Sunday, February 1, 2009

Week 24: A Geological & Historical Excursion

Jan 26 – Feb 01, 2009



First let me get this out of the way – the lost bag FINALLY arrived – over 3 weeks late! It had been sitting in Amsterdam all that time. It arrived minus cheese (after that long, I’m sure it was very stinky) but disappointingly, it was also minus a heap of new clothes (in particular soccer kit for Bill), so it was hard to be too ecstatic about its final arrival. We are now in the process of trying to get some form of compensation – we are not holding our breaths!

Aside from the almost end of the lost luggage saga, the week involved Bill trying to catch up with classes he has missed – both teaching & the course he is doing (ESL in the Mainstream, which I did when I was in Tokyo). He also had soccer coaching – he hadn’t seen the boys for 2 weeks.

Monday was a real treat as it was a Public holiday – City of Luanda Day (although I heard later that it had been cancelled at the last minute) – whatever, it was nice for Bill & I to just have time together to catch up a bit on all the time he’d been gone.

Friday was early close & no school for any of the high school students as it was Parent Teacher conferences (by invitation). Because I had primary classes, I only saw a few parents, but the ones I did was worthwhile.

Friday afternoon & Saturday were quiet type catch up days, but Sunday we were booked to go on a Geological field trip with the Angola Field Group. They had put out a message about their trip on their blog the previous week & we’d written off right away to say we wanted to go. The only others from school who got in early enough was Jo & Marek – everyone else ended up on the very long waiting list.

On Saturday I got an email from Peter who wanted to post a link to a site he manages – the Aid Workers Network (there is a link to this on the sidebar). We exchanged a couple of emails – he was reminiscing about being in Luanda in 1994 & the difficulties of communicating with his family. Check his blog post about it at: The Road to the Horizon. It sure made me realise that living here now is much easier than it used to be, even quite recently. As you can tell from the pictures posted below, I spent the day playing in Photoshop.

Sunday morning was an early start to make our lunches & pack up our bags & get our bus into town by 6:45 am. We (Bill & I as well as Jo & Marek) had said we didn’t have our own car, so once we got to the meeting place, we were introduced to the people we were riding with.

Bill & I were lucky – we had a very comfortable back seat with Franco and Jamie – they had said they had room for 2 even though the back sat 3! Franco has been in Luanda for quite a bit longer than us, Jamie for about the same length of time, but it soon became apparent that Bill & I had got out & about much more than they had, despite them having their own car.

There was about 12 cars in total on the trip, but the first car developed engine problems within the first 15 minutes (radiator ran dry I think). Passengers were re-arranged & we continued north of Luanda to the bridge over the Bengo River. We had been this way before, on our way to shipwreck beach, but not stopped.

The geologist leading the trip, Tako, gave a very interesting talk about the importance of this particular bridge. The trip documents (a map & some background information) stressed how dangerous it was to try to go under the bridge due to possible landmines – so everyone stayed very close to the main road.

Tako explained how this stretch of road was where the Cubans arrived (on the Luanda side of the bridge) to help MPLA defend the only access way to the city from the north. They set up rocket launchers (which the Angolans didn’t know how to operate, but the Cubans did) on a distant ridge & were able to completely blast at all the soldiers with Holden Roberto & the FNLA who were backed by Zaire (& the west to stop communism spreading in Africa). The stretch of road along the bridge came to be known as the “road of death”. FNLA never made it past that point & the MPLA were able to consolidate their position. What was particularly interesting was that an Angolan man on the trip said that when he was a child, his family & village were on the FNLA side, but that with peace coming to Angola, all those animosities had been left behind – he said how pleased he was that Angola hadn’t gone the way of (the example he gave was Gaza & Israel).

Apart from the interesting history, there wasn’t much to see other than lots of swallows flying around the river (although they have spotted crocodiles in the past). It was supposed to be a toilet break, but with the threat of landmines off the main road, along with a paucity of suitable bushes & a group of men repairing a truck, I don’t think anyone took advantage of the (limited) opportunity.

From the Bengo River we drove to Barra do Dande – this is where we had ended up on our first attempt to find shipwreck beach. The road (being built by a Chinese construction company who have already finished a new bridge at the mouth of the Dande River) was much better than it had been all those months before, although still not quite completed. We drove though the fishing village & then up to the cliffs which are apparently all Cretaceous sediments. Tako gave us a geology lesson – much of the surrounding area is much later (tertiary?) but this particular set of cliffs are late cretaceous & he told us that there are quite a lot of clam fossils in the rocks as well as the occasional ammonite fossil.

We walked down to the sea & within 5 minutes of getting to the beach I had picked up a small rock on the high-tide zone that looked like an ammonite fossil. It was white crystalline & although it had a distinctive spiral shape, I couldn’t see any segments in it. When I finally caught up with Tako, who was way ahead with the front of the group, it turned out that I was the only person on the day to find an ammonite! We picked up other fossils as well & decided that we would come back another day as it was a delightful little beach with not a soul on it.

Tako kept a pretty tight time schedule, so we had a brief stop at the top of the cliffs with a viewpoint looking north & then back into the cars to drive to the first of the oil seeps. The first site was called Libongos – and just a few minutes walk off the main road took us into an asphalt quarry. The crude oil has been oozing out of the rocks, where all the light hydrocarbons evaporate in the heat, leaving the large bitumen residues behind. Layers of this has formed the asphalt. The black oil was literally oozing out of the ground & flowing down the vertical surfaces where the quarrying had occurred. The Portuguese had mined this for asphalt in the late 1700’s & were shipping it back to Portugal (probably for caulking ships). In 1820, 34 barrels of it was shipped to Rio de Janeiro for the same purpose.

There was one small “well” with liquid crude oil sitting just below the surface – but apparently it is not commercially viable to do much with this (to expensive to extract all the contaminants from it?). Bill had to pose for his photo – with a palm frond that he’d dipped into the oil (but he wasn’t the only one!).

The asphalt quarry crush the asphalt for purification & then it is used to improve the local roads (which were pretty appalling – so who knows what they would have been like otherwise!).

We drove on in what was now a very hot & sunny day to the second oil seep (I have to confess to thinking they all look the same) but this one had a richer source of oil (& was therefore that much hotter & that much more smelly & sticky underfoot). Despite the non-geologists rapid loss of interest, the geologists were pretty excited by it all – these are guys who have worked in the oil industry (I guess) for decades between them & only one had ever seen another oil seep. So actually they are something special. (But when you have seen one…..)

By now we were very hot (& hungry) so the next stop (but not before another car broke down) was just outside the town of Caxito. This town had a big canal running through its length – a wonderful resource in a semi-arid climate & we saw kids swimming, people washing & lots of clothes washing as well. Our actual lunch stop was overlooking the river that fed the canal, at a small waterfall (wide but not high). This was also a popular place with locals as it was shady & of course was an ideal place to swim. Lunch was great (we were starving by this point), Jamie had kept us going along the way by feeding us muffins she had baked – we really did have a lucky day.

After lunch we continued our big loop back towards Luanda, stopping at the abandoned Mabubas Hydro-electric dam on the Dande River. This was built in pre-independence times & used to supply Luanda with electricity. During the war it was sabotaged by UNITA and has never been repaired. Water rushes through it, but all the machinery is broken & rusted. It seems such a shocking waste of potential considering that power is often in short supply in the city. We climbed all over it & found an old tank close by which of course was the second “compulsory” photo opportunity of the day.

That was our last stop & the trip home was relatively quick (given the Sunday traffic) & uneventful. We were dropped back in the city where a bus was waiting for us to take us back to school. We got home about 6pm – a long but wonderful day with new places to revisit to explore at our leisure (& with less people around). Bill found out that Franco & Jamie were involved in the local Hash – so he will get information from them so he can join in the next time they run. So, despite being very tired, we felt we’d had a really great weekend.

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