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......