Let me get this off my chest now!
In the last 10 days, I’ve travelled around 20 000 kilometres by cruise ship, plane, bus, car and even foot on an annual end-of-year working holiday. Most of this was, of course, by aeroplane.
I’ve been in and out of O R Tambo (ORT) Airport at Jo’burg four times; the spectacular spanking new, sparkly (but apparently pointlessly so) King Shaka “International” Airport miles from Durban twice; Dubai at the hub of the Middle East and all the intrigue and terrorism associated with it twice; into London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and out by Terminal 1 . . . and through Edinburgh’s Turnhouse Airport, which is only 60-odd kilometres from Glasgow Airport, on which there was an abortive terrorist attack in 2007.
And can you guess the ONLY airport where whole planeloads of would-be travellers, from tiny-tots not yet teething to octogenarians without teeth were extremely brusquely, discourteously ordered by state functionaries to remove footwear of whatever description, have it X-rayed, while wobbling, waddling barefoot (sometimes with big toes embarrassingly sticking through holey, un-darned, socks) to the body scanners?
Yep! Right first time! Good old Harare International Airport!
Do they know something we don’t about international terrorist machinations?
At Dubai in the wee, small hours, bad-temperedly, yawningly changing Emirates flights from one out of ORT to one going to London, I saw a solitary, single girl quietly, civilly, almost unctuously politely asked to remove her footwear by a suave Arab straight from Central Casting.
The security move may have been prompted by the fact she’d just flow in (with presumably at least a couple of hundred still shod fellow travellers) from Iran . . . or because she strongly resembled a time-traveller from the Baader-Meinhof or Symbionese Liberation Front gangs of yesteryear; or merely because her tan, thigh-length, high-heeled, “kinky” boots boasted enough metal zips and buckles to give the average common-or-garden airport security metal detector severe palpitations.
Do you remember when travelling was fun; something to be looked forward to?
Well any journey involving leaving the main airport at Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) misses that scenario by a long chalk . . . and arriving there isn’t exactly a barrel load of laughs, either.
Can the relevant ministries involved please, in the national interest, investigate the gross inefficiency, brutal over-officiousness, gross incompetence and barefaced corruption at our ports of entry?
During the fairly recent Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament, I wanted to learn which visiting teams might return for the 2011 edition of what is one of the world’s most prestigious freshwater angling tournaments. Coincidentally 2011 will be the competition’s watershed 50th anniversary.
Virtually to a man, all South African fishermen groaned audibly, rolling eyes dramatically at the seriously unpleasant thought of dealing with the frontier post at Beitbridge, citing six-seven-eight, even 11,-hour delays in intense heat, amid filth, stench and decay, dealing with pettifogging, but still mind-bogglingly infuriating bent bureaucracy.
This is not the way to put our pariah nation of Zimbabwe back, firmly, on lucrative tourist destination maps.
On a more positive note, I’m one of many folk of a certain age who fondly recall when driving to the capital’s airport, for whatever reason, was a destination of its own.
Sadly, many times were poignant events, wishing tearful au revoir to family, friends and colleagues, who could take no more of Zanu PF outrages.
In those days you could see the comparatively large number of colourful arrivals and departures by airlines who’ve almost, now, universally ditched Zimbabwean destinations.
(Remember Qantas, BA, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, Balkan, Royal Swazi, Air Botswana, Swissair, Air Mauritius; was it Air Austral which flew to the Comoros Islands, Madagascar and Reunion?)
Catercraft ran restaurants, almost of fine dining stature, but which were paradoxically relatively affordable.
You could enjoy a drink and snack, read the paper and spend profitable hours pleasantly people-watching or amateur plane spotting.
Sadly, the incredibly ugly, poorly designed “new” airport with avaricious, extortionate parking fees and dictatorial, draconian wheel clamping/tow-away penalties ended most of that. But hold it.
If we can’t put the clock back to the good old days of distinguished dining clubs standing in line to book the airport restaurant for functions for 40 or 50 pax, at least things are looking up a wee bit.
Café Espresso is a coffee shop in Cork Road where they brew the excellent La Vazza brand and serve splendid food promptly and efficiently, but arguably rather dearly. So there are usually very few punters.
A few doors away is 40 Cork Road, where food and drink is of acceptable, agreeable even, quality, quantity and competitively priced but service veers between lethargic and non-existent.
Here you’ll be lucky to find a free carpark between 10:30am and 4pm. At Café Expresso, owner Pilani Magadzire probably considers himself lucky if (other than his own wheels) there are four of five cars parked outside mid-lunch time on a busy day!
Well Pilani’s now opened at the airport. He tells me he made proposals to the Civil Aviation Authority in 2002 and got the go-ahead a few months ago!
I used the outlet in the international concourse, but he’s already operating at the domestic terminal and will be opening “air-side” (after you’ve checked in, before boarding) soon.
The coffee shop/well-stocked bar was a handsome structure in local and Tanzanian hardwoods (he also makes exclusive timber furniture and owns an advertising agency).
Menu featured lots of comfort dishes and health foods, none of which take long to prepare or serve. Seating is comfortable, well-spaced and lit.
You still can’t SEE planes arriving or taking off; departure boards are miles away and facing the wrong direction and you can’t hear a discernable word on a crackling, garbled PA system, but we are making some progress!
On a searing hot day I had two large Colas with lots of ice and lemon at US$2 each, which seems to be about the going international airport rate.