Monday, February 05, 2007


I haven't posted any new tales to our Angola blog for a long time, this is for several reasons... First one being that we no longer live there, we are now both working here in Beijing! And Secondly, shortly before we left Angola (June last year) I managed to catch cerebral malaria, which made me disinclined to sit down and write anything.

I caught malaria whilst I was up country in Huambo, helping the Halo Trust with some computer problems they were experiencing, and it took me about 36 hours to both realise that I had malaria and to get to a doctor. I was told that the type of malaria I was suffering from can kill you in as little as 72 hours... So by the time I got to a doctor, I was seriously ill. I have never felt so bad in all my life. I had the lot! High fevers, feeling of such intense cold that my entire body was shaking uncontrollably, hallucinations, aches all over, dizziness, generally feeling like death very slightly warmed up. NEVER get malaria, it is simply awful to suffer from. What a way to die!
Anyhow, as a result of this, and the time it took me to recover completely, I simply didn't have the puff to add to this blog.

Then in June, we left Angola, and after a short time in Europe, we came here to live and work in Beijing. So far I have not started a blog about China, for two reasons... As yet I have seen very little of China, and frankly, Beijing is not really a very interesting place... Unless you love high rise buildings..... It is simply one huge, dusty building site.

Should I find myself moved to say anything about Beijing or China, then I shall start a new blog... But until then.. Nope.

We left Angola with great sadness. It was an extraordinary experience living there. Seeing such suffering and misgovernment and corruption was deeply saddening. But at the same time, it was a supremely encouraging experience.... To see the human spirit in full flower as it is there is astounding! The Angolan people showed us how wonderful the human spirit is. A wonderful people.

So, until I start "Lotty and Tony at large in China" that is it..... I hope people who read this blog will be moved to visit this wonderful and extraordinary country, and perhaps experience for themselves the powerful experience of seeing humanity at its best....And worst.

God bless you Angola!!!!!!

Monday, April 24, 2006



Well, it has happened, I was finally tempted to leave Angola and visit another African country, in this case it was Namibia.

This wont be a chronological account of our visit to our southern neighbour, but rather a ramble through our impressions of the country, or at least as much of it as we saw in our short visit there.

The first, and most overwhelming impression for someone coming there from Angola was the amazing difference between Windhoek (Namibia's capital) and Luanda. As you will have seen from my earlier postings, Luanda, and most of Angola is medieval in almost all respects, whilst Windhoek is almost like a small provincial European city. It is clean...Squeaky clean, quite different to the two African countries I had seen up till our arrival there. I am told that during the South African occupation of Namibia it was as filthy as any other African country, but upon gaining their independence the first thing the Namibians did was to spend two years cleaning up their country.... And it shows! I have NEVER seen such a clean place in all my life.

The next thing to strike me was that all the cars and trucks were in impeccable condition, almost show room condition, all very unnerving to me, after the unbelievable wrecks you see driving around in Angola.

And then, the cream on the cake, everyone spoke English...... Ah bliss, to be able to communicate easily was such a relief to me, after years of struggling with French, and then Portuguese.. To be simply able to talk to anyone about anything...Was such a pleasure.


We arrived in Windhoek airport to be met by a driver from the hire car company we had arranged to hire a sort of African camper from, who took us to our hotel as we planned to head off into the landscape on the second day of our visit. This was fun too... To be actually met by a bloke with one of those boards with our names on it.. and then to be driven calmly into Windhoek in a brand new van on almost empty roads.. And not a pot hole to be seen.

By the time we had wandered around Windhoek a bit, and been into a supermarket which was full of stuff...all fresh and clean and cheap too, we were in a state of shock, and reeled back to our hotel totally confused by the contrast between Luanda and Windhoek.

The next day our driver turned up at the arranged time (another difference to Angola!) and off we went to pick up our 4x4 camper, which was also immaculate and fully equipped..... And then we set off on our Namibian adventure.


Perhaps this will turn out to be a slightly chronological account after all... Seems to be the way it wants to be told!

We left Windhoek early in the afternoon, in company with a couple of fellow teachers from LIS (in their own 4x4) and headed north. We planned to get up to the extreme north east of Namibia, and area called the Caprivi strip, which is a sort of thin strip on the east-west axis with Angola, Botswana and Zambia surrounding it as we had been told it was interesting up there. This entailed a drive of about 1000 km to get there.

On the first night we stopped at a national park near to Grotefontain, which had a very well set up campsite, but not really much else to recommend it. Rather spectacular sandstone plateau/escarpment just behind it, but that was all really. One thing was pleasant there though, and that was the presence of loads of mongooses (mongeese?). Charming creatures, dashing around the place pretending to be Meerkats. I loved them!


The further north we drove, the less smart and tidy Namibia became, though it remained (by African standards) impeccable. The second night on the road we stopped on the banks of a river in a truly luxurious campsite, and found ourselves gazing over the river at Angola. It was strange to look over that river (about 50 meters wide) and to see Angola there. Somewhere on the Angolan side there was obviously a party going on in a village, as we could hear drums and women ullulating... made us feel like the early explorers must have felt... We could hear this noise in the warm night air... but we could see no one, or any lights...nothing. Quite wonderful.

All this time we had been driving along very good roads through countryside that made Holland look mountainous. As far as the eye could see ....flat..... nothing except bush. Very, very dull country to drive through. Only made interesting by the occasional sign boards warning of warthogs or elephants and regular police check points. The cops here were civil, efficient, and obviously not looking for bribes (yet another difference to Angola!).


In due time we arrived at our destination, a National Park called Mudumu at the eastern end of the Caprivi strip, and we settled into our campsite there. It was extremely basic, no more than a very clean outside lavatory in fact, beside a river (which was full of Hippos).
The couple we were traveling with found it too quiet and dull there, so they left the following day to go off to see a friend in Swakopmund, so there we were, just the two of us, lots of hippos, baboons and peace.

We were the only people camping in the park for the first couple of days, so the peace was amazing, only disturbed by the baboons who spent the nights in two trees on either side of our camping area..and they are noisy folk to share a place with! Enchanting to watch, especially the young ones, who played all the time. People had warned us to be careful of baboons, as they are known to steal and attack campers..and when you see the teeth that the males wonder. But these baboons left us completely alone, and hardly even looked at us most of the time. Nights were noisy though...we have discovered that baby baboons are as fractious and bad at sleeping at night as human babies, so the nights were full of wailing baby baboons and furious roars from the males telling them to shut up for God's sake and go to sleep!. Entertaining stuff.


Less peacefully from my point of view were the Hippos, who were extremely present in the river we were camped next to. So one had them only a matter of meters away, snorting and wuffing in the river. As I have often been told that hippos are seriously dangerous creatures, and as the river bank was obviously a place that they used to get in and out of the river at times, I was not happy to share my possy with them at all. But, they ignored us completely.


Other than these creatures, there were crocodiles in the river...but we never saw any of them, and lions were wandering the ranger told us...but we never heard or saw any, happily. The same applied to elephants... They were there.. saw plenty of evidence of that (droppings), but never saw even a hair of one. Sundry deer and warthogs... plenty of them..and birds of all sorts and plumage were flapping about the place all day and most of the night too.

The sunsets over the river and the sun rising in the mornings were unbelievable..... So beautiful. It was a rapid process, and watching the swathes of reds, yellows, blues and oranges moving across the sky, and the still waters of the river reflecting the trees on the opposite bank was something neither of us shall forget ...


To sit on the bank of the river with a cold beer in the hand (we had an extremely efficient fridge in our van) and watch the sun go down... So good for the soul. This was followed each night by an amazing musical interlude from the frogs. There must have been dozens of different sorts as the noises were so varied. My favourite was a sort of glokenspiel one. This started out with one or two frogs playing slowly on their glokenspiels, and then gradually more and more joined in, so after about an hour there was this fantastic orchestral work being played for us. A real symphony for percussion instruments.
Whilst it was noisy, it was also very restful too, curiously enough. With the occasional solo from one or another hippo to add a different layer to the sound. Our friendly baboons added their contribution, but it didn't really work very well somehow, on a musical level, that is. Their voices were not really in sympathy with the aquatic orchestra.


We passed our days there, gently reading, talking and occasionally driving around the park (we had been told not to walk around owing to the danger of becoming a snack for a lion). Driving there was fun, mostly through grass that was higher than the van, which sort of restricted the view, but had a pleasantly hypnotic feel to it, as the grass folded under the bonnet of the car as we drove gently along.



On one occasion as we were doing this, we managed to blow a front tire, which meant that we had to get out of our nice safe van and change the wheel...... To be honest, I was not happy doing this, thinking of lions sneaking up on me as I sweated over the jack... But nothing untoward occurred, and we changed the wheel OK and carried on.

Basically, nothing happened, which is exactly what Lotty and I were looking for, and thus we were two happy campers....literally.

Soon enough it was time to start heading back to Windhoek, but rather than simply drive down the incredibly straight and boring roads, we took off into the bush, and took the smallest tracks we could find on our map.


This was a completely different view of Namibia. Driving through fords, over mountains and along tracks that were almost impossible to see, they were so unused. We drove for hours along some of these tracks without seeing a soul, just lots of warthogs, deer, enormous millipedes and equally enormous crickets.


Occasionally we passed cattle who were grazing near the road. These were impressive creatures, enormous spread of horns and all very healthy and contented looking. Mostly they were Brahmins, I think, beautiful beasts. We also passed farm settlements, but these were curious, as mostly they seemed to be completely bereft of people, though obviously they were functioning farms, others had people, who mostly simply stared at us as we drove by in our cloud of dust. We found that Namibians are nothing like as friendly as Angolans, and the beggars really pissed us off. Everywhere we stopped outside Windhoek we were immediately set upon by hordes of kids and young men demanding dollars from us, which was a drag!


In due time, after this very pleasing journey, we arrived back in Windhoek, and returned our trusty Nissan 4x4 to the hire company, who then drove us to our hotel.... ah, the luxury of organised travel!

Various of our colleagues were already at the hotel, so we passed an evening together, exchanging traveler's tales.

The next day we all went our separate ways, and wandered around Windhoek. Mostly people did this to go shopping, as the shops in Windhoek are like shops in Paris or London...Lots of them, and all full of reasonably priced goods... quite unlike Angola. In my case I spent the better part of the day simply sitting in various bars and cafes, reading and people gazing.. My favourite activity. I observed that the Bushman physical characteristic's are very pronounced in Windhoek... Enormous buttocks on the women, and a curious yellowish colour to their skins, and a decidedly Mongolian cast to the features. They are not as good looking, by and large as the Angolans, and nothing like as ready to grin... Much like people in European cities really... going around with pre-occupied frowns on their faces. But it was pleasant none the less...and all so easy too.


As a friend said of Namibia.. "It is Africa for beginners".

The following day we were picked up and taken off to the airport..and into the plane and back to Luanda, an uneventful two hour flight... From the 21st century to the 14th. Luanda was a horrible shock after this short visit to a well organised, clean and "normal" country.

And now, we are back in our weird compound life, looking forward to leaving here in about 8 weeks to go to England and France before heading off to our next adventure...China!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Well, it has finally arrived, my first time outside Angola since I arrived here last year. We are about to head off to Namibia with another couple from the school, having hired two 4x4 trucks with tents you set-up on the roof (to avoid being trodden on by elephants I assume) .

We shall be back in the second half of April sometime...... and I shall then post an account of what I hope will be a very exciting and enjoyable trip.

We intend to visit the extreme northeast of Namibia and then drive around in (on?) the Skeleton Coast, a place I have wanted to get to for years. A dream coming true.

So, watch this place for the account of Tony and Lotty being The Great White Explorers in Namibia.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


This is a piece of writing by a young friend of ours who has been working in Angola for the last couple of years clearing land mines. He wrote this shortly after he returned to Angola late last year after a well earned holiday in his home in Scotland. I wanted to include this in our blog as it is both a wonderful piece of writing, and it is so heartfelt. It also describes so well the ambivalent feelings about Angola that so many of us here have.... one minute loving the place and its remarkable people, the next hating it.

I shall let Nathaniel talk now.


A certain amount of artistic licence (exaggeration and bullshit in polite circles) has been used in this piece. I would ask that the people who have been to Angola or are here now to gloss over anything that possibly is not exact, but on the whole it is factually correct. Mostly I write it for myself, but if you get something out of it then so much the better.

The first time that I flew into the city of Luanda and saw the row upon row of ramshackle houses I was overfilling with excitement and anticipation. The second I was confident and happy to be returning to new found friends and eager to resume work. The third was met with a resignation of what was to come. The fourth time I had not been away long and it did not feel like I was returning. The last time was met with a despair and hatred for the chaos sprawling on the ground beneath me. There was nothing to look forward to this time.

I had been away for five weeks; I knew my work had been piling up with no one capable of doing it, many of my best friends had left shortly before my much needed holiday and I knew that nothing had changed, nothing would be any better. The police and upper echelons would still be corrupt, the roads terrible, the heat oppressive, the piles of rubbish and pools of sewage would be bigger and the process of travel assuredly endlessly frustrating. The marvel that is the usual view from a descending aircraft is replaced with despondency. The endless corrugated tin roofs, which should be a multi coloured kaleidoscope of rust and flaking paint are all the same reddish brown colour that only a couple of inches of dirt can give. The pools, I am told, grow to such a size in the wet season that a stepping-stone navigational route is no longer possible. For those on foot you have no choice and must wade through the filth to get to your house. I have heard of enterprising strong young men offering piggy-back rides, for a fee of course; this is Luanda.

To say that I did not want to return was an understatement. I was done with Angola and more particularly Angolans. In fact I think my attitude towards this country has probably spread to the rest of Africa; sod this bloody continent and all who continue to piss into the wind. I’m just not interested anymore. Maybe I can make it better for this day, or hopefully this week. But next week people will still be drinking out of puddles, they will still be walking miles carrying things on their head; they will still chance their arm asking every “whitey” for 10 kwanzas (@15p). They will still have no drive to make their lives better by trying harder…and yet. And yet…They will still smile and laugh and clap and dance at the slightest provocation. They will still be content with an old tin can filed with sand as a toy, or a bunch of rags tied together for a football. They will still be proud and excited by uttering a few words of English or from receiving the briefest of recognitions from the ochindele (big white man). They will still allow the world to drift by as the shade of the mango tree shields them from the madness and squalor. They will still swagger down the street with the arrogance worthy of any European, confident in the knowledge that what there is to be had will be all theirs for the taking should they want it.

Raised on a diet of order and function, it is a relief and a delight to soak in the innocence and endeavour and invention that floods a country such as this. It can be as simple as an act of utmost stupidity that can wash away the petty irritations of the day. We can see it coming, we know what will happen, and we have the luxury of forethought and logical thinking. We know that carrying burning cardboard to light a fire 100 meters away will most likely result in burnt fingers and failure to those involved. And when you hear the howls and see them leaping like they have been bitten, perhaps you feel a little guilt at not having the heart, or the energy and with possibly a little mischief thrown in, to have not told them that it wouldn’t work.

Working along side these people can be exasperating, but you must remind yourself that blame should not be laid at their feet but on the shoulders of the bureaucrats and thieves that deceive themselves and their people and send the country further into ruin keeping the population firmly behind the rest of the world whilst lining their own nests with the best on offer. It becomes all too easy to denigrate the vast majority of the masses who live as their ancestors have always done; only now they are seduced by television and a Western way of life intent of robbing them of their natural resources. Slavery has never stopped; it just evolved into more subtle forms.

The other day I saw one of the wrecks of a society struggling to reconstruct itself; a man, probably an ex-soldier. Creeping through the bush with his arms in position as if he was holding a machine gun, his eyes darting from side to side, ready for the enemy to leap out and attack. Ever vigilant, ever faithful, ever terrified, and ever cursed by a civil war that never promised to, and certainly never did, make his life better. The day before there was a lady wandering in the road, traffic streaming past her on either side, she was screaming at the world and the spirits above. Crying for forgiveness or maybe for lost ones or perhaps just crying because there is always something worth crying about. In Luanda you try to ignore the people who take up residence at traffic lights, waiting for red so they can shuffle out on their buckled legs to hold out a hand in blind hope.

What do you do about these people in a country such as this? There is nowhere to lock them away, out of sight and out of mind. No-one to drip feed them chemicals to keep their demons at bay. No one to pat them on the head, speak to them as if they weren’t there whilst rolling their eyes with muted hatred. With any luck it is not something that anyone here has ever considered. You are what you is. An albino with two gammy legs from polio, dressed in rags and selling plastic bags will be a part of life here just as much as the healthy, wealthy and, I hesitate to use this word, wise.

Earlier today Myself and a colleague were hassled by a man with a club foot, or rather a foot so badly in need of medical attention his ankle had swollen up to the size of my upper thigh. Amputation is probably now the inevitable course of action, another amputee among thousands not from a landmine but from a condition that could have been cured by a course of antibiotics.

Of course there are still landmines that kill and maim almost every week. And yes they are for most an avoidable factor in this country’s recovery, or in some parts, progression. It is a sad fact that landmines and AK-47’s are the most sophisticated technology and engineering that a village may possess, the burnt out tank the only mechanised transport to ever grace the community. Every resident is instantly qualified and expert in the use of a landmine, a skill which requires no schooling and no exam. If you can move under your own volition, then congratulations, you are instantly entered into the lucky dip. Except there are no winners; you are guaranteed to lose, a hand, an arm, but most likely your leg. If you are fortunate then maybe only some fingers, or your sight. You could lose a lot of blood and then your life. For user-friendly apparatus, you need look no further than the humble anti-personnel blast mine. There is no “Landmines for Dummies” handbook. Politically correct and undeniably wrong at the same time.

When I visit minefields often my thoughts drift from the task of clearance to the what-ifs. What if I stood on one? I am big and strong and brush aside bruises and cuts; I injure myself all the time at work. A landmine surely would be minor, I would walk away rubbing dust from my eyes and cursing before going back to work….But that’s not what happens; you have no option. You can’t train to resist the blast from a mine. It doesn’t register your build, your upbringing, your insurance policy. It isn’t concerned about how many sit-ups you can do, or whether you were paying attention or not. It feels no sympathy for your family and shows no compassion. It is what it is.

It is not like a knife slicing a leg off; the shock wave liquefies your bone and rips through your flesh, leaving nothing solid holding it all together. The blast will tear chunks from your body leaving gaping wounds for infection and insect larvae to settle in. A child, with softer bones and major organs and head closer to the blast, probably would not live to watch the scar tissue develop, perhaps not even live long enough to scream for help. I have heard villagers try to describe a victim’s pleas; they do not have the words. And could you blame your family and friends for hesitating, if there’s one there could be more. The beast that doesn’t bark has just bitten; maybe the rest of the pack is on the hunt as well.

We do what we can. What the country and its limitations will allow. I recently attended a forum on Mechanical demining to discuss aspects and methods of ridding this country of mines in a more economical and efficient way. The majority of nationals in attendance were not too concerned about the how-to and the why, but more with the salary of a deminer. The presence of a demining agency is seen as a source of long term employment rather than an aid in the rebuilding of a war torn country. Of course a worker must be paid a reasonable wage, but the presence of mines negates the advantages of a few extra dollars. What good is a $10 note if it is scorched and splattered with your blood? We don’t want to be here. We are not looking to be here for the long haul, and yet unfortunately we will be. There are countless towns encircled by minefields, the amount of mines outnumbering the population by maybe 20 to 1. I have spoken to people who aren’t concerned that they live in a minefield, and by midday are too drunk to care or even crawl closer to heed your warning.

In many cases you have driven for hours to where there is nothing worth starting demining operations for, nothing except people and their simple lives. Kilometre upon kilometre of bush, punctuated by a collection of mud and stick houses every 50km or so. The landmarks are most likely to be a rusted tank or an ambushed convoy. Ten, twelve or more vehicles mined, bombed, burnt or shot to shit. An eerie feeling pervades around these sights, you can be certain that people died here. Curiosity compels you to investigate these alien features. To look for tell tale pointers as to what happened, bullet holes, twisted chassis, steel ripped apart from an explosion. Your training tells you to stay well away; maybe only one mine was set off, maybe this truck was carrying munitions, maybe a particularly malicious soldier booby-trapped the wreck to catch the unwitting bounty-hunter and scavengers. In the end I lost count of the number of craters and vehicle carcasses, one rusting skeleton blurs to another, just another obstacle in the endless road.

This is Africa. I should not have to write about these things. I should be writing about wild animals, except there aren’t any, all of them eaten or fled long ago. I have been here for eighteen months and I have only lately seen my first truly wild four legged animal: a rabbit, grey fur, floppy ears and a fluffy tail, only worth writing about due to its scarcity.

But this is Africa and as much as I see and feel and despair at being here, I cannot deny the pleasures and delights and marvels that I chance upon every day. It is not all doom and gloom, perhaps if I did not have this type of job to do then maybe the tone of this piece would be lighter and have more of these positive experiences, perhaps I would savour them more and be more inclined to share them with you. There is still time, I am in no hurry to leave.

Nathaniel Havinden

1st October 2005

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Oh well, even in Angola there are periods when nothing of any note occurs, I suppose. The last couple of weeks have been chiefly notable for the almost total lack of anything to report.

It is high summer here still, so it is seriously hot during the day, but at night it is superb.. the air is like a soft warm bath, I love it. If it wasn't for the malarial mossies, it would be a pleasure to simply sit outside after dark and wallow in the warm air, well, to be honest, I sometimes cover myself in sticky, revolting anti-mossie cream and sit around outside with a cold beer in the hand..or glass of wine, and enjoy it all the same..and to hell with those tiny anophelese mossies.

To give an idea of the heat here, today I was struggling to make some black-out curtains for a colleague who needed to get his class dark for some light experiments. I was using a huge unwieldy sheet of horticultural black plastic for this, and was attempting to cut it into usable pieces.
I was doing this outside, and by about 10 am this morning, the plastic was actually burning my hands it had become so hot from the sun. It was an impressive display of the heat absorbing qualities of black plastic. Now I see why you can use it to create hot water....

What else of note to mention? Hmmmmm.. well, sadly we are in the middle of a Cholera outbreak here in Luanda just now, which is dreadful. Lots of children living in one of the bigger slums here (Called Boa Vista, which means Good View, rather curiously) have died already, and it is spreading to other parts of Luanda. When you think that the treatment for Cholera is so simple and cheap, it is appalling that anyone should die of it in 2006. But that is how it is in Angola, non-existent drains, almost no clean drinking water and filth everywhere.... Diseases like Cholera are inevitable. And, as always, it is the children who die, currently the average life expectancy here is about 35 years! And the infant mortality before 5 years of age is 1 in 25!

If some of the oil and diamond money was actually spent on rebuilding this country, rather than building prestigious projects and housing compounds for the rich, and if there were fewer Hummers driving around... it could be one of the richest countries in Africa.. but the chances of that happening, are almost zero... Too many rich men want to be richer here, as apparently is the way in most of Africa.

However, having said that, it is a lovely place to be.... I love it here!

Monday, February 27, 2006



Geologist explaining to oil workers (and one future oil worker) how oil is formed in shale

We have just taken part in a sort of guided tour of the place where oil was first found in Angola, which turned out to be intriguing, and extremely hot!

Note for Alan, I am continuing the tradition I started here of the Comic Book approach, specially for you, Old Cousin, I hope you enjoy the latest collection of images...... (O:

This trip was organised by a couple who have been in Angola for a very long time, and both of whom work in the oil industry here, as do almost all non-Portuguese expats.

Four of us from the school went on this trip, which meant leaving the school at 6:15 am! After recovering from this early start, we rumbled through a surprisingly active Luanda (This was a Sunday morning, by the way) to a section of Luanda called Mirimar, which I have never visited before, and appears to be the part where the rich and Embassies have their being... streets of very expensive looking houses, and the sure sign of wealthy people, lots of broken car window glass along the pavements (the Break the Window of the BMW and Steal Everything from Inside it syndrome). From here, we had a superb view of the port of Luanda, but we were warned not to take any photos of it, as it is considered to be a security risk if someone such as I should happen to have any snap shots of mountains of containers and lots of rusty ships... oh well......

Anyhow, there were about 50 of us, spread over some 25 huge 4x4's, and after a short lecture beside the road about what we were going to see...... Off we headed, in a most imposing convoy.

It would have made the Mayor of London happy to have seen us, all those 2 ton SUV's roaring along a perfectly good road. Oh well, you are nothing around here if you don't have a monstrous 4x4.

Old Portuguese church

We were heading north of Luanda, to a part of Angola that neither Lotty or I have yet seen, so we were very curious about what it would look like. It turned out to be flat....extremely flat, which is one reason there is oil to be found there... the land there is made up of sedimentary rocks, which are soft, and thus weather easily, unlike the granite which makes up about 90% of Africa (We were told all of this by the guy organising the trip).

Village beside road

Anyhow, we rumbled along happily in our convoy, causing people in the various villages and small towns we went through to wonder what the hell was going on, reasonably enough.... we were the event of the day for a lot of them, I reckon.

The marshes that the tanks could not cross

After a while, we stopped at a bridge over one of the regions main rivers to admire the view across the flat country to the mountains in the distance, but were warned not to stray too far from the cars, owing to the recently discovered presence of landmines all around this bridge (I was worried about how they had discovered them!) We sort of stood nervously around, taking photos of each other for a while, whilst the leader of our intrepid group told us a wee bit of war history, relating to this bridge and road. It seems that owing to the marshy quality of the land in this part of Angola, the only way for tanks to get across it was via this road and bridge. As the enemy (FNLA) neared this bridge, the gallant defenders of Luanda (MPLA) had posted a whole group of Stalin Organs (Multiple rocket launchers mounted on trucks) on top of a nearby ridge with the intention of blowing the FLNA tanks and soldiers to hell and back as they neared this bridge along the road. However, there was one problem... No one had a clue how to use the things!

Blurry picture (Sweat on lens), look carefully for monster lurking in grass

Happily for the MPLA, and unhappily for the FLNA just at this moment plane loads of Cuban soldiers were being landed at Luanda airport, and it appeared that they did know how to use these things.... so post haste they were rushed to the trucks, and proceeded to blow the poor old FLNA to pieces on the road....... Messy business.

After having been regaled with this history of daring and...ummm... we piled back into our mini-tanks and carried on.

After about another 30 minutes we finally arrived at the main point of our trip... a rather derelict looking asphalt quarry in the middle of nowhere. Here we were going to be introduced to the first oil find in Angola (About 17 something).

The old Portuguese watch tower

We parked our cars beside an old Portuguese watch tower (built by the Portuguese to guard the road) and off we went into the quarry, also having been warned to only walk inside the quarry, not around its edges, as that was all mined too..... Poor Angola!

It was unbelievably hot in that quarry... above 40 degrees, and the heat radiated from the black, soft floor of the quarry. The whole thing was a sort of almost dry asphalt lake, with oil leaking up and down all around the place, as you can see in the pictures here. It was actually fascinating as the fellow described how it all "worked". It is apparently oil bearing shale we were looking at. If you cracked open any of the lumps of dull black "rock" around the place, they were all shiny inside with glistening oil... and at various points this oil was literally pouring, albeit slowly, out of the walls of the quarry and bubbling up through the floor of the quarry.

Oil dripping from the shale

We looked at all of this, and had it explained to us in fine detail, which was really interesting, even to one such as I who has almost no real interest in geology, simply his enthusiasm and love of his subject was enough to make it interesting, and he knew how to dose the information too...

All of us standing around a hole in the ground... oil bubbling out of it....

It was interesting. But soooooooooooooooooo hot! After a while we all began to droop from the unrelenting heat, so, back to the cars and away to a place by another river to have our sandwiches. This was some sort of private fishing lodge, as near as I could discover, which we could only visit by bribing the guard, ( $2 each car). It was full of rather affluent Angolans taking the sun, and also eating their sandwiches. All very pleasant and relaxed.. and apparently no landmines around. The river itself here was about 30 meters wide, and muddy looking. We were told it was full of crocodiles, so we felt that paddling might not be a good idea, never mind swimming! But it was fine to look at.

Bravely descending into the oven... landmines to left and right of us....

Then back into the cars, and away again... This time we ran into a Police road block, where they pulled us all over, and proceeded to demand everyone's papers as one overweight policeman wandered around with a minute video camera filming us all in our cars..... The driver of our car, a French Diplomat refused to hand over his papers, holding his diplomatic passport carefully in front of the Policeman who came to our car demanding papers. Our driving Frenchman then demanded the name of the policeman, and proceeded to inform him that he would be lodging a complaint immediately with the diplomatic police and the foreign ministry if he (the policeman) attempted to take any papers from anyone in the car (which had CD plates). The cop backed down, and left us in peace. After gathering everyone else's papers in he wandered off with them. After a lot of talking these papers were finally given back, and off our convoy rumbled again... No harm done to anyone.

This was our introduction to Angolan oil and how useful CD plates on a car can be.

Another pleasant day in Angola was passed in this way.........

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I visited our blog last night to see if any of our trusty writers had added any new comments to it...... and to my considerable surprise I discovered a whole flock of new comments, scattered over a whole lot of the postings. A pleasant surprise, I have to say.

It seems that Lotty's older sister, Sue, an IT teacher at Catshill school in perfidious Albion has started using our blog as an example of blogging for her classes. Thus the flood of new comments, mostly favourable, I am happy to say.

So, I promptly answered as many of them as I could, bearing in mind it was late at night, and once again I am acting as a supply teacher, for my sins. This time a class of 12/13 year olds, who, as with the last lot, have been the soul of kindness to me, thank God!

I am taking this opportunity to say a loud "HI" to all the kids at Catshill who have visited, and I hope will revisit our little blog, and I hope that seeing our blog, as well as a lot of other blogs, will encourage them to create their own blog soon, telling the world of their lives and doings.

I was pleased that several of them picked up on that pic of the whale's jaw bones, (see posting about our visit to Namibe) and were disturbed by it, probably thinking that the owner of the place had gone out to sea and killed himself a whale. Happily, this is not the case, the whole coast down there is littered with the bones of all manner of marine creatures that have mostly died a natural death, an he had simply found them and felt that they would look good as a sort of gateway to his bar.

I have seen quite a few whales now, swimming along the coast, not far out.. Some seriously big ones at that!

Anyhow, I am pleased and happy that these kids have discovered our blog, it puts me under even greater pressure to make new postings than I already was...Which is a good thing, I reckon.

I have been mulling over the idea of making the next posting a sort of photo-reportage of the Angolan mania for putting things into neat little piles...Fruit, rocks, coal, you name it, if they think they can sell it on the street... They pile it up in the neatest possible manner. So I shall take a camera and get one of the school busses to drive me around one of these days soon, and then put the results up on our blog. This to prove that Alan - who mentioned in a comment that our blog was becoming a bit of a comic strip - is completely correct!

Therefore, I take this opportunity to welcome Catshill kids to the wonderful world of blogs, and hope to hear more from them all. Enjoy yourselves, Kids...its a good life!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Well, a new chapter will be opening up later this year, Lotty has been given a job at Beijing City International School, as Middle Years Co-ordinator and Design Technology teacher!

This is a brand new school, I gather it has only been open for a couple of years, and is extremely well funded! So far 60 million dollars have been spent on it, and it isn't finished yet. It is owned by a group of youngish Chinese business men, who are in the business of building modern housing complexes, and who reasonably enough feel that this particular project, which is plainly aimed at an international market will be best served by the inclusion of a school. Thus after a lot of research they have decided that a school offering the IB is what they want, so, they went off on courses to find out all about the IB and then built this school.

So far I know very little about it all, except that it looks astonishing, is reasonably near to the centre of Beijing, and that we will be given a brand new apartment in the project to live in. Unlike here, we will be living a "normal" life, able to wander about as we please, living in our own house apart from the school and be able to do things which now seem wonderful to us such as taking a local bus, driving ourselves around, going to shops and bars as and when we feel like it.
For most of you all of this will be totally normal, but for us, living as we do in this weird compound culture, effectively cut off from any real contact with Angola or Luanda, unless we make serious efforts to make that contact, it sounds like freedom.. Release from this stupid, frightened way in which most expats live here in Luanda.
As things stand, there is no work for me there, but I am given to understand that I should be able to sort of worm my way into something, if I want to, once we are there... so we shall see.

If you want to see what the place is like, cut and paste this link into your search engine, and you will see for yourselves what we are going to.

So, there you have it, we continue to wander the globe. I suppose that his means that later this year I will have to change the sub-title of this blog...... oh well, so be it.

Both Lotty and I are very excited at this prospect (going to China, not changing the sub-title) as it will be so extremely different to Angola, or at least I suppose it will... hhhhmmmmm......

Sunday, January 29, 2006



One of our colleagues arranged an overnight visit to a private beach about 20 km from Luanda to see baby sea turtles hatching and dashing for the sea and safety. He had been there while the mother turtles had come up out of the sea to lay their eggs, and reasonably enough, wanted to see the second installment of this story. This beach is a private one, belonging to one of the numerous Angolan Army Generals (they seem to own so many things, these Generals...Shops, housing estates, banks...You name it, one of them will own it...).

So, Roger, for it was he who had this plan duly arranged everything, and asked us all to join him there. The idea being to head on out to the beach after school on Friday afternoon in a couple of the school's busses, to camp on the beach and see what we might see.

Off we went, in high spirits, with enough beer in "Eskies" (cooler boxes) to float a battle ship and the makings of an impressive BBQ, or Braai as it is known in Africa.

After an uneventful drive along the coast, we arrived at the sandy track to the beach, and bumped slowly down this in our busses. All went well for the first km or so... Then one of the busses got stuck in the soft sand.... Happily the chief of our security was with us too, in his 4x4, so he towed the bus out of the sand, and with no further problems we arrived at the beach.


In spite of how it looks in the photos, it was not a cold day, very hot in fact, simply overcast.


We set to with a will, those with tents setting them up, those, like Lotty and I, who had decided to simply bring sleeping bags, set our sleeping bags out where ever we wanted them to be. And then we all fell on the freezer boxes and started to um.... sample the beer. This is more or less all that happened for the next couple of hours, all of us sitting or standing around, chatting and supping on our cold beers. All very pleasant and relaxed...



While the majority of us were thus happily engaged, a couple of noble souls were busy getting the BBQ going.

Not much really happened.

One brave fellow went surfing, which is what he lives for, so if there is a wave more than about 20 cms high, he is awaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.


Lotty also went in for a brief swim, and reported that the sea was warm... it looked cold and uninviting to me, so I stayed firmly dry.

This was more or less all that happened until supper was declared ready by the cooks... So we all wandered away from the beach to a small tent which had the BBQ set up just outside it...and ate..and ate, and ate.. oh, and drank too.


Apparently we could expect no real action from the baby turtles until after midnight, so we happily passed the evening away in talk, eating, and drinking...oh, and admiring the rather splendid sunset.


The only thing of any note which occurred in all this time was the arrival of a very friendly dog, who appeared to belong to the owner of the beach. This pooch sort of wandered around for a while.. and then disappeared. As you can see, it was excitement all the way!!!!!


After several hours of this, I wandered off to my sleeping bag on the beach, and settled down on it to enjoy the sky and the wonderful sound of the breakers about 20 meters from me... and happily lay there in the pitch dark (no moon) until Lotty joined me. We then snuggled into our sleeping bags and began drifting off to sleep.

About midnight, a number of the others went off with torches to see if they could find any baby turtles.... We remained snug in our bags, in the sure knowledge that should they find anything, we would hear about it, and could then join them. But all we heard was the noise of them disappearing into the distance along the beach...

So, we drifted into sleep.

It was a very pleasant night's sleep in the fresh air there.

When we awoke in the morning, and asked if any one had seen any baby turtles we were told that not a one had been seen.... So we had missed nothing by sleeping... Happily!

However..... whilst no baby turtles had appeared, one of us had a visitation from a rat in her tent during the night, which she was not exactly overjoyed about, and the sand was covered in jackal paw-prints in the morning. They had wandered all over the place, including about 50 cms from where Lotty and my heads had been. Luckily, it seems that jackals are not aggressive beasts, merely hungry, so no harm done.


It only remained to get the BBQ going again, and to cook and consume a massive "English" breakfast and then go and find our busses... Which hadn't dared to drive all the way to the beach this time.


A long hot walk later, we located the bus, piled into it and returned to the school...All of us completely disoriented by this marvelous small break from our normal routines.

And that was our...abortive attempt to see some nature in Angola... Perhaps we shall go again, and this time see more than the lids of cans of beer, who knows?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A couple of tips on how to use this blog

It occurred to me that there were a few things it might be helpful for visitors to this blog to know.

If you have visited it before, it is a good plan to hit the "reload" or "refresh"button on your browser when you open the blog, as often the blog is kept in a sort of memory on your computer, and thus the most recent changes would not be shown.

If you want to leave a comment...Which I hope you do, as I really enjoy reading them, click on the word "comment" that you will find at the bottom of each posting (installment) and this will cause a small window to pop open. Choose "anonymous" and then write your comment in the space provided, but remember to include who you are in your comment, otherwise I have no way of knowing who has made the comment. Then type the letters you see into the place indicated (this is to stop automated spams) and then hit OK, or is it Submit? hmmmmmmmm. And Voila! It is done.

Your comment will only appear after I have seen it and approved it, this is to stop people putting silly, offensive or commercial comments on the blog, so it might be a few days before you can see your shiny new comment here.. I am sorry about this, but experience has shown it is necessary, sadly.

For the rest, check the archives out, as most of the blog is lurking in there....

That is it for now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


This posting will be an account of my experiences as a supply teacher! I know, its unbelievable, but it has happened!

I was walking through the office last term and I was grabbed by the principal as I passed through, whistling a happy tune, and told abruptly that I would be put into a class of kids this term as their normal teacher was getting married and would thus return to school 5 days after the start of term.

There I was....Caught! I gulped and kneeling on the floor, begged to be spared this torment... but to no avail, she was adamant... and thus it was done.... I had been promoted to the ranks of my fellow Luanda colonists.

Therefore, I shall write up my experiences in this new field of endeavour for me, always assuming I survive the little darlings. I must find out how old they are... hmmm.. They are all about 1.50 meters tall....Does that give any indication of age? Not to me, at any rate. Oh well, I shall simply have to ask them.

After having been told that I would be teaching, I managed to find time last term to spend a bit of time in the classroom I would be looking after, which if anything simply increased my apprehension, even though the kids couldn't have been kinder to me.

Richard, the fellow whose class I was to look after had been kind enough to leave me a load of notes telling me what to do, and another colleague who teaches the same age group (the class is split into two groups) met with me the day before term began to also tell me what to do. So, well armed with a mass of photocopied tasks and a head full of "you could try doing this" stuff, I waited in the class room on the first morning, full of trepidation, for the kids to arrive.
Which they duly did, to my disappointment, as I had been hoping for an earthquake or something to make the whole exercise unnecessary.

As it was a short week, starting on Wednesday, not all the kids had returned from their Christmas break, so I only had 10 kids - which felt more than enough for me!

This is the bunch of kids I "taught", but this was taken today

We don't teach here with the kids at desks in rows, but rather with a number of tables scattered around the room, at which the kids sit, so there is no focus in the room, which meant that I had to sort of wander around like a lost sheep, attempting to keep things moving as they should.

The normal morning routine is that one of the kids takes the register, while the others start on a series of maths games, working individually and (supposedly) in silence. To my amazement this went very well, they all knew the routine and simply got on with it. Made me feel more than a little redundant, but it was a relief!

The only problem now was that having completed the maths tests, I had to see if they had managed to answer the questions correctly... which entailed asking them to tell me the answer to each question ("hands up who knows the answer to number.........") Which I then had to write on the board. Two problems here... Firstly, I had to work out quickly in my head what the correct answers were.... What the hell is the "denominator?" and then, almost worse, write this on the board. Now, the teachers among you will find this normal and unremarkable, but my handwriting is lousy at the best of times, and writing on a board is a skill... Which I most decidedly do not have. I did my best to appear cool, calm and collected as I scrawled on the board, my writing getting bigger and smaller, line descending and mounting.... and then having to make the letters and numbers increasingly small to fit on the board. Oh misery!

We all survived this experience, and the kids seemed happy enough with my efforts (the policy in this school is to call teachers by their last name, preceded by Mr or Miss or Mrs, so I had to be addressed as Mr Cole...which the kids instantly changed to Mr Cool, rather to my pleasure)

We then moved on to "Language", which involved the kids coming up with a lot of words to describe irritation, and having made these lists, write a short story using as many of these words as they could. On the face of it, a simple thing to do.. but a number of these kids hardly spoke English, so that was tricky too. But we all persevered, and most kids managed, with the help of dictionaries and a certain input from me to find a respectable number of words meaning irritation.
So then on to writing the story with these words. My first serious problem. Most of them calmly got on with it and scribbled away happily enough, but two kids simply sat there and gazed at me. After a while I registered that these two hadn't even started, so I went to one of them, and American kid and asked him why he wasn't which he responded, looking me firmly in the eye that this was not Language, that it was vocabulary, and he saw no point in the entire exercise. Hummmmm... Over to quiet, friendly explaining mode, I thought to myself, and began to explain to him that language was in fact made up of, among other things, vocabulary. He gazed at me as I went on about this, and when I had finished what I felt had been a masterly exposition of the benefit and point of having a good vocabulary, he simply gazed at me, and didn't move. I suggested, quietly, that perhaps I would be a good plan for him to get his head down and do some work, to which, to my well concealed fury, he merely reiterated his point that it wasn't language. Hmmmm..... So, dumping all educational theories, I simply told him to get on with it or I would tear his legs off at the hip and beat him to death with them. I hasten to add that I said this with a friendly grin. To my surprise, this did the trick and he put his head down and got on with it. Ah what it is to be an educational pioneer, eh?

By this time, the second kid had started to work, so I regrouped and started to think what I would do with them as the following task.

Happily, at this point it was morning break, so they all dashed off and I sat down and wondered what I had let myself in for.

To my vast relief the rest of the morning was taken up by them going off to other, specialist teachers (Portuguese, computers and music) so I had the rest of the morning to prepare myself for the afternoon..and to rapidly seek advice from my other colleague.

The afternoon was also Language, but a different approach. Firstly I had to read to them for about 20 minutes (these kids are about 10, by the way) from an adventure book that they had been working with for a while last term. Having read to them, we then discussed what I had read, and this went very well.... They had listened well, and were obviously engaged by the story, and had a number of points to make about the section I had read to them... bliss... 45 minutes passed in a useful and pleasant fashion. After this, it was my honour and duty to introduce them to a New Concept In Language.... The Cliff Hanger.
To do this I had a whole set of photocopied material, consisting of an example of a cliff hanger, plus a number of "cliff hanging" starting sentences, and an explanation of what a cliff hanger was. All good stuff, and simple too. So we had fun with this concept for the better part of the afternoon, with the kids producing a lot of stories which tended to end with the word... "and suddenly...." But they had got the point, and even began to see that there were better ways of doing it than ending with that word. So I felt reasonably happy with my first days work.
I duly sent them off home, with their homework assignments, and then collapsed in a handy heap.
Teaching is bloody hard work!

I knew this anyway, but to actually do it myself, really brought it home to me.

Anyhow, the following days followed much the same pattern, most kids worked hard and cheerfully, several didn't, one was immovable, and hardly did any work at all and all of them were good fun to be with.
I got to be able to write almost legibly on the board, and to be able to solve simple maths questions in my head...and to my amazement, mostly kept my cool with the kids who were tricky in one way or another. And best of all, I found I could keep them quiet without shouting.

It was an interesting experience, quite different to the sort of work I used to do with kids, both as a Youth Worker in England years ago, and more recently with The Meeting Point in France. But, I am totally convinced that it is not work I am cut out for... Not my thing at all. Glad to have done it, in fact... but I hope never to do it again.

So there you have it, a brief description of my equally brief period as a class teacher.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Why we came here!

Ignore the dates on the pictures, the camera was not set properly

As promised in my last posting, we have now spent the Christmas break wandering around in Angola. We are obliged to leave the school during holidays, and most of our colleagues dash off to go on safaris in South Africa or Kenya and such places... We are rather more modest in our holidays, for several reasons. The first is that we want to use our time in this country to really see it and get to know it and its people, the second is that at the time it was necessary to book flights out of Angola we really had no money, so two good reasons dove-tailed reasonably well together.

The texts written in this colour are written by Lotty..........

This time I booked a flight to Benguela, a coastal town hundreds of Kms south of Luanda, and a series of open tickets from there to other places, as we planned to wander about, and had no real idea when we would want to move on to new places. Originally we had planned to take a bus from Luanda to Benguela, a regular Angolan bus, but the chief of security here forcefully warned us not to do that at Christmas, as too many drivers would be drunk on the road, and thus it was too dangerous in his view. Pity really, as this would have been infinitely more fun than flying, and given the way that TAAG (Angolan National Airline) operates, it would have been quicker too.

Oh well.............................................................

On the appointed day off we went to the domestic terminal in Luanda, only to discover that our flight had been cancelled, a regular occurrence with TAAG, so back to the school, and regroup. Two days later we tried again, this time the flight happened, and we finally set off on our newest adventure.

We had managed to book into a hotel in Benguela before leaving Luanda, so we were reasonably sure of a bed on arrival in Benguela. When you travel in Angola, you are constantly checked by the immigration service at every airport, and Catumbela (the airport near to Benguela we flew to) was no exception to this rule. The only novelty was that the official begged for money, which I duly gave him, rather against my wishes. This speeded things up a lot!

So, having cleared this hurdle, into the TAAG bus which would take us to Benguela (about 35 k) and on arrival in Benguela I was happy we had bribed that immigration guy as he was also in the bus and got the driver to take us directly to our hotel, which was a relief as we were rather dreading wandering around a hot and humid city with all our baggage looking for our hotel.
So, into reception and sign in... All went smoothly and we settled into our room, which was pleasant enough. Everything more or less worked, running water, at least some of the time, bog seat was intact and I don't recall seeing any cockroaches either.

The next morning we set out to explore Benguela.

Street in Benguela

This turned out to be a pleasant enough small provincial town, no war damage as the war didn't come to this part of Angola (a number of buildings were seriously damaged by what was obviously heavy machine gun fire, but we were told this was caused by "high spirits" hmmmmm).

Boats being repaired and replaced on the beach

There isn't really much to be said about Benguela, it is basically a fishing town, with beaches that would be pleasant if they were not so filthy, by and large it is in good condition, and not anything like as dirty as Luanda. I can understand why Angolans like it, it is a city in which one could live in happily enough, lot of pleasant little Portuguese style houses and as with Namibe, reasonably clean wide streets and a slow way of life. It was easy to see the original beauty, just looking into the gardens around the houses - beautifully laid out with particularly striking trees and bushes.

The fisherman and kids

On the first day we wandered along the beach to the fishing harbour, and on the way I stopped to photograph one of the local boats for my brother. As I was doing this, a fisherman came up to me, and very politely asked me if I would take a picture of him and his kids (it turned out it was his boat I was photographing). I of course, said sure thing, and before I knew what was happening, there was a storm of small kids pouring around me. So, I duly took a number of pictures of them all, including the grandfather who appeared. The first one I took of him he told me would not come out, as the sun was behind him...So I took a second one, with the sun in front of him..and he expressed himself happy with this. I then showed them the pictures (joys of digital cameras), which meant crouching on the beach completely buried in children all of whom were really excited to see themselves on the little screen. I just wished I'd had a 2nd camera, the contrast and care of Tony with the kids was breath-taking to observe.

We then wandered off to a chorus of happy adios's from this group.

The next day I found a printing place which could print pictures while you waited from digital cameras, and got a few of the pictures I had taken of the fisher folk printed, and off we went back to the beach to give them to the family. We duly found a couple of the kids and showed them the pictures, and in no time, we were surrounded! Happy grinning faces, and exclamations of happiness as they looked at the photos, handing them from one to another. So, we left them to it, all very happy and pleased with their images. Nice feeling.

Rather impressive plant in Benguela

Other than that, there is not much more to say about our short stay in Benguela. Though on the last evening we found a small cafe/bar, where we had a good supper in a friendly atmosphere - not that we were quite sure what we had ordered! When the food came, it was good. We were, as usual well taken care of.

We had found the TAAG office, and booked the next stage of our little trip... a flight to Lubango, which is several hundred km inland. So, off we went on the next leg of our adventure..... To the Angolan Highlands.

This was a leap into the unknown for us, we had no hotel booked, we had no real idea what the place was like...or anything much really. It is almost impossible to get any hard information about Angola, the internet, tourist agencies or airlines, there is simply nothing much available in the way of info.

We had found the names of several hotels in Lubango in the Angolan Yellow Pages (a very slender book!) So when the immigration guy at Lubango airport asked us which hotel we were going to stay in, we could at least tell him the name of one.... The GRANDE HOTEL!!!!! In fact, we really hadn't a clue if we would stay there. The name implied it was sort of out of our class. Anyway, we decided that we could spend a couple of nights there, while finding out how things worked in Lubango.

There was only one problem....... How to get from the airport to this famous hotel? It transpired there was no sort of airport bus or other organised transport into the city. After asking several people how we could get into town, I finally asked an enormous policeman, who started waving his arms around and shouting at every car that went past.... Finally a car stopped and the cop told the driver to take us to the Grande Hotel. The guy mumbled that it would cost us 1000 Kwanzas (about 10 USD), so I agreed, and with, I thought, great panache, I palmed a 200 kwanza note and shook the cop by the hand, while thanking him for his help. He managed to take the note without blinking.... Ah, Angola, Angola........
The Grande Hotel and Lotty not looking at it... what can I say?

The trip to our hotel was uneventful, the guy was a reasonable driver, and in due time we pulled up in front of this famous hotel. See the photo to see what a visual shock it was! Regardless of the outside decor, the interior was from another era: marble floors, arches, long corridors. It was 'grand'.

So, sign in and to our room.... turned out the shower fitting was broken, so downstairs to ask them to come and fix it.... which produced a group of worried Angolans, including the night manager, who started hunting, with me, for a room with a shower that worked. I think it was about the 7th room which we looked at that more or less had everything in working order. So we moved rooms.....

It was in this hotel that it dawned on us that the Angolans have a strange relationship to TV, had not really realised it before, but in any public place - bar, cafe, restaurant etc - there is always a TV blasting away, but in our hotel it reached its logical conclusion, in the dining room there was a TV in each corner, each tuned to a different channel! But fortunately, only one was tuned for sound!

We quickly discovered that in Lubango the electricity only works for a couple of hours a day, and whilst the hotel had a generator to keep the lights working, this didn't help with the water system... no electricity from the city, no water pressure... so the hunt for a working shower turned out to be something of a waste of energy.

As the next day was Christmas, there wasn't a whole lot to do in Lubango, so we simply wandered around the city to see if we could get a feel of the place. It is much like a small Luanda: filthy, in disrepair and generally not very pleasant to be in. As in all of Angola, however, it is full of friendly, helpful people. The other most noticeable thing about the place is the high number of men with only one leg..... landmines.

Street in Lubango

So, we passed a gentle and relaxed Christmas and Boxing day in this way...simply wandering around and relaxing in the hotel. Christmas was clearly marked by visiting the main cathedral and other renovated sights of Lubango, like the fountains in front of the pink government buildings. Around the cathedral particularly, everyone was dressed for the occasion, bright and cheerful, the women in many colours of draped cloth, men in loose suits and often flat cloth caps.

When I said 'pink', I meant pink - and Yes, it is a government building!

During this, we had been wondering what to do with ourselves in Lubango, as it didn't really have all that much to offer us we found, so we decided to go mad and hire a 4x4 to take us out of the city into the surrounding country, which has a number of places worth visiting it appeared.

Tropicana - and they get a host of gold stars for being friendly and hospitable.
They really wanted us to enjoy our stay and did everything to make that possible.

Thus, we found our way to a car hire company (Tropicana) and negotiated a Landcruiser (with driver) for a day.... it cost us 300 USD! Our driver turned out to be one of the managers, who was given the job of driving us around as he spoke English...he was also a member of the 7th day Adventist church, but that didn't seem to be a problem.

One view: where a local picnic spot sported a waterfall and pools.

Another view:
looking down, far down where the road took a zig-zag path to the valley floor.

And off we went... roaring out of the town to see what was to be seen.. and a whole new aspect of Angola opened up for us!

Another view:
space and distance everywhere one looks - amazing, and certainly breath taking

Lubango is 1800 meters (5500 feet) in altitude, and we went up onto a high plateau above the city, so we were above 2000 meters (6000 feet).

Another view!

And another!!

And flowers, and flowers and more flowers - different colours, different size Fascinating!

As you will see from the pictures it is an amazing landscape, a sort of mix between Dartmoor and Australia, huge gum trees all over the place and strange rock formations. He took us to see rather dried up rapids, an enormous statue of Jesus (like the one at Rio de Janiero) and a whole lot of places which took our breath away... one of which was the edge of the escarpment, a vertical cliff about 1000 meters high (we were on the top of it!) Not good for my vertigo I can tell you.. But sooooooooooooooo beautiful.

Jezus gazing down onto Lubango

Roads...or roads?

He also took us off to see another such cliff, but as he wasn't sure exactly where it was, we went bumping for about 20 km cross-country until we found a small village of nomadic cowherds, and he got two of them (young boys) to get in car to show us the way to this cliff. After bouncing and bumping along for a while we arrived..... and it was astonishing. It was like sitting in an airplane and looking down, so high!

Breath taking, especially imagining those lions roaming around way down there!

The two boys, who didn't really speak Portuguese, but their own tribal language, told our driver that before so many people had moved up onto this plateau, they had problems with lions coming up the escarpment and taking their cattle. This made me look down the cliff with more interest.. and wondered how quickly I could get back into the car. When we had returned our two young guides to their village, I asked our driver what we should give them - some bread, he said. I was surprised, but when I offered some rolls we had, their eyes shone! I did add our pot of peanut butter - I don't know what they made of that.

In the middle of nowhere, an old, deep well - what was it doing there?

On the way to this cliff, we had passed through an old agricultural research centre, which looked superb, so on the way back we got the driver to stop there and ask if anyone could tell us what they did there. The director duly turned up and gave us a very concise explanation of what they were trying to achieve there. Basically this was to cross breed local and foreign cattle, sheep and pigs to see if they could create animals which would flourish in this particular environment. And the same with fodder. The place had been started by the Portuguese in 1922, but been abandoned at independence, so it was very run down and they were trying to start it up again, but were waiting for funding from the Angolan government to do the job properly.

Lotty asked him if it was possible to stay there, but he said that it used to be possible, as they had a sort of guest house, but currently it wasn't possible.

So, back to Lubango and a new sleeping place. we had found a sort of brochure with tourist information and it listed a Pension in Lubango, so we decided that it would be cheaper and perhaps more fun than the Grande Hotel, so we got our driver to take us to it and help us to sign in. It turned out to be on the edge of Lubango on an unmade up road beside what in Luanda would have been a slum, but here was simply a place of vivid life.

This pension was a completely Angolan place, and we were a major attraction being both white and English, very strange beings for them!

Opposite our Pension

We chose to have a room with attached bathroom, thinking it would be pleasant to have our own shower and so forth, so we were slightly astonished as we started to settle into our room when a couple of women came in and started to fill our bath with buckets of cold water. When we asked what on earth they were up to, we were told they did this because there was almost never any water pressure in the water system (power cuts) and that we should use this water to wash with....... So much for the idea of lazy baths in our Angolan Pension. Well, it was more to be able to flush the loo..... we were never quite sure whether we were putting the bath water to its correct use!

It was a great place however to stay in, it was a constant buzz of noisy cheerful Angolans, babies on the backs of the cleaners, local youths using the snack bar in the Pension to watch TV and generally happy lively people about the place.

Walking down the red mud road to get into town was also fun, passing all manner of small roadside sellers of condensed milk and so on, children everywhere (it was amazing to watch the little boys skillfully playing with hoops, mostly bike wheels with the spokes removed). As everywhere in Angola, we were once again receive with happy smiles and friendly greetings whenever we wandered up and down this road.

One thing we shall miss a lot when we leave this country is the way that people walking around the streets almost always look happy and open to the world around them, as opposed to the closed in, rather grim way that most Europeans behave in public.

The water pump

At one point I started to take pictures of a rather amazing pump that they used to get water, and as I walked up to it with my camera, the reaction from the several dozen people, mostly women, busy pumping water into buckets and bowls was superb.... They greeted us with loud and happy laughter, and started to pose like mad for the camera. I am normally very loath to point my camera at people, but this lot were delighted that I was taking pictures of them.

The owner of this Pension turned out to be a Customs official who worked in Namibe (about 170 km from Lubango) who drove every day to work in Namibe along perhaps the only good inter city road in the whole country, and, to make our lives a wee bit easier, he spoke very good French.

Lotty had got the bit between her teeth, as she does, and wanted to see if we could camp on the research station, so the following afternoon, we returned to the car hire place to see if they would phone the director and ask him for us if we could camp there for a few days. This turned out not to be possible as there was no phone at the research station, and mobiles didn't reach it either.

Wild Iris Lotty fell in love with - a speckled iris of some sort

To our surprise, the manager of the car hire place then said that we could drive out to the station (only paying for the diesel) and ask the director if it would be possible. So we agreed to do this the following morning. We duly set off in our trusty Landcruiser. However before going off to the research station, our driver first went looking for the office of the relevant ministry in Lubango to see if it was even a possibility... It turned out that it was a matter for the director to decide, so.... once again, off we went up onto the high plateau and found our way back to the station. To our great pleasure the director was perfectly happy about us setting up our tent on his place and staying as long as we wished....For free too!

Peace all about us.

House proud Lotty

He suggested we set up beside what was the guest house of the station, and said he would unlock it so we had access to a lavatory and washing facilities. As ever, we were experiencing the amazing kindness of most Angolans, and another bath full of water!

The following day, complete with some basics to eat (more like peanut butter and sardines - with onions and mayonnaise, of course) and drink water, we were brought back to the research station by our driver (still only paying for the fuel used!) and he left us there, and promised to return after several days to pick us up.

The guest house

We had borrowed a tent from a couple who work at the school and had our sleeping bags, but not much else really in the way of camping equipment... Thus the diet whilst we were there was..ummm... well, it all tasted great, but we had no way to cook or even heat water (before you say why didn't you light a fire, well, the problem with that was that we had no pans or kettles either). Anyhow, we set up our tent, and got settled in. Not surprisingly, we had a number of visits from workers who happened to need to "pass" via our camp. This tended to produce that frustrating situation when two sets of people who have no language in common simply stand and gaze at each other, smiling manically.

This is what happens to Tony when he leaves his big hat behind!

We passed our days there with walks into the surrounding country and sitting peacefully in the guest house or outside our tent. During our walks, we saw the most incredible number of plants, flowers, birds and insects.

Admiring a local beehive, carved out of a chunk of eucalyptus trunk.
They are mostly hung in trees and bushes.
The honey is delicious.

Lotty went completely beserk about the various plants she came across. Such a variety of them there, in all colours and sizes. While she was enjoying the plants, I was happily watching the ants there.. for the first time in my life I saw soldier ants on the march, very impressive they are too!

Tony's ants

Pensive Lotty - on the yellow brick road ....or nearly
Certainly a feat of engineering and hard work

There were also the most absurd looking grasshoppers, very big, and wearing a sort of striped set of trousers. Not only did they look strange, but they were miserable failures as grass hoppers, when they hopped, they tended to land on their backs or heads or anyway, but never properly on their feet.... charming creatures. Although it doesn't seem like it in this narrative, we made a couple of good walks each day, each one in a different direction and as a result, into different scenery. Around each bend, there was a feast of new vistas to enjoy. Perhaps the best was when we found ourselves on a track that developed into an old stone paved road that wound down a steep hillside that seemed to go on further and further, with fantastic views off into the far distance.

I have to confess that I was constantly apprehensive about snakes as this was ideal snake country and they have some seriously nasty snakes in Angola, Mambas and so on.. The only one we found was in a preserving bottle in the Guest House! So I was probably driving poor old Lotty mad as I got worried everytime she wanted to head off through the longish grass to look closely at yet another astonishing plant.

Gum trees

We came across a superb water fall, yet another of those imposing cliffs, nomads, enormous gum trees, rock formations of amazing beauty.... Generally it was a superb experience.... Angola is an incredibly beautiful country. What a chance we have to see this country, which we are grabbing with both hands I can tell you.

One side of a waterfall, from behind ....then the other side

Impressive, and beautifully peaceful

On the less positive side, we both had a mild go of altitude sickness, to our surprise, which wasn't very nice, but we got over it OK. Although, neither of us mentioned this to each other, but I suspect we were both suffering a little from homesickness - there were so many reminders of the Vosges: pink rambling rose hedges, sorrel, elderberry bushes in flower (December!), .....rain, and even similar tiles to tiles found in old houses in Fontenoy!

Nice eh? A smaller stream.

Another thing we hadn't considered... It got seriously cold at night up there (but still above 0), and we were not really in any way equipped for this, so it was off to bed at sundown (about 7 pm) and up with the sun (about 5 am). But this worked OK for us,and we were both so happy to be there, that even if it had snowed we would have still have enjoyed it all. In fact it rained rather a lot, but happily never for very long, so that didn't spoil our enjoyment in any way.

A happy Tony

We spent a very, very happy and relaxing four days up there in our tent, before our driver reappeared and took us back to our Pension. We were seriously sad to leave this place, it had been a haven of peace and rest for us, but it had given us so much that we were ready to face Luanda again, well, ready, but not too keen.

The taxi crammed full of people, babies and baggage

We had to be at the airport the following morning at 5:55 am to fly to Luanda, so we arranged with our driver (still only charging for the fuel used) to pick us up at 5:30. At 5:45 he still hadn't turned up, so we shouldered our baggage and walked up to the main road and waved down a blue and white taxi and said "aeroporto por favor" and we squeezed into an already full Toyota Urvan. The other passengers all grinned happily at us as we forced them to squeeze up even tighter than they already were. Thus we arrived at the airport perfectly happily and in good time to check in for our flight.

To our amazement the plane was on time, and at about 9 am we were back in the domestic terminal of Luanda airport, and our holiday was effectively over.

Every time we are among Angolans, we are astonished by the way they go out of their way to help us and successfully make our attempts to see their country possible. It is such a sadness that these people have to tolerate such bad government and appalling living conditions, and infiltration of commerce like CocaCola and cigarettes, they deserve so much more from life. The more I see and get to know this country the more I like it and its people. They can be infuriating at times, and most of them have a very non pro-active approach to life, and seem to not see the ruin and tattiness of everything around them, but... but..........

Given even a half way decent government, this could be such an amazing country.