Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting out on parole

I think this year marks my 10 year anniversary of my first trip to Angola. For the past 10 years I have been visiting at least twice a year staying usually for a week or two at a time.  My first impression of Luanda was something I never managed to shake despite seeing how Luanda was progressing as a capital and building itself up brick by brick. Buildings where people lived in squalor and literally threw their toilet waste from the windows were turned into buildings where the sunset over the Ilha is mirrored into the faces of Angolans striving for a better life. The number of building cranes over the skyline of Luanda is probably the highest I've ever seen in any city, a sign of a developing country that had been torn apart by a civil war before and is now building itself up.

My travels to Luanda felt to me like a death sentence. I was here for work and on weekends I stayed in the staff house which is walking distance from the Marginal but never leaving it. Weekends were terrible torture with no access to transport and with clear instructions not to venture outside the staff house due to security issues. The only entertainment I had was the Internet and staff house swimming pool. Discussing the latest mugging that was recorded in our safety records made escaping from the “prison cells” of the staff house sound like a bad idea. The Marginal was a no-go zone and despite the fact that construction work prevented anyone from walking there, the company’s “Welcome Booklet” didn’t encourage it either. In a period of ten years I never walked alone in the city of Luanda and I dreaded any upcoming visit to Angola.

I am again in Luanda over a weekend and the Marginal which were closed for most of the last couple of years has officially been opened. Instead of chewing through my wrists again this time I decided to break free and go explore no matter what the consequences might be. My current state of mind is screwed up for more than one reason and I needed to pick myself up.  At 10’0 clock this morning the gates of the staff house opened in front of me and I ventured out on my own to go see the new Marginal. I crossed the main street where the traffic lights show the countdown in seconds to when the light is going to change, something I have never seen before in my life. Waiting for 70 seconds before the walking man  turns green can take some getting used to, but I didn’t want to cross on a red light thinking that I might as well use the new technology that was put in place for a reason. I suddenly felt alive in Luanda like a prisoner who has just been let out on his first parole. It was like a new world opening in front of me and the feeling of being sentenced when my presence in Luanda was requested quickly disappeared.

The new Marginal is basically the walkway in front of the city facing the bay area. Once an area where muggers took shelter and preyed on foreigners has been turned into a pleasure zone for the people of Luanda to enjoy. Young people were playing basketball, doing the stuff that most kids would so in South Africa, with benches, parks, play grounds and enough area to roller blade, ride bike or skateboard until the sun goes down. I walked for about an hour from the one end to the other and back and wasn’t approached by anyone begging for money or making me feel uncomfortable.  I uttered a few Bon Dia’s and was friendly greeted back. It looked a lot like Sea Point in Cape Town and the vibe was not far removed either. One thing I did notice though was that there were no tuck shops to buy cool drinks or water. I needed this because with more than 30 degrees Celsius minutes after ten a clock I could not help but wonder why there are no shops around. I noticed a few mobile police stations and even though I usually stay clear of anyone in uniform in any African country I didn’t feel threatened by them either. I guess the amount of people walking their dogs and taking their kids out made me feel much more relaxed. I took a few pictures and decided that on my next visit I am bringing my roller blades along. A weekend in Luanda does not have to be a prison sentence anymore. It took me ten years to get out and I am planning on staying out. The other issues that Luanda still has I will try and solve with the same attitude I saved myself with this weekend.

New buildings (oil companies)

Fort of São Miguel of Loanda.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I can kick myself...

When I walk out of my house and I see a sunset like this then I can kick myself for not being on the beach at that moment....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Securing your girlfriend

OK, so I have not mentioned that I lost my GoPro a couple of weeks ago. I used the head strap while kite surfing and despite tying my wetsuit's zipper-chord to the head strap the knot somehow came undone. A wave hit the camera and head strap off and it dropped in the water. Unfortunately before I went in I also removed the little spongie that is supposed to keep it afloat because it was preventing me from setting it at the right angle. The idea was to capture the kite surfing action and not the sea gulls so I had no choice. In the end I captured the sea bottom but unfortunately I will never be able to see that footage.  It felt like I've lost my girlfriend at sea. I was heartbroken because of my loss. To avoid falling into a deep depression I did what any other guy would do to heal a broken heart and got me another one.

I learned from my previous mistake and this time I made sure that I was not going to lose this one as well. So instead of using the head strap which is probably only good for capturing the chicks in front of you while doing a fun walk for a local charity cause, I decided to do a proper mount on my bmx/skateboard/paragliding helmet. Not only did I screw in the GoPro bracket instead of being content with the 3M adhesive tape, I also made sure that I have at least two tethers attached to the helmet. One made out of steel (wire leader for fishing) and the other of unbreakable nylon string used in rock climbing. As if that wasn't enough I connected a leash to the helmet which clips onto my harness, just in case I lose the helmet. I doubt whether I will lose the harness. I put the orange floating sponge back on and secured the waterproof casing clip with a piece of bicycle tube cut into the shape of a calamari ring. To make double sure the helmet will not go down as fast as the previous one, I cut a piece of my son's swimming noodle to size and attached that to the helmet as bright green colour. To some it might look like an overkill but if you do not want to lose your girlfriend again you do just that; you spend the money and time, put various of rings on her finger and hope for the best. I think I have turned my ordinary helmet into more than just a GoPro carrying device. I think it can now be used as a life saving device as well, I just need to have it certified. This one might be for life.

So yesterday I went in again to see if I could capture my first kite surfing video with my GoPro and manage to bring the evidence ashore. The wind was around 10-12 knots so I just managed to get away on my 10 kite. There were no waves but the water was really an awesome colour. I managed to get this 8 minute video with absolutely NO action whatsoever on it. WARNING: If you don't have 8 minutes to waste in your life, don't watch this. I think the only person that will appreciate this is my mom, so this is for her.

Now I am waiting for better conditions and then I will work on my clip selection and editing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Breakfast Too Far

Route Map
It's been months since I had my last proper bike ride. I think my wife realized the same because she suggested that I go on this 400km circle route to Citrusdal via Ceres and the Koue Bokkeveld (Cold Goat Fields) with a couple of friends. I also thought it was a good idea because not only would I have a chance to get in the saddle again, but also a chance to try out my GoPro on the Bike. 

When we left Melkbosstrand at around 8:15 we were a posse of 8 riders all on Bee-ems. Three were road bikes so their plan was to turn around when we run out of tar. The rest would carry on over the Winterhoek Mountains to Citrusdal. The plan was to have breakfast at a place called Oppie-Berg (On the Mountain). Just after that the gravel road starts. The first part of the trip was rather boring and uneventful. Riding familiar roads in a group of 8 isn't very exciting. The only excitement was keeping up with the roadies who got bored for other reasons. The ride only became worthwhile after we left Ceres. For me this was unexplored territory and a getting much closer to that well-needed breakfast. We took a few shots at the top of the mountain and headed for Oppie-Berg.

Looking back toward Ceres
Oppie-Berg is a one horse town and sadly it looked as if the horse had passed away just before our arrival. The dorpie (town) must've gone to the funeral because everything was closed. One guy suggested to go look if he could find another joint for breakfast but returned approximately 25 seconds later with a smile on his face indicating that he covered the whole town with no luck. The roadies turned back to Ceres and four of us took on the Mighty Winterhoek Mountains to continue our search for breakfast.

It was here where I decided it was time to start using my GoPro. I was hoping for some nice shots on the gravel pass. After deflating our tyres a little we hit the gravel. I was behind hitting the dust rather and pretty soon I realized that I was not going to see much if my lens was covered in dust all the time. At some point I stopped to clean the lens allowing the other guys to move on ahead of me. This helped a bit in the end, but the angle of my camera was way too low and I basically took pictures of my handle bars all the way. I will know next time to ride in front and to tilt the camera a bit upwards. I was so aware of the camera all the time that I actually missed the excitement of riding gravel again. Actually the gravel bit was so short it was just enough to dirty the bikes and not the minds and using the word "mighty" in "Mighty Winterhoek Mountains" was a slight over-exaggeration on my part

Having a break
Looking towards Citrusdal
When we arrived in Citrusdal we learned that the people there also went to the dead horse's funeral at Oppie-Berg. Everything was closed. The only place we knew we were going to find something open was the Spur at Piketberg. That was three quarters of our total trip, about 120 kilometres from Cape Town. Had we done the route the other way around we could've stopped there earlier in the day and probably continued the ride for fun and not for food. The food at the Spur was good and well worth the wait. 

After "breakfast" which we had at 12:15 we headed home. This was N7 and a other piece of boring road. Cruising between 140 and 150 km/h made up for the boring part. When I arrived home my watch on my arm said 2:30 and the clock on the bike said 423 km. After all it was really nice to get out again, despite the disappointing pictures. Doing a 400-km trip in 6 hours is not bad, considering the stops we've made. I will definitely have to ride soon again to get that camera sorted. Pictures below shows the effect of dust on the lens.

After lens was cleaned
Before cleaning lens