Friday, 28 September 2012

Field Work in Angola: Part 2

So as I said in Part 1 of the Angola story, the whole reason we were out in Angola was to download this year's set of data from the DELOS observatory platforms. Of course, it didn't all go quite as we'd planned!

We arrived in the Luanda, Angola's capital city early on a Saturday morning in the middle of August which coincidentally turned out to be right before their four-yearly election governmental elections which in turn meant that we were instantly put on curfew by BP as soon as we left the hotel due to a planned public demonstration that same day! Still, after an eight-hour overnight flight I can't say I was too upset at getting some time to relax in a hotel room.

In the end it turned out that the demonstration never happened, but with the imminent elections and all the preparations taking place, we were delayed onshore for an extra week because the government commandeered all available helicopters and fast boats to move election officials around the country and we needed a helicopter transfer to take us to the ship where we'd be doing our servicing work. For the most part we had to stay in the hotel, but we did get out a few times to see a bit of city and visit various colleagues working in the labs and on the industry side of things which was a great benefit of being onshore for a little bit longer. Oh - and we also got to see humpback whales breaching just offshore while we were having lunch in a cafe by the beach!

A man-made beach in Luanda

Luanda was certainly a strange place to be and a difficult place to get to grips with, probably largely because we weren't really able to get out and wander around the city and most of what we got to see was either from the hotel or from inside taxies. Mostly, it felt like a country of extreme contrasts. Parts of Luanda were obviously enormously affluent, with 4- and 5-star hotels and new apartment buildings being built all along the waterfront, as well as a new parliament building and a new 'Copacabana'-styled strip along the coast in the centre of the city.

There is a huge amount of investment in construction going on at the moment throughout Angola.

But surrounding everything were shanty towns with limited electricity, poor sanitation and absolutely no facility for disposing of any of the waste generated by so many people. A quick read through the BBC's webpage suggests that the majority of Angolans live on less than $2US per day, and while that figure may be an underestimate now, it's clear that most people are nonetheless very poor. It contrasts so sharply with the obvious wealth of the few that it's pretty disconcerting.

These boys earned their money shining shoes in the centre of Luanda.

Our hotel overlooked a litter-strewn bay and shanty town.

After a few days in the city, once the elections were over we managed to hire a car to take us down the coast a bit to a tourist lodge at the River Kwanzaa, about an hour or so south of Luanda for my first trip out into the country.

Not sure if these are baobab trees or something else, but they were a common sight in the scrub land as we drove down to the coast.

Heading down towards the Kwanzaa river, the habitat began to change more and more to forest.

The road down to Kwanzaa lodge

The view across the river

The scenery was pretty stunning as we drove down the coast, though the car wrecks which appeared every few hundred metres weren't totally reassuring! The region seemed to be mostly scrubland, but moving down towards the river we got into more and more forest and started to see a bit more wildlife which was very cool. No big game animals right enough, but plenty of birds and once we got to the Kwanzaa lodge there were also crabs everywhere which was pretty awesome (if you're a big marine biology nerd like me!)!

Ghost crab

Fiddler crabs displaying their oh-so-manly claws

A shore crab hiding in stranded water hyacyinth

Large rafts of water hyacinth washed up along the coast here

An effort had obviously been made made to keep the beaches tidy, but with nowhere to put the rubbish it just ended up in piles along the shore.
Cows on the road

Finally though, after an extra week onshore and one final extra day spent trying to convince the immigration guys at the airport that our (definitely valid) offshore visas were not expired and were in fact totally fine, we finally made it onto the helicopter and off to the Ocean Interceptor III where we would be working with an offshore ROV inspection team and collecting my data!