Cabo Ledo, a Halloween weekend.

•November 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

Surfers at Cabo Ledo

 

 

I headed down to Cabo Ledo on Saturday for a Halloween weekend on the beach.  I took along my new camera to get some good pictures of the beach an the surfers doing there thing.  There were good waves and a good stiff offshore breeze that led to some pretty nice pictures.

Enjoy them here.

The Return

•October 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve come to learn that returning to Angola is always difficult.  Living here and working has absolutely made me appreciate home or the first world in a completely new way.  So it is that I’m back and have plunged head first into everything Angola has to throw at me.  It comes from all sides.

I’m back from Singapore and what a great time it was.  Roxana has pulled together two great trips for me when I’ve been to see her.  Her being there and my new outlook from being in Angola makes me see Singapore in a wholly different light than I saw it the first time I went there in January 2008.

Almost as soon as I landed in Singapore we were headed back to the airport from Roxana’s apartment, but not before grabbing a yummi breakfast of dim sum at the local food market, Lau Pa Sat.  I also had quite a warm welcome at Roxana’s house complete with card, balloon an angel food cake and brownies, wow!

We took a short 1 hour commuter flight to Terengganu, Malaysia and then a one hour ferry ride out to Pulau Redand (Redang Island).  The main job on Redang was to enjoy the snorkeling, clouds of fish and coral in the water and sleep away my jetlag and Angolan exhaustion.  We spent 2.5 days laying on the beach, swimming and snorkeling and generally having a pleasantly relaxed time.  I could hardly stay awake and spent most of the quiet moments sneaking naps on the beach or at the pool.

Sleeping Josh practices sleeping.

Sleeping Josh practices sleeping.

The long weekend was up and we returned to Singapore so Roxana could work the rest of the week and I could take time for shopping, errands, honey dos and enjoying time away.  I did just that.  I bought myself a fancy new digital SLR camera and other assorted miscellany.

Every morning I started my day by walking Roxana to the bus stop.  A nice way to start the day no doubt, but after dropping her off each day I headed over to Starbucks for a big coffee and a warm blueberry muffin.  Yum, another great way to start the day, something you definitely don’t get in Angola.

Several activities were planned throughout the week, too many to recount here, but I’ll highlight a few.  Friday night was date night and we had dinner and a play.  After the play we went to Clark Quay and went to a Cuban themed bar having mojitos and dancing (or at least me trying to keep up) to Latin music.  We also took a fun tour of China town and saw all the decorations for  the mid autumn festival.  A walk and picnic lunch took most of our Saturday at the botanical gardens.  Two nights we played tennis on the courts at Roxana’s building and all week we ate a fantastic mixture of home made, ethnic and take away food.

The week ended with a bang or a roar when we went to the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.  I’m not really an F1 fan, but it was so cool to hear and see the raw power of these cars as they screamed around the downtown race track.  We took the race in from 4 or 5 vantage points and really got a feel, I felt, for the race.

All in all we had such a great time, most of it due to Roxana’s creativity and careful planning but also just being together and being able to benormal was fun and refreshing.

I’m back and here for a while with the next trip out (and to see Roxy) being my first home leave in December.  I depart on December 19th and get home to Charlotte on the 20th.  Just 10 weeks of hard work stand between me, my girl, and home.

Pictures of the trip below:

Botanical Gardens

Singapore Grand Prix

Pulau Redang

Out the door.

•September 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Today I’m out the African door once again.  It seems to seem to many that I was just vacationing in South Africa.  Roxana and I were there in July and had a wonderful week touring the Western Cape.  I’m not sure why I never wrote anything up on it, but I didn’t.  I just never felt inspired to, despite the fact that it was a killer trip.

I’ve been back 7 weeks, but even that amount of time in this environment is enough to drive one towards a well deserved vacation.  Those who have lived it understand.  So today I fly to Johannesburg where I’ll stay overnight with a friend.  Tomorrow, I fly direct to Singapore, arriving Saturday morning.

Roxana and I will take a long weekend at a resort island in Malaysia and then I’ll be bumming around in Singapore next week while she works.

I breath a big sigh of relief to fly off putting work off my mind for a week.  It will be a great week and I’ll no doubt return batteries recharged and ready to tackle Angola once again with vigor.

A ride

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The group that rides from the golf course on Sundays is pretty hard core.  Most of them are in seriously good shape and have been road biking or mountain biking for a while.  As a beginner to novice who isn’t in the best shape, I struggle seriously to keep up.  Everyone has been very kind and understanding, someone always waits for me, but I can feel I’ve been a serious drag in the times that I’ve been.  That’s no fun, for anyone.

So I haven’t been in a while.  I haven’t been riding in a while.  I’ve been running more regularly to get into better shape but still I need some work.

One of my colleagues from the office told me how he and his wife had rode their bikes on Sunday out to the end of the Ilha and back.  That got me thinking as to why I couldn’t do that.  So I did.  I recruited a friend from Belgium, Job, and we headed out one Sunday morning for a Sunday morning ride though town.

The loop from Miramar, past the port to the Marginal, out the Ilha and back.

The loop from Miramar, past the port to the Marginal, out the Ilha and back.

We ended up going 26 kilometers or about 16 miles.  We had a pretty good time and despite being honked at and some serious car fumes, we completed our mission.  I think this is a good way to improve my biking endurance so that I’ll be able to rejoin the biking group for a full ride without being too much of a drag.

The Russian Dentist

•September 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Did I ever tell you about the time that I went to the Russian dentist in a third world African country?  I didn’t?  Huh, could have sworn I did.  Anyway, I’ll tell you now, it’s a good one.

I was expatriated to Angola in Africa a few years ago.  Somehow, aside from the normal Africa stomach that everyone has, I made it through the first few months of being in a new environment, a dirty, dusty, rubbish strewn third world environment without being sick.  I had a head cold not long after I arrived, but that was short lived and only really gave me some post nasal drip.  No big deal.

Sometime in March 2009 my gum between on the upper right side of my mouth got irritated between my incisor and canine teeth.  I didn’t think much of it, at first I thought I’d gotten some food stuck up there or something.  So I brushed, and flossed and brushed and flossed, but the irritation continued.  Eventually after about a week or so of this, I’d been brushing so vigorously, I’d irritated the gum even more and it became raw.  Well I let it have a rest and the rawness went away but the irritation persisted.  By this time, it even began to swell up a bit.  I didn’t really know what to do, I even thought maybe it was because I was drinking too many soft drinks, after all, Fanta is pretty acidic.  Since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about it and I didn’t want to go to the dentist in Angola, I did what any reasonable person, particularly a man, would do.  I tried to ignore it and hope it would go away.

In early April, I went to to Singapore to see Roxana, while I was there; I brushed twice a day, flossed a few times and drank fewer soft drinks that I normally drink at home.  The irritation began to get better and the swelling even went down.  Excellent news, it was not for long though, because not long after I returned to Angola, the swelling returned and so did the irritation.  It never really got to the point of bothering me, just something that was there that wasn’t totally pleasant.

I let it drag our for another month, on sometime into late May.  By then though, the swelling had increased to the point where I had something bigger than a BB but smaller than a pea that became noticeable and made me self concise when I smiled.  This made me noticeably uncomfortable in social situations to the point where I deliberately didn’t smile.  Something had to be done.

The next day at work, a Monday or a Tuesday, I talked to our administration lady, Ana, about getting an appointment with a dentist.  It took a day, but she had the receptionist call the clinic the company uses.  I could have a dentist appointment the next Monday, half a week and a weekend away.  That was not acceptable to me since although I’d waited a month to go to the dentist, I decided I wanted to go, so I wanted to go tomorrow, not next Monday!  I remembered that Ana had recently told me that she had had some dental work done so I asked her if she could get me an appointment with her dentist.  She said that it wouldn’t be a problem but I should know that he’s Russian.  Ok, your dentist is Russian, if he worked on you, that’s fine by me, please just make me an appointment?

Well I got an 8:30 appointment for the next day.  Driver picked me up and across town we went before the morning traffic rush.  We rolled up early, just as I was hoping we would because having an appointment in Angola doesn’t actually mean much of anything.  It’s just sort of general guidance as to when you should show up and you’ll be seen eventually.  I signed in and sat in the plain waiting room with a few other people waiting my turn.  The waiting room was clean enough with a few scattered copies of days old Jornal de Angola lying on a table in the middle of the room.  I picked one up and leafed through the state sponsored newspaper to see that indeed everything was rosy and modern and progressing as they rebuild Angola.  Every now and then women dressed in scrubs would come by, but it was hard to tell if they were technicians, hygienists or just cleaning staff.

Eventually I was ready to be seen and I was told I could go up and go to door number two.  I went up a flight of stairs to find a small landing with three doors.  Choosing door number two I entered to find exactly what you might think a Russian dentist’s third world dental examination room to look like.  There was a not quite straight calendar hanging alone on the wall, it was from 2008 and by this time we were well into 2009.  In the corner of the room, over by the window, there was a pile of dental drugs and medicines in plastic bottles and jars all labeled in Russian.  In the middle of the room sat a dentist chair that looked like one that my mother probably sat in when she was a young girl in the early 1960’s.  There was not a single piece of recognizably modern dental equipment in the entire room. Gulp.

There was a technician cleaning up a bit from the last patient who had occupied the seat.  I looked around taking a visual inventory of the room.  Small basin for spitting, check.  Dental equipment, teeth grinders, drill bits all lying on the work station next to the seat, check.  Russian label drugs in the corner, check.  Sanitation equipment, no check.  Just then Dr. Sergio himself came in wishing me good morning.  I told him good morning and told him my Portuguese was not so good, did he speak English.  Nope, he only spoke Portuguese and Russian.  I proceeded to inform him I was here for a cleaning but I also had a spot I was interested in him looking at for me.

I showed him where it was and he set straight to work, poking on it.  At least he was wearing latex gloves.  He poked a few times and thought deeply with a puzzled look on his face.  He muttered something that I didn’t understand and turned around.  After a few seconds he whirled on his spinning stool back to me with a very large needle in his hand.

I’m not sure how you feel about the dentist.  I generally don’t mind going for cleanings every six months, but anything beyond that that involves novocaine, drilling or heaven forbid more, I’m not interested in.  Let’s just say it was less than encouraging when the first thing he did was shoot me numb.

In the few minutes it took me to numb up, I nervously ran through scenarios of what I might be in for next.  I’d done some research online and figured out that I probably had a spot of gingivitis.  Online articles suggested it could be treated with antibiotics, why would he be numbing me then?  The time for thinking passed and my emotions quickly turned to outright panic when I saw him unwrap a scalpel blade and ask me to lay back.  He was going to cut it out! Oh God, oh God, oh God.  I’m letting a Russian dentist in a third world African country use a scalpel to cut something out of my mouth.  Just then I realized Ana, our administration lady, doesn’t have the best teeth.  Wait a minute, Angolan teeth and dental health in general aren’t that much better than well, someone with poor teeth and dental health.

Visions of him cutting too much and the gum atrophying into a shriveled mess exposing my roots ran through my mind.  That was just enough to distract me until the warm taste of blood dripping onto my tongue snapped me back to reality.  The actual procedure didn’t hurt much, he did do a very good job of numbing me up.  He used the hard enamel of the teeth as a way to form and make his cuts to cut the flesh out.  Before I knew it, he was done and blood was dripping rapidly.  Cotton was pushed onto the fresh wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding.  Cotton, cotton, more cotton, all blood soaked.  After two or three minutes, the blood flow slowed and he put something foul tasting onto the area to stop the bleeding.

Then he said something.  I didn’t make out the full sentence but I did get the only word that mattered. Cauterizar.  Now, after cutting on me, he was going to burn me.  Burning, in dentistry, in a mouth, well at the time I don’t think I could have thought of anything worse.  Was this a dentist visit or a torture session?  He lit a match and lit a candle on his work station.  I looked over and sure enough, he was warming some piece of dental equipment up on the candle he’d just lit.  Another wave of panic.  Should I just get up and make a run for it, dumping the content of my wallet as I sprinted down the stairs, out the door and to the safety of my car?

I think I must have let out something of a whimper and must have looked really nervous when he came back with his hot instrument because he said something I didn’t get but interpreted as, ‘Oh for Christ’s sake, be a man.’  He stuck the instrument into my mouth and burned the wound shut.  The smell of fleshy smoke wafted into the air as whisps of white smoke wafted into my line of sight.  Then he put some medicine on the wound and a type of dental cement cap, making me look like I’d smushed a big wad of chewing gums on my teeth and just left it there.

I rimmed the inside of my teeth and gums to feel what the damage was, sure enough the swelling was gone, but shouldn’t there be more gum there?  Is that a hole between my teeth?  He said to leave the medicine on and return tomorrow, he wanted to put more on.  I was free to go.  I hurried downstairs, paid my almost 100 USD bill and left as quickly as I could.

I was glad to be out but worried what the dental cement cap would reveal when it came off the next day.  I was so nervous, yet so relieved to be out I tried in my best broken Portuguese to tell Nascimento what happened.  I don’t think he understood the full gravity of what I’d just been through.  So, I called Roxana, the best person I could think of, the first person I go to today in these type of situations.  I told her the whole story over the phone.

A week later, everything was healed, the gingivitis was gone and my gums looked good as new.  I would say that going to the Russian dentist in Angola wasn’t so bad after all, but it was.  At least in the end, he did a good job and didn’t mangle my smile.

A Sunday Drive.

•August 19, 2009 • 1 Comment

Last weekend we packed up the car again and hit the road to see more of Angola.  We had a cooler full of Fanta and Coke Zero and a bag full of cookies and ketchup chips as fuel.

We headed south from Luanda along the coast road to Lobito/Benguela.  Our intention was to take the drive through Port Amboin along the way, detour to the waterfalls or cachoeiras that Dimitri had discovered recently and then back on the coast road to Sumbe for a meal and then return back to Luanda.

As you can see from the quick reference map of our trip I drew, we ended up in a loop, never coming back the coast road.

The loop south from Luanda, across the mountains to the Huambo road where we turned back north.

The loop south from Luanda, across the mountains to the Huambo road where we turned back north.

We  blew through Port Amboin expecting to hit it on the way back once the clouds burned off.  We headed straight for the waterfalls where we climbed on rocks and walked around for about an hour.  At that stop, we heard that ahead there was a coffee plantation that could be visited.  We headed off east towards Gabela in search of the place.

We never found it, but we did find Gabela along a newly paved road by the Chinese.  Gabela’s an odd town.  It reminded me more of a small town from Alabama than somewhere in Angola.  it has proper storefronts, wide streets with parking and balconies looking out from the first floor over the street.  We crossed rail track once or twice and later I found out that Gabela was once a city that locally consolidated export coffee and pineapples shipped to the coast via rail.

The guys and their haul to take home to the wives.

The guys and their haul to take home to the wives.

We continued on from Gabela eastwards towards the north/south road from Luanda to Huabmo.  We met the road at the town of Quibala where the drivers wanted to stop at the roadside market to buy veggies.  They purchased a massive load of veggies for under 30 USD.  This was much much cheaper and fresher than they could ever find in the city.  Dimitri bought a large bucket of raw peanuts which we all chowed down on along the rest of the trip.

When we crossed a provincial border crossing on the way into Luanda, we were pulled over by the transit police for the second time of the day.  They wanted to see Nascimento’s driving documents as well as the documents of the vehicle.  As soon as the transit policemen saw that Dimiti and I who are clearly not Angolan, he called for his Immigration buddy to come harass us.

He wanted to see our documentation, and we provided our certified copies of our passport and visa.  Not satisfied with this, he then wanted to see a declaration from the company that we are still employed and working for them.  We didn’t have this, as it’s not something you are normally told to carry around or something we’d been given by HR.  We were asked to get out of the car and proceed to the Immigration officer’s office.

We entered a spartan office in a concrete structure with a large open window on one side.  Inside the office was a TV, a simple desk with papers scattered about it and two chairs.   By this time I’d found my business card in my wallet and presented this as my proof of employment.  After some cross checking, he was satisfied and started to hone in on Dimiti.  He asked us if we spoke and understood Portuguese well which I said we sorta kinda did. This was not good enough and he wanted only to talk to the driver who would then talk to us.

I was eventually dismissed so he could get down to his corrupting work sans witnesses.  He was not budging that Dimitri must provide a declaration of work.  He provided several ways out that were non options, and end the end let Dimitri proceed on his way in exchange for a donation to his child’s college fun, if you get my drift.

We got back to Luanda with minimal hassle after that, although we did see one dead person lying in the middle of the road.  A sheet had been partially pulled over them, but not all the way.  It was unclear how they died, but looked like they had been hit by a car.  It was the second dead body we’d seen that day.  On the way out of town, we saw a bad wreck between a blue taxi (like a VW van) and an SUV.  The driver of the taxi was dead in the front seat, his body apparently pinned in the vehicle during the collision.

Other than those few unpleasantries, it was a very nice day.

Pictures from the day, with no dead bodies, can be found here.

Shipwreck Beach

•August 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment
The Karl Marx, foundered on the shores north of Luanda.

The Karl Marx, foundered on the shores north of Luanda.

We took a drive up to Shipwreck beach this weekend.  There we found rusting hulks littering the beach, south to north for over 5 miles.  Incredible.

I’m still working up a post detailing the recent vacationing Roxana and I did in South Africa, but for now, this will have to tide you over.

Pictures of shipwreck beach and the excursion to neighboring Dande can be found here.  Enjoy!

 
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