The wonders of this country never cease to amaze me. This past weekend, we went out boating with our friends Mr. & Mrs. G and saw another fascinating sight just north of Luanda called Shipwreck Beach. The term “Skeleton Coast” is a familiar one to many of us, but for me, I did not know exactly what it meant until I moved to Africa. On our recent trip to Namibia, we skirted the southern end of this famous stretch of coastline, but were not far enough north to see any of the hundreds of shipwrecks scattered along the shore. The wrecks in Namibia were caused by submerged rocks and the legendary fog that routinely blankets the Namibian coast. In Luanda’s smaller-scale version, the wrecks were caused by man, rather than by Mother Nature.
Shipwreck Beach is an area of impressive cliffs, golden sand, and dozens of huge, rusty, abandoned ships. There are several theories as to how they came to be marooned here. Some say they rusted away from their moorings in Luanda Bay and drifted to the beach. Others say they were deliberately sunk by the departing Portuguese troops as they were forced out of the city – a sort of “up yours” after a bad break-up.
Shipwreck Beach can be reached by car, but the beach area is not entirely safe, so it is best seen by boat. Since I had never seen it before, Mr. & Mrs. G offered to take us there after we tried our luck at whale-watching and fishing first. After an hour or so of cruising and a lovely lunch, we had encountered neither fish nor whales, but we did come upon a large pod of dolphins.
Honestly, in a contest between fishing and dolphin-watching, Flipper is the clear winner every time. What could be more fun that watching those friendly, intelligent mammals frolic in the wake of the boat?
And when one particularly frisky guy decides to jump up and splash us – not once but twice – all cares of the day just vanish away.
After playing with the dolphins for awhile, we headed towards the coast, and a huge cliff complete with a red and white lighthouse came into view.
When the seas are high, the waves crashing along this cliff are quite impressive, according to Mr. & Mrs. G. I was just as happy to have calm seas, however, as big waves can also mean feeling a little green-around-the gills.
As we sailed along this impressive cliff, the rock color changed from buff to a chalky white, and it bore a remarkable resemblance to the White Cliffs of Dover.
Soon, a few shipwrecks appeared in the distance.
The ghostly, abandoned ships looked like the perfect backdrop for the next post-apocolyptic blockbuster. One can only imagine Mad Max racing along the beach as hordes of bad guys pile out of these rusting hulks to join the chase.
What tales these ships could tell, about the men who sailed them and how they came to be forever stranded on the beach. For now, they serve as a reminder of the wastefulness of war and the scars men leave on our beautiful planet.
Once we were past Shipwreck Beach, we entered Luanda Harbor, with plenty of huge ships of its own. Luanda Harbor is one of the few places in the world where a small boat like ours can get up close and personal with huge container ships, and no one seems to notice or care.
Near the marina, there is a sailing school that operates on the weekends. It is always great fun to see the local youth learning to sail, and a nice way to conclude our day out.
From rusty shipwrecks to tankers to tiny sailboats, there is always something to see in these waters!
Cruising around on a boat with blue skies and good friends – not a bad way to spend the day. In fact, it’s the best way here in Luanda to escape the city and relax. Since returning from my trip to the states a week ago, I’ve been lucky enough to go out on the company boat twice. The first time was with some lovely ladies who live in my apartment building, and the second time, hubby and I headed out with our friends, Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous.
It is winter now in Luanda, and thus, the days are getting shorter and the weather is cooling off. The fishing season has all but ended, but the whales have yet to arrive. Still, you never know what wonders will be seen while cruising around.
I love seeing the city from the water. The crescent-shaped Marginal with its tall buildings, a marina filled with huge yachts, and palm-lined walking path, almost looks like the French Riviera. It may take a hefty dose of imagination and some squinting to see it, but the resemblance is there.
The trip from the marina through the bay and past the port is always interesting too, though not exactly postcard pretty. Virtually everything consumed in this country comes from somewhere else, and it all comes in to this one very poorly organized port. The bay is littered with all manner of tankers, drill ships and container ships, waiting to deliver their cargo. As our tiny boat passes through the shadows of these enormous, rust-covered vessels, they look almost deserted. The only sign that they are not abandoned is the bilge water pouring out of a pipe in the hull.
Once out of sight of the port, Luanda looks like any typical vacation spot, with its deep blue water and yellow sand beaches. We always cruise along the shoreline, looking at the houses, boats and people playing on the beach, and then head off to open water to see what the day will bring.
My first trip, with the ladies, brought neither fish nor whales, but we did see a number of sharks lazily swimming along the top of the water. This certainly made me think twice about taking a swim! Thankfully, the water was too cold. Once we had tired of cruising around, we headed to Mussulo Beach and enjoyed a lovely lunch at the restaurant/hotel there. It is always a pleasure to spend time with these gals, whether on the boat or not, and it was a perfect way for me to reacclimatize to Luanda after being gone for so long.
For our second trip, we were blessed with more sunny, cool weather. After cruising around for about a half hour, one of our boat motors started making a rattling noise and had to be shut off. The boat has three motors in total, so there was no worry about getting back, but we all knew that this breakdown would take the boat out of commission for several months. In fact, it takes so long to get parts brought in, that it could be well into October before it is up and running again. The second company boat is also broken, and has been for some time, so this could be our last boat ride for awhile.
Regardless of how long the repair takes, this was the last Luanda boat ride for Mr. & Mrs. A, who are retiring and moving back to the states in about a week. We all hoped this trip would bring something extra special to send them off properly, and we were not disappointed.
After cruising around at a very slow speed, due to the loss of our engine, we spied some dolphins in the distance.
Although we weren’t able to race to where they were, they were certainly not playing hard-to-get. We puttered along and easily caught up with them. Then, we meandered through the huge pod, while they jumped and played all around us.
We had seen a similar-sized pod on a previous trip with Mr. & Mrs. A, but those dolphins were much smaller – and all were headed in one direction quickly. These dolphins were huge and seemed to enjoy playing around the boat. There were also some comedians in the group, especially one fella who delighted in jumping just off the bow of the boat, turning sideways, and splashing down, drenching us all. He did this over and over again, as we squealed from being hit with the icy cold water.
I would have loved to snap some photos of his antics, but I had my camera tucked into my shirt to keep it dry. We did get plenty of shots of them just under the water and riding along beside us, and I certainly didn’t mind getting soaked. Just seeing those acrobatics was more than worth the goosebumps!
After more than a hour of dolphin play time, we headed to another stretch of beach, a bit more remote than where I had been a few days before. We anchored the boat and brought our lunches on to the beach, set up chairs and umbrellas, and just enjoyed having our toes in the sand.
There were several other large pleasure boats already anchored there, one of which also pulled a jet-ski. This made for some free entertainment when the jet-skier headed out pulling a guy along on a wakeboard. The jet-ski driver was obviously inexperienced. We could see – and hear – that the wakeboarder was none too pleased at his lack of driving skills! Over and over, the driver sped up and quickly slowed down, which caused the wakeboarder to jerk forward and then bog down in the wake and fall. Oh well, it was fun for us to watch, even if it was not any fun for the guy at the end of the rope.
After walking the beach to look for shells, tossing a frisbee and flying a kite, it was time to head back to the city – very slowly, of course. None of us minded the extra time it took to get back, as the weather was still so pleasant. We will miss going out on the boat for the next few months, but will certainly miss Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous a lot longer than that. Luckily for us, they are retiring to a place not far from where our son lives, so we plan to visit them in the near future.
Although activities like these are special indeed, it’s the people who make these postings so memorable. In our short time here, we have connected with some great folks. Our numbers may be getting smaller, but I have no doubt that the “stayers” will work just that much harder to look out for each other. That’s just what expats do!
One thing I have never been a big fan of is fishing. It’s just not my thing. It requires patience and a very dull sense of smell, neither of which I possess. However, when faced with very limited choices for weekend activities, fishing is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as my daddy used to say.
As mentioned in previous blogs, one of the perks of our posting here in Luanda is the use of the company boats for whale watching in the winter and fishing in the summer. We went on several amazing whale watching trips right after we arrived last September, but now those fabulously rotund mammals have left our local waters and so fishing is our only choice. I really enjoy riding in the boat, especially on a nice day, so when we were invited on two recent trips, I happily went along.
Our first trip was at the invitation of a couple whom I will call Mr. & Mrs. G. They work for another company, and we met through mutual friends shortly after we moved here. Mr. & Mrs. G are the best kind of expats: gracious, friendly, and always up for an adventure. On the morning of our fishing trip, we planned to meet Mr. & Mrs. G at the Marina, located a few short miles away. We allowed ten minutes to get there, but had not counted on the infamous Luanda traffic. Eight o’clock on a Saturday morning should have been smooth sailing, right? Wrong. We have since learned that for every event in this city, streets are simply closed and no detours are provided. I can only assume people are expected to sit in their cars and just wait until the event is over!
On this particular morning, there was a very small “fun run” which had brought the traffic to a complete standstill. After back-tracking and trying several different routes, we still ended up sitting in dead-stopped traffic, only marginally closer to our destination. Frustrated and late, we briefly considered walking the remaining two blocks to the marina, but thought better of it when our driver said it was not a safe area. A quick glance out of the car window confirmed his assessment.
Finally, after more than forty-five minutes, the event ended and the traffic started to move. We arrived at the marina to find Mr. & Mrs. G waiting patiently. Another lovely couple had also joined them, and we boarded the boat with high hopes and visions of fish on the grill that night. It was a lovely day: slightly overcast, cool and only enough breeze to make it comfortable. We cruised around for several hours, in search of fish.
I was perfectly happy just riding along, visiting with the ladies and munching on the yummy snacks Mrs. G had brought along. But, clearly the boys were getting restless. For some reason, the group had decided that I needed to reel in the first fish – if one ever decided to take the hook, of course. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, so I made myself ready by strapping on the fighting belt and preparing myself for the epic battle.
At last, a dorado (or mahi-mahi) went for the bait and I grabbed the fishing rod. Wow! I had no idea how weak I was! Clearly, I need to start lifting weights. If my difficulty in reeling him in was any indication, he was sure to be a whopper. Or she – who can tell? Sadly, he was no whopper, but he was a respectable size – at least big enough to keep. And best of all, I didn’t lose him.
There. Job done. Now, back to solving the world’s problems with the ladies.
Over the course of the next hour or so, a few more fish were caught by the guys on board. I’m not sure how the other two gals got out of fishing, but no matter. My catch meant that hubby and I ended up with some tasty fresh fish for dinner, and even some to share with our driver. All-in-all it was a fantastic day.
Our second fishing trip was at the invitation of Mr. & Mrs. Adventurous, another one of our favorite couples here. These two intrepid travelers are just back from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Honestly, when I think of all they do, I feel like a slug. They are just the motivation I need to spend some extra time in the gym and take the stairs up to my tenth floor flat.
Well, maybe not every time…
The weather for this second trip was also very nice, a bit more overcast but nicely cool as a result. We met up with Mr. & Mrs. A in the parking lot of the marina. There was no traffic on this morning, thank goodness.
Jesus, the driver for Mr. & Mrs. A, reminded them that his wife trades kisses for fishes, and he was counting on them to help a fella out. As far as we knew our driver was only looking forward to a tasty meal, should he be getting some fish from us!
We headed out on our company boat, just the four of us. About an hour into the trip, we spotted some dolphins in the distance. As we drew nearer, it was clear that this was no ordinary pod. This group was made up of hundreds of dolphins, speeding along, jumping and playing. The captain maneuvered our boat right in the middle of the pod and matched our speed to the dolphins. Mrs. Adventurous and I climbed onto the front of the boat to get a better view of this amazing sight.
Honestly, I could have ridden alongside them for hours, it was so fun to watch them leap and slap the surface with their bellies as they landed. As we leaned over the bow, we could see them cruising along under the water within a foot of the hull, enjoying this game of chase. Many of the dolphins had pink bellies, which I later read is the result of very warm conditions, or even a general state of excitement. They certainly looked excited to me, leaping and launching themselves out of the water with a frenzy! We sailed along as part of the group for about twenty minutes, until the captain decided it was time to get back to the pursuit of fish we could actually catch. And so, we left our friends behind and turned the boat in search of some delicious dorado.
We cruised around looking for the “weed line”, where an inflowing river runs into the predominant ocean current. Weeds – or trash, in Luanda’s case – collect in this confluence. In fact, in Luanda, so much trash collects that the weed line is very easy to spot, even from quite far away. Large wooden pallets, buckets, plastic bags, and flip-flops of every size and color bobbed along in the water. I have seen many barefooted people around here, and now I know where all of their shoes are! Theoretically, the weed line attracts bait fish, and they in turn attract bigger fish. This theory did not work for us, however, as we dragged our lines through that muck for hours and never had a single bite. We did hook a cute hot-pink bra though! And it looked to be about my size. Too bad it fell off the hook.
As entertaining as it was to see what ended up floating miles offshore, after several hours we decided we’d had enough and headed back to the marina. On the way, we spotted several small fishing boats and moved closer to see what they were catching. The fishing gods were with those fellas, as we watched them toss fish after fish into their small boats. They had set out long stringers which were now loaded with Carapau, an oily fish similar to a mackerel.
Our captain was very happy to learn that the fishermen would sell nine of these fish for only two-thousand kwanzas, the equivalent of about twenty dollars. He seemed puzzled that we were not interested in buying some as well.
I’ll admit, I considered it – but only for a moment.
Making a decent meal is a challenge for me on my best day, and using gourmet ingredients. Surely, anything I had made with those oily fish would have wound up in the trash bin.
Though we didn’t wind up with any fish – and Jesus would not be getting any kisses – we will always remember the thrill of riding along with those dolphins. Maybe after these two experiences, I need to reevaluate my distaste for fishing. Of course, I know not every trip will be as fun as these two were. But as they say, a bad day fishing is better than a good day at the office…or in my case, a good day hunting and gathering through the mean streets of Luanda.