Friday, September 26, 2008

Week 8: A camping we shall go!

Sept 20 – Sept 26; 08

Saturday was an early start to get loaded up into the 4-wheel drive to take us to Kisama National Park. There were 7 of us going in total – Jo and Marek, Tony & Juliette, Heather (a kindergarten teacher who arrived this year with us) as well as Bill & I.
Jo & Marek were investigating another access route into the park & were travelling with Tony & Juliette in their car as they had been that way before. Jo & Marek will be taking kids to the park in a couple of weeks, but some of the oil companies won’t allow their families to cross over the bridge that is on the normal route to the park. The way they went involves a completely different road & finally arriving at the park by boat. So it was just Heather, Bill & I in our car, but we took most of the other’s gear as they knew they would be walking from the river up to the camping spot.

We arrived at the park without seeing any animals (I think increased people to the park have had its effect) & got our tents up before catching a ride on the safari truck. We really wanted to see elephants, but despite the best efforts of the trackers, saw no more than lots of elephant poo. We did see a wilderbeast though. However, we didn’t see giraffes or anything much else so it was a bit disappointing. Lots of cool birds as always though! Bill & I were sharing my camera as his big zoom lens is broken – so some of these are his shots.

We cooked as usual, although Tony & Juliette ate in the restaurant. The next morning we went for another ride in the safari truck – and this time we did see elephants – we didn’t get good shots as they were right in the trees – quite close – they had a small baby with them. In fact we were too close for the comfort of the rangers (because of the baby I think) so they moved us on quite quickly.
Back at the campsite, we relaxed until it was time to go home - & during that time I saw a troop of vervet monkeys come through the trees, as well as a very cute squirrel.

We got home around 4 on Sunday, totally feeling as if we had a wonderful break. Although we didn’t see as much wildlife this time, it still is a very beautiful place to relax in & feel as if we are far, far away from school. We really noticed how much greener the park was (from a month ago) and also, how much clearer the air is (less haze). The park’s baobab trees still haven’t started to leaf, but the tree at school is now covered in leaves. The extra vegetation makes it harder to see the animals of course. But it is such a cool weekend. Marek & Jo have everything set-up for the kids to go camping in a couple of weeks, so we have our fingers crossed that they will see a lot of animals as they will be there during the week when there are much less day trippers.

The week just flew by (school is like that) & the special treat this week was that it was “early close Friday”. This school year is the first time that the school has been in session on Fridays afternoons. The history to this has been that it has been so difficult in the past to find food & stuff that teachers needed an afternoon a week to do the basic shopping or go into the city. Since the new supermarket was built just around the corner, those days are now gone (well sometimes it’s hard to find things – I was able to buy my first box of matches this week in 2 months). However, to allow people to get to see the doctor or whatever, there is one early close every month. Bill & I had planned to go into the city for dinner, but we were invited to go camping with a group of other teachers on Cabo Ledo (the surfing beach). We left at 2pm on Friday afternoon & arrived at the beach by 4. As it was a Friday night, there was absolutely no one else there. The beach is quite shallow & it has changed drastically since we were last there. The lagoon that the local boys were playing in last time was gone completely. There were 11 of us in total (6 tents) & not a huge amount of high land for pitching a tent. We claimed a piece of high land (I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I thought there was a possibility of the tide coming into the tent during the night) but 3 tents went up on the high tide zone.

One tent (closest to the sea) had to be shifted at 3am when the tide came in! The other tents were just far enough back not to need to move. We both slept through the whole thing! I was very glad we had pitched our tent where we did. Bill thought I was being well over cautious, but even he admitted in the morning that he was glad we hadn’t had to do a move in the dark with the tide at our heels!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Week 7: Shipwrecks, Slavery, Shopping & Soccer

Sept 13 – 19; 08

We had a relatively quiet weekend with a lazy day at home on Saturday and a return trip to Shipwreck beach on Sunday. We’d had such a short time there last weekend (due to the amount of time it took for us to find it) so we thought we’d go back & have a proper day of it.

We got there in good time (despite having to wait for an hour for our car – long story that doesn’t need repeating). We had made a picnic for the day & walked as far along the beach we could, where we stopped & ate our lunch. The weather was great – much sunnier than the previous weekend – which is what we had been hoping for. We explored around the cliffs behind the beach, but unfortunately didn’t find any fossils!

It was another nice week of school, with Wednesday off due to a national holiday, – Hero’s day. We asked around but it seemed as if nothing was planned for the day in the city – no parades or anything like that. So instead we organized a bus for the day & went out to visit the slavery museum. This is located quite close to the Southern edge of Luanda & is actually a church right on the coast. As a museum it was a bit of a zero – it had no artifacts to speak off apart from some large cooking pots (or at least that’s what we think they were) and a few canons. The inside had photocopied pictures from books or maybe other museums on the state of slavery in Africa. The church wasn’t used as a fort or holding place for slaves, but every slave shipped from Luanda (& it was one of the biggest slave exporters in Africa) was taken to the church just before being loaded onto the slaves ships, so they could be baptized! I’m not sure whether it was to ensure that any slaves who died at sea would go to heaven, or whether it was important that they were “Christians” when they arrived at the other end, I don’t know. The hypocrisy stinks regardless. Despite not having “anything” to put in the museum, I think it is good that they have kept the church standing as a memory of what happened on the site.

After the slave museum we went back to Benfica – the local souvenir market. Bill bought another couple of masks, but we both were able to take photos to give you an idea of what it is like. There are lots of paintings for sale, as well as the wooden carvings & masks & some Angolan national football shirts. Also – the more unpleasant side – ivory & cat skins! At least there were no live monkeys this time!

The trip home from the market was the typical weekend traffic jam around this area – what should have been a 15 minute trip maximum took well over twice that long – and our driver took a shortcut as well!

Friday afternoon the school took part in the international day of peace celebrations by playing football (some UN organization’s idea). As I am in charge of yearbook, both Bill & I took our cameras into school to get some photos of the event.

Friday evening we were busy packing for another trip to the national park.
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Video of Shipwreck Beach - please be patient while it loads.

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.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Week 5: Cabo Ledo Beach, Benfica Market & Luanda

Aug 30 – Sept 5; 08

Although last weekend was rather a hard act to follow, we’ve had another great weekend. On Saturday we got up early to get a bus (school provides various forms of transport which are bookable in advance) to take a group of us to the surfing beach – Cabo Ledo. A group goes out there almost every weekend it seems. The beach is south of Luanda – maybe half an hour past the entrance to the national park, but before Rio Longa.

This weekend the transport gods were not smiling on us – we went to pick up Jo & Marek & then the door of the bus wouldn’t shut! So we had to go back to school to get it fixed & then, we hit a major traffic jam on the way out of the city – a truck had flipped over on the road & we had to wait for it to flipped back onto its wheels before the road could be cleared. It took us over an hour to go 15mins worth of distance!

Once we got clear, the trip was smooth & we arrived at the beach about 11 am. I don’t know what I was expecting, but as always, Angola surprises! The beach had a series of rickety shelters built & maintained by some locals – a few men & a group of small boys. Each section of the shelters costs US$5 to rent for the day – somewhat expensive given the size of it, but the shade is necessary. There were a big group of (all foreign) surfers & family there – I think I thought we would be the only ones. The waves were strange too – they basically ran parallel to the beach from right to left, so the surfers ended up on the beach after a run & then had to walk their boards up the beach to start all over again. Altogether there were 4 boards of various quality available to use – many of them just left behind when their owners left. That made Marek’s day when he heard it – British Airways have banned surfboards from their flights, so wasn’t able to bring their boards with them.

Bill decided he wanted to learn how to surf (note – this is despite the fact that the sea was FRIGID & that he has a badly bruised & possibly even broken rib from a soccer game the other week). He was told the basics (all of 1 minute of instruction) & left to try to it out. He hurt his rib, never got on his feet but is determined to keep going till he learns to surf!

Needless to say, the water was way too cold for me, & I didn’t even go for a swim (although I did get pretty wet just taking photos)! We had a big picnic (we had splashed out the night before & bought ourselves a big chilly bin (cooler) & amused ourselves taking photos of the surfers. Marek & Jo took a load of photos we took of them (Jo has also been learning to surf – she can stand up on her board, but sensibly has a wet-suit). We also have emailed some photos of a French geologist who was delighted when we caught good photos of him towards the end of the afternoon when the waves had got a bit bigger.

But the best photos of the day were of the local boys running the “security & shade” on the beach. They asked if they could borrow boards that weren’t being used, & then proceeded to have a surf themselves! They also borrowed a skim board which they were playing on in a little lagoon behind the shelters. The water must only have been a few inches deep but they had a lot of fun trying to make it go in circles.

We stayed at the beach till about 3pm – Bill & I walked along the beach & both of us got great photos of a little egret as well as more surfing photos – a great day out with the camera. Unfortunately his camera is playing up at the moment & many of his shots have been ruined. We are trying to work out what exactly is the problem – his camera, the battery, the memory card etc. You can imagine how upsetting it is to come home & find a heap of great shots beyond salvage.

On Sunday we had a lie-in (first in 2 weeks) & then went with a bus load of others to Benfica market Рthe only tourist market in town. Neither of us took any photos Рmaybe next time. The market is definitely a mixed bag Рlots of paintings (of various artistic merit), not many of which grabbed us very much. Lots of tacky jewelry, a few Angolan t-shirts, and various wooden crafts Рtables, boxes, trays, carvings, masks etc. Bill was in his element (he has a large mask collection from his time in Togo) & bought a pair of masks. He also got an Angolan t-shirt (for the football world cup in South Africa in 2010) and a very interesting wall hanging/textile. I think it must be made from sisal. It is sewn together in pieces & then has appliqu̩ on top. The weird thing is that everything we bought is permeated with a wood/smoke smell. I washed the wall hanging & a lot of dirt came out, but it still smells. The masks are outside in the hope that they lose their smell relatively quickly.

The market has its ugly side too – there was a small live monkey chained to a post, there were numerous cat skins that we didn’t bother to investigate closely and way too much ivory! Despite the CITES breaking stuff, the market itself was non-pushy & I suspect that if we go back every now and again & get to know some of the sellers, the prices will come down. However, everything is relative & considering that we routinely spend US$100 at the supermarket on next to nothing, $20 odd dollars for a mask no longer seems excessive!

School was a short week – only 3 teaching days & a half day professional development day on Thursday. The days fly by – our TV is no longer working (maybe something to do with recent power cuts?) and on Tuesday Bill stayed at home to wait for someone to come to try to fix it while I went to the supermarket by myself. This turned out to be a really bad plan as I had to queue for half an hour just to get the bread, then I had to queue again to go through checkout! Nasty!! So much easier with two people – one to stay & queue (me – Bill isn’t the queuing type) & the other to shop. Lesson has been learnt! Maybe everyone at the supermarket knew something I didn’t (it did seem unusually crazy) as Wednesday morning we were informed that the government had announced that it was a public holiday (we heard they announced this at 6pm the day before)! Of course it was too late to cancel school so it was a normal day for us with almost full attendance. Rumors were flying but it appears that the holiday was to allow people to attend political rallies that were scheduled for the day. So maybe the supermarket was closed on Wednesday (I certainly did not go back to see).

Wednesday evening Bill played a football game of teachers vs parents. Historically this has been an ugly affair with teachers coming off very worse for wear. Not quite sure why the tradition continues, but it was initiated by the parents, which tells you something! However, (due to the new talent on the staff) the teachers thrashed the parents this year (4-2 with the last parent goal scored in the last minute), so maybe it will all die a death now they have been whipped!

Thursday was a teacher-only half day where we worked on some paperwork for an upcoming accreditation of the school. Tedious, but has to be done. Then, we went into town so we could catch the post office before it closed. We both had postcards to post & although we were successful with buying stamps, don’t hold your breath that you will actually get one. I figure there is no more than a 50% chance of them arriving & goodness knows what sort of time frame will be involved! The trip in was very fast (no traffic) & the trip home wasn’t too bad considering the traffic was much worse. What was interesting was all the tents up for people to vote in on Friday. They seemed to be all over the place – in islands in the middle of the road even. Schools are also being used for voting. It all seemed very organized – the tents were being guarded as it seemed that the ballot papers had been delivered. Certainly, from an outsider’s perspective, it seems to be very well organized & calm.

Friday we had to stay at school as it was voting day & the admin didn’t want us in town at all. So it was a very lazy & relaxing day just sitting around at home. Bill was watching the BBC online reports of the elections – apparently there are charges of ineptitude (rather than corruption) with late starts, long lines & ballot papers running out. I guess we will just have to wait & see what the election watchdogs have to say about it all.

So it’s been a nice week (when there are only 3 teaching days, it is hard to go wrong). We have Monday off as well so it is a lovely long weekend in front of us.