fascinating thing this week is that the baobab tree has started to flower. They have the most unlikely flower buds – they look like long green fruit hanging down out of the branches. The buds start off small (the size of a small kiwifruit) & get larger and rounder each day. Eventually they get to about the size of a baseball, - still hanging down from the tree on a stalk about 30 – 40 cm long – and then they are ready to open.

The baobab flower buds only open at dusk – so just on sunset, you can see the biggest of these buds starting to split open at the bottom. The flower inside is pure white, so you can see the white contrasting with the green bud. The whole process of the bud slowly splitting open to reveal the flower inside takes around an hour – by which time it is pitch black. The white flowers stand out clearly in the darkness, & then the bats come – it is a bat pollinated flower. The flowers only last one night – by morning they are looking brown & worse for wear. So far I haven’t detected a scent, but the conditions haven’t exactly been ideal – so far all the flowers have been high up in the tree & the only slightly lower one that has flowered so far did so on a night with a strong wind – not ideal for taking photos as it swung around in the wind, with the light getting poorer & poorer by the minute. I haven’t managed to really catch a good photo of the flower “popping out” yet – because as the bud splits open, once it gets to a certain point, it peels back suddenly as the flower falls out of it. It is just amazing to watch the process & the baobab tree has become a gathering point at dusk for those of us (new teachers – the others have done the same thing in previous years) trying to get a good photo.