Richmond: Hollywood-on-Thames…

This will be a walk down memory lane for me, as I recall my July trip to Richmond, a leafy suburb of London and my former home. I wax nostalgic about our first expat assignment and the friends we made there.

Richmond has earned the nickname “Hollywood-on-Thames” because of the high concentration of celebrities who have been spotted in the area. Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie called Richmond home while filming in London, as did Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Johnny Depp and many others. (

I was never lucky enough to run into any of those stars while I lived there, but I did spot Mark Ruffalo and Ricky Gervais walking along the Thames – on different days, mind you. For some reason, they don’t seem like great drinking buddies.

And one day as I walked out of the courtyard of my apartment complex, Javier Bardem & Penelope Cruz passed right by me on the way to my building. No, I did not fall all over myself when they walked by. I didn’t even gawk…much. There was a beautiful penthouse for rent in the building, so I surmised they were there to take a look at it. They did not choose the flat, which was just as well. There was no guarantee I’d be able to keep my cool the next time I ran into them.

Richmond UK Thames view
Who wouldn’t want to live here? Penelope and Javier really missed the boat. That penthouse has a fantastic view!

Richmond was also recently named the happiest place to live in London ( It’s no wonder why. With numerous top-quality restaurants and great shopping within walking distance, it has a very upscale but still quaint atmosphere. Does it sound like I miss it much?

Luckily, Hubby’s job takes us back through London occasionally, so I am able to catch up with friends and get my Turner View fix. Even Mark Ruffalo couldn’t resist tweeting a pic of this view.

Turner View Richmond UK
The view immortalized in paintings by artist William Turner and others. Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall shared a house with this view, that is until they got divorced. She got to keep the view along with a hefty divorce settlement.

My first weekend in Richmond, I met a lady named Betty and she invited me to join in with a group of ladies who met every Wednesday at a different pub in the area. She called it Wine Time Wednesday, and I could hardly contain my excitement! Another name the group went by was A.W.O.L, or American Women on the Loose in London. Let me tell you, they were a fun group! We traversed London from one side to the other, taking in shows, going on hikes and checking out any new event that came to town. My experience there would have been very different – and a lot less fun – without these gals. Given that our initial activity was meeting in pubs, I would be remiss if I did not post a few pics.

Richmond pubs
One of the many pubs in Richmond. You could go to a different one every night of the month, though you would soon need bigger clothes – and a new job..
Richmond Pubs
The pub culture is one of the most charming things about the UK. Most flats are the size of a postage stamp, so a pub is a great spot to get out and enjoy some company – and a pint or two.
Richmond Pubs
Yep, another pub. Can’t help mah-self. But, check out those flowers!

Here are a few more pics of the place we Wine Time Ladies liked to call Disneyland…

Richmond Bridge
Some very dapper folks head out for a nice row on the Thames.
Richmond Bridge
Richmond Bridge. Honestly, I have so many pictures of this bridge that it borders on the ridiculous. I even bought a painting of it. This was our favorite weekend coffee spot.
View from Richmond Bridge
View from Richmond Bridge. This spot is always a hive of activity, with musicians, boat-makers, cyclists, runners, and families out enjoying the day.
Terrace Garden Richmond UK
No green area is wasted here. This is the Terrace Garden just down the hill from Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall’s place.
Richmond UK
Flowers, flowers, everywhere!

A short walk down the Thames is the village of Twickenham, home of British Rugby. While a huge, modern rugby stadium dominates the area, there are still plenty of quaint, narrow streets filled with restaurants and, you guessed it, more pubs.

Twickenham is known for Eel Pie Island, a small island in the middle of the Thames which was the site where many Rock 'n Roll legends got their start. Now Eel Pie Island is an artist colony.  This pub is a nod to those glory days.
Besides Rugby, Twickenham is also known for Eel Pie Island, a small island in the middle of the Thames with deep Rock ‘n Roll roots. Many big names got their start at a dance hall there in the 1960’s, such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton. These days, Eel Pie Island is an artists’ colony. The name of this pub is a nod to those glory days.
Church Street Twickenham
Church Street in Twickenham, and more lovely flower baskets.
Twickenham Church Street The Fox Pub
Church Street is a pedestrian street filled with restaurants and pubs. The Fox Pub is no bigger than the average American bedroom, but hordes of people crowd in every weekend to hear live music.

Richmond has been a magnet for notable people for centuries, including Kings and Queens. The remnants of the former Richmond Palace are located on the Thames, just down from the bridge. While the shape and trim on these buildings hint at their royal heritage, only artists’ renderings can show how grand it once was.

Richmond Palace.
The remnants of the former Richmond Palace, built in the year 1500. Queen Elizabeth I and Henry VIII both lived and died here.  The palace was torn down around 1650 and the materials were used elsewhere.
Richmond Palace
Plaque outside Richmond Palace.

My computer is filled to overflowing with images of Richmond, as are my memories of our first expat assignment. Most of my Wine Time friends have moved back to the USA, each one going through the difficult repatriation process. As one such Wine Timer tearfully prepared to leave, her husband said, “Sorry honey, our time in Disneyland is over. The park is closing.”

Thankfully, many Wine Timers now live in Houston, so the friendships live on. As often as we can, we gather to visit and recall our many Richmond adventures. Comparing notes on celebrity sightings, recounting the many pubs we visited and the interesting people we met in them, and trading travel expertise are all good ways to relive our time in the Magic Kingdom. Now, if only I had been able to invite Penelope Cruz to tea, my experience would have been perfect!

©2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

I’ve Got Some Oceanfront Property…

It’s been so long since my last blog that catching up is going to be a challenge. The best approach, I reckon, is to just pick up where I left off. My memories are getting a bit hazy, but thank goodness for pictures and my trusty Google Calendar. Without these two things, I would never remember where I’ve been and when!

In July, we headed out on the company boat of our friends, Mr. & Mrs. G. We knew fishing was going to be unproductive, so we planned to cruise along Mussulo Beach, nibble on some lunch, and take in the sights along the shore.

There are some very nice houses along Mussulo. According to the boat captain, most are owned by prominent generals and other government officials. Many of them look like small hotels, complete with dozens of tables and loungers set up on the shore. Most appeared empty except for occasional workers making repairs and wandering ladies selling various wares..

Luanda Angola Mussulo
One of many residences along Mussulo Beach

This lone potential customer is getting the hard sell from some ladies selling fabrics and dresses.

Luanda Angola Mussulo
Come on, buddy. Buy something. These ladies are having a slow day!

These young ladies were selling bread and eggs along the beach.

Selling eggs in Luanda Angola
I can hardly carry my eggs in a bag without dropping them, but this young lady has no trouble carrying them on her head.


Luanda Angola
Taking a break from tidying up the beach. The sand makes a nice spot for a siesta.

From our previous trips out, we have learned that proper boating etiquette has not yet made it to Luanda. More than once on this trip, we were almost run over by a fellow boater determined to have the right of way. Yikes!

Boating in Luanda
Get outta my way! My beer is getting warm on the beach!

If they weren’t zooming towards us, they were zooming around us. This is up close and personal, folks.

Boating in Luanda
Boating etiquette? Never heard of it.

After cruising around for awhile, we spied a shanty town precariously perched on the side of a cliff. From a distance, the colorful window coverings captured the imagination.

Luanda shanty town
Oceanfront property of all kinds can be seen in Luanda.

As we approached, however, the reality was a bit less charming. I wondered why the windows on these buildings were so tiny, when they could have a very nice view of the water. But of course, I was looking at things from a first-world perspective.

You see, there was no glass in these windows.

The small size was to protect against rain and a persistent sea breeze – and for structural integrity, I imagine.

Shanty town Luanda Angola
Lack of land makes for some very odd building sites.

Navigating through this maze of buildings would be hard for us from the flatlands, but these residents seemed to make their way without a problem. Technically, these houses were oceanfront property, but one hard rain was liable to wash them right into the water!

As I’ve said before, there is always something interesting to look at while out and about. Case in point, the words on the boat below translate to “Mana does not want problems with your husband.” There is definitely a story there!

Humor Luanda Angola
Who is Mana and what has he (or she) done to the local husbands?
Luanda Harbor
Thumbs up is a universal greeting – we hope!
Luanda Angola
New and old in close proximity.

Looking for the beauty in a place like this can be a challenge at times, but as long as you view Luanda through the eyes of a photographer, it rarely disappoints.

Sea Birds Luanda

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Luanda – The Concrete Jungle…

There is always something interesting to see in Luanda. The landscape of the city is changing rapidly, with huge skyscrapers going up everywhere you look. Ten years from now, Luanda will be unrecognizable. I won’t be here to see it, of course. My days in Angola are limited, and that is why I look around with such interest. That, and the fact that it is so very different from any place I have been before.

To that end, Hubby and I enjoy walking along the Marginal on the weekend. Despite the occasional waft of cringe-inducing odors from the bay, it is a great place for people-watching and helps alleviate the claustrophobia caused by living within eye-shot of the office. Currently, there are dozens of photographs from around the world displayed along the walkway. This may seem like no big deal, but this city only has three or four museums. They are all focused on Angolan history and not readily accessible to the average Joe. One of them that I visited, the Natural History Museum, is locked behind tall iron gates. It is only open occasionally and rarely has electricity. It is very good to see something available to the average citizen free of charge, that also offers a bit of education about the rest of the world.

Luanda Marginal
Luanda Marginal – Lovely photo display from around the world.
Luanda Marginal
Luanda Marginal – Local ladies enjoying the day out.
Luanda Marginal
A building frenzy! Skyscrapers are popping up like mushrooms in this city.
Luanda Marginal.
The bay, although terribly polluted, is full of small fish and turtles. The bird population has a ready source of food here. The section of the Marginal walkway seen in the background has been completed for many months, but has not been opened yet. Once opened, it will add at least a mile to the path.

Today, my driver Jesus and I headed up to one of my favorite grocery stores, called Valoeste. It is in a higher-income part of the city, where many of the embassies are also located. Most of the people who shop at Valoeste are wealthy Angolans and diplomats, so the store has a very extensive selection of imported and hard-to-find items. I am always amused at the behavior of some of the wealthier fellow shoppers I come across. Invariably, if I am bagging up a larger than normal amount of something – anything – it always attracts a crowd. Before I know it, I will be pushed aside as three or four other ladies will suddenly decide they need the item too, despite the fact that they had ignored it a few moments before.

It happened again today. I was bagging up sixteen apples to take to the orphanage tomorrow for my students. All of a sudden, another woman nearly knocked me over in her quest to get the apples first! I just laughed and held my ground until I had finished bagging up what I needed. It has happened so many times, I’ve come to expect it now. Besides, I was younger than she was, so I was pretty sure I could win in a fight, if it came to that.

As I was checking out, the cashier began to fuss, speaking quickly to another cashier and pointing at her screen, obviously aghast at the price for one of my items. When I looked at the screen, I saw that my little four-pack of yogurt was 2,000 kwanzas – about fifteen dollars! I needed yogurt, but not that badly! I quickly pulled out the item and thanked the cashier for the heads-up. Just then, the crazy apple lady appeared behind me in the line. Again, she shoved her items nearly on top of mine and almost pushed me over. Elbows are great in situations like that. I just turned my body and stuck out my elbow to prevent her from going any further. Like I said in my last blog. Luanda is full of combat shopping…

Luanda – one of the nicer parts of town. Lots of fancy cars to be seen here…
DeBeers Building – a reminder of the wealth in this country. Of course, there is a luxury car dealership next door, in case a diamond merchant needs to buy a new car on his lunch hour.
The government buildings here are all quite fancy and ornate. Meanwhile, the city is surrounded by an enormous shanty town.
One of my favorites, Albuquerque. It reminds me of Tuesday Morning. You never know what they will have, from sewing notions to kitchen items.

Now that I have been here for almost a year (can’t believe it has been this long!), I feel much more comfortable making my way through this concrete jungle. It does get exhausting at times, fighting for survival (and apples), but what a great experience it has been! Seeing another side of the world, so very different from the US, has opened my eyes in a way I never thought possible. I’ve learned some valuable survival skills, too.  The next time someone tries to steal my produce in a supermarket, they might just find themselves taken down. Hakuna Matata, my arse. That’s only for Disney movies!

São Paolo and Benfica – not your average trip to the mall…

Combat Shopping  – everyone should try it at least once. Not many trips to Macy’s require guards and a translator, unless you are Kim Kardashian, of course. But here in Luanda, some of the best shopping is found in the most dangerous places. There is a part of town called São Paolo where the locals go to buy amazing African fabrics at rock-bottom prices. Unfortunately, it is strictly off-limits to our company’s drivers. I was able to go two years ago, when I was here on my look-see trip. Apparently, that trip was a fluke – a result of a new and inexperienced driver falling under the charms of the gal showing me around town.

Once I moved here, I knew that would not happen again. Quite frankly, I am not that charming. To go back to São Paolo, I would have to go with someone from another company.  A couple of weeks ago, I finally got an invite to go. The lady who organized the trip (I will call her Mrs. S.) is a fellow seamstress and member of my bible study. I have been helping her make purses and casserole carriers to sell at the semi-annual craft fairs sponsored by the American Women’s Association. The proceeds from these sales are donated to a local orphanage, and I love to sew, so it is a win-win. It also gives me a reason to buy more fabric that even my husband can’t complain about.

For our trip to São Paolo, Mrs. S arranged two vehicles, complete with a guard and driver for each vehicle, plus a translator. Five helpers for five expat ladies – pretty good odds, I figured. I readied myself for the trip, hiding money in various pockets, stuffing my ID and phone in my bra, and spraying myself thoroughly with mosquito spray. I carried several large bags to bring back my treasures, snacks for the drive, and lots of wet-wipes.

Wet-wipes are an absolute necessity here. Every trip to the grocery store, golf course, or really anywhere, will leave you feeling grimy and in need of a good hand-washing. Even handling the Angolan paper money requires a wet-wipe afterwards. I don’t want to know why this money is so filthy, but I have actually considered tossing it in the washing machine. Money laundering for hygienic purposes – now, that is a new twist!

Our group of five ladies rendezvoused in the lobby of our building. A security official also met us in the lobby for a safety briefing, explaining the dangers of the area and introducing our guards and translator. We piled into a large van, with the second vehicle following close behind, and we were on our way. Initially, we arrived at a street which was not familiar to those of us who had been to São Paolo before. Also, it was much too far from the shop we were planning to visit. The driver suggested we park the car and walk to the shop, but he was quickly vetoed by Mrs. S., thank goodness.

São Paolo
São Paolo street vendors, just off the main street.
São Paolo
São Paolo market area. This is one-stop shopping – sort of like an outdoor, scary, muddy Walmart.
São Paolo
São Paolo – the produce department.
São Paolo
São Paolo – the toiletries and accessories department.

Reluctantly, the driver turned onto the incredibly muddy and rutted main road of Sao Paolo, which was teeming with pedestrians, merchants, and other vehicles. All I could see were foot-deep mud puddles that I doubted we could navigate around with so many people on the sidewalks. Thankfully, the parking gods were with us, and we were able to find a place to park which was within eye-shot of the shop – and it had a mostly mud-free path to the entrance.

Once parked, the guards got out of the car first, then us gals gathered our wits and climbed out as well, staying as close together as possible. One guard led the way, one was in the middle and the translator walked at the back. The street was so crowded that people were literally pressed up next to us. We had to push our way through the crowd and move quickly to avoid being separated. It reminded me of my one-and-only trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, except that these people were not drunk college kids intent on getting plastic beads. We knew that the crowd in Sao Paolo was full of pick-pockets, and so we held on to our bags tightly.

We made it into the shop and up the stairs safely, and finally relaxed. Our translator said we were free to wander from booth to booth and shop to our heart’s content. As before, the sheer variety of fabrics was overwhelming, but the merchants were fairly patient as we made our selections. There were many local ladies shopping there as well. Sao Paolo is a wholesale area, if you will. The local shoppers are there to buy fabric to re-sell on the street in other parts of the city. Some of the ladies were friendly to us, making positive comments about our selections and suggesting coordinating fabrics. Others seemed irritated that we had infiltrated their turf.

We spent more than an hour picking out as many fabrics as we could carry, most of which cost about twelve dollars for a six-yard piece. The prices had definitely gone up since my previous trip, due to the devaluation of the kwanza, but they were still a bargain.

Just before we were getting ready to leave, there was a loud scuffle in one corner. A policeman was pulling one of the local ladies towards the door, while she yelled and pleaded in protest. I was not entirely sure what was happening, until our translator explained that the lady had been trying to take fabric without paying.

We waited until things calmed down and then headed back to the car, heavily laden with all of our treasures, and moving closely together. Once back at our apartment building, we spread out our purchases to show each other. Between the five of us, we had bought almost fifty fabrics, and no two were the same. We were all happy with our haul and none of us had lost a wallet in the process. Success!

Another combat shopping area in Luanda is a large craft market called Benfica. I have blogged about it before, but had a very interesting return visit there just a few days ago. On my previous trip to Benfica, I bought a lovely pair of carvings – a Pescador (fisherman) and a Zungueira (lady who carries things on her head). They are both beautifully carved from a dark wood and quite detailed. The lady even has a little baby tied to her back. The real  Zungueira ladies are so amazing, with impossibly heavy and awkward items balanced on their heads and tiny, sleeping babies tied to their backs. It is one of the things I will remember most about Angola, and so I really wanted a carving to remind me of them.

When I bought the carvings, I asked the artist if it was okay to take a photo of him with his creations. He was happy to oblige – although he doesn’t look very happy in this photo!

The artist with his beautiful Pescador and Zungueira carvings.
The artist with his beautiful Pescador and Zungueira carvings.

It is a good thing I had his photo, because shortly after buying the carvings, both of them began to split as the wood dried out. The artists work, live, and sell their items without benefit of air-conditioning, and so when they are brought into a cold apartment, they don’t always fare very well. I had hoped to have them repaired, but not speaking Portuguese, I had no idea how I would find the artist again and negotiate the repair. Benfica is a huge market and I did not even know the man’s name.

As luck would have it, I have a new driver who speaks perfect English, so he is my own personal translator. His name is Jesus (pronounced zhay-zooch), and let me tell you, he is a treasure. Jesus could talk anyone into anything. I should call him Mr. Charming, but his actual name is just so fitting. Best of all, now I can say Jesus takes the wheel – literally and figuratively. Carrie Underwood would be so impressed!

So, Jesus and I went to Benfica armed with my photo and began to ask the other artists if they knew the man. It didn’t take long to find someone who knew his name, Guerra, and his phone number. Jesus called Guerra and asked him to meet us at the market. Guerra obliged and said he would arrive in a half hour. So, with a half hour to kill and surrounded by treasures of all kinds, I managed to find a few more things to add to my collection.

African treasures (L-R): a “fly-swatter” made from carved bone and horsehair, a village chief’s scepter, a neck rest (ouch!), and a musical instrument called a Kalimba, or thumb piano.

Guerra arrived right on time and said he would fix my carvings – for a price. Of course, he needed money to cover the materials, cab fair to the store to buy them, and lunch. I’ve lived here long enough to expect things like this, so it was no big deal. The hardest thing for me was leaving the carvings with Guerra, and trusting that he would show up two days later with them properly repaired. Jesus, with his million-dollar smile, was all high-fives and handshakes with Guerra, so I shouldn’t have worried. We went back two days later and both my Pescador and Zungueira were as good as new. Thank you, Jesus!

While I occasionally miss the huge, clean, air-conditioned malls of the US, they certainly don’t have the conversation pieces I am finding here. And you know, that fly-swatter will get a lot of use during the hot, buggy summer in Texas!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Going Off-Grid in São Tomé and Príncipe…

Until we moved to Angola, neither of us had ever heard of the tiny island nation of São Tomé & Príncipe. Apparently, we are not alone in this, as São Tomé is largely undiscovered by American tourists. Located off the coast of Gabon in western Africa, it is the second smallest African country. A few European and Chinese tourists have made their way to its lovely, palm-lined shores, and last week we traveled there as well, to celebrate our twenty-ninth anniversary.

São Tomé & Príncipe is a former Portuguese colony, which gained its independence in 1975. Since that time, the country has struggled to find its way financially, as so many former colonies do. You see, when the Portuguese left, they took with them the knowledge and contacts used to mass-produce and trade the coffee and chocolate grown on the island, which were its major source of income. São Tomé & Príncipe was once the largest cocoa producer in the world. Now, the buildings used in this process are half-empty and falling apart. Several countries have invested in São Tomé through hotels and various businesses, but investment dollars are coming in slowly and have not alleviated the lack of jobs.

Currently, there is fifty-five percent unemployment and an increasing birthrate in this mostly-Catholic nation. The government is trying to build up the fledgling tourism industry to fill in where coffee and chocolate production has dropped off. The island certainly has the raw materials needed for tourists: dramatic scenery, blue waters filled with colorful fish, and lovely, friendly people.

Sao Tome cocoa plant
This is how chocolate starts, and the rest is…temptation!

While São Tomé does not appear to suffer from the extreme concentration of wealth and corruption of many other African countries, it still faces an uphill battle should foreign investment and tourism not materialize.

São Tomé is by far the most remote place we have been to date. Luanda actually feels civilized in comparison! Not that the island is unsafe for tourists. On the contrary, we were told by our hotel manager that it is quite safe. What made it feel so remote, is the fact that flights are few, and tourists are in the distinct minority on this country of nearly two-hundred thousand people. English-speaking tourists are even rarer. In São Tomé & Príncipe, the residents speak Portuguese, Creole, and a little French.

On previous vacations, we have always spotted at least a few other American tourists, no matter where we have been. The truth is, while many of us try to “blend”, we still manage to stick out like a sore thumb! This trip was the one exception. During our five days in São Tomé, we never saw another American or British tourist. And yes, you Brits stand out, too!

Not that the lack of Americans is a bad thing, mind you. We had the feeling that we were fortunate to visit São Tomé now, while it is still somewhat of a secret. I found myself lamenting the inevitable junky souvenir shops, crowds, and commercialism that come with an increase in tourism. For now, the island is still unspoiled, and we were able to see how the São Toméans really live.

Sao Tome washing by the river
Washing day by the river…
Sao Tome
Two local cuties!
Sao Tome
See how handsome you are!

Our lovely hotel, the Club Santana, is located about a half-hour north of the main town on the island. Set amongst lush vegetation and palm trees, the resort consists of thirty or so bungalows placed high on a cliff above a lovely beach, pool and restaurant. The clear, calm waters offer great snorkeling and diving, too.

Club Santana Sao Tome
A view of the Club Santana pool and beach area.
Sao Tome Club Santana
Club Santana Bungalows set among the trees.
Sao Tome beach
Club Santana beach area. Ahhhh!

While lounging in the clean and well-appointed beach area, sipping our tropical drinks, it would be easy to forget that we were in a small, poor, African nation – except that immediately adjacent to the Club Santana there is a small encampment of fishermen and their families.  This made for an interesting backdrop, as we watched the fishermen come in and out of the village in their dug-out boats with hand-stitched sails.

Sao Tome
The village next-door to Club Santana
Sao Tome fisherman
Local fishermen in the bay…

Our first afternoon there, we took a Jon Boat ride to a tiny nearby island to do some snorkeling. The island looked like something out of a movie, it was so perfectly formed and topped with pretty palm trees. The water around the island was quite deep (we could not begin to see the bottom), but pretty coral grew on the rocks and we saw some colorful fish as well.

Sao Tome
Our Jon Boat captain gets a little fishing in on the way to our snorkel site.
Sao Tome
The tiny island just a short ride from our hotel.
Sao Tome
Exploring a cave that runs right through the island.
Sao Tome
Colorful fish and coral…
Sao Tome
The coral almost looked like flowers!

On our second day, we headed out for a São Tomé island tour with a local guide, named Nilson. He spoke excellent English as he mapped out the day for us, starting with a trip to a cocoa processing facility, then a drive up to Mount Cafe to see where coffee is grown, and lastly a visit to a local fishing village. As we drove through the cocoa processing area, Nilson pointed out former slave housing and overseer buildings, most of which looked abandoned. We parked in front of a large, run-down warehouse and walked inside, our eyes straining to see in the near dark.

One lady stood over a table filled with cocoa beans, sorting through them, and then bagging up the ones that passed her quick inspection.

Sao Tome cocoa
Sorting through cocoa beans.
Sao tome cocoa
Cocoa beans dried, sorted and ready to sell…
Sao Tome cocoa
The people of Sao Tome were all very friendly and happy to welcome tourists like us…

She was more than happy to pose for pictures, as was another man who assumed the role of tour guide for his facility. He walked us around, from one nearly empty building to another, showing us the process of fermenting and then drying the cocoa beans, and seemed very proud of the work they were doing.

Sao Tome coffee
The facility also processed coffee beans.
Sao Tome cocoa
This oven heated up a large area above, which had cocoa beans spread out on it. The roasting green fruits are called breadfruit. We tried it, and it was definitely an acquired taste and texture!

By the sheer size of the buildings, it was obvious that this was once a huge industry for São Tomé, but without ready customers and the business knowledge required for trade, things had definitely slowed to a trickle.  Unlike the US, there were no gift shops or t-shirts available here. We did manage to buy some São Toméan chocolate, but only in the airport as we were leaving.

Next, Nilson drove us to the coast and an area called Boca do Inferno, a blow-hole formed in the volcanic rocks by crashing waves.

Sao Tome boca do inferno
Boca do Inferno, a small blow-hole formed in the rocks.
Sao Tome
Lovely coastline by the Boca do Inferno.

We saw a man bagging up sand along the beach, and Nilson said he was stealing the sand to sell to people building houses. With fifty-five percent unemployment, you could hardly blame the guy. On the way up to see Mount Cafe, we stopped to see a lovely waterfall and then continued up, finally reaching an area where clouds swirled through the very tall trees.

Sao Tome
São Nicolau Waterfall.
Sao Tome coffee
Coffee beans growing in the mist.
Sao Tome Mount Cafe
Mount Cafe, where coffee is grown on the island.

After walking around a bit and learning about the different kinds of coffee grown there, my husband said he was feeling ill. He admitted that he had felt dizzy all morning, but thought it would pass. We asked Nilson to take us back to our hotel, which was about a half hour away. By the time we got back to the hotel lobby, Hubby was feeling even worse. The hotel manager offered to drive us to the local clinic to see the doctor. Once you reach our age, it is not smart to brush aside such symptoms.

Let me tell you, this was unlike any clinic I have ever seen. In one open room in the middle of the small run-down building, there were about eight beds lining the wall, and all had ladies of various ages laying in them. The young woman in charge, who the manager said was a doctor, showed us into her cramped office and took Hubby’s blood pressure. Then, we went to the small room in the back of the building, for a finger prick to check his blood sugar. After a few short questions, translated for us by the manager who had kindly stayed with us, the doctor shrugged her shoulders and said there was nothing she could do for him. Looking around at the lack of equipment and staff, we knew she was telling the truth.

We asked what we owed her for the exam, and she told the manager it was 10,000 Dobras, roughly the equivalent of forty-five cents!  In this country, where the average annual income is less than three hundred dollars a year, we should not have been surprised by any of this. We gave her about ten dollars, which she accepted reluctantly, and then we were on our way back to the hotel.

Thank goodness, the dizziness went away after a short rest. After much discussion, we determined that it must have been caused by a bad reaction to the malaria medicine we were both taking. I had experience dizziness with the medicine on previous occasions, but Hubby had never had a problem before. But, he had taken two pills the previous day in an attempt to change from a morning dose to an evening dose. A little too much Portuguese wine with dinner probably played a role as well.

Okay. Bullet dodged. Note to self: do not get sick while one vacation in a tiny, third-world nation.

That evening, we enjoyed a lovely beach-side buffet dinner, complete with live music, and thanked our lucky stars that Hubby was back to his usual healthy self.

Club Santana Sao Tome
Lovely buffet dinner by the beach

The setting of the hotel is quite lovely, so we soaked in every detail and enjoyed listening to the waves and the music. The weather was perfect, with no mosquitos in sight – a real treat coming from Texas where they are huge – and hungry.

On our last day, we climbed over the rocks that marked the end of our resort property to distribute some toys we had brought with us to the island.  As we approached the “village”, the five or six kids that we had seen playing on the beach disappeared amongst the buildings, and we wondered if we had scared them off.


But, as we approached the main village dwellings, dozens of kids came out of nowhere, all running excitedly towards us! Uh-oh, this is not good. We didn’t have enough toys to go around – a cardinal sin! As expected, the kids who got to us first were all smiles, but the others were decidedly not.  Oh well. Our intentions were good anyway. Another note to self: next time bring twice as many toys!

Sao Tome
Happy kids with their new toys. I hope they will share them!
Sao Tome
All smiles with his prize!

After a final evening of relaxation on the beach, followed by a lovely sunset, it was time to grab a few hours sleep before our 1:30 AM wakeup time.  The 5:15 AM flight back to Luanda was the only option for several days.

Sao Tome
Lovely sunset view over the bay.

The airport was a lesson in patience, as the check-in process was painfully slow and all done by hand. Our boarding passes were even hand-written on blue paper! Then, we had a two-hour wait for the customs agent to arrive. After another hour wait in the boarding area, we finally boarded the plane and had a quick nap on the way back to Luanda.

Travels in this part of the world are all about managing expectations and staying calm when things don’t go exactly as they would in the US or Europe.  I’d like to say that is how I handle things every time, but those of you who know me would probably say otherwise! Nevertheless, I do try to take each place for what it has to offer and ignore the things that fall short.

Despite a few bumps, I’m happy to say, São Tomé exceeded my expectations considerably. I hope others will soon enjoy this lovely island paradise while it is still unspoiled and charming – just remember to bring lots of toys…and stay healthy!

2015-07-10 07.55.23

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Luanda’s own Skeleton Coast…

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.

Dolphin jumping in Luanda
Cannon-ball! This is the shot right before the big splash!

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.

Cliff coast of luanda
Not the White Cliffs of Dover, but close!

Soon, a few shipwrecks appeared in the distance.

Shipwreck beach Luanda
Shipwrecks 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.

Shipwreck beach Luanda

Shipwreck beach Luanda

Shipwreck beach Luanda

Shipwreck beach Luanda

Shipwreck beach luanda

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.

Container ship luanda harbor
An enormous container ship. Look closely and you will see a another boat near the middle. The smaller boat was about the size of ours.
Luanda harbor
Just so there is no confusion, there is NO SMOKING on this boat! We had to laugh – that sign must have letters at least five feet high…

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.

Luanda Bay sailing
Sailing school in Luanda Bay

From rusty shipwrecks to tankers to tiny sailboats, there is always something to see in these waters!

Sailboat luanda
Sail away, sail away, sail away…

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Cannon Shots and Making Pickles – just another day…

Overlooking the bay of Luanda is the Forteleza de São Miguel, the oldest building in the city and certainly the most impressive. It was built in the late 1500’s and was a self-contained town for many years. Later, it became the hub for the slave traffic from Angola to Brazil – a dark time in the history of this country, but one that is important to remember. Today, the fort serves as a military museum and boasts a beautiful view of the city and coast.

Fortaleza de Sao Miguel
A view of Fortaleza de Sao Miguel from the air (from The city has changed a great deal since this photo was taken (pre-2012). Now, there are dozens of huge skyscrapers being built and the Marginal along the waterfront is complete.

Unfortunately, a developer is rapidly hiding this landmark by building a shopping mall smack-dab in front of it. We complain about the lack of zoning in Houston, but I cannot imagine any developer being granted the rights to build in front of such an important building. Just another example of how money is the supreme power in this country.

From our balcony, our view is also being obscured by the building of yet another skyscraper – but a tiny sliver remains. A few days ago, a friend was visiting me and we heard a very loud explosion. A few seconds later, another loud boom. We rushed to the balcony to see if a bomb had gone off somewhere. Gunshots are heard periodically around our building, but normally they are at night and never this loud.

With so much going on in the third-world these days, loud explosions are never good. Even fireworks give me the heebie-jeebies lately. But, looking down at the people milling about on the street, everyone seemed unfazed by the noise. Thank goodness, we thought. People running for cover is not what we wanted to see. Then, as we turned our eyes to Fortaleza, we could see a ball of fire and smoke, and a split second later, another boom. As we looked closer, we saw men in uniform gathered along the thick fortress wall, obviously lighting up the still-functional cannons. Oh, okay! So those are soldiers and this is a controlled display of firepower, not the latest news story about terrorists.

We had heard that the President of France was in town for a visit, so clearly the military was just showing off a bit. We assumed – though not confidently – that the canon balls were blanks. Here in Luanda, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a guy with an AK-47 strapped to his chest. Men with loaded guns are everywhere, all dressed in a variety of uniforms. With the Angolan’s obsession with  weaponry, it would not be surprising if real cannon balls were flying. Like I’ve said before, never a dull moment…

While finding guns in Luanda is apparently an easy task, finding certain food items is not. For example, dill pickles are not available here. It may be hard to believe, but they were hard to find in London, too.  When we lived there, I actually brought back a quart-sized jar in my suitcase – in bubble wrap, of course – and prayed the jar did not break and spill pickle juice all over my clothes.  I simply could not abide those sickly sweet things called gherkins found in the UK.

Nope. The pickles I grew up with are so sour they make your eyes water, crunchy, kosher dills – and nothing else will do on my sandwiches.  So, what’s a picky pickle-eating girl to do?  Why, make her own, of course! So, I looked up a recipe and pulled together all of the ingredients.

The pickling cucumbers were so cute, I had to get them. Those peppers, however, are anything but cute. They are bloody hot!
The pickling cucumbers were so cute, I had to get them. Those peppers, however, are anything but cute. They are jalapeño hot!
Dill Pickles - African Style!
Dill Pickles – African Style! This is the pickling liquid – vinegar, veggies, and spices.
Twenty-four hours on the counter and then into the fridge they go. Yummm!
Twenty-four hours on the counter and then into the fridge they go. Yummm!

In case you were wondering, the pickles came out perfectly – very tart and spicy. Of course, I always took such items for granted in the US, but it’s these little touches of home that keep me sane here in Luanda. Cannonballs may be flying, but I’ve got dill pickles on my sandwich, so life is good!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Teacher, teacher, teacher…

For me, Wednesday mornings are nerve-wracking, but Wednesday afternoons are the absolute best. Why the focus on a single day of the week? That is because on Wednesday mornings I teach English to Portuguese-speaking girls at a local orphanage.  I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I found myself volunteering to do this through the American Women’s Association (AWAA) here in Luanda. You should know, I am not a teacher. My degree is in Geology. And, I don’t speak Portuguese, although I am learning it slowly through this these precious kids.

My only experience with teaching was about fifteen years ago, as a substitute teacher in our local school district. I only did it six times, and it was for a different school and grade each time. When I signed up to be a substitute, I was told the regular teacher would always leave me a lesson plan, and all I needed to do was show up and fill in for the day.

Nope. Never happened.

Each experience was the same. I arrived to find there was no lesson plan, and I was face-to-face with a room full of twenty-three or four kids, all expecting me to know what I was doing.

It was terrifying.

The last time I taught, it was for a third grade class in one of the less-affluent elementary schools in our district. The class had its usual collection of overly-energetic kids, but there was a particularly disruptive boy sitting on the first row. For the entire morning, he could not keep his hands off his fellow students, would not stay in his seat, and refused to complete any of his work. After lunchtime, I gently took him aside and asked if perhaps I had failed to send him to the nurse to take his medicine. You see, I knew many kids on Ritalin, and if ever there was a child with ADHD, this boy was it.

He narrowed his eyes at me and said, “What do you mean, medicine? I don’t take medicine. I’m telling my parents!”  I never went back.  Teaching was just not for me. Some people have math anxiety dreams, public speaking anxiety dreams, or showing-up-somewhere-naked anxiety dreams. For years after that, I had teaching anxiety dreams.

So, you may wonder, why in the world would I volunteer to teach English to a bunch of Portuguese-speaking orphans? No, I have not lost my marbles. The answer is: because I am able. Because I have the time, and they need every bit of help they can get. You see, English may give them a leg-up on getting a job when they are older. Luanda has many hotels, businesses, and English-speaking expats. In each of these situations, a little English would be a big plus when seeking employment.

There are a number of orphanages in Luanda, and they all have more kids in them than they should. The orphanage where I volunteer is called Mama Muxima, and it is run by only three nuns. There are over four hundred kids in school attendance, but some of them live in the surrounding barrio, and come only for the classes taught by the nuns. The one hundred kids who do live there range in age from toddlers to age seventeen. Once they reach the age of eighteen, they have to leave. What happens to them then is very uncertain. Of course, that is very tough to swallow, but there is no denying that Mama Muxima is an amazing operation.

So, how do only three nuns care for and teach that many kids? Each child is on a very strict schedule and the older kids all have chores to do. They have morning and afternoon classes. In between, they clean and do laundry. They help with the cooking and tend to the younger kids. And, you have never seen a happier, and more well-behaved group.

Who pays for all of this?  I’ve been told the majority of their funds come from the church, private donations, and business donations. The AWAA supports them financially as well, through funds raised on twice-yearly craft fairs, dues, and other donations.

Yes, the orphanage is an amazing operation, but it is anything but plush. There is no electricity in most of the buildings, and the plumbing is often broken. Up until recently, the nuns themselves were living without a functional bathroom. The older kids had to haul water upstairs in buckets to the nun’s bathroom so they could wash and use the toilet.

Recently, the AWAA provided the funds to install water purification equipment. Prior to that, the children were often sick from bad water. The kids sleep in buildings with open holes near the roof for ventilation. There are no screens, mosquito nets, or bug spray to prevent bites. As a result, kids often come down with malaria, too. Like I said, this is not the Waldorf-Astoria, but these nuns do so much with so little, and these kids are the recipients of their dedication.

I am by no means the only English teacher at Mama Muxima. The AWAA provides a number of volunteers who teach English, sewing and crafts, all on alternate days. This certainly lessens the load on the nuns, but they are still responsible for the vast majority of instruction. You should know that many of the members of AWAA are not American. We have ladies in the group from all over the world.  It has been so much fun to interact with such a  diverse group of women!

The Wednesday morning class is made up of girls between thirteen and fifteen years of age. I have a daughter, and let me tell you, teenage girls are a different animal. They can be moody, stubborn, and just plain mean. Thankfully, my daughter has grown into a lovely young woman. But, her early teenage years were not a lot of fun. I am sure my own mother would not have fond memories of my teenage years, either.

But, the girls I teach are unlike any American teenagers I have ever encountered. Every single one of them – and my class can have up to fifteen – are polite, helpful, and eager to learn. When I arrive at the orphanage, they come out to greet me, and help carry in my bag and supplies. The class is held in a room with tables and chairs, but no electricity. Often, the girls straggle in, many of them tired from their chores and regular classes. But once they all arrive, they are happy to see me and ready to learn.

Like all kids, they get bored with being lectured to, so we play games and sing songs. They thought the Hokey-Pokey was hilarious.  I used it to teach them right from left and parts of the body. Today we played a game with opposite words (hot, cold, young, old…). I had pictures of these opposites, put the girls in a circle, had them close their eyes before I gave each a different picture, and then had them open their eyes and race to find their opposite. Great fun!

During a previous lesson, my fellow teacher and I were working on numbers and telling time. We gave them a handout with pictures of blank clocks, and they were supposed to depict whatever time we told them, by drawing in the hour hand and minute hand. Surprisingly, they had no idea what to do, even though they knew their numbers fairly well. Finally, we realized that they had never learned how to read a face clock!  None of them own watches, so it should have been obvious to us, but of course we were looking at things from a first-world perspective.

I mentioned that all of the girls are well-behaved, but there is one young lady in the class who can be a bit of a challenge. I don’t know how long she has been at Mama Muxima, but she has a terrible burn scar that covers the front of her neck and part of her chest. One can only imagine how hard her life was before she came to the orphanage.

Every time I have taught, she persisted in loudly calling out, “Teacher, teacher, teacher!” whenever I was trying to answer questions from the other students. When I would walk over to see what she needed, she invariably asked the same questions about where I am from, and how old my kids are.  Then, she would tell me she likes my watch – a very inexpensive one with a rubber wristband that I picked up in the airport. I think these are the only things she feels comfortable saying in English, and that is why she asks them over and over.

Today, she did not show up to class until we were almost finished with our lesson. As expected, the minute she sat down came the usual “Teacher, teacher, teacher” followed by the same questions. The difference today was that we had three other ladies there to help teach, and our group of kids was smaller than normal. Usually, I teach with one other lady or on my own.

So today, when this young lady started in on her questions, I pulled together all of my supplies and we had a little one-on-one lesson on opposites. She was focused and interested, and when we finished, she asked me to draw a star on her paper. For this, I was rewarded with a huge smile. Clearly, all of the “Teacher, teacher” stuff, was just her way of getting some individual attention – a rare commodity at an orphanage. What a blessing that I was able to give it to her today!

After class, I headed to the grocery store in the usual Luanda traffic. It took almost an hour to travel only a few miles, which meant I had plenty of time to people-watch and think about my morning. While sitting dead-still in this bumper-to-bumper mess, a tiny, barely-clad little girl tapped on my window, begging for money. Her hair had a reddish tint to it that I later learned was a sign of malnutrition. Looking around at several others wandering the street, I had a stark realization.

In this country, wracked by extreme poverty, the children at Mama Muxima are incredibly lucky. They may be orphans, but they have a roof over their heads and plenty of food to eat. They are in school, and learning how to take care of themselves. They are not begging for food, standing in the middle of dangerous traffic hawking cheap trinkets, or carrying around huge, heavy baskets of vegetables for sale. Instead, they are loved and tended to, as all children should be.

Now, back to why Wednesday mornings are nerve-wracking and Wednesday afternoons are so wonderful. Since this teaching thing is very far outside of my comfort zone, I spend every Tuesday night and Wednesday morning frantically pulling together enough broken Portuguese to explain my lesson, and hope that Google Translate is not steering me wrong (which it frequently does). Of course, I could start earlier, but that is not how I operate, apparently.

However, once the lesson is done – and especially when I have moments like I had today – it feels so great to help these kids. It isn’t much, and it won’t drastically change their situation, but I am sure they see how much all of us volunteers care for them. It truly does take a village to raise a child, and I am happy to be a small part of the village caring for these girls.

If you want to know more about Mama Muxima, here is a link to their Facebook Page:

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

They call him Flipper…

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.

Bay of Luanda, Angola
View of the Marginal and Luanda Bay, with ships visible in the distance.
Luanda Marina
Large yachts in the Luanda Marina.

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.

Luanda Port
One of many oil-related vessels in the Luanda Port

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.

Luanda beaches look as tropical as any Caribbean island.

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.

Luanda dolphins
Just a few of the dolphins we played with. They were all around us!

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.

Luanda dolphins
A perfectly synchronized jump. I’d give them a 9.5!
Luanda dolphin
Smile, Mr. Dolphin. You are on Candid Camera!
Luanda dolphin
Showing off for the camera!
Luanda dolphin
I think that one is looking at me!
Luanda dolphin
Playful dolphins racing the boat…


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.

Luanda dolphin
Jump, jump!

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!

Dolphin jumping
He got some air on this jump…
Luanda dolphin
Checking us out, up close and personal…
Luanda dolphin
They were all around us…

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.

Mussulo Island, Luanda
A beach on Mussulo Island.

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.

Luanda beach
Let’s go fly a kite!
Luanda beach
The fishermen in the boat on the left had caught some cuttlefish.

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.

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but it was huge!

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!

Luanda dolphin
A farewell jump with the Luanda shoreline in the distance.

©2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Snap out of it…

This has been a rough re-entry to life in Luanda. A few days ago, I arrived back in Angola after six weeks in the good ‘ole USA. Laughing with treasured family and friends, enjoying wonderful meals out, and shopping till I dropped, I had completely settled back into my old life.  And much needed time with my kids had refilled that empty place in my heart.

A fourteen-hour flight brought me back to Africa, and the chaos of Luanda. Of course, it was wonderful to see my husband again, as I had missed him terribly while away, but a severe case of jet lag had put me into a full-blown pity party. After four days, with no more than a couple of hours of fitful sleep at a time, I awoke this morning in a less than chipper mood.

To top it off, the situation in this country has deteriorated sharply due to plummeting oil prices. The economy here is overwhelmingly dependent on oil revenues, the lack of which means cuts to social aid and fewer jobs. In addition, the lack of incoming dollars means less money to import goods and rising prices.

The people here are suffering and petty crime is on the increase. Stories of recent attacks on expat women are running rampant in our ever-shrinking circle, and this made me none too happy to be back. One such story really had me worried. A woman was attacked while sitting in traffic in her locked car. The assailant had smashed the window and punched the woman while grabbing her purse. Very scary stuff!

Walking into my kitchen this morning, I greeted my housekeeper, whom I had not seen since my arrival. She smiled, clearly happy to see me, and then proceeded to tell me I looked “mais gorda”, indicating with her hands that my backside had expanded from all of those wonderful meals at home. I was appalled, and it clearly showed on my face, but she quickly said, “Oh no, Madame, ees beautiful!”  Oh well, I guess it was to be expected after six weeks of Tex-Mex and not a day on the treadmill.

Still smarting from her comment, I headed down to meet my driver for a trip to the grocery store. I may be “mais gorda”, but we still needed food for the week. My new driver is a sweetheart, but he speaks very little English. I told him which store I wanted to visit, and even wrote it down, but he had never heard of it. This irritated me, as it was a large and well-known store, and I did not like the idea of driving around in circles on these crazy and clearly unsafe streets.

Unfortunately, I could not give him directions.  In this city, it is very difficult to learn your way around as a passenger. Drivers frequently take numerous switchbacks and maze-like streets to avoid the insane traffic. My previous driver took a different route every time we went somewhere, and so, except for a few main roads, I rarely know where I am. Of course, having no sense of direction may be part of my problem, too.

The only option was for my driver to call the dispatch office and ask them where it was. He spoke in Portuguese, so I did not know what was being said, but he seemed satisfied with the directions he was given. As he started out, the main road was familiar to me, but then he drove into narrow streets filled with sinister-looking pedestrians. This made me more than a little nervous, as visions of assailants smashing my window swirled through my mind. My typically overactive imagination was running full-tilt, as I fidgeted and held my breath, looking at each passerby with suspicion. At long last, we arrived at the store and I finally unclenched my fists. All of this round and round had given me a pounding headache to go with my sour mood.

My grocery list was small and filled with very basic items, but several of my items were nowhere to be found. There were tons of hard-to-find veggies available however, so I bought them even though they weren’t on my list. I had heard grocery shopping had become even more hit-and-miss than ever, and my hoarding tendencies really kicked in. As if life here wasn’t hard enough! Now, I won’t be able to count on even the basics when I go shopping!

This is just too much, I pouted. How can it be that there is no stick butter or canned tomatoes? Finally, after several hours and three stores, I gave up and we headed back to my apartment – with a full load of veggies, but no butter.

As we drove along the main road back to town, I saw a man standing at the very top of the hillside which ran along the road. The top of the hill contained a shanty town, and the residents there regularly tossed all of their garbage over the side of the hill. This gave the appearance that this man was standing on a mountain of trash.

Then, something unexpected happened. He began to dance. Here this man was, living in a shanty town, surrounded by refuse, and he was dancing. What a blessing to be reminded that joy can be found in even the most dire circumstances. Never in my life had I been snapped out of a pity party faster!

The awakening continued.

It occurred to me that my maid was being genuine when she said I looked beautiful to her. Packing on a few pounds meant that I had a healthy appetite, plenty of good food to eat, and the leisure time for my body to hold on to those calories. In her world, many people were not so blessed. Pants that were too tight and a lack of stick butter were laughable problems compared to those she faced on a daily basis.

At that moment, I said a prayer of thanks for the reminder of how lucky I am. Life in Luanda can be a challenge, but I trust that He will keep me safe while I am here. And clearly, the Big Man is looking out for my health, too. How wonderful that He presented me with such beautiful veggies instead of more butter for my bloated backside!

I may not be the quickest on the uptake, but even I can’t miss such clear reminders that He is watching out for me, as we make our way through this crazy new life. Now, off to cook a healthy meal so I can fit into my clothes again…

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…

Our action-packed trip to Namibia was coming to a close. All that was left was a six-hour drive through the desert from Walvis Bay to Windhhoek, a quick overnight at the local Hilton, and then a short, two-hour flight home. What we did not count on was car trouble, and a run-in with some less-than-friendly locals in the pristine and orderly German town of Windhhoek.

Saying goodbye to the Pelican Point Lighthouse in Walvis Bay, we locked our luggage in the covered rear bed of our rented truck, threw our backpacks and camera bags in the back seat, and began our journey to Windhhoek. We had chosen to take the slightly longer “scenic” route, on the advice of our guide, and hoped to see some animals along the way. Once we left the now familiar sand and hit the hard pavement in Walvis Bay, our truck began to shimmy violently. Bouncing over sand berms two hours a day for the previous three days must have knocked a weight or two loose from one or more of the tires. Mind you, this was no ordinary wiggle of the steering wheel. This was a make-your-arms-numb, rattle-your-brain kind of shimmy. Walvis Bay is a small town, and we were short on time, so we decided to just deal with it. We’re tough like that.

Of course, after about ten minutes, I was ready to turn around and go back. Hubby, on the other hand, was determined to stay on schedule. Once we hit the dirt road leading into the desert, it was hard to tell the difference between the rattle from the tires and the rattle from the road. Hubby’s answer to that was to just drive faster. My head was pounding and my teeth hurt, but I held my peace. If he could stand it, then so could I.

Thankfully, there was plenty of beautiful scenery to take our minds off of the car. The barren desert gave way to green mountains, as we bounced along with the road nearly to ourselves. The few cars that did come along appeared to be in a great hurry, and had apparently never been taught to share the road. Each time, we had to swerve to avoid being hit. We also got a nasty crack in the windshield when a large truck flew past us, showering us with sand and rocks. A large pebble imbedded deep into the glass – nearly coming straight through! Oh well, at least we had insurance to cover the damage, and after we made our one-and-only turn, we did not see another car for more than two hours.

Namib Naukluft
A “river” in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

Our first animal sighting was a herd of mountain zebras, grazing along the road. Our approach sent them running, but we did manage to get a few nice shots.

Zebras Namibia
Zebras in Namibia. Such pretty markings!
Zebras Namibia
One of several herds of Zebras we saw in the Namib desert.

Next, we encountered a group of springboks, also beautifully marked. As their name implies, they spring into the air as they run, which makes for quite a sight!

Springboks Namibia
A herd of springboks. I tried to capture one of them leaping, but they are too quick!
Springboks Namibia
More springboks, so fast and agile.
Springboks Namibia
Springboks running along beside us, as we drive through the desert.

Along the way, we encountered more mountain zebras, a large Kudu, baboons, and numerous birds.

Zebras Namibia
Zebras striking the perfect pose.
Kudu Namibia
A large kudu, the only one we saw on the drive through the desert.
Baboon Namibia
A large baboon taking a break in the sunshine.

As we approached Windhhoek, the scenery continued to get greener, almost lush. This was undoubtedly due to recent rains and not the normal look for the area.

Beautiful flat-topped mountain in the Namib-Naukluft Park.
Namib- Naukluft
Unusually green mountains from recent rains in the area.

Once back on the hard pavement of Windhhoek, we realized that the shimmy was gone. We guessed that the remaining weights on the tires were shaken loose as we rattled along the dirt road. That’s one way to fix an out of balance tire!

We plugged in the Sat-Nav and input our hotel name, planning to stop at a nearby craft fair on the way. Not wanting to drag our backpacks and cameras into the fair, we searched for a place to pull over and lock them in the back compartment with our luggage.

The streets were busy with cars and pedestrians on every corner, and all street parking seemed to be full. We approached an intersection, with plans to turn right and make the block again, but the car in front of us stopped and sat in the middle of the intersection. We were unable to go around due to foot-high concrete barricades on both sides of our lane, and so we had no choice but to sit and wait for the numbskull to move.

Suddenly, men on both sides of us opened all four of our car doors. Terrified, I grabbed my door and began to wrestle it closed, nearly slamming it on the would-be robber’s fingers. Make no mistake, I would have snapped his fingers off in a New York minute, but he moved his hands just as I managed to close and lock the door. I quickly reached behind me to close and lock the back seat door as well. Then, I looked over my shoulder to see the man on the other side of the car grabbing my husband’s backpack. Hubby jumped out of the car and yelled, “Hey, you!” Not exactly a menacing threat, but I guess it did the trick. The robber dropped the backpack on the seat and ran off, just as the car in front of us finally started to move.

Once we realized neither of us was hurt, we did our best to slow our pounding hearts, and take stock of the situation. What was missing? Where did the robbers go? Once we found a place to pull over and count our bags, we realized they were all there – and that the whole situation had been a set-up. The barricade had created a trap and the stopped car in front of us had played a role as well. We had been incredibly lucky, as our bags held passports, money, cameras, etc. But, we had also been incredibly foolish for making such rookie mistakes.

You see, we had both forgotten where we were.

Windhhoek looked so clean and civilized, we let down our guard and fell into a false sense of security. Displaying a Sat-Nav and having visible bags in the back seat was just dumb. And driving along with unlocked doors was even dumber. We live in Africa, for heaven’s sake! We know better. Needless to say, we won’t make those mistakes again. Truth be told, these things can happen anywhere, even in Texas, so it is always best to avoid looking and acting like a wide-eyed tourist. Never again.

Despite the poor welcome to Windhhoek, we managed to make it to the craft fair and buy a few treasures. After checking into the hotel, we also had a nice dinner at a popular local eatery called Joe’s Beerhouse, known for serving excellent game meats. We both enjoyed our kudu and oryx steaks, more tender and flavorful than even Texas prime beef. Blasphemy, I know, but true.

Joe's Beerhouse Namibia
Joe’s Beerhouse. Excellent game meats and beer – if you like that sort of thing…

Our flight back to Luanda came off without a hitch, and we still marvel at all we had done in just seven short days. Despite a few bumps (literally), our trip to Namibia was a true joy, and we hope to return someday. But next time, we will remove the “I am a tourist. Please rob me.” stickers from our foreheads, lock our doors, and keep the Sat-Nav on the down-low!

©2015 – Cheryl. All Rights Reserved.

Walvis Bay – Flamingos, Seals and Sand…

A remote lighthouse at the end of a deserted, windswept beach filled with beautiful flamingos. Sound romantic? Our experience staying at the Pelican Point Lighthouse in Walvis Bay, Namibia was indeed romantic but with a few unexpected twists. Oh, the lighthouse was lovely. The flamingos and people who ran the lighthouse were even lovelier. But, driving there? Now, that was anything but romantic.

We arrived in Walvis Bay, picked up our rental car equipped with a navigational system, and attempted to input Pelican Point. No luck. We had been sent a simple map and written directions (odd as they were), so off we went through the small and tidy town. Walvis Bay is another German settlement in Namibia, and boasts a lovely waterfront drive with nice homes and a large lagoon filled with thousands of – you guessed it – flamingos. This turned out to be a frequent photo stop, and resulted in hundreds of shots of these graceful, bubble-gum pink beauties.

Flamingos Namibia
Beautiful flamingos in Walvis Bay.
Greater Flamingo Namibia
A Greater Flamingo, larger and with more pink on the bill than the Lesser Flamingo, also present in Walvis Bay.

The heavy concentrations of small mollusks, algae and plankton in the lagoon attract flamingos and other shorebirds in astounding numbers. During the dry season, there are typically around 50,000 flamingos in the Walvis Bay area! It was quite a sight to see.


We drove on, past the lagoon and into an area of salt-flats, turned pink from the large amount of brine shrimp in the water. A small salt factory had pink salt piled high, waiting to be processed and sold. Once past the salt factory, the last real landmark on our map, there was nothing but sand as far as we could see.  No people, no cars, and no buildings – just deep sand and plenty of opportunities to get stuck.

Walvis Bay Namibia
Walvis Bay beach. Just ten miles of sand. How hard can it be? 

We stopped, let out about a quarter of the air from our tires, put the car in four-wheel low, and pressed on. Not surprisingly, this kind of driving is not what we are used to. This was nothing like the freeways in Houston or the crowded mayhem of Luanda. Here, the closest thing to a “road” is to pick a set of tire tracks and follow it until it gets jumbled up with another set. Of course, all of this has to be done at the fastest speed possible, and no stopping to take pictures is allowed. Stopping is the kiss of death when driving in deep sand, and no wrecker service is coming along to help a stuck tourist who decided he needed one more flamingo shot.

We knew the drive to the lighthouse was ten miles long and would take a full hour. But, our path on the map from this point was designated by only a dotted line, so we hoped we were going the right way. Ten miles of white-knuckle, hold-your-breath-and-pray driving. The only marking on the map in these ten miles was a supposed “fork in the road”. What fork, we wondered. What road?

Oh well, just kept driving, we decided. The sand will run out eventually. So, we gritted our teeth and lurched forward, our eyes searching the horizon for any signs of civilization.

After bouncing from one set of tracks to another for what seemed like hours, we could finally see the lighthouse in the distance. Hallelujah! At least now we had a target to shoot for, but getting there was far from a done deal. Even if there were no obstacles, such as deep puddles or large nail-studded pieces of wood, we found that it was impossible to stay in a set of tracks for very long. Once we picked up speed, our car would fishtail and we would be launched out of the tracks and into deeper sand. My hands were sore from gripping the door handle, even if my husband seemed to be having fun. Next trip, we are going to a spa. No discussion, buddy.

After many more minutes of dodging foot-high berms and swerving back and forth in an attempt to follow the most pronounced tracks, we finally reached the lighthouse, all alone at the end of the beach.

Pelican Point Namibia
Pelican Point Lighthouse. Our home for the next few days. 

We stopped to let down the chain across the entrance and it finally happened. We got stuck. Apparently, it happens to everyone, so the manager, a very friendly fellow named Hugo, came out quickly to help.

As we were checking in to our room, Hugo let us know that he and his wife, Roseweatha, were only there temporarily, and only as a favor to the owner. All of the regular staff, from the former manager all the way to the maid, had quit en-masse three weeks prior to our arrival. We never did find out why the staff had so abruptly departed, but Hugo and Roseweatha had done an admirable job in getting things up and running in such a remote location.

The two of them were quite outgoing and talkative – and originally from Angola, of all places – so we felt an instant kinship. They had been in the middle of building their dream home in Botswana when they got the call to come fill-in at the Pelican Point. Having many years experience managing living quarters for oilfield service companies in Angola, they were well-versed in finding staff (most importantly an excellent chef) and bringing things up to a very high standard. The Pelican Point had always been known for its gourmet food, a good thing since the remote location meant no one with half a brain would drive to Walvis Bay for dinner.  Although we have no idea how things were right after the mutiny, Pelican Point was running smoothly now, and so we were happy.

We settled into our clean, modern room and then went for a walk on the beach, hoping to get close to one of the large groups of seals sunning themselves on the sand. Luckily, we were upwind of these fascinating but rather smelly creatures, and were able to get close enough for a few good shots before they scampered off into the water.

Seals in Namibia
Seals on the beach. Fun to watch, but hold your nose!
Seals in Namibia
Seals, seals and more seals. Boy can they make some noise, too!

We then walked over to the windward side of the narrow, peninsula-shaped beach and could see more seals frolicking in the waves.

Seal Namibia
Well, hello Mr. Seal!
Flamingos Namibia
More beautiful flamingos, which I kept calling pelicans for some reason. Maybe it was because we were at Pelican Point – an odd name, as we never saw any pelicans!

Seeing such abundant wildlife had made the effort to get there worth every tense moment. But, there was another facet to our stay that we had not anticipated. The remote location meant that everything ran on a generator. All electricity went out promptly at ten o’clock at night and did not come back on until six o’clock the next morning.  No worries. Dinner and bedtime just came earlier than we were used to. Truly, our days had been so full  that this was a welcome change.

The next morning, we made the long trek back into town  for a Sandwich Harbor tour, with its massive sand dunes that come right up to the water. Of course, these dunes beg to be climbed, and with my newfound sand-climbing skills, I was ready to go (yeah, right!).

Sandwich Harbor Dunes
Another dune to climb. At least this one is smaller than Dune 45!
Sandwich Harbor Dunes Namibia
The view of Sandwich Harbor from the top of the dunes.
Garnet Sand Namibia
Beautiful garnet sand along the beach. Tiny crystals of real garnet make the sand extra heavy and glisten in the sun.

Timing is tricky when getting to and from the dunes, as high tides completely block off the path. We made it out just in time.

Namibia dunes tides
Better hurry! The tide’s a-coming…

After a brief stop for lunch on top of another dune, we explored the area just behind the sand, and were able to see just how shallow the water table is in this area.

Water table Namibia
Digging for water…

Our guide dug down about a foot and easily reached fresh water, which is forced upward when it encounters the heavier saltwater along the coast. We so enjoyed our day exploring such a unique coastline.

On the way back to the lighthouse, we spied a group of jackals roaming along the beach. Not nearly as scary-looking as their name implies, we enjoyed watching them frolic on the beach. That is, until one of them caught and began to tear up a cormorant, and we were reminded of their predatory nature.

Jackals Namibia
Jackals on the beach. Just puppies at play!
Namibia Jackal cormorant
A Jackal catching a cormorant. It looks like he bit off more than he can chew!

The next day brought another tour with the same guide, but this time we were exploring the Namib Desert and we had the guide to ourselves. Here are a few of the highlights of our day:

Namib Desert
Lunar Landscape in the Namib Desert.
Welwitschia plant
The male Welwitschia plant, considered a living fossil. These plants live for up to 2,000 years!
Female Welwitschia Namibia
A large female wetwitschia plant. Our guide said this one was at least 500 years old.
Ostriches Namib Desert
Ostrich Rush-hour in the Namib Desert.
Namib Desert
Stopping for lunch in a rare shady spot.
Lunch in the Namib Desert
A lovely lunch in the Namib.
Geology of the Namib Desert
Interesting geology of the Namib.

After our fun day in the desert, we headed back to the lighthouse for a lovely sunset and another gourmet dinner.


Despite the bright moon, we managed to get a few star shots before it was time for a good night’s sleep.

Pelican Point Namibia
Pelican Point Lodge at night
Southern Cross Namibia
The Southern Cross bids us good night.

We would need our rest for the six-hour, dirt-road drive back through the desert to Windhhoek the next day.

Until this point, everything had gone pretty much according to plan in this “most civilized” of all  African countries. The next day brought a few new challenges, and a scary reminder that we were definitely not in Kansas anymore…

©2015 – Cheryl. All Rights Reserved.



An American Expat's Adventures in Africa

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