Monday, May 18, 2009

West Houston's Newest Bike Trail

Even though I am currently at home and not traveling per se, I still take time out and travel around my home city. A case in point: On Saturday, May 16, I witnessed the official opening of Harris County's (West Houston) newest bike trail. This trail was under construction for about one year and culminated in the completion of the most critical segment which consisted of a bridge connecting both ends of the bike & walkway trail. The bridge is located near Eldridge Parkway, just south of Memorial Drive and is a part of Terry Hershey Park. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place at the bridge at approximately 10:30 am under bright, sunny skies. Now if I only had a bicycle to ride ......

The official opening of Houston's newest bike path!!

Several dozen bikers showed up for the event.

The bridge that connects both halves of the bike path. By the way, pedestrians are most welcome to use the pathway!

One of the speakers at the opening ceremony. (Sorry, I forgot his name!)
Replies to Comments:
Donna: As of today (May 22), it's been two weeks since I returned from Angola and I have managed to get rid of all the jet lag. One bad note: I suffered the effects of food poisoning which I believe was caused by the food onboard the flight home! This was no doubt caused by the poor sanitation practiced by the food handlers who catered the World Airways flight home from Luanda.
xoxc: Thanks for the kind remarks about Houston. Some visitors don't appreciate our city (the fourth largest city in the USA). Having lived here for almost 32 years, I too have developed a great degree of appreciation for what Houston has to offer its residents.
SearchingSoul: Welcome back to the 'blogosphere'! Thanks so much for postng a comment. Always appreciated. I've checked your blog several times over the past few weeks and await your next posting!!
John: YES! If you ever wander over to Houston, we can somehow arrange to meet and exchange stories about blogging!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Trip to Angola - Epilog

It's been nine (9) days since I returned from Cabinda, Angola. Using my rule of thumb which states that it takes about one day for every hour of time shifting associated with traveling between time zones, I have essentially recovered from the debilitating effects of 'jet lag' following my return trip home. As Dorothy said in the "Wizard of Oz", there is no place like home! In addition to eating at several of my favorite Houston restaurants (Pappadeaux's, Le Mistral, Hungry's and Bistro Le Cep), I've finally had some time to organize the photos I captured during my two-week visit to Malongo. Herewith I present the remaining highlights of my recent trip to Angola:

I spotted these guys near the Malongo laboratory.

The dormitory where I lived for two weeks. Just constructed and in excellent condition.

My home away from home. Well air conditioned, a fact which helps to keep the mosquitoes under control. I never spotted a single mosquito during the entire time I was in this room. Also important to note, despite my original anxiety, I could drink the water on Malongo. Never had a problem. And the food in the mess hall was quite satisfying.

Choppers galore! My room was next to the helipad where helicopters took off and landed throughout the entire day. Our oil production is offshore and hence these choppers provide the main mode of transport to get our people to and from our company's offshore oil production platforms.

The Houston Express. Departs Houston every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at about 12 noon CDT and arrives in Luanda the following morning at about 8 am Angola time (6 hours ahead of Houston time).

The Houston Express is operated by World Airways. Verdict: It's OK; nothing special. It gets you there! One pleasant aspect to note in the seating; the seats are arranged as 2 - 2 - 2 thereby avoiding any dreaded center seats in the mid-section!!

It's amazing how many places around the world I run across these hibiscus flowers!! This one was growing in Malongo camp.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The LONG Trip Out of Angola (And I Thought Getting Here Was Tiring!!!)

Whoever said "Getting there is half the fun" probably never went to Angola! I thought the trip IN to Malongo camp was an "Ordeal"! Well, turns out the trip home was even more trying on my aging body!! Just for fun and also to share with some of my loyal followers what it can be like traveling to and getting around in "third world" countries, I will summarize the step-by-step process of my trip home to Houston. Getting from point A to point B in most western countries is usually simple. In Angola .... well, nothing is simple. First let me say that I am grateful to my company to provide the infrastructure that exists to get us expats in and out of Angola in a safe and relatively secure manner. Despite all my worries, everything ran on time and took place as it was supposed to. Still, it was a convoluted process and here is what transpired:

Thursday, May 7:

1:25 pm Angola time (Houston + 6 hours): My friend and colleague Aby arrives at my room and collects me and my luggage and we go by truck to the Hotel Malongo where we line up with our luggage and await an inspection by customs personnel. Then we go through our local immigration check and receive a blue card that allows us to bypass the Luanda immigration/passport control fellows (one immigration check is quite enough, thank you!). Then it's on to the travel desk to pick up my plane ticket for the flight from Cabinda to Luanda. Then I formally check out of the room where I have been living for the past two weeks.

2:30 pm: We get on a bus (poorly air-conditioned) and we depart Malongo for what will be a hot, bouncy 50-minute ride to the Cabinda airport (pictured above).

3:20 pm: We arrive at Cabinda Airport (see above photo). Amazingly this is a newly constructed airport. Well air-conditioned and seemingly well run. Why isn't Luanda's main airport just as new and clean??!!

4:20 pm: Our Dash 8 twin-engined propeller aircraft takes off on what should be only a one-hour flight to Luanda. Unfortunately the captain radios us that we are number 6 in line for landing and thus must circle the airport almost six times before we are finally cleared for landing in lovely Luanda. Groan!!

6:00 pm: Our plane pulls up to its parking area .... right next to the World Airways plane we will soon be heading home on. We collect our luggage and cram into a bus that takes us to the arrivals hall. When we pull up to the arrivals area, all of us grown men and women suddenly scramble off the bus and, with luggage in hand (I have a 50 lb suitcase and a carry-on in tow!), we have a mad dash around and around the arrivals terminal, through the parking lot (!) and then into the departure terminal and line up to check in to the WORLD AIRWAYS Houston Express flight. The check in process starts at about 6:30 pm. As we wait, we enjoy standing in line (about 25 people are ahead of me already) in the un-airconditioned terminal area with mosquitoes as an added bonus. (PS: use DEET spray to protect yourself. I certainly did! I also took Malarone once a day, every day during my stay in Africa.) In addition to our flight to Houston, there are two other flights this evening: one to Paris and the other to Lisbon. Naturally there are over a hundred perspiring people all standing in various lines that wind around the check-in area. When my turn comes, I approach a security person who asks me about a dozen questions; then a suitcase check followed by the actual check-in after which I claim my boarding pass. Then I proceed through the immigration area where I flash the blue card issued to me in Malongo and bypass the passport control booths. Hey, I am felling good. Oh wait, now I stand in line for 5 to 10 minutes to go through the X-ray screening process. Next, a member of the "Financial Police" ushers me into a small room where a pleasant man in uniform asks politely if I have any Kwanzas (the local Angolan currency) and I say "NO" (since exporting Kwanzas is strictly forbidden). He says "show me your wallet"; I do - naturally. Seeing I only have $14 USD, he says "bye bye" and I leave and walk upstairs with my 20-lb carry-on bad in hand and head to the business class lounge.

7:40 pm: I arrive at the Business Class Lounge! Mercifully, this place is well air-conditioned! Although, with three flights taking off in quick succession to each other (one to Paris, one to Lisbon and our flight to Houston), this lounge quickly becomes packed full of passengers! At least I have a seat! I sip a few drinks and relax.

8:45 pm: My friend Aby arrives in the lounge. Since Thursday is the heaviest crew change day of the week, all the folks rotating out today cannot be accommodated on a single aircraft. Hence, two planes are required to get everyone to Luanda. Turns out Aby got on the second flight from Cabinda. His flight arrived in Luanda at 7:10 pm.

9:12 pm: Our flight - the Houston Express - is called and I leave the lounge and scurry downstairs to Departure Gate #2.

9:20 pm: I go through a thorough security check (everything in my carry-on is inspected along with my shoes) and wait in the un-airconditioned gate area along with about a hundred other sweating passengers. (Are we there yet??)

10 pm: I get on a bus (what, no air conditioning in the bus??) which takes me to the plane and I race up the stairs with a smile on my face!

10:23 pm: The plane's doors are closed!

10:40 pm Angola time: Wheels up and we're off!!! Yippee!

Friday, May 8:

7:17 am CDT: After 14 hours and 37 minutes of flying, we land at Bush IAH - almost 40 minutes before our scheduled arrival time!!

7:50 am CDT: I leave the airport with my driver (and all my luggage).

8:35 am CDT: I arrive at my West Houston apartment. Finally .... I am HOME-SWEET-HOME!!!! I unpack briefly and GO TO BED at 9:30 am after being up without any sleep for approximately 35 hours!! Nightie night!!

My next posting will present some of the photos that I was able to capture during my stay in Malongo camp in Cabinda. Turns out I was unable to photograph too many places inside Malongo since I was told the local authorities don't look kindly upon people taking pictures within Angola. [Seems the Middle East isn't the only place where photography can be a tricky hobby!!] Anyway, I shall share with you some photos in the next posting - probably in a day or so from today. Until then, have a close-up view of the fruit bats literally 'hanging' around:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Images from Angola - West Africa

Today is a Sunday (May 3rd) and so we only have a half day of work. I was invited to a BBQ where I was treated to some excellent fillet steak along with beans and potatoes. Mmmm - mmmm good!

Thanks to the slow Internet connection over here, I can only take time to upload two (2) photos - both unedited because I have no access to image editing software (no cropping or altering the contrast, etc.). So this will have to suffice for now, dear readers, until I return to home-sweet-home and can then upload a dozen or so more pictures for your delight. In the meantime, I hope you will find these two images of interest:

Bat City!! If you click on the photo and look carefully at the dead tree stumps, you will see dozens of fruit bats clinging to the tree, hanging upside-down!!

Looking out from my office window this is what I gaze upon!! Is this a view or what??!! So far, the weather has been generally warm/hot and fairly humid. Since I arrived over a week ago, there has been no rain ..... but that is fine with me. Rain can be very heavy at times (when it rains it pours). FYI: I am told the "dry season" starts on May 15!
And now it's off to my room for a rest. Until next time .....

Friday, May 1, 2009

Angola (West Africa)

Greetings from Cabinda, Angola! Actually I am working in our company's Malongo campsite inside Cabinda. Malongo is the 'nerve center' of our offshore oil field operations and is almost like a small city with a population of anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 workers/inhabitants. Almost everyone works on a 28/28 "rotation" schedule: they come in from around the world (Angola, South Africa, other African countries, the UK, Portugal, Thailand, Middle East and the USA), work for 28 days (every day, 7 days a week) and then go home for 28 days. We normally adhere to a 6:00 am to 6:00 pm work schedule! Very tiring.

With all the many nationalities represented here, this place is like a mini-United Nations! I wish I can share a few pictures with all my followers - and I will real soon - but currently I am suffering from "IT issues" - mainly a real slooooow Internet connection. Once things improve, I will upload a few photos (taken with a new Canon Power Shot SD880 IS pocket-sized digital camera with 10 mega pixels capability).

One of the main attractions for me has been the thousands of fruit bats and a few monkeys. On the way to dinner at 6:30 pm, the sky is filled with hundreds of fruit bats coming awake and going out for a night's worth of hunting. On the way to breakfast (5:30 am) the bats are returning to their appointed trees and settling in for a day's sleep. As I said before, I'll try to capture the spirit of this location and post a few pictures as soon as I can catch my breath and find the time to upload my pictures. Sunday is a half-day (6 am to 11 am) so I may find a little opportunity at that time. Until then ..... ta ta for now.