Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Bill & I are enjoying what looks like will be a white Christmas - it was snowing when we flew into Manchester airport. We'll be with family & loving every minute of it. We hope that everyone reading this also has a great Christmas and a wonderful 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rio Longa Once Again

The last day of school was a Thursday, & although most people fly out as fast as possible, once again Bill & I had booked our flights for about a week later. However, just like last year we found ourselves so busy in the run up to end of term that we didn’t get around to booking ourselves a break away. When the holidays actually came, we were still quite busy as we needed to make cover lessons for the first 6 days because we are going to the job fair in Bangkok.

We’d spoken to Tony B several months ago about our plans – we are happy at the school, but know it’s not the place we’ll stay long term. We wanted to start the process of looking for another school because we will be quite fussy about where we go next & reasoned it may take two years of looking to find the right school. Tony was great & agreed to let us postpone our final resignation until after the Bangkok fair, by advertising our positions as tentative.

We’d spent ages updating our CV’s – mine in particular needed re-working due to the fact that I’ve been teaching mathematics and MYP for the first time. Our first few days of holidays we found ourselves writing letters to a few schools that had matching vacancies, which had just come up on the job-fair website. I was also busy with my two online courses (an advanced Flash course & an intermediate Photoshop course) – the final assignments were due just as we finished school.

After spending several days on cover and writing application letters, we decided that the only realistic plan for our remaining week was to go to Rio Longa for a couple nights. We tried the telephone number we had, but of course, couldn’t get through. However, I managed eventually to find the website & make a booking online.

We were a bit surprised to find that we weren’t the only ones still around – one day when I was in my classroom working on my cover, Carolina walked in. It turned out that her son’s passport still hadn’t come back from getting his family visa. (Sami’s was late too – but had arrived with just under two weeks before the holiday). The school was doing its best to get the passport back, but because his original visa had well and truly expired, they couldn’t even just get his passport back & leave as the fine for overstaying his original visa could be thousands of dollars. They had missed the flight they had intended to leave on that day, and the remaining flights before Christmas were all heavily booked. Tony B had said they could take 3 weeks holiday from when his passport arrived, but understandably, she was quite anxious about where they would be for Christmas. She was remarkably calm about the situation – I know how stressed we would have been if we’d had to miss our flight. The whole visa thing has been a nightmare this year – the “blue stamp” issue is unofficially resolved – after a meeting with several people in the school and the board with the minister for petroleum who reassured the school that the people with blue stamps would in fact be able to renew their visas next year. The reassurances have worked, very few people other than Bill & I are looking at other schools, despite the large number of blue stamps issued.

We went up to Rio Longa early Wednesday morning & although the boat to pick us up wasn’t there, it arrived about 5 minutes later. The trip on the boat didn’t go past many birds, but we did see a very big crocodile – one of the biggest we’ve seen there. It was sunning itself on the bank, but as our boat came in closer we obviously disturbed it as it launched itself into the water in a fraction of a second. Very scary that a crocodile so big can move so fast!

When we got to the resort, we could see that we had it to ourselves & after explaining that we were the type of vegetarians that didn’t even eat chicken, yet alone fish, we sat out on the balcony and relaxed before lunch. After lunch we went in a kayak across to the ocean side & walked up to the headland. Distances are quite deceptive – we walked for a good couple of hours before we got to the end & then we finished off the water we’d carried – for some reason no matter how much water we have, it never quite seems to be enough! We saw several palm nut vultures which are common there, but not low down – they were circling way up in the thermals of the cliffs. The beach was covered in crabs as usual, we found a dead fish that been washed up in the waves – it was covered in a heaving mass of crabs trying to eat as much of it as possible before the sea reclaimed it.

By the time we’d walked back to the kayak we were quite exhausted & spent the rest of the afternoon being lazy & reading our books. The thing we love about Rio Longa is how totally relaxing it is & how beautiful it is to just sit & watch the lagoon with the sound of the sea in the background. It is also the sort of place that you go to bed really early (no electricity, so not much choice) and then get a great night’s sleep.

The next day after breakfast we went on our first “kayak safari” – we perfected this when we were here last year – one of us gets to paddle the other as close to the birds as possible while they take photos, and after working our way around the central lily pads and up the mangroves, we swap over when we can land the kayak on a beach. We thought the water hyacinth was much thicker this year than last, and it made it quite hard to get close to the mangrove roots. However, we saw a good assortment of birds, including the tiny pygmy kingfishers that live in the reeds.

In the afternoon we walked along the beach in the opposite direction (with much more water in our packs), but didn’t go nearly as far. We also went out on the resort boat, but it can’t get very close to the banks or trees, so not as good for taking photos of birds as the kayaks. We had another quiet and relaxing evening & the next day we went out on the kayak again – it was a very overcast day & there were noticeably less birds around, but we still managed to find a few. We had arranged to be picked up at 2pm, so had lunch before we left. When Bill went to pay our bill, they gave a price 50% more than the price quoted on their booking page on the internet. In the end we paid the price we’d expected, but to be honest the new prices are beyond even Angolan expensive. I doubt we will go back – US$600 a night for the two of us is just too much to pay for no electricity, free beers & sodas, but not wine or spirits & pretty average meals. The beauty of the place just isn’t worth that sort of money. With rates like that it is no wonder that we had the place to ourselves for two days with another couple only arriving just before we left. But, it was the perfect relaxing holiday for us before we headed back to the UK for the craziness of Christmas shopping and full on family. We have just a few days in Manchester before the boys arrive on Christmas Eve & from then on our days will be based around them. We are looking forward to it hugely, but it has been nice to have a bit of respite between the craziness of the end of school, getting ready for the job fair and being busy with family.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fashion Extravaganza

Dahni, one of our year 13 students organised a fashion show as part of her CAS hours. She had designed a whole set of clothes and for the previous month or so had been organising practice sessions with the student “models”. As well as her clothes, one of the ladies in the office also designs clothes & she provided clothes for the second half of the show.

As well as the actual fashion parade, a group of mostly year 9 students choreographed a dance to perform & a student band – “the alternatives” performed as well.

I spent a couple of hours the day of the show taking photos of the dress rehearsal – the parade was on the ramp of building 6 as the theatre was still a construction site with the guys installing the light & sound system not quite finished. At first I wasn’t convinced it was going to work, but after watching the rehearsals, I could see that it would be very successful – the turns on the ramp gave the models a chance to turn & pose.

Danhi had a big crew of student helpers – they set up chairs both downstairs in the foyer & “VIP” seats upstairs at twice the price. The show started late (maybe that’s standard for fashion shows), partly because Danhi had taken the girls who were modelling to the hairdressers & they weren’t back by the time it was supposed to start. Dahni had done a superb organising job, as well as actually getting everything ready for the show. I took photos of the first half but went home at half time exhausted. All the money from the audience went to UNICEF and Dahni & Callie gave a very impressive speech at the start about UNICEF in general and what they are doing in Angola in particular. Although we don’t have the exact amount raised yet, we think it was around US$500. The whole evening was a real credit to her – no one has done anything like that before at the school.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Windhoek Sports Tournament

Bill set off to Windhoek with the boys soccer team, the girls soccer team and Bora, Tomi & a parent volleyball coach the morning after my birthday. He’d been organising the details of the trip for over two months & was more than ready for the tournament to actually start. The tournament was firstly a soccer tournament but there was also a volleyball tournament with mixed teams made from the girls and boys soccer teams.

The boys came second to the team from Malawi, the girls came fourth and the volleyball team showed its makeshift nature by playing well but failing to be placed.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Jungle Book

This year’s PYP musical was The Jungle Book – Kim & Maggie did it as a joint effort with kids from year 5 to 7. They had originally planned for it to be in the theatre, but the technicians who were installing the lights and sound system had the theatre out of action & couldn’t guarantee that it would be ready in time for the performance. They decided they were better off just having it in the dining room again & hoping it would be their last performance there.

I went to the dress rehearsal during the day, when the younger kids were the first audience. It seemed to go really smoothly – so maybe the rather fraught rehearsal Sheila went to the day before had had the desired effect. I couldn’t stay until the very end, so I arranged with Kim to sit on the edge of the stage for the final night’s production & try to catch some photos from there.

Bill was in Windhoek so I came back to school early to catch the face-painting of the main characters. The kids had made their own “jungle” outfits in art classes & the costuming was very effective considering the limited resources. The elephant trunks were last year’s kangaroo tails!

There was lots of “line” dancing in this production & I wasn’t in a good position to photograph that, but I did manage to get some nice shots of many of the main actors. I couldn’t use a flash as I thought it would be distracting for the audience & I doubted it would catch the atmosphere effectively anyway.

After the performance I joined a group of teachers to go around to Kim’s place for some celebratory drinks. Tomi was in Windhoek with Bill – as was Bora, so Tina was babysitting Ella & Sami. Tony B joined us there & we had a very pleasant evening, although as it was still mid-week, we didn’t stay particularly late.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

International Day 2009

International day had me busy once again making NZ themed stickers to give out for the children’s “passports”. There is actually a couple of half-kiwi kids in the school this year – their mum said they would be responsible for making questions that the kids would have to answer to get their sticker.

Despite Shannon & Danielle both being back in NZ (with their baby due in just a couple of weeks), and Nikki gone to Thailand, we’d gained three more kiwis this year. Candi had the idea of having a “Kiwi Café” theme – serving coffee lattes and having sofas with a DVD of NZ scenery playing in the background. We’d met and allocated tasks a month ago, so everyone knew what they were doing &/or providing. The official theme for the day was “Peace” and Whetu had a Maori story about a rainbow and warring colours. So I made a new set of stickers with a rainbow theme to go with the stickers I made last year.

As usual, I helped with setting up, & then excused myself to take photos for yearbook. I had made myself a “yearbook photographer” sticker for myself, Bill, Sheila and Oscar who were also taking photos for yearbook. It was much more overcast than last year, so not quite so hot watching the performances on stage. After the performances were over, I managed to get something to eat, have a look at the silent auction gift bags (nothing for us there) & check out the various stalls. Surprisingly fast, it was time to start taking our stall down – we’d had several boards with pictures and information on them, but we decided that no one had really bothered to stop and look at it – so we thought we’d try pictures only next year. Just as things were coming to a close, the bus bringing the teachers and kids back from a week in South Africa on their International Award trip arrived back from the airport. Talking to Marek, it seemed they’d had a fantastic time away & the kids had really enjoyed it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Relaxing at Kissama

We decided to have a relaxing visit to Kissama on our early close Friday. It seemed like ages since we’d last been & we were aware that as summer got closer, it would be more unpleasant to go camping. We also knew that it simply couldn’t compare with our safari experience in Tanzania, but the thought of having a relaxing couple of days out in the country was still very tempting.

We packed up the chilly-bin with lunch and the food to cook for our dinner & breakfast & made sure that we had lots of anti-mosquito stuff (which we’d regrettably forgotten the last time). For a single overnight, we sure had a big load of stuff. Because it was a “long” weekend, transport was at a premium, so we shared our 4-wheeled drive with Mara, Rodrigo and Angela who were headed for the Kwanza river lodge & beach for the day. It was a bit of a squeeze, with Angela sitting in the back, but it was manageable.

We dropped the day-trippers off first & then drove on to the park. Although the weather was very dry in Luanda, you could tell it was much wetter this far south. There was quite a bit of road-works on the drive into the park – a normal car would have been able to manage fine, until we reached the end of it. We couldn’t decide what it was all for – whether the plan was to slowly improve the road all the way to the park grounds, or whether something else on the way in was being planned.

As usual, we were the only campers & as the weather seemed a bit dodgy, we decided we’d better get the tent up quickly. We decided we’d do only one safari trip – and that would be the morning one. We took our books and our packed lunch into the big jango and made ourselves comfortable for a relaxing afternoon. We were asked several times by the park guys if we wanted to go on the afternoon safari trip – I think they thought we didn’t understand them as they clearly thought our head-shaking to be quite weird. However, as the afternoon progressed, we were soon glad we hadn’t gone on the truck as big thunder clouds gathered on the horizon & soon it was starting to rain. We got chased out of the jango as the weather further deteriorated & they collected the cushions to keep them out of the rain. We returned our chilly bin to the tent & made sure everything there was under cover and then hit the bar. Hardly a minute too soon – the sky got dark & thunder and lightning became much closer. The rain just bucketed down. We were sooo glad we weren’t sitting on the back of the safari truck with nothing warm to wear & minimal protection from the elements! As it was, the bar was a great place to sit and watch the storm. Visibility dropped right away as the storm got closer & the rain harder. It was quite exhilarating watching it all!

Eventually the storm moved on and visibility improved. It was getting on & we needed to make a start on our evening meal before it got much darker. We were feeling a bit lazy, so we thought we’d check out the restaurant. We asked to see a menu, but of course there wasn’t one – instead it looked to be a buffet – with nothing vegetarian. We resigned ourselves to cooking for ourselves & set about looking for a table to take up to the jango by the campsite. This wasn’t that easy as there were hardly any tables, & they were really dirty. But we didn’t fancy cooking on the floor either, so we took the “cleanest” table and carried it up to the jango. The jango was also noticeably worse for wear – there were large holes in the thatch, but fortunately the light still worked & the jango itself wasn’t too messy. We set up all our food & got out the trangia to make a cup of tea & horror of horrors, discovered that the burner was missing from it! We looked at each other in dismay – we already knew the restaurant wasn’t an option & everything we had needed to be cooked. However, after that initial panic, we looked around at what we had – we decided we’d try putting alcohol in the metal lid of our Tabard anti-mosquito candles. The flame was a bit wild & not the hottest, but we were able to use the trangia and boil our water & then cook our meal. We felt rather proud of ourselves for our ingenuity! (Although we’ll never grab a trangia again without checking the inside first.)

We went to bed relatively early (not much to do in the pitch dark after you’ve eaten) and had a so-so night. Somehow mosquitoes got into the tent during the night & neither of us slept very well. This wasn’t helped by the very late arrival by a group of French guys in several identical cars who seemed to drive around in circles & then put up their tents way to close to ours (why did they do that when the campground was empty?). They took over the jango, so in the morning when we got up we went straight to join the first safari trip of the day. There seemed to be a big group of people wanting to go – but Bill & I have learnt from experience to get on board the second we can so we get the seats we want. In the end, one group went off in their own car with a ranger with them.

We saw an eland early on & then lots of giraffes. We also saw some kudu and lots of bushbuck of course. Then more giraffes, & then not that much else. Definitely no rival to Selous! Bill is ready to never go on another safari there again, but we’ve had much better days (& admittedly worse ones) & I think the randomness is part of its appeal. It’s a shame it is becoming so expensive – around $40 for the tent site (& with facilities getting grottier…) and $30 each for the bone-jarring, skin scratching ex-army truck safari. But the location remains so relaxing and peaceful – maybe we’ll restrict ourselves to day trips in future. It would be sad not to go back!

The jango was free for us to make our breakfast when we got back from the safari & as the weather still looked a bit dodgy, we decided to take the tent down early as we didn’t want to have to take it down in the rain. We set ourselves up in the jango again with our books & waited for the driver to come to take us home. Not much photography this time, but lots of relaxing & we both enjoyed our time chilling.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rufiji River birdlife

I always take lots of photos of birds – many of which just don’t turn out. However, Selous was great for birds as well as mammals – I saw at least 3 different types of bee-eater, we saw spoonbills, open billed storks, herons, hornbills, Egyptian geese, and lots of different raptors. At the campsite I saw woodpeckers and woodland kingfishers, and one evening I even saw an owl.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Selous Safari

For our October holiday we take advantage of being in Africa by spending time with Bill’s boys in Tanzania. Fortunately they get almost identical school holidays as us, so we are able to spend as much of the holidays as we can with them. Of course, it takes a couple of days to get there – we have to overnight in Johannesburg, as there isn’t a connecting flight through to Dar. And then, the flight isn’t until the afternoon, so we decided we’d pick up the boys the morning after we arrived rather than trying to do it the evening we flew in. Just as well as it turned out, as our flight out of Jo’burg was delayed due to a big thunder and lightning storm & we didn’t get into our hotel in Dar until quite late in the evening. However, the hotel restaurant was still open so we were able to have a curry (always a treat) before crashing. This was our first trip out of Luanda with the “new” system at the airport – the departures section is a big tent, but still a HUGE improvement on the old set-up. We were able to go into the check-in part as soon as we arrived (no more amorphous mobs trying to get through) and despite the lines being incorrectly labelled, we were able to check-in & go through customs relatively painlessly. We’d only got our passports back with our up-to-date visas about 2 weeks earlier (we’d started to get quite stressed) but some teachers weren’t so lucky – we’d supposed to have shared our bus to the airport with Joel and Mara, but Mara’s passport still hadn’t come back! So it was thrilling to suddenly see them in the departures lounge – they’d been able to pick up her passport (with visa) that morning & still make it to the airport in time for their flight! Some other teachers got their passports at the same time, but they had cancelled their flights thinking it wouldn’t happen in time! The whole visa renewal process has been a disaster this year – for the first time, some of the teachers (and administrators) who were renewing for their third (or more) year got “blue stamps” meaning they wouldn’t be renewed for the following year. But these were random – some people renewing for 5th year didn’t get them, others have just one out of a couple getting them & even one teacher just renewing for the second time got one! School is going to try to sort it out as the current situation is about 25 people who theoretically can’t come back next year!

Anyway – the boys arrived at our hotel in time for breakfast. We’d asked them what they wanted to do for the holiday – go to the beach in Zanzibar (like last year), or go on safari. Despite the numerous safaris’ they have been on (they are very lucky boys), they were adamant that’s what they wanted to do with us. They also told us they hadn’t been very impressed with the northern safaris they’d been on, so we decided to take them somewhere closer to Dar. Their mother recommended Selous as being a good park relatively close by, so after investigating a variety of places, we’d booked 3 nights at Rufiji River Camp (
– it caters for children (which a lot of places don’t) and it had the most reasonable packages (but still expensive – safari doesn’t come cheap!). We’d booked flights to get there & on our second day with the boys we headed off to the airport. The airplane that we were flying with had warned us that only small soft bags would be taken, so we left the bigger & harder bags at the hotel. The check-in was very informal & pleasant & then we were getting on our plane! It was about a 14 seater – and almost every seat was full. Bill doesn’t like such little planes, but it was exciting sitting in the same space as the pilot & we had good seats next to the windows. What I love about small planes is that you fly low – so you get great aerial views. The flight itself was about 35 minutes – long enough to be exciting without getting boring. The best part was as we got close to landing – we flew over the Rufiji River, and as we got lower, Enzo and I spotted a group of elephants getting shade under a tree & we could see heaps of hippos in the river. The airstrip was just dirt amongst the trees and as we were landing we saw a giraffe along the runway! And as we turned to taxi back to the “arrivals hut” we saw baboons casually making their way across the runway. How cool!

We were the only ones getting off at this camp – the others were flying onto to another place. We were met by a very friendly man from the camp, and the arrival formalities only took about 15 minutes. Then we were loaded into a jeep and as we were driven to our accommodation we saw impalas, a ground hornbill, a glossy ibis – not bad for just a 5 minute trip!

At the resort we checked in, shown around the place and taken to our “tents”. It was obvious that we would need to have a child each in each tent as hippos walked around the grounds at night, as well as the occasional elephant. We couldn’t risk the boys sleeping by themselves & forgetting that it was dangerous to go outside. As it was, to go to dinner at night, we needed to signal to one of the Maasai guards to come & get us to escort us from our tents to dinner and back again!

The resort was all inclusive – the cost included 2 safaris’ a day as well as all our meals. The people running the place were fantastic – we’d let them know that Bill & I were vegetarians so they made separate food for us for each meal, and they asked us every day what the boys wanted to eat for dinner, and made special meals for them as well. They also let us eat slightly earlier at night as their regular time for dinner was just a bit late for the boys after a full day.

Our first “safari” was a boat trip the afternoon we arrived – the resort is built on a narrow projection of land out into the river, so it was essentially surrounded by water except at the “back” of the resort. Our tents were right on the edge of a cliff (just a bit scary) overlooking the river and the hippos basking in it. The boat trip was a couple of hours – we went past lots of hippos and over 20 crocodiles – they were all out basking in the late afternoon sun. We saw waterbuck and buffalo on the banks at the side of the river, as well as lots of wading birds. On our way back we saw a lone bull elephant right by the cliff edge – a very exciting end to our trip.

The next day we met our driver and our tracker/guide Oscar who would be with us for the rest of our time. The guys were great with the boys – especially Oscar who made a real point of talking to them directly and taught them so much about what we were seeing. The boys had a short wish list (they had already seen so much) – they wanted to see wild dogs (they hadn’t seen any before & Selous is famous for having half of all the wild dogs in Africa) and also a leopard (which they had seen before, but not up close). We were in a jeep to ourselves & within half an hour we’d seen our first wild dogs and a herd of elephants crossing the road in front of us! It was a great day – a bit later we were along the river’s edge and happened to be in time to see the same herd of elephants we’d seen earlier come down to the river to drink & meet up with another herd of elephants. We were able to get out of our jeep & go down to the water’s edge to see them cross the water & then push each other up the bank on the far side. We saw lots of birds – raptors & lots of different types of bee-eaters as well as water birds. On the afternoon game drive after lunch we found a hippo skull & Oscar very kindly helped the boys remove the gigantic tusks still in place. He said the boys could keep them – they got a long & short tusk each – definitely one of the trip’s highlights for the boys!

The campsite had lots of birds as well – more bee-eaters, kingfishers, hornbills and smaller birds such as weavers. There was also a troop of vervet monkeys that walked though the grounds in the afternoon & again first thing in the morning. They had lots of females with young monkeys and the second morning when Lucca & I tried to walk to Bill’s tent next door, we were attacked by some very aggressive males as we came out of our tent. I managed to scare them away & get Lucca safely into Bill’s tent without either of us being bitten but it scared us both - & I think we must have scared them when we came out of our tent just while they were passing by a bit close.

The second full day we choose to take a picnic lunch & drive out a bit further. This paid off, as we came across a leopard in a tree. We parked right under the tree – we could see the leopard panting we were so close. We’d only been there a few minutes when the leopard suddenly got up & ran down the tree & walked around between it & our jeep – we were so close that it was a bit scary – we were in an open jeep with two little boys & that leopard sure was big and powerful! It just ignored us however, & soon moved off. We followed it for a bit & then lost it – you’d think it would be impossible to “lose” a big cat you knew was close by, but their camouflage is so effective that even experienced trackers like Oscar couldn’t find it again. We gave up on the leopard & not very much later found a group of lions – one male & several lionesses sleeping under a palm tree. Once again we able to get very close – the lion watched us for a bit but then just put his head down – the lionesses never looked up once! As if a leopard & a group of lions wasn’t enough, we then found a big group of wild dogs & watched them for a while. Like the lions, they were mostly lying in the shade resting – a whole mob of them. We also saw a monitor lizard, which Lucca enjoyed (& me – monitors are a favourite of mine). As well as lots of zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and impala, we also saw lots of kudu – which the boys also hadn’t seen before. We saw a black heron using its wings as an umbrella so it could see the fish against the glare – something I’d only seen on TV, so that was another treat for me too. Our picnic was wonderful – a table & chairs complete with tablecloth, glasses for our drinks & lots of tasty food. We’d had such a good day. We came back to camp after lunch & the boys swam in the pool (despite its rather cold temperature).

Our last day we choose to take an early safari - & we saw lots of waterbuck – a rather unfortunate animal with a big white bull’s eye that seems to be painted on its bottom! We also saw an immature bateleur (a type of raptor) playing with what I think was a piece of twig. We saw a spotted hyena – it literally came out of a ditch right in front of us, and more giraffes than you’d think possible. Our flight back to Dar had been delayed until after lunch – mainly so the pilot could have lunch at our resort! We were driven out to the airstrip ( with the pilot) after lunch & much to our amazement, we were shown to a tiny 6-seater plane – the boys had to flip a coin to see who was going to sit in the co-pilot’s seat! Enzo won & sat in the front, Bill & I were behind & Lucca had the back seat to himself – a bit like the back seat of a car. The 35 minute trip went really fast – the pilot even let Enzo steer the plane for a bit!

We had another full day with the boys – Bill went with them to the beach to have some time with them alone while I did some (mostly window) shopping in a tourist complex. Our holiday was over in what seemed like no time at all, but when we stopped & thought back on all we’d seen and done, it also seemed impossible that had been so short!

Bill & I had an early flight back to Jo’burg & once again needed to overnight before we could fly back to Luanda. We stayed in a hotel close to a shopping mall & bought a heap of food & other stuff (lots of cheese) to take back with us. The flight back was uneventful but as always we had a very long wait at immigration & then still had to wait longer for our bags (how they can take 3 hours to unload one planes luggage is more than I can understand). However, the bags did show up (always a relief after losing our bags at Christmas) & we were back home again in good time. We’d had a wonderful holiday with the boys that everyone had enjoyed – you couldn’t ask for more!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mussulu, Finally

We were invited to have a picnic on Mussulu by Kim and Tomi & as we’d never actually been there, eagerly accepted. We’d read and heard about Mussulu long before we’d first arrived – how teachers would get a boat across to the beach & spend the day away from school. It had sounded idyllic. But once we arrived, we’d been tempted by beaches much further afield and had never got around to checking Mussulu out. Mussulu is a very long sand-spit connected to the main coast a bit south of the slavery museum, but by a very bad road. Most people take boats across. It is very long and runs north parallel to the coast for about 30 – 40 kms. The Ilha in the city is similar, just much shorter.

It is very easy to get to from Luanda Sol, as one of the main “ferry” departure points is less than 15 minutes from school. (The other main place to get boats across to Mussulu is by the slavery museum). Kim and family arrived with Bora and Tina and Tari’s family as well. Also there were some other friends of Tomi and Tari who were coming too. Eventually everyone arrived with all the barbeques and chilly bins (cool boxes) and drinks etc. We needed 2 boats to get us & our gear across – but fortunately, once we landed we only had to carry stuff a few minutes up the beach into the shade.

We set up our “stake” and the guys got the barbeques up & lit. There was a “fish” barbeque and a “vegetarian” barbeque as well. The kids got coated in sunscreen & then they hit the beach. The section of Mussulu that we were on was quite narrow – we headed away from the city side to the other side which was actually facing a lagoon – just a few minutes walk. Unfortunately there was a lot of broken glass lying around in the sand & you had to be very careful where you walked. But the sea was very gentle and ideal for the kids to play in – even Sami.

Bill & I walked around the edge of the lagoon towards a large flock of sea birds. We couldn’t get very close to them without walking a long way around, so we contented ourselves with standing on the beach opposite them, taking photos as they spooked themselves into the air occasionally. There were egrets, herons, sea gulls and lots of smaller sea birds as well. Each species seemed to have their own piece of territory along the stretch of beach they were sitting on.

The barbeque was great – a local man came along & insisted on helping with the barbeque – we rewarded him with a big plate of cooked fish and salad for him & his friends. The kids had a great time & it was relaxing for the adults as well. After lunch Bill & I walked in the opposite direction – away from the lagoon & to a wider stretch of sand where more birds were nesting. The view of the city in the immediate background made the beach scene a bit surreal.

At the time we’d asked, one boat showed up to take us back – we caught that along with some of the other friends who’d come along & before we knew it we were back in our apartment. Although the beach was by far the dirtiest we’d been to, the sheer convenience of getting there & home again was a big factor in its favour. The nicest part really was the getting together with friends and having such a nice day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Beaches North and South

After a winter holiday in NZ, hitting the beach in Angola seemed very attractive. The last weekend of August we joined a group of others going to Cabo Ledo for the day. At the last minute Bill decided he would go by bike – with me in the van along with our picnic and beach chair etc. We made sure our phones were working (always an issue as they expire in only 2 weeks regardless of how much credit you have) and he set off just after I left. He caught us up just as we started to emerge from the traffic around the slavery museum & he followed us for a while. Then he went ahead as he wanted us behind him in case anything went wrong while he was crossing the bridge (with all the security checks there). However he wasn’t stopped so the next time we saw him was taking a photo of the Kissama National Park sign. He arrived at the beach about 10 minutes after we did – quite exhausted from the long trip. I was very glad to see him as I’d been quite worried about the traffic & how they tend to ignore motorcycles as if they don’t exist.

The beach was great – still not too hot to sit out in the sun during the day, but the water was freezing cold. The surfers were undeterred though – they had headed out several hours earlier than us beach bunnies. Around lunch time a group of dolphins came past – very close to shore. It was very cool! The surfers (who go almost every weekend) had never seen them so close. We went for a walk under the cliffs and saw lots of fossils. Bill left about 2 so that he wouldn’t hit bad traffic back in Luanda & we left about an hour later. Bill got home safely with minimal traffic jams, although we weren’t so lucky. He enjoyed taking the bike for a long run, but felt it was really just a bit too far in total.

The following weekend the two of us went to Shipwreck beach by ourselves. Despite leaving early, the driver took us through Luanda a different way – right through the middle of a market – and it took forever. The beach itself is always great – we decided to walk left instead of right as we usually do, although we had to back-track to find a nice place to sit and eat our picnic. We stopped by the war memorial on our way back – it is just as impressive the second time around. We noticed that bats are living behind the wall panels – they must be very small as we could only see small gaps. We returned the same way we’d come (we thought that maybe roadworks had closed the usual route) and it was terribly slow getting back. Slow enough even for me to read – something I can’t normally do in a moving car due to motion sickness. However, it had been a nice day out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our NZ Winter Holiday

July 09
We spent the first 5 days of our holiday in the North Island - visiting friends and family in Auckland and Leigh (north of Auckland). Then we flew to Blenheim in the South Island to visit my mum. She had organised a campervan for us, so we did a 10 day trip around the highlights of the South Island - whale watching, hiking in Mt Cook National Park, checking out lots of stunning NZ lakes & climbing on Fox Glacier. It was simply a fantastic holiday & the weather was good to us to (amazing considering it is winter & the weather had been dreadful before we arrived. We'll definately be back.

Back to School – Lots of Changes

August 09
View from our Balcony

Well, after a truly great holiday that just seemed to last forever (nearly 4 weeks with the boys & Bill’s family in Manchester followed by about 3 weeks in NZ with my family), we checked into Manchester Airport last Friday and started the trip back to Luanda.

Bill bought 20 soccer balls for his football team & we went mad in the supermarket the day before we left, so we had 4 checked bags + Bills bicycle. Check-in at British Airways is always so easy – no hassles & the bike went free as an added bonus. Even better, we didn’t need to change terminals at Heathrow so that was a smooth turn-around too.

The flight had many more women & children on it than the flight we made just more than a year ago – an indication of how the country is changing I guess. When we arrived (3am, 4am?) we were very surprised to see that the arrivals hall has been made much larger so the queuing seemed more orderly. Also the air conditioning was working as well. The best part of flying BA is that it is the only flight to arrive at that time, so there are no back-logs of people and even the luggage came out reasonably fast.

Bill was concerned about being hit with import tax for the soccer balls & that his bicycle would make customs more likely to stop him. So when we had all our bags together, he went out first with a bag of clothes and the bike, while I followed him out 5 minutes later with the other three bags. Of course they opened the bag with the balls in it (all bags were x-rayed as a matter of course – another first for our Luanda airport experiences) but when they found out I didn’t speak Portuguese and didn’t have the receipt for the balls on me (a lesson for future packing to put receipts into relevant suitcases), they gave up and let me go. Outside was Tony B (there to pick up his wife, but still good to see him) and an empty carpark. The car park expansion had just been recently finished and the barrier arm that let cars into the park had broken earlier in the night – so no one had been able to get into the airport to pick up relatives etc, and traffic was backed-up at the entrance of the airport for ages. Fortunately, we were able to just push our luggage trolleys out of the car-park & the school buses were there on the outside to pick us up. We were on our way back to the school in really a very quick time. Another big advantage of the BA flight is that there is no traffic on the roads so early in the morning, so the trip to school only takes 20 minutes or so – much faster than the hour or more it takes during the day.

We got back to school & our “house” – it had been cleaned during the holidays & it surprised us how much it felt like “home”. It was good to be back in our own place instead of staying with others – no matter how comfortable and welcome we had felt there. There is no time difference between the UK and Angola at the moment, but we’d only arrived in the UK from NZ two days before we flew out again and we were still feeling a bit jet-lagged & tired from all the flying we had done over the previous few days.

We spent the weekend sorting out the house (all our electrical and music stuff had been locked into the bedroom) and getting the basics restocked again. (The fridge and freezer had to be emptied out over the holidays, so we had no milk etc waiting for us). We unpacked the bags, Bill re-constructed his bicycle and despite the fact that it didn’t go first time, got the motorcycle working as well.

Monday was back to school – meeting the new teachers & getting keys for classrooms to get them ready. However, Monday was a day of meetings & we were both booked onto a first aid training course all day Thursday & Friday, so the actual amount of preparation time didn’t feel quite adequate.

Bill was made Head of Science (he’d applied right at the end of last year), which meant he had more to organise than usual. I was putting together a booklet for the MYP math classes, so we were both busy with departmental stuff.

The first aid course was busy – it totally ate up all of Thursday & Friday and everyone found the exam at the end confusing (it had been translated from Portuguese & the questions were poorly worded), but in the end we both passed. I haven’t done first aid training since I left Japan, so I was pleased to be current again. However the time we lost meant that we had to go back to school on Sunday afternoon to get our rooms ready.

The biggest surprise of the week was Di telling us early on Wednesday morning that one of the apartments was available because the teacher who was in it had decided he didn’t like it and wanted to move back to campus. Of course there was another couple we needed to go into a draw for the apartment – we’d lost out in all the previous draws, so weren’t feeling particularly optimistic. We had the draw at lunch time – Bill sent me as he’d been unlucky in previous draws & much to my amazement we won!!!!

We had to shift on Saturday so we booked a bus for 9am, borrowed lots of plastic storage bins to move with & we managed to have most of it packed up by 9am Saturday morning (we did have to get up early to achieve it). Friday night had been the staff barbeque with the board members and to everyone’s horror, the empty field across the road from the school was converted into a temporary church meeting – hundreds of people arrived and some sort of sermon was broadcast at maximum volume – it was impossible to sleep even though we were dead tired & had gone to bed early. Fortunately they turned the speakers off before midnight so we did get some sleep – but it was an ironic last night on campus – the normal peace & quiet well & truly shattered.

The shift went almost effortlessly – Tomi came to help & the driver was a huge help as well – the whole move took less than 2 hours. I’d been at home packing, so my first look at our new apartment was with it filled with boxes, but what a treat – 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and so much space……

We spent the rest of Saturday unpacking and organising. We don’t get a cleaner come to the flats the way we did on campus, but instead we get an extra $400 a month to cover the cost of supplies & a cleaner if we want one. We decided to try to clean ourselves & save the money – but also decided that buying a vacuum cleaner for $100 would be a good investment. We headed off to Shoprite on Saturday afternoon, not sure how busy it would be, but knowing that we had a ton of cleaning stuff we needed to buy. It was our first Shoprite visit since returning (Bill had been buying bits and pieces on his forays on the motorbike, so we’d been able to put it off), and I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised – Shoprite had the best selection of stuff we’ve ever seen there, the crowds weren’t too bad & the whole experience was quite painless. We even got our vacuum cleaner there!

One of our buys was a bottle of champagne – we’ve been celebrating our Angolan milestones with champagne since our champagne picnic lunch in Regents Park, London the day we got our visa – with a follow-up bottle the dawn we arrived a year ago. We haven’t had one since – coming back for our second year hadn’t seemed momentous enough, but without doubt, moving into our new 3rd floor apartment (with a view out over Luanda Sol) certainly was!

The weekend passed at record speed & to be honest I didn’t feel as organised for classes as I normally like to be. However, this last week with the kids back has gone by remarkably quickly, and it has been great to see the kids again & to meet new students. The week was pretty uneventful – we had a productive MYP meeting on Thursday after school organising linkages between different departments. The admin are also determined to crack down on dress code “abuse”, which certainly led to some interesting discussions in my homeroom on Friday afternoon. The whiff of a uniform is in the air….

This weekend has been more of the same – final unpacking of bags & organising the flat – we moved our dining room table into one of the spare bedrooms so we could use it as a study big enough for the two of us (the apartment does have a little office/study but it just isn’t big enough for both of us to work in at the same time). We needed to take some legs off the table to get it into the room we wanted, but we are thrilled with the end result – we have a huge table to do our work on & the living room is wide open with lots of space.

Other delights of the apartment include our own washing machine – no more using the shared laundry – and (a real treat) a dishwasher! We have a balcony that looks out over the street, & although it is a bit noisy and dusty, it is fine for drying clothes and we are thinking about getting a small barbeque for out there. We’ll buy some pots & potting mix (if we can) and see if we can’t grow some of the seeds we have too. We are still pinching ourselves about being here – it’s been a week but it still feels slightly unreal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our “Year” is Over!

June 09

Finally! Just 1 school day to go, 2 days to get stuff organised and we fly out of Luanda having completed our first “year” here. Of course, that’s a school year – it won’t be a calendar year until we return in August to do it all again!

The last couple of weeks have been crazily hectic (like schools everywhere I guess). We have had a graduation ceremony for the year 13 students (the school’s third). The year 7 students have had their PYP exhibition. A couple of performances have taken place including a huge musical production of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Reports have been written and students across the school have had their student led conferences.

In our life, finalising the yearbook has been the biggest issue – but it too is done, several hundred copies burned (in both PAL and NSTC formats), the signing booklets arrived from South Africa and today the students received their first yearbook before the end of school in years (ever ?) as previous printed ones have never arrived or cleared customs in time for the students to receive them before they leave. I was worried the kids might be dismissive of the little signing booklet, but I shouldn’t have worried. Hopefully the feedback tomorrow on the DVD will be good too.

Bill has spent the last three days away at Rio Longa with the entire year 12 class – they have been doing their Group 4 science project there. Every day there are less and less kids in class as they and their parents leave early to go on holiday (a process that has been going on for more than 3 weeks now!). Reports won’t be issued until the end of school tomorrow, but it doesn’t seem a big enough incentive to keep families here till the end of school. (and at the other end of the school year, many don’t think arriving on time is particularly important either).

So – what a year it has been! Partly I feel as if we’ve been here “forever” as the novelty has well & truly worn off, but also I find it hard to believe that a whole year has gone by so quickly. Amongst the teachers here, there have been 3 weddings (with two more these holidays), one baby born, and one definitely on the way. Five teachers have needed to be evacuated to South Africa for health reasons and just in the last two weeks, two others have come down with malaria. The school grew 30% this year and looks like growing a similar amount next year – so already the school is at capacity again (despite a new two-storey teaching block opening this year) – and enrolment at many year levels is closed. It seems more and more families are coming to Luanda all the time & once our school is full, there is really no where else to go. New apartment complexes are springing up all around the local area and the queues in the supermarkets get longer every week. Food prices haven’t come down and supply is still intermittent at best – everyone shops and hordes as you never know when something will disappear off the shelves for a month or two. But the new roads in and around the city have made travel much easier, although if you have the misfortune to travel during rush hour, the trips still take 3 hours or more. Luanda is gearing up for big international football matches in January of 2010 – apparently a new stadium is being built, although we haven’t seen it. There are also rumours of improvements at the airport – at the moment it only seems to be the carparks outside that have changed, but who knows by the time we come back?

Over the year the weather has gone from hazy & cool by day and chilly at night when we first arrived, to clear & then very hot and sunny. We even got about 4 days of rain (not on end) – one rainfall was so heavy it flooded the paths at school & we couldn’t let the kids change classes at the end of the lesson. The temperatures are now noticeably dropping again & it was decidedly hazy at Rio Longa this week. During this time, the baobab trees have gone from bare branches when we arrived, to new leaves, flowered, grew massive fruit pods & although still heavily in leaf, no doubt they will drop while we are away to start the cycle all over again.

Monday, May 25, 2009

“Postcards from Angola”

May 09

These last few weeks have been very uneventful for us as the craziness of the last few weeks of school takes over. I am doing three online courses – one is due to finish soon, the other two have just started. But a much bigger drain on my time (to the extent that it is literally taking up all my spare time) is that I am putting the school’s yearbook together – virtually single headedly, although Bill has stepped in to help with some of the organisation that still needs to be done. We are making a digital yearbook & I have never made one of those or even a normal yearbook before (which is one of the reasons why it is running so late in the year).

Anyway, we are not doing much other than just surviving it seems. But the big treat this week arrived yesterday from my sister Pam in Australia. She has been working on making a video as part of her job (she is a librarian in Brisbane). When she discovered she needed to make a video, she decided to use our life in Angola as her topic. Yesterday, she sent me the final product – the video labels has slipped a bit in the uploading & downloading process, but what a treat – to see a 5 minute summary of our time here this year. We both love it – thank you Pam!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Etosha Pan "Sea"

Another (non-edited) video from Namibia. You can see just how wet the Etosha pan was. This was taken in two different locations, with the second half shot out the moving car. In the first half you get a glimpse of the state of the car! It was so covered in mud that we had to get it washed twice (once to clear the plates and the lights & again at the end of the trip) before we could hand it back. Everyone who saw us after we left Etosha could tell that's where we'd been by looking at the car.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A slice of carnival

It's a bit late, but this gives you an idea of the craziness of Carnival. This was taken not long before we went home for the day.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Zebra video

Here are some of the many zebras we saw in Etosha. The first part shows lots of them at a waterhole (where we stayed for the first two nights) and then the rest are the zebras we encounted on a drive in the afternoon. The zebras were standing around, with many of them leaning their heads on each other's backs. You can hear more camera clicking in the background!

Leopard Video

Here is a short video of "our" leopard in Etosha. Neither of us are a great fan of video - we much prefer to take photos (you can hear me on the soundtrack), but it gives you an idea of how quickly it disappeared into the grass once it left the road - watch for the tail. Moral = never leave your car as you just don't know what's out there!

Namibia: Birds & other creatures

May 09

One of the surprises of Africa is the enchantment of the vastly under-looked animals that you come across in your holiday. I have never been a bird watcher & don’t even own a pair of binoculars, but I love to try to take photos of the birds I see, because they are so accessible & their behaviour is so interesting. They call attention to themselves with their bright colours or in your face antics. They are often much less skittish than the mammals are, their small size & tendency to hide behind branches makes photography a challenge. I also find reptiles totally fascinating – as a kid I used to hunt for skinks under rocks in the hills behind our house & keep them for a day or two. But we don’t have much in the way of flashy or big reptiles in NZ (& no snakes of course) so maybe that’s why I enjoy seeing them so much now. On this trip we saw the cutest ever gecko & my first ever chameleon.

Our favourite birds are raptors & we saw several different kinds. Typically they sit on the highest tree they can find, looking out for something to eat. The biggest one we saw was a juvenile Martial eagle. We also saw several secretary birds, but I never managed to get a decent photo.

Apart from the secretary birds striding through the grasses, we saw several other large birds that mostly stay on the ground. Ostriches of course, and Kori Bustards (the heaviest flying bird in the region) and Northern Black Korhaan’s which stand on a rock in a clearing and make such a racket that you can recognise it even when you can’t see it.

We also saw some storks, and lots of smaller birds that hung out close to the side of the road where we were able to see them. We saw huge numbers of weaver birds & some small birds that flew in huge flocks that attracted lots of attention from some of the smaller raptors. (You can see them flying above the Abdim’s stork). We also saw Guinea fowl
with young chicks (not the most intelligent of birds when faced with traffic), more water birds than we expected (all that rain & the flooded Etosha plain). We also saw lots of lilac breasted rollers every morning.

We saw the most reptiles when we did the “living desert” tour in Swakopmund. ( This was to see the “little 5” & it was enormous fun! We saw a couple of Peringuey's Adder’s which were just hanging out under the bushes for some shade, a baby & larger Palmato Gecko, which Tommy (the tour leader) somehow found burrowed in sand dunes. These little geckos are nocturnal & have transparent skin & will die if exposed to full sunlight. But by far the cutest gecko’s I’ve ever seen. We also saw
a sand diving lizard and a FitzSimon's Burrowing Skink, which is both blind & legless. But
the highlight for me was the Namaqua Chameleon – we saw 2 adults and a baby one. Tommy had collected some beetles to feed them – their tongues are amazing & they are so fast! And, they really do change colour! Just so cool!

Outside of this tour, we also saw various other reptiles – a couple of snakes including a very scary black mamba crossing the road in front of us. Also we lots of agama lizards & various other geckos & even a terrapin. We even saw the odd frog (amphibians in such a dry country seemed very incongruous).

The final group of my photos are the invertebrates “bugs” as Bill calls them. I realise most people just swat at them, if they notice them at all, but I find them beautiful, or if that is stretching it a bit, at least fascinatingly ugly! I saw great bugs (huge bodies over 5cm long with even longer antennae) all over the fence posts in Damaraland. I can’t find anything like them in my insect book, so maybe they are just juveniles (very big ones). That area was also where we saw our only scorpion. But lots of very pretty butterflies!

Since we’ve got back to Luanda, the main excitement in our life is that Bill has got a new Honda Falcon 400 motorcycle. We bought helmets in Windhoek on our last day there, so now we have relative freedom of movement. Bill is loving it! We’ve made several spontaneous trips into the city & although we have hit some very heavy traffic we have been able to get through it without problems (I hate weaving through traffic). The road conditions are also a bit scary but Bill is being as cautious as possible.

We are in our last month of school but it is a hectically busy time. Last weekend Bill took his team of soccer boys to Johannesburg to play in an inter-school competition. Despite the overall very young age of the team (more than half of them were young enough to play in the next division down) they won the international school round, but were no match for the much older & more experienced local teams.

I’m trying to put the yearbook together on time (& having to take some release time off school to do so) & reports etc are fast approaching. We are very ready for the year to end & to see family again.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Namibia Holiday: Mammals

May 09

Big mammals are what everyone thinks of when they hear the words “African safari” – lions, elephants, leopards etc. Due to the uncharacteristically wet weather this year , the “big 5” pretty much eluded us. The reality was long days of driving, peering into thick bushes & long grass, desperately trying to spot animals, often fruitlessly, but then we’d go around a corner & there would be some magnificent animal standing right there on the side of the road, making the effort more than worthwhile.

On our first morning in Etosha we’d been driving for about an hour (along pretty wet and muddy roads) when our first “close encounter” happened. We were heading for the toilet (areas in the park that are fenced off so it is safe to get out of the car to use the facilities), and just 10 metres from the entrance to the toilet, we rounded a corner & there was a leopard in the middle of the road! You have no idea how exciting spotting a big cat so close is. We both grabbed our cameras & tried to get photos as “proof” (with the car stopped in the middle of the road). The cat didn’t stick around for long – he continued to cross the road (& this is the creepy part) he walked into the grass at the side of the road & within 20 seconds had completely disappeared from sight. We knew it was there, but no matter how hard we looked – we moved the car to get closer – we never saw it again. It made us realise just why you are never supposed to get out of the car in the park – you just don’t know what is lurking in the undergrowth. By the time we got to the toilet, several other cars had arrived there as well – everyone was so jealous we’d seen a leopard.

A similar thing happened on the next morning – we’d gone to check out a waterhole (no animals as usual) and were on our way out (same road as the entrance) and as we came around a corner, there was another leopard in the middle of the road – but this one didn’t move away, instead, after watching us carefully, it proceeded to sit and drink leisurely from a big puddle in the middle of the road. We were able to get great photos – it kept a close eye on us, but once it finished drinking, it sauntered off into the long grass – with its tail held high, it’s black & white tip was the last thing we saw of it just 4 – 5 metres from the side of the road.

So by now we think we have “early morning cat luck” and on our last morning in the park we were driving along the main road next to the Etosha plain, when out the side window I spotted a big male lion striding along the grass. Once more there was no one else around – we had the lion to ourselves. We could hear him “talking” (not as loud as a roar), but couldn’t see any other lions around. So, as far as the big carnivores go, we think close encounters with 2 leopards and a lion all to ourselves is pretty good. We were delighted with the photos we got.

The only other big carnivore we saw was a spotted hyena – similar story, came around a corner & it was standing in the middle of the road, but this was at the end of the day rather than in the morning. We actually saw the same one (we assume) twice, within 15 – 20 minutes.

The other reasonably big carnivore we saw lots of, were the black-backed jackals. We first saw one close to the seal colony, but later saw many more in Etosha. Actually, they are very cheeky and were walking around the restaurant at night trying to steal scraps of food! Despite how ubiquitous they turned out to be, we saw several playing in the wild & got some really nice photos of them.

The seals are the other big carnivores we saw, but as I said before, we found the colony noisy and stinky and the weather too cold for us to hang around for long. And with so many of them just sitting there, there wasn’t much excitement (no thrill of the hunt).

Apart from the carnivores, I guess most peoples image of the African plains are the herbivores – antelope and zebra and giraffes. These we saw plenty of! Just no elephants or rhinos. The rarest antelope we saw was a roan antelope (very briefly) at Waterburg.

Springbok we saw everywhere, and in the Eastern side of Etosha we saw lots of black faced impala also. We also saw lots of wildebeest and a few hartebeest. We also saw some small antelope (Steenbok and Damara dik-dik) – definitely close encounters on the side of the road as they were well hidden by the tall grass.

We saw large herds of zebra, but one day we came across a whole lot just standing (on the road) but with them all resting their heads on each others backs. Very strange!

We also had lots of close encounters with giraffes – we first saw a parent & baby on our first days driving out of Windhoek. When we were at Waterburg, we were in hides to watch the waterholes and salt licks & we had our packed breakfast watching a group of giraffes at a waterhole. Nothing looks more awkward than a giraffe trying to drink out of a pool in the ground! Even the baby ones look awkward, and they are much closer to the ground.

At the other end of the size scale were several delightful small mammals that we saw along the way. The banded mongooses we watched trying to cross the road without losing any of their babies along the way (so they stuck to each other like glue). The animals that were the most fun to watch were the ground squirrels which act more like a meerkat than a typical squirrel (except maybe for the squirrel in London that punched Bill in the nose last year). But they have no traffic sense at all and we even saw one family with its burrow in the road!

We also saw a couple of young suricates (these are also called meerkats) and some rock hyrax.

So, despite the weather, we really did see a lot of African mammals, and we got some great photos too. We can’t wait until we can go back & see how our luck runs next time.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Namibia Holiday: Scenery

May 09

Sorry – I have got further & further behind with these so-called “weekly” updates, so here is an attempt to do a bit of a catch up.

We had three wonderful weeks in Namibia – an incredibly beautiful country that is easy to travel in and has so much variety. We hired a car to drive ourselves around, and the sense of freedom was very liberating. We had pre-booked our accommodation, so it was simply a matter of following the map & stopping wherever we liked to have a break or (most often) take some photos. The drives were quite long (probably our only complaint) which meant we arrived in some places disconcertingly close to dark. We also got up at the crack of dawn almost every day – something I don’t think we’d planned to do before coming on this holiday. But the upside of long days is that each one was so packed full, that all sense of time became dilated, so within just 2 days, we felt we’d been on holiday for ages. Needless to say, we both took hundreds and hundreds of photos, so I’ve decided the only practical way to deal with them all is to do this update in instalments based on photo topic (what other way is there?).

So first is scenery – the back-drop to everything that follows. Our photos just don’t do justice to the variety and spectacle that we saw. Bill wouldn’t let us stop every time I wanted to take a photo – as he rightly pointed out, if we did, we’d never arrive anywhere!

The other thing that was so special about our trip is that Namibia has had the heaviest rains this year for 10 – 20 years! So what we saw in terms of plant life was truly exceptional. Wildflowers were in bloom everywhere. The grasses were about 1 metre tall – impacting on visibility for when we were trying to see animals in game parks. The incredibly beautiful sand dunes of Sossusvlei were covered in grasses of the most beautiful shade of grey/green. We realised that our experience on this holiday was probably quite unique in terms of a “typical” visit to Namibia - & although it had some down sides (in terms of the animals we could see in Etosha in particular), overall we felt very privileged to be able to see the country so green and lush.

We started our trip in Windhoek (after a long but not too unpleasant day in Luanda Airport) – just an overnight and then after some shopping (remember we only ever shop for food in Luanda, so that in itself was a thrill), we set off along some minor roads to our first stop, not far from the sand dunes of Sossusvlei. The trip was a good 6 hours drive (which we didn’t know in advance), and the scenery changed dramatically along the way. We passed a lot of “farmland” with not that much to see in the way of livestock. We did see baboons, giraffes, ostriches, a secretary bird, a marabou stork and various small reptiles and mammals along the side of the road. We hadn’t expected to see any “animals” as such until we got to Etosha, so it was a real thrill.
The place we stayed that night was in one of the most beautiful locations you can imagine – nestled in around hills with stunning scenery in every direction.

We had the first of our incredibly early wake up calls the next morning – around 4:30 am for breakfast & a packed lunch to take with us. The drive in the dark was a bit hairy (the roads were unsealed) but we got to the park entrance in good time for the gates to open (we blew it a bit by not knowing we had to stop and buy a permit & had to backtrack, but we didn’t lose much time). The sun was just coming up as we drove into the park – it was just so beautiful! We thought we were just going to see sand dunes (this shows how busy we were before we left – no time to do any decent research!) so we amazed to see first ostriches and then springbok. Then, thrill of thrill, we spotted some oryx (gemsbok). The scenery was just stunning – we stopped at a look-out point and ate our breakfast, and watched as colourful hot air balloons went up into the sky.

We drove (on a sealed road) for about 60 km to reach the start of the dunes themselves. We didn’t want to take our car on the soft sand, so went in with a “taxi” instead. By this time, the sun had come up and the sunrise light was pretty much gone, and a wind had got up, making the whole scene very sandy. We were just wandering around when we saw an oryx walking out of the sand storm towards us! We were able to get fairly close!
Bill decided he wanted to climb up a dune (really not a good idea in those sorts of winds), so we choose one, but it was so unpleasant at the top that Bill quickly retreated back down out of the wind & I decided I could live without getting to the top.

We walked to a valley full of dead acacia trees, which was very photogenic, but by then it was getting pretty hot, so we decided to return early the next day on our way to Swakopmund, and .head back to our accommodation for a relaxing afternoon.

Actually, we climbed a hill behind where we were staying to try to catch the sunset from there, but when we came home we found out we had a flat tire! It was too late by then to do more than change it for the spare, but it meant that our plans to drive back along the dunes would have to be postponed until we got our tire fixed.

There was a service station open from 6am so we were able to go right in & get the tire checked. Unfortunately, the tire has multiple punctures and was deemed “stuffed”. We had to buy a new tire (we had tire insurance & rang Avis first to authorise it). Despite some mucking around, we were able to go back into the park & catch some more photos before setting off on our trip to Swakopmund. It was another long drive, but also incredibly scenic. We passed the tropic of Capricorn along the way (for the second time on our trip).

Swakopmund is on the coast, and is right on the edge of the sand dunes. We were staying in a place that overlooked the desert from the upstairs balcony. We also had internet here for the only time on our entire trip. We had 3 nights, so the first day we took it pretty easy, exploring the town & getting permits to visit a couple of places we wanted to see.

That afternoon we drove back an hour the way we’d come the day before to an interesting rock outcrop, with the plan to catch the sunset. We had a ball there – great photography & some raptors (kestrels & an owl) and even a snake to keep us busy!

The next day we went on a “living desert tour” – absolutely one of my favourite things we did on the whole trip. The aim was to find the “little 5” – chameleons, snakes, dune lizards etc. It was great!

That afternoon we drove out to the “lunar landscape” area & explored that. We were staying in a self catering apartment, so we also ate really well while we were there.

The next day we left for Damaraland – we went via the seal colony further up the coast. It was very foggy & actually cold (as well as smelly – we didn’t stay very long). We did see our first jackal on the way though!

The scenery again was stunning & we stopped along the way for me to buy a doll from a road side stall. The women there were dressed in their traditional clothes (Herero and Himba) and they let us take some photos.

We also stopped to see a petrified forest, which was moderately interesting, but set in beautiful scenery. The place we stayed out was another stunning location and we caught the most wonderful sunset that night.

The next day we went to Twyfelfontein to see the San (bushman) rock drawings. We felt we were rushed around way too fast, which put a damper on our visit. The scenery in the area though was stunning.

The next day we headed off to Etosha National Park. We’d been hearing from people travelling in the opposite direction to us that the game viewing was far from typical and spotting wildlife around the waterholes was pretty difficult. We arrived at the park around lunch time (one of our shortest driving days) and on our way to the resort we took a short detour off the main road & to our delight we saw a giraffe within 5 minutes & a zebra and a springbok up close just a few minutes later. We sat and ate our lunch there (in the car) & decided that we were going to be lucky (as always). We soon discovered that the stories we heard we correct, there was so much water in the park (just lying in puddles on the ground) that animals didn’t need to risk going to a waterhole to drink, & in the three to four days we were in the park, we hardly saw an animal at a waterhole. We got up early every day so we could start driving as soon as the gates opened at sunrise, had a rest around lunch time & then headed out again for an afternoon drive. We think we were really lucky with what we saw – because the grasses and bushes were so high, we couldn’t see much past about a metre from the roadside, but that meant that what we did see, we saw up close! We didn’t see any elephants (much to Bill’s disappointment) or rhinos, but we saw two leopards and a lion! We were really delighted with what we got to see & as for what we didn’t – we’ll just have to go back for another holiday!

The biggest surprise was the Etosha pan – normally a dust bowl, we saw an ocean! Instead of animals, we saw ducks and waterbirds.

After Etosha, we stayed at the Waterburg Plateau – a huge rock with steep sides where the most endangered animals (eg rhinos, roan and sable antelope) are kept. Although we took a safari, we didn’t see any rhino, although we did see a roan antelope. Around our unit we had dwarf mongooses and Dik-dik – the smallest of all the antelope & surely the worst of names! We climbed up to the plateau for the sunset view, which was very impressive.

Then it was back to Windhoek for some essential shopping & the next day we flew out – Bill to Tanzania to spend a few days with the boys & myself back to Luanda & school.

We loved Namibia & truly hope that we can visit again – maybe during the dry season. What bliss to be able to communicate easily with the people we met, be able to buy almost anything we wanted (for very reasonable prices). Our 3 week holiday felt as if it had lasted forever!

Here are links to some of Bill’s photos from our holiday. (He takes better pictures than I do!)


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Week 28: Carnival

Feb 23 – March 1, 2009

This was not a good week for my health – by Monday after school I was so sick that Bill insisted I take one of our home Malaria tests. Neither of us really thought I had malaria, but it seemed silly not to make sure. I slept virtually all afternoon & quite late in the next morning, as we had the day off school for Carnival. Now, I know I should have stayed in bed, but Carnival was one of the things we’d been looking forward to seeing – since even before we arrived in Angola, and there was just no way I was going to stay home & miss it!

There was a lot of confusion over what time the parade would start – we heard lots of contradictory times, but we thought 2pm seemed to be the consensus. We left home at 11 am as we weren’t sure what the traffic would be like, & of course had a clear run into the city. We didn’t see much on the way in that would indicate that it was carnival – I expected to see everyone dressed up, but it wasn’t like that all. The marginal was just as quiet – the place was deserted, so we ended up going for a drink in Bahia, where we could look out & see what was happening. Along the marginal were lots of tents set up for temporary bars/restaurants, but they were pretty deserted too.

After we’d been in the city for about an hour, people dressed in masks & costumes started to show up, so we left the rapidly filling up bar & hit the street. I can’t say that I was feeling the best, but I was thoroughly drugged up with cold medicine & still determined to survive the day.

We walked along the marginal & before we’d gone very far, people started to stop us to get us to take their pictures – we were virtually mobbed by people begging us to take their photos – no matter how reluctant people might normally be to have their photos taken, obviously doesn’t apply during carnival. It felt friendly and good natured & mostly quite safe, although we had a few incidents with people trying to take stuff out of our bags (nothing much was in them, but we wanted a bag to put the cameras away if we felt we had to) and someone literally tried to take Bills camera off him! After one of the first incidents, a plains-clothes policeman materialized at the scene & it started to look ugly – we got out of there as fast as we could! Realising that we couldn’t get separated at all, we stuck together as much as we could & just kept our “antennae” on high alert. Despite the odd scare, we still felt pretty secure with the cameras out & the people asking us for photos seemed genuinely happy to pose.

Many people were wearing masks – most of which were feathered. But we saw lots of strange costumes & quite a few kids not dressed up at all (but still posing for photos). To be honest it was really refreshing to be open about taking photos – we had expected to be using the long lenses to “sneak” photos of people – I don’t think either of us took a single non-posed photo the whole afternoon. As we walked along we met up with another group of teachers who’d come in about an hour later than us – they’d sat down at one of the roadside “restaurants” for lunch. We joined them as they had shade & there was still no sign of the parade starting. We waited another couple of hours (taking more photos) until we decided to move towards the covered seating that had been erected for dignitaries & (we guessed) people who had bought tickets. People were gathering there, and the footpath was filling up with kids & families sitting on the edges. We joined them & could tell that in front of the seating, a “performance” was taking place – some sort of set act by the looks of it. When they finished, they walked/danced on past the crowds, but it quickly disintegrated into a mass of people rather than an actual parade.

The gap between each group was quite long & I was starting to wilt quite badly – I’d been on the go for hours when really I should actually have been in bed trying to get better. Also, the crowd on the road was starting to get ugly – Bill was trying to film it & frankly it just scared me. So after a bit of discussion, we decided we really had seen the best of what the day had to offer & to leave while we were still ahead (we were concerned about people getting drunker, fights getting uglier & the mood shifting regarding photos). So we headed home – me to bed.

Over the rest of the week I slowly got better, Bill’s chopped thumb continued to break open & bleed (because he hadn’t got stitches in it), so we were a bit of a miserable pair. We did however accept an invitation to be part of a team for the PTA quiz night on Saturday evening, which meant that Bill had to forgo a local soccer match that he would have otherwise gone too because the timing was too tight.

On the weekend we decided to have a quiet day on Saturday & then investigate the mouth of the River Kwanza on Sunday. The quiz night was a fundraiser that included dinner & wine as well as the quiz competition. We were an all-teacher’s team, including the head of school, but we’d lost one of the original team members as she hadn’t got back from the soccer game in time (so I was very pleased that Bill had decided to skip it). We found another teacher at the last minute & managed to come up with a team name “nits of the round table”. Dinner was spaghetti bolognaise & for us vegetarians (there were 3 at our table) spaghetti with homemade pesto. The quiz structure was a little unusual as the format had the same categories for each round (mathematics, world news, current events, entertainment, sports etc) – 1 question per topic each & as the quiz progressed the questions increased in value from 10 points to 50 points by the end. The questions did get harder (mostly) as the rounds progressed & in the middle of it all was a spelling bee and a random game of poker. Not to brag, but our team was in the top 3 for the first couple of rounds & then we were in the lead & managed to stay there! We were the winning team by the end of the competition & went home with a bottle of “champagne” and some chocolates.

Sunday was a hot sunny day – perfect for going to the beach. We’d got directions for where we wanted to go, so were reasonably confident we could find it. The place we wanted was on the far side of the Kwanza River & then past the salt pans so that we ended up close the mouth of the river itself. It is quite similar to Rio Longa – there is a big sand-bar at the mouth with an almost lagoon behind it – in this case the river was flowing a bit more directly into the sea than it does at Rio Longa. The river & the beach run parallel to each other with just a 10 metre strip of sand between them. The beach side had big pounding waves – not that enticing to swim in for either of us, but the river side was calm (no crocodiles in sight or prints) & just delightful to swim in. We were in the river within 10 minutes of arriving! After our swim we sat and had a cup of tea watching the waves on the sea side & then we walked up the river bank until we found a nice little stretch of beach, shaded by palm trees, where we sat & had our lunch, followed by another dip. Now I know that theoretically there could have been lots of crocodiles lurking in the water, but we didn’t see a single set of prints, the water was shallow & clear & the risk just didn’t seem very high – and the water was great – warm & fresh & just great to swim in.

On our way home we took a sidetrack to check out the Kwanza River Lodge – we found the car park totally packed with cars & the restaurant and veranda inside was just as full. As we walked in we saw Jamie & Franco (who we did our geological trip with), which just goes to show I guess just how small the expat community in Luanda really is. We only stayed for a quick drink – we sat on the balcony almost exactly across the water from where we’d had our lunch. There were kids playing in the water (also not too concerned about crocodiles) and a professional photo shoot of some local models in swimwear. It was all go!

We were quite happy to leave & get home so we could get ready for our next week of school.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Week 26: Fossils & an Impressive War Memorial

Feb 09 – 15, 2009

For those of you who think we never teach a five day week, you’ll be pleased to know that this was actually a full working week. In fact, we even worked Friday evening as well as chaperones for the school dance. I must say, it did feel like a long week!

We had our usual “catch up” day on Saturday, doing shopping etc with the plan being to spend Sunday retracing our steps from two weeks earlier to revisit the fossil cliff at Barra do Dande and then chill at the resort afterwards. Saturday evening we went around to Julie’s apartment to see “Slumdog Millionaire” (courtesy of the Thai pirate DVD industry).

We went by 4 wheel drive & left quite early Sunday morning. We had a good run through the city & out the north coast. When we took the turn off for Barra do Dande, we were rather surprised to find ourselves on the new sealed road for the entire time – in just two weeks, the road has essentially been finished!

We still needed the 4 wheel drive to get up to the top of the cliff for the fossil beach – by this time it was becoming scorching hot. We weren’t the only ones at the beach – there were some sea anglers under the cliffs to the right.

It was nice to explore along the bottom of the cliff by ourselves, looking out for fossils along the way. The place is just covered in them. We were able to go right around as the tide was quite far out. Bill was convinced he saw a turtle’s head a couple of times, but I was never looking in the right direction at the right time!

We found more clam fossils (the most common type of fossil there), a few more ammonite fossils – but in huge boulders, & what looks to me like fish vertebrae & bones.

It was while we were here that Bill started to have trouble with his new zoom lens – unbelievably it is playing up to the extent that it is almost unusable! It will still be under warranty in the summer when we get back to Manchester, but once again we are having to share my 300 mm zoom lens! This just makes me more determined to buy a new camera over the summer – both our cameras are about 4 years old & it would be devastating if one of them broke with months & months to wait till we get back to Europe again. Sharing a lens is one thing – sharing a camera wouldn’t be a happy picture!

By the time we were ready for lunch it was way too hot to sit in the sun so we found some shade under the cliffs at the other end of the beach. We sat & ate our buns & watched the birds fly down from the cliffs to go fishing in the ocean in front of us. We even spotted a common whimbrel looking for crabs in the rocks right in front of us. It flew past & when I looked at my photos I found one with the whimbrel flying over the sea, and right behind it I had caught one of the jumping fish that you see all along this coast. Not a great pic of the fish, but I was still chuffed with it.

After lunch we climbed back to the waiting car & then went to the resort on the other side of the fishing village & river. We were able to find ourselves a jango with table & chairs next to the beach. We had a couple of cold drinks, I went for a quick dip in the sea (which just shows how hot it was) & we sat in the shade & read our books. The sea was a little bit seaweedy, but the beach itself is clean with lots of shade. People were having their lunch outside under their jangos (which is probably just as well, as the restaurant is small). It is a great beach for kids – unlike Cabo Lebo, where the waves are just too big & strong.

There were grey herons flying past, & I took a few snaps, but Bill hardly picked his camera up (he was reading a very good book he couldn’t put down).

We left for home about 2pm & asked our driver if we could stop at the war memorial we’d spotted on the drive down. It was the memorial that had been pointed out to us during our history lesson at the Bende River bridge. From the road you can only just see a statue with a flag above the trees, but we thought it might be interesting to have a quick look.

The driver had never been to the memorial before, but it was easy for us to work out how to get to it, as it is right on top of the only hill in the area (it is where the Cubans had their guns positioned). There is a restaurant on the grounds of the memorial, but it wasn’t open. The guard was happy to let us in to look at the memorial (although he did seem a bit surprised – most people must combine their visit with a meal). I have to be honest, we weren’t expecting anything special – we thought it would just be a statue on a plinth & that would be about that, but we were totally impressed by the entire memorial. As soon as we got out of the car, we could look north and see all the way to the Bende River as clear as anything. (Actually, when I checked on Google Earth, I found it was only about 260 m as the crow flies (or the missile shoots)! What a strategic spot! No wonder this part of the war was won here.

The actual memorial consisted of a dedication plaque from President Santos on Nov 9, 2004 - just before Independence Day on Nov 11, which is about when this battle was fought.

The memorial inscription is written on a huge stone map of Angola: Monument to the Battle of Kifangondo, 1975 (this is the name of this particular area).

The actual memorial is a 3-D representation of the symbol in the Angolan flag. It has two semi-circular marble walls with the base for the statues in the middle, where the machete crosses the “cogged wheel” The star should have had an eternal light (but it was out). The “machete” is a pond, with some fountains at the back.

On the inside curved walls are 6 big bronze murals which apparently tell the story of the battle. Unfortunately, there are no explanations, so you need to already know the story (which we don’t) to be able to follow it fully. It clearly shows a big battle, prisoners being taken & people dying & the victory in the 4th panel. The fifth panel is a city street scene – people holding placards saying “death to the mercenaries”. The last mural looks like a war crimes trial, with a woman sitting at the front underneath the judges while a lawyer points at a person in the audience, who has a leg up on a chair.

Its hard to make more sense of it all – we think the man in glasses – in the main statue and in the first mural is the first president of Angola – Agostinho Neto. I was able to find out that the other man in the big statue is David Moisés “Ndozi” – one of the commanders of the nationalist forces at the site. He is possibly also shown in the other murals, but it is hard to tell. The murals and the statues themselves are amazing works of art – they are very realistic & the artist (Rui de Matos) is very talented. (I read somewhere that he himself is an army general!).

Our driver got out & had a good look around himself, but we were virtually the only ones there apart from several couples cuddling under the trees in the grounds (it is obviously the place to bring your girlfriend). We couldn’t get over the fact that no one seemed to know anything about the place, yet alone recommending the visit. We thought it was really special.

After leaving the memorial, we had a good trip home (especially considering it was a Sunday afternoon) – once the new roads are finished, it will make trips north so much faster & easier.

Week 27: Illness Strikes

Feb 16 – 22, 2009

I’m putting this week as a tagalong after last week as it was so uneventful. It was another full week of school, with things gearing up to the fast approaching end of term & all the extra assessments that seems to bring.

The week was busy with the usual workload, but it took on a much more negative feeling as our health started to pack up. Bill got a series of nasty cold sores (which the medicine kept from getting truly horrible, but couldn’t stop from spreading), and then on Friday night scared both of us by cutting his thumb so badly that we thought he might lose the top. He refused to go to the doctor for stitches so we had to just make do with bandages & crossed fingers. We went into the city for pizza lunch on Sunday, but I started to feel quite ill on the way in & within 4 hours was well & truly miserable with a nasty cold or flu. Not a wonderful week for either of us!