November 2008- Kalandula Falls and Piedras Negras (Angola)

Kalendula Falls, Angola

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This weekend Chris and I went camping with our friends Lorrie and Margaret, and Margaret’s daughter Lina.  We left Sunday morning and drove east from Luanda, in search of the Kalendula Falls and the rocks called Piedras Negras.  These are two natural attractions of Angola that a lot of people who live here have heard of, but not many people have actually been to.  Although they are only 6-8 hours away from the capital city now, this was not always the case.  In the past, when there was just a dirt road, it could take over 12 hours to travel to the next closest major city, Malange.  Also, during 30 years of Angola’s civil war, people did not travel within the country from province to province.  In addition, Chris and I had tried this trip last year over Thanksgiving break, only to wind up getting as far as N’Dalentando, where I was thrown in  jail. 

So we were pretty excited to try the trip again.  This is my last week in Angola so this would be our last chance to try to see the infamous waterfalls.  We had a good time driving out towards Melange, enjoying the scenery and the countryside.  Angola is actually a very beautiful country once you get out of the capital city.  Very green and pretty.  We finally found the little town where you turn off the main highway to head towards Kalandula, and turned on a dirt road for the last 45 kilometers.  At last we reached the falls, and they were amazing.  It is reputed that the Kalandula Falls are the 2nd tallest in Africa, at 105 meters.  Apparently there used to be a hotel at the falls, which we could see across the falls from where we were (you can see it in the picture of Chris, above).  It gave the area a whole kind of weird “Lost” feeling, being at this place and finding an old structure that none of us knew had been built there.  One of the visitors at the falls said there used to be a bridge leading to the hotel.  Maybe there is a road on the other side, but we couldn’t see one.  I wonder if anyone will ever rebuild there.

We had brought camping supplies, so we found a good area to camp in- next to a farmer’s cassava field (always good to be near farmland in a country filled with mines)- and we spent the night close to the falls.  The next morning, we found a trail that led down to the river at the bottom of the falls.  It took about 30 minutes to hike to the bottom, but it was totally worth it to see the view of the waterfalls from below.  We sat on some boulders that reached halfway across the river and we felt like we were in the middle of the water.

After a while we packed up, found the main highway again, and then found the little dirt road that leads to Piedras Negras, a grouping of old volcanic (?) rocks that are supposed to be really, really old.  I could only find a little information on them, so I don’t know how old they are.  The road leading to the rocks is being paved right now, so I imagine in a few more months the area will start seeing some tourists.  It is really worth going.  The rocks stand out against the skyline in an area that is otherwise very flat.  In one area, there are two small parts of the rocks that are blocked off so you can’t walk there.  We went over to investigate, and discovered that there are footprints in the rocks there.  A woman who was with a group of people explained that they are pre-historic footprints.  I would love to find out how old they are.

After the footprints, we packed it up and headed back home.  It was a long drive home, but again, with the beautiful countryside, it made for a really great trip.  I am very happy that we went.

August 2008- Kissama Game Park

Deah in Kissama Game Park with warden Angola

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I spent the last week driving around Quissama Game Park, which is 1 million hectares (2.2 million acres).  Of course we didn’t drive through the whole thing.  About 1/4 of the park is fenced in and that is where the majority of the animals- elephants, giraffes, zebras, etc are. 

 What we did this week was drive around to about 40 villages located within the park and ask the sobas (the head man of each village) when the last time they had seen any big game was.  We were trying to determine if there are any elephants and palancas and stuff left (most of the big game were shot during the 30 years of civil war here for meat).  To put our trip into perspective, we went to villages that consisted of maybe 10-15 huts, no roads, no electricity, no running water.  The villages don’t even have cattle because of the tse-tse flies (let’s hope I don’t get African sleeping sickness).  These are areas of Angola that the Portuguese never even went into for that reason (and the malaria). 
Each village we went to, the soba would invite us into the ondjaingo (a large round thatched hut that they use for a type of town hall meeting, where villagers take their complaints or they have celebrations).  They would greet us and the game warden would ask his questions.  Roland, the game warden, has only been in this area once in his six years as warden- and the time before that anyone from the park came through there was 30 years ago.  So they had had two visits from park officials in the last 35 years.  I sensed that most of the villages had not seen a white woman in years, and some of the children, perhaps never.  It is very uncommon for a woman here to travel into the bush.
We traveled with Roland, who is the game warden and who oversaw the “Operation Noah’s Ark” six years ago, in which 200 animals were flown in from South African game parks to repopulate Angola’s parks.  He is former South African Special Forces.  Also we had two men from the Angolan Ministry of the Environment, who were there to check on the conservation and management of the park (although it seems there were some tensions between them and the park manager, so I was employed as somewhat of a spy to find out their true intentions- I tried to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. Millions of dollars are at stake for managing this land). They were actually from Spain, but one of them spoke English, so I got to practice my Spanish and Portuguese a lot this week.  Also we had Meghan, who is the US Ambassador’s niece, she is in vet school and had just finished a 4 week “Vets in the Wild” program in Kruger park in South Africa.  Then we had 7 armed Angolan guards/ trackers that work for Roland- all former military and some former poachers.  We were armed for two reasons- the animals, but also because they have on occasion been involved in firefights with poachers in some areas of the parks.  As these villages are on national park lands, they are not allowed to hunt the animals…. even though they domesticate no animals besides the pig and only cultivate cassava (manioc). 
So, we drove around for 5 days, asking villagers about the animals, and also asking questions such as “How many children are in your village? (rural angolan women average 7.7 births each),  Do you have a school?,  Do you have a generator?  Do you cultivate any crops?  Do you have any animals?  Are you going to vote in the election in September?  Has anyone from MPLA visited this village lately?  Has anyone from UNITA visted?  When was the last time a car came through here?”.  Some places said they saw a car maybe once a week. Some villages had brand new shiny bikes that had just been delivered from MPLA (the party of the current- and only- president).
We drove for 7 to 8 hours each day, but only covered between 60 and 100 kilometers (40 to 65 miles).  It was very rough travel.  We got stuck fording streams and got flat tires (we had two land cruisers and a pick up truck with our supplies, and we all had extra tires).  One land cruiser tipped over when it fell into a hole (I was in it, and it was scary.  The guards all had to tip it back the right way while Roland tried to drive out of the hole in the ground.  I just hung on to the door handle).  The brush was higher than the car was- 3 meters (9 feet tall).  We were never on a paved road the whole trip- just dirt tracks.  We camped on the ground each night under mosquito nets- no tents- and it was beautiful to look up and see the moon and the southern cross.  The a/c didn’t work so well in the cars so we often had the windows open, so if you weren’t in the lead car you got plenty dusty (I washed my hair three times when I got home).  Chris sent me with 12 bottles of water and 12 MRE’s and that was what I ate all week. 
 
All in all, it was an interesting trip.  It was not what I would call “fun”.  But certainly educational and enlightening, and as Roland said, a historical trip.  It would definitely make for an interesting article in an anthropology type magazine.
 
Some interesting facts about Angola:  77.2% of their budget comes from oil money…. they produce 1.9 million barrels of oil per day….  they have one of the fastest growing economies in the world (due to oil production and prices)…. yet have some of the poorest citizens in the world. 
 
 
The next few weeks look pretty interesting:  Tonight the Marines are showing “Iron Man” at their house and having burgers and beer…. Chris leaves in a week for the US, then I leave three days later for Portugal… I’ll be in Portugal for 10 days, then as soon as I get back, Chris and I will be heading north to observe the elections in another province.  The elections are for the Assembly (congress, basically), not the President (there has not been a Presidential election here since ’92, and the president has actually been in power since 1979).  Hopefully the elections will be peaceful…. we will see.  MPLA dominates now but perhaps more UNITA will be elected as a backlash to the incredible governmental waste and corruption that is present here (
 
Hope everyone is doing well.  To Mimi and Kris, i got your packages!!  Thank you!!!

June 2008 Cape Town and Etosha Game Park

Chris and Deah outside Etosha Game Park gate, Namibia

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Cape Town, South Africa—Etosha Game Park, Namibia

After a really, really long flight (24 hours, via New York and Dakar), I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa.  I had pre-booked a hostel that included airport pickup, so I was picked up just after Customs and driven to my hostel.  On the way I got to see a little bit of the scenery as we entered the city, and of course, the famous Table Mountain.  I arrived at my hostel, the Sunflower Stop, and got all checked in, and went for a little walk down to the ocean to stretch out my legs and watch the sun set.  This was the farthest south in the southern hemisphere I had ever been- and although it wasn’t freezing cold, it was definitely “winter” time here, even though it had been high summer when I left Texas the day before! Continue reading “June 2008 Cape Town and Etosha Game Park”

December 2007- Sao Tome

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Chris and I spent the week before Christmas on the island of Sao Tome. We had a wonderful vacation- it was so great to get out of Angola! During our week on the island, Chris got his diving certification at Club Maxel Dive Center, we stayed at some really nice hotels, and we also stayed in a little hut down on the beach. Very secluded and very hidden! I’m not telling the name here because I want it to stay hidden!

We rented a car and drove all over the island, which is pretty small, and enjoyed several meals and drinks at MJ’s, a little expat hang out in the downtown. We also toured a chocolate “factory”, which was really just a tiny house but totally yum. We stayed the last 3 days at a nice hotel right on the beach, and while we were there we met some really nice people- one of them invited us to his house one night for an awesome South African braii (barbecue). We ate at a fabulous old plantation house (Roca Săo Joăo dos Angolares) that is now owned by a Portuguese chef and had the best meal… ever.  I think Chris’s favorite part of the trip was when we rented a small boat from some Sao Tomeans and boated over to the small island “Illheu das Rolas” that has the equator running through it. We beached the boat and climbed up a hill to the point where the “actual” imaginary line runs through the island. We got to snap some fabulous photos there.

Sao Tome is a really, really beautiful place. Like Angola, they were originally a Portuguese colony, so a lot of people there speak Portuguese, but also a kind of English creole. Dotted throughout the island are tons of old Portuguese plantation houses that have been abandoned since the Portuguese left in 1975. Some people are starting to reclaim those houses and are turning them into eco-lodges, hotels, and restaurants. I think Sao Tome is a place that would be really cool to visit again in ten years. I had a great time and it was a wonderful way to spend Christmas.

November 2007- Thanksgiving in Jail

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Yes, the rumors are true. I was arrested last weekend and thrown in the slammer. In Africa. As Jonathan says “All respectable expats have spent some time in jail (welcome to Africa)”. Here’s the story:

Chris and I were taking a road trip to the Calendula waterfalls, about 8 hours away from Luanda. Naturally with a long drive like that we would take turns driving. However, we both forgot all abut the fact that my purse had been stolen the previous weekend, and my driver’s license along with it.
Of course about half an hour after I start driving, we get pulled over. It was just a routine police check just before N’Dalentando, the capital of Kwanze Norte province. Chris showed his id cards but they also asked for mine. I didn’t have my driver’s license, and I had left my passport at home (we had thought it would be safer there). So the police took us into the city, to the Office of Immigration.

We spent the rest of the day (Thursday) dealing with Immigration. They were mainly concerned about seeing my passport. But they were also acting like it wasn’t that big of a deal, so we thought they would eventually just let us go. Everything in Africa takes time. But by the end of the day, they still were dealing with us, so they made us spend the night there. We slept in the car in the parking lot of the immigration building. We called a friend in Luanda and he got the key to the house, and retrieved my passport.

Friday morning, our friend in Luanda took my passport to the Immigration office in Luanda and showed it to them, and they called the guys in N’Dalentando, and we were done. We thought. Then the immigration guys said we needed to go see the police chief about the driving without a license charge. So we drove over there. When we got there, a woman asked us a bunch of questions, and decided we needed to see the judge. So we drove to the courthouse, and waited around there a while. Finally, the judge asked a bunch of questions (mainly the same ones) and informed us that the penalty for driving without a license in Angola is one month in jail! We explained about the stolen license, and she said she needed to see a copy of the license, and until she did, I was going to jail. And with that, she picked up her purse and left for the day! Even though it was only 2:30 in the afternoon.

We were pretty freaked out about the jail part, so I called Ken in Texas and asked him to go to my parents’ house, and look through the mail- luckily, my license had actually expired a month before and I had ordered a new one, so it should be in the mail there. Chris was going to call Ken back in an hour or so, and the police took me off to jail. They took my shoelaces (suicide watch?). Chris gave me some clothes from our backpacks to use as pillows, and a magazine, and some bottled water. I went into the cell and the guard locked the door. The cell had no electricity, it was about 5″x8″, and it had an outdoor latrine. I was the only one in there for a few hours.

Chris had found a courthouse clerk, Amadou, who spoke some English, so they were off together to go find a way to get me released. He promised to return in a couple of hours with some dinner.
Being in jail wasn’t too bad. The guards were really nice and came over to talk to me and play music for me on their cell phones. After a while we started doing Portuguese/English lessons. You learn a lot of words when you’re in trouble with the law in a foreign country. I learned more Portuguese in those four days than I did in the first four weeks I was here.

Chris was busy meanwhile, finding a phone with charge in it and some phone minutes (his phone charge was gone and we hadn’t brought the charger with us), finding internet connection (he had to go to four or five places before he found the only one in town, at the Catholic Mission), and coordinating with Ken in Texas and other people in Luanda. Ken had found my new driver’s license and scanned it in and emailed it to Chris, who got it printed out. He brought me some dinner- an MRE and some juice- and said he was going to look for the judge or the police chief, and he’d be back later.

The sun sets here around 7 pm and when there’s no electricity, there’s nothing to do except lay down and try to sleep. Another woman, Vivi, was brought to my cell for a while, but released about an hour later (her husband was abusing her so they put her in jail for “protection”). I couldn’t really sleep- all I had was a blanket (from Vivi- she told me she’d come pick it up the next day) and a somewhat dirty sheet, on a concrete floor- so I sat up in the doorway with a lit candle for a while. I was still sitting up like that when Chris came in again at 9:30, and said they were releasing me from jail.

I was out of jail but we had to stay in town for the weekend. I was basically detained under house arrest. We found one restaurant to get lunches and dinners, but other than that I just stayed at the “hotel” (an empty boarding house, maybe?) we found. If I left the hotel, the police followed us around. But really, they were pretty nice about it and were just trying to keep an eye out for us, I think. We hung out in the city (town, really, it wasn’t that big-maybe five or six main streets) on Saturday and Sunday, and then Monday morning we went to the courthouse. We met with the same judge, who took us into to a “tribunal”, a short trial with three judges. The other judges didn’t seem to give much of a crap about this whole situation, but for some reason my original judge really had a thing for keeping the case going. Finally, after a couple of hours, I was declared “absolvo” and released. I waited a good half hour while some guy on a manual typewriter typed up a copy of my release papers,– and then actually SEWED my court case shut with twine– and then we beat it out of town. We never did get to see the waterfalls.

All in all, it was an interesting weekend. I learned a lot of Portuguese. I got a close look at the Angolan justice system. An even closer look at an Angolan jail. And, it was an excellent lesson in reminding me to always keep paper copies of my documents with me. It wound up being a very cheap Thanksgiving vacation- when we added it up, we came to about $270 for a five day trip. Of course, two of those nights were in the car and two nights were in a very scary “hotel”- I use quotation marks because I can guarantee that unless you’ve been to a third world country, you haven’t seen a place like this. But at least along the way we met some really interesting people, and a few people like Amadou and Americano, a police officer who was very helpful. And we got to have an adventure.

This weekend, we’re staying home. Next trip is going to be to the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, just before Christmas. Look at my pictures for some pictures of N’Dalentando, as well as some pictures of our road trip down to Benguela and Lobito earlier in November to visit the British warship, HMS Southampton.