Ellies, Kudus and Giraffes, oh my!

Thump, thump, thump, goes the bass.  Unintelligible words weave through the techno beat.  The music is  so loud, I can feel it in my chest.  Am I in a nightclub? A party?  Sadly, no.  I am sitting in my living room with the windows closed tight.  It is Sunday night at 10:30 pm, and the music from the Marginal is just warming up.  This will most likely go on for hours, as it has the previous four nights. No sleep for me, I’m afraid, so I’ll just write another blog!

Our third weekend in Luanda brought yet another unexpected activity – a safari!  Mr. & Mrs. Boss Man invited us to go with them on a two day getaway, which included a boat ride on the beautiful Kwanza River, followed by a safari and overnight in Kissama National Park.  We were very excited to see the park and river, but didn’t hold out much hope for the safari.  We had been on a “real” safari in South Africa a year ago, and were surrounded by hordes of animals of every kind.  After seeing the “Big Five” in such a setting, this was sure to be a letdown. Or at least, that is what we thought…

Angola is not Kenya or Tanzania.  Angola is still recovering from a twenty-seven year long civil war, which decimated the country and only ended in 2002.  As is the case with many wars, this war resulted from a power vacuum.  The Portuguese, who had ruled Angola as a colony for four hundred years, were forced out in the early 1970’s.  Their absence created a political vacuum, and rival Angolan factions fought for control of the country.  Neither side cared about what the war was doing to the country or the people, they simply wanted to win. Huge ships were sunk off the pristine coastline to disrupt the flow of goods.  Millions of people were displaced.  Over half a million civilians died.  Remember the photos of Princess Diana walking through an area filled with land mines?  That was here in Angola.

The people were so desperate during that terrible time, they used the “safari” animals for food and sold off their ivory.  Finally, after twenty-seven long years, the leader of one faction died and the other became the victor by default.  He has been president ever since.  Enough of Angola’s history-in-a-nutshell.  Suffice it to say, safari parks are very low on the priority list for this country.  However, one program has reintroduced these gorgeous animals into Angola. It was called Operation Noah’s Ark and it began in 2002 in Kissama National Park, only two hours south of Luanda.

Our transport for the trip, a specially outfitted jeep, arrived at our apartment at 6:00 am on Saturday morning, with a Spanish couple (I will call them Mr. & Mrs. Barcelona) already seated inside.  The rest of us crawled in and we began our journey south.  Along the way, we passed the same chaos we had encountered on our way to the deserted beach the previous weekend, including an impromptu roadside market that brought the traffic to a complete standstill.  Finally, we pushed though all of this and reached the open road.  Our first stop was a stunning overlook of a coastal area called Miradouro da Lua, or Lunar Landscape.  Formed by simple erosion through multicolored layers of rock, the result is nothing short of amazing!

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Miradouro da Lua
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What a view! The deserted beach goes on for miles in either direction.
Glossy Starlings with the lovely beach in the background.
Glossy Starlings with the lovely beach in the background.

After we had taken plenty of pictures, we hopped back into the jeep and headed to the Kwanza River Lodge for lunch, followed by a boat ride on the river.

Kwanza River Lodge
Kwanza River Lodge
Look closely and you will see a Goliath Heron
Look closely and you will see a Goliath Heron
A local fisherman
A local fisherman

Cruising slowly along the river’s edge, we spied monkeys and monitor lizards, as Fish Eagles soared overhead.  What a lovely, peaceful start to our day.  We had the river to ourselves, with only an occasional fishing boat in sight.

After the boat ride, we piled back into the jeep to drive the remaining hour on the dirt road to Kissama Lodge.  Hubby and I were seated in the back row of the jeep, which proved to be like a very bouncy roller coaster at Disneyland.  It was exhausting!  At times, we bounced so high that Hubby actually hit his head on the roof! We aren’t the quickest learners, but finally discovered that the seat belt is there for a reason. It really helped if we cinched it down tight.  One knot on the head is enough for anyone!

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Once we reached the lodge, we dropped our bags in our cabins and then headed out on a game drive. The top of the jeep popped up to reveal an opening, which enabled viewing from a standing position while still providing shade.  Very nice!

Jeep in front of a huge Baobab tree.
Jeep in front of a huge Baobab tree.

During the drive, we spotted a large group of ten to twelve giraffes, a large herd of wildebeests, two elephants, countless bushbucks, several gorgeous kudus, and a small herd of zebras.  There are over 150 elephants in the park, but with only a few jeeps covering the entire three million acre park, it is easy to miss them.  We were so impressed with the obvious health of the animals and the progress made in growing their numbers.  Here are a few of the animals we saw:

Hello, big fella!
Hello, big fella!
Giraffes and a Baobab tree.
Giraffes and a Baobab tree.
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A shy, little Bushbuck.
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Elephants. Hey, guys? Where’s the rest of the family?
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Zebras on the run.
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A beautiful Kudu.
Say Cheese!  A very happy Wildebeest...
Say Cheese! A very happy Wildebeest…

After several hours of near constant game sightings, we headed back to the lodge for a lovely group dinner. Mr. & Mrs. Barcelona proved to be a fascinating couple.  Both are biologists and DNA specialists.  He is primarily a researcher and she is working with the crime lab in Luanda, schooling them on the use of DNA to solve crimes.  Both also venture into remote villages around the globe. Their goal on these trips is to collect DNA samples (typically hair) from the villagers in order to trace their heritage and relationships with nearby villages.  What a very interesting life they have!

After dinner, we headed back to our cabins for a shower and a good night’s sleep – neither of which happened!  The lodge itself is situated on a gorgeous bluff overlooking the Kwanza River Valley.  Although it is a world-class location, the cabins themselves need a lot more work to be comfortable.  The electricity switched off and on all night and the water in the shower was ice cold.  But given the remote location, difficulty and cost for this kind of facility, we weren’t bothered by the less than five-star accommodations.  We just pretended we were camping!

View from the Kissama Lodge
View from the Kissama Lodge

The next morning brought another game drive and more sightings of similar animals.  Then it was time to head back to Luanda before lunch.  What a delightful weekend, and how wonderful to find a place like this so close to the city!  We will definitely be back again, but next time we will bring a flashlight – and some baby wipes!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

One thought on “Ellies, Kudus and Giraffes, oh my!”

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