A Travellerspoint blog


8. Do You Know the Way to Zimbabwe?

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Airport hotels are much the same the world over. The "Airport Grand" at Johannesburg's International Airport is no exception. Oh, wait. There is one feature of note. I asked the front desk to show me the way to what my literature says: “the hotel has a health club.” I have a strong need to get on a treadmill for an hour because I haven’t been getting my four-miles-per-day walk/jog in. Getting up at 5:00am to be ready for a 5:30am game drive and arriving home at dark meant no road work. You’re not supposed to be out at night in Africa near Kruger; too many predators about. Anyway, they’ve closed the health club here so they could install a business center. My alternative is to “wait until dawn and walk circles around the building.” The front desk, oops, sorry, “reception” person told me that “walk circles” with a great smile and I took him up on it. I needed a walk. But, the parking lot is not a health club. Having said that however, had I needed it, the new business center looks very nice.

The hotel has, to redeem itself, complimentary 24-hour in-room WiFi for internet connections. That is worth more than a business center, health club and room service combined...for me, at least. I highly value my connection with the world when I am away from it.

Today, I am off for Victoria Falls. I fly to Zimbabwe from South Africa. Yesterday’s Johannesburg newspaper, The Star, has this news story on Zimbabwe:

(President) Mugabe planning to tighten grip on the media: The Zimbabwean government is planning to block public access to state information like court judgments, legislation, official notices and public registers, a press freedom watchdog warned yesterday.

Everything I write here about my three nights in Zimbabwe will be an unofficial notice.

After watching Fox News for a bit, I’ll bet the Obama Administration wishes it could pull a Mugabe on Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, Fred Phelps and Karl Rove; I’d love to never hear from any of the three again but I must and I will. None of them will sway me much, however.

The British Airways flight was routine. The landing, however, was only successful on the third bounce. The first thing one notices about Zimbabwe is that it could use a management consultant. The line for obtaining a visa could be improved slightly to save each traveler an hour or so. Or more.

It is so nice, in a third world country, to be greeted after you are through immigration and customs by someone with a sign with your name on it. Carl had my sign. The Matthews were the last ones through the visa line so I got a chance to assess the cola wars. Coke is winning but at least Pepsi is in the game.

The Kingdom Hotel is a ten minute walk from Victoria Falls. Even though I am scheduled for a full-blown tour tomorrow, I cannot resist. Off I go. Thirty dollars later (the “park” entry costs extra if you are from the U.S.) I see what all the fuss is about. This is pretty amazing. Again, a management consultant would help. If they would trim a bush here and there, even the most untalented tourist could take an award winning photograph. However, trim they don’t so many fabulous vistas are blocked.large_68ddc360-2fed-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_688f7c50-2fed-11ea-86e7-3f1d5cba98a5.jpglarge_6890dbe0-2fed-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_688f2e30-2fed-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_6877ae90-2fed-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpg

As I write this, the electricity in the Kingdom Hotel just went off.

As I returned from the Falls to my Kingdom, I was satisfied that I had just seen one of the seven wonders of the natural world and even with poor management, it is pretty special.

I am off to dinner; soon if the power doesn’t come back on, later if it does.

And, in case you are reading the newspapers, no, I am not in nor am I going to Madagascar. I had wanted to but it wouldn't work out right with flights, happily.

Posted by paulej4 14:09 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

13. New Business Idea

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Johannesburg, South Africa
Monday, November 22, 2010

I have discovered a sure fire way to riches. This plan is no miss, can't fail. It is guaranteed big money. All we have to do is get in the rubber stamp business in Africa.

My guess is that Zimbabwe will fail, mired beneath its own idea of how to exist. Let me give you an example. At the hotel where I stayed, you cannot sign anything to your room unless you pre-charge—not pre-authorize—some amount in advance. They suggest $100 to start. When you do that, the best thing you could do is to spend it all because getting any of it back is difficult for this reason: they don’t know how to process a credit to your card. It is against their policy to refund the unspent funds in cash. They simply stand and look at you.

At the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and at the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana, the stop processing trucks at 4:00pm on Friday. The start again at 9:00am on Monday. That means that all the semi-trailer loads of goods, some perishable, that arrive going in either direction at those points must sit and wait. They stack up...for a mile or more. Each truck requires much paperwork, and much fussing over by an official (or two) looking all around, pondering, writing notes, and looking important. Interestingly enough, they never (to my eyes, at least) ever looked inside a trailer or under a tarpaulin. They simply fussed.

There is a sign at the border that says that effective November 1, 2010, (three weeks ago) a new law provides that any automobile to be transported through Zimbabwe that is not driven by its owner must be transported on a semi-trailer automobile carrier. That sounds efficient to me. Next to the sign is a four column dispenser of free condoms.

Oh; M.C. Hammer is a big star here. He is on TV in a beer commercial and is performing at a concert soon.

At the airport in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, two flights were departing to Johannesburg within ten minutes of each other. One was a South African Airways flight and the other was a British Airways flight. There are only two gates (doors, really) which stand fifteen feet apart. Both flights were booked full. The seating area is adequate for about 25% of the capacity of these two flights. People must stand almost on top of each other immediately after clearing security. It is very crowded. And, therefore, noisy.large_4ea64f00-2ff0-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_4f0add30-2ff0-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_4e902ef0-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_4e2add70-2ff0-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpg
The two planeloads of waiting people mostly spoke languages other than English. I heard French, German, Spanish (from Spain), Portuguese, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.

The time for the first flight comes and goes. The time for the second flight, ten minutes later, comes and goes. There are no announcements because there is no public address system. There are also no signs. The people jostle for position but don’t know what position for which they are jostling. Which flight goes through which door? Nobody knows.

One of the gates—its door actually—opens and a non-uniformed person begins taking boarding passes from people. But, the people don’t know whether he is taking boarding passes from the SA flight or the BA flight. So, he simply takes the SA ones and shoos those people out the door toward the aircraft and refuses to take the BA boarding passes. Those people are now clogging up the front of the mob (there is no line) just standing there and the people coming from the rear who have boarding passes for either flight all keep coming because they don’t know which boarding passes he is accepting and which ones he is not accepting. A note: most of these folks are not into what we in the U.S. would call "order." There is much jostling and no lining up. Remember: there are many Korean, Japanese and Chinese here and they simply don’t line up. But, the worst offenders had to be the French speakers. Most courteous? The Spanish.

Soon, he yells, (in English only) “FINAL CALL,” in heavily accented English. There is much anxiety at the gate. It is fun to watch. It is not good for business.

A bit about the heavily accented English. In Zimbabwe (and through much of Southern Africa) they put the emPHAsis on a diffERent syllABle than you might EXpect. Do you remember LEOnard from a couple of days ago? Well, I had a nice chat with a roBERT. It isn’t South AFrican; its South AfRIcan. Now, I got used to this pretty quickly but I would have to say that most people don’t get used to this so there is much repeating.

There is little hope for Dr. Mugabe’s country. It will fail. From what I read, the rest of the nations of the world will mostly be happy about that. It is sad for the people. They seem nice enough. That is not to say that they seem competent to be doing what it is that they are being paid to do. But, they are really nice.

Now, for my day. B-o-r-i-n-g. I am awakened by hippos outside my room at 4:00am and enjoy listening to them so much that I get up and sit on my balcony. It is too dark to see them. Slowly, dawn breaks and: there they are. Making their way down stream, they croak and trumpet to each other saying, I assume, “Hurry before the bumbling hippo immigration guy shows up and blocks the channel.”

I shower and head for coffee. Last night I was assured that my departure is to be at 9:30; no, wait; let’s make that 8:30. Luckily they tell me that at 7:30. OK. I’m ready; thankfully. I’m a pre-packer. We’re out of boats. OK. What’s the plan? We’ll take you part way by four-wheel drive vehicle; the mud has dried up from the recent rain so we think we can make it. Think? Good. We DO make it. The veHICle was, by the way, a toyoTA.

I pass through Namibian exit immigration (nice lady) and board a boat to Botswana entry immigration and board a van to Botswana exit immigration (OK man) and board a van to Zimbabwe entry immigration (he recognized me from a couple of days ago and said HELlo) and board another van for the one hour twenty minute ride to Victoria Falls Airport where I passed through Zimbabwe exit immigration (grouchy lady). I already told you about the rest of the Vic Falls International experience.

The BA flight was great. I arrived only slightly late at Johannesburg and made it through South African entry immigration and then through the terminal and across the street to catch the Airport Grand Hotel’s shuttle van to the hotel where I now sit. It is six in the evening.

Did you want pictures with that? Sorry. You can't take pictures at borders or of immigration facilities or airports because it is a national security risk.

Posted by paulej4 11:21 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

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