Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, March 27, 2015

5. Travel To Zimbabwe, Africa

Zimbabwe, Africa

To get from KNP, ZA (South Africa) to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, we had to sacrifice one day at Hamilton’s Tented Camp and leave right after Breakfast on day 2. Too bad, I really liked the camp at Hamilton's. So our little rent-a-car got a work out. Two hours
of slip sliding through sand, mud and gravel finally got us to a paved road. Now we still needed to get through the Kruger Gate to sign out with the park police service. A mere routine, but needed in case one got lost in this huge expanse of wilderness. Then, once back into “Civilization”, another 2 hours to find a hotel for the night next to the airport. The manager of the Hamilton's Camp made some reservations for us at a Guesthouse in Hazyview, about 2 hours away from the airport and we even went to take a look of the place, but decided to not stay there. Too remote from any store or restaurant and the whole general appeal was not to my liking. We drove on and ended up in White River for the night. It is still about 45 minutes from Nelspruit’s Airport, but better than being 2 hours away.

Our flight was at 7.40 am and, according to most domestic flights we thought we had to be at the airport 2 hours before take-off. So we arrived at the locked gate to the entire airport at 5.40 am. Yes, the total airport was locked down for the night and the sign said the gate will open at 7.00 am. What to do?  We called out and a sleepy guard approached us and after taking to him and telling him we had an early flight he let us slip through the gate, but closed it right after us again.

We found the car rental return but of course nobody was there. So I wrote down the full tank, the km from the odometer, the location of the car and dropped the paper, along with the keys through a small slot of the Europcar rental office. The whole of the Airport was empty. All the stores and shops opened at 7.00 am or later. We killed the time by reading but I did miss my morning cup of tea. Sure enough, at 7.00 am the metal, roll down grates, started to screech and life began at Nelspruit's airport. Forget about the 2 hour rule, this is Africa.

The flight to Johannesburg was booked well, not full but not empty. The layover at Joburg was just long enough to find the next terminal and get ready for the flight to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The airport in Joburg is huge. We got a workout walking from Terminal B to Terminal A and then to the correct gate. We had to ask for directions; it is easy to get lost in this place.  The emphasis is on shops, not on logistics for travelers. I felt I was in a shopping mall with gates for flights just thrown in as an afterthought. Not a good layout for transfers like us.

Arriving at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe saw all that changed. This airport is rather small and as soon as you step off the plane you are greeted with hot, humid, sunny temperatures. There is no shade as you line up to go through a single door to apply or pick up your visa. Everybody stands in the boiling sun, guarded by self-important personnel, to pass through this door. So like cattle ready for slaughter, one moves forward, one person at a time. Each person must show their passport and boarding card to be allowed inside the building.  Once inside the building the queue starts again for another official to determine if you already have a visa, if you need a multi entry or a single entry visa. Then you stand in another, but more appropriate line, to obtain your visa. They want Cash only, payable in US dollars. Carol had to pay 75 dollars for her visa while I paid only 30 dollars. I guess it depends on your passport. The visa was glued into the passport, the scribbled writing on it illegible but we had a visa and they kept a bunch of people busy and took our money.

We now had to find our pick up for the ride to the hotel. Easy enough, the driver had a sign held up and as we approached he was all smiles. On his placards were our names and another party consisting of 3 more people. Would we mind waiting for the others to show up? Well, did we have a choice? We waited sitting on steel seats in the lobby of the small airport; watching the coming and goings of all the other passengers being picked up and driven to their respective hotels or places. After some 20 minutes the other party we were waiting for had not shown up yet. The driver with the placards still stood in line waiting. We waited. Another 20 minutes passed and I asked the driver what the holdup was, since I saw him on his cell  phone talking with someone. He explained that the other party had paid for a visa in their home country at the Zimbabwean embassy but this information had not arrived at the border crossing. So now they are “working” on it. After another 20 minutes they finally agreed to take Carol and me to our hotel regardless of the other party.
Our Hotel in Zimbabwe

The waiting for me was horrible. I have a low tolerance for inadequate performance, for illogical approaches to a problem, for being herded like cattle or dumb live-stock. Yet I managed to be civil. The total affair and arrival in Zimbabwe showed obvious short comings in the administrative end of dealing with people. The dancing group, clad in regalia, which awaited us outside the lobby gate, did little to give a different impression. In fact, to my mind, it only emphasized the perception
The Dancing Group
of how we, the tourists, should view the local population. I am not here to fix anything in the Zimbabwean way of life; I just observe and write what I see. What I see is inadequacy in handling common sense situations.

We are now at the Kingdom hotel. A Las Vegas kind of tourist hotel with all the same amenities down to the one armed bandits at the casino and the black jack tables. Only nobody is playing them. The whole of the gaming pits are empty. I wonder why.
Could it be bad planning? The locals sure cannot afford to put up the ante of $ 5 for each hand at the blackjack table. The tourists did not come here to gamble. Who planned this?
View From our Room


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