The town of Mbabane was cocooned within a ring road. Watford immediately sprung to mind. The Taxi driver sped towards Eden Lodge. Tengetile was spot on. It was far out meeen! As the car slowly descended Malagwane Hill, I noticed there wasn't a spot of light illuminating the buildings. As the car pulled up outside Eden drive it was very clear something was out of kilter. I walked through an open door guided by a ray of candle light coming from the reception area. Sounds of chitter-chatter and home cooking wafted from the kitchen, and so did a Mozambican matron. She checked me in apologising profusely for the absence of electricity.
I requested to speak to the manager and within seconds I was handed a phone. On the other end was 'Madam Mongrel' - Afrikaan by accent Afrikaan by nature. Very arrogant in a treacherous colonial sort of way. She had no time for my grievance and put the phone down on me. 'MM' made it abundantly clear that there was nothing she could do about the 'power-sharing' in Swaziland, and if I couldn't hack it, I should leave.
Matron could feel the tension building and appealed to my tolerance and understanding. She sent up a night cap, a bowl of grapes and fresh drinking water to my room. I climbed into bed and slept off like a new born baby, praying for morning to swiftly ascend.
March 2015 - Robben Island
Saturday 28 March - Johannesburg, the Return
Landing in Johannesburg (from Lusaka, Zambia) for the second time this week,
I chose the Speed train to Park Station: great choice. And it was straight to Lamunu and bed. Looking forward to discovering other cultural highlights in the city in the morning.
We crossed Matola River/Bridge and entered Matola City Village at 9.33pm. Matola has an enormous vicinity and the lines between her and Maputo city centre were blurred by the night time activity.
At 9.50pm we were in Maputo Central
This town with streets with no names played tricks on us, one minute bustling with hundreds of commuters lining the street, the next we were in Baska - the mini-bus terminal desolate, dark and pretty eerie, bar a lone taxi parked up in a bare taxi rank.
"I like it where we were earlier" whispered Tom's girlfriend as we all piled in. My co-travellers were going to a Backpackers Camp whilst I was in search of Av Karl Marx which apparently was a couple of minutes’ walk from Baska.
Nevertheless was grateful for the security. He wanted 100 Meticais I offered him 50. He had no idea where precisely the hotel was.
Harare, Zimbabwe to Lusaka, Zambia
An airport official emerged and declared the check-In desk closed and my flight flown. Impossible, the flight couldn't have left without me. I'd checked in online and my luggage was onboard (apparently not). I literally got on my knees and pleaded with all my heart
(I was pathetic!). I had to be on that flight to Lusaka by hook or crook.
The check-in clerk was adamant that my plane had flown and my luggage disembarked. I asked to speak to a supervisor (a recurring mantra). She obliged and she got on the blower and as if by under a spell my prayer was answered. My plane was not on the runway because it hadn't actually arrived. Boarding card issued I rushed through security (despite being asked not to) and arrived at the Depature Gate panting profusely. There were hundreds of exacerbated passengers slumped in their seats but I was in a better place, despite my 5460 Zimbabwean experience was far from being encyclopedic.
A passenger and pilot stood in a corner engulfed in deep conversation. I asked the 'pilot' to confirm the announcement made re the Harare flight from Maputo i.e flight delay was due to military operations in the Yemen airspace.
He wasn't a pilot but a Christian missionary who had been based in Zimbabwe for the last 3 years. His parent's had travelled over for a brief holiday and was taking him back home to California.
Elder Lane is only 24 and a generous soul. I told him about my 'epic assignment' and asked him why most Bureau de Change worldwide did not stock the Zimbabwean currency.
His response was revelatory. Something about it being devalued home and abroad beyond recognition. Folk hardly used or spent it. On parting, he offered me a 50 Billion Zimbabwean Dollar note to add to my collection.
I made my way to the breakfast table (shower postponed - no water).
Need to get out of here as soon as possible - quick brekkie flannel bath and then vamoose!
Breakfast, Sausage Game and bacon was served by Jethro the Gardener (he introduced himself). In the short 10 minutes spent in the lounge, Jethro became an annoying pest, literally sitting down next to me offering every kind of hospitality under the morning sun, including talking me through an outdated Swaziland Official Tourist Guide.
I was just about to lose the will to live when a voice pierced the air. In the doorway, a huge man stood rock solid (well-dressed White Afrikaan) Jethro who was clearly shaken as his name was yelled out again, dropped the brochure and hobbled off in his boss's direction. Moments later several dogs came rushing through the same door leaping all over me. A fierce hench woman followed suit and stood them down. "Good day to you" she greeted as I stood up to brush myself down. It was MM and she knew exactly who I was.
I discover Constitution Hill, Mandela Square, JoBurg Theatre (where school kids had just been entranced by Jungle Book) and begin a near futile search for The Kingdom of Swaziland Consulate (which I eventually locate hidden away in BraamPark) Much to my relief, I needn't have stressed as I didn't require a nevertheless Visa.
This was my Protea debut - not all that I must say. I've always admired the stunning Ikeja, Lagos branch from a distance and with much fantastical ambitions. But if Namibia's was anything to go by then I was pretty disappointed. Suffice to say, I've stayed in finer salubrious Travelodges in West Yorkshire. There was the free WIFI and breakfast thrown in though. And like Lusaka and Gaborone the hotel was pretty accessible to everything. These were huge redeeming features.
Sunday 29 March - Johannesburg
News was trickling in that a new dawn was opening up in Nigeria - Retired General Mohammadu Buhari leader of the APC had beaten the incumbent President Jonathan Goodluck PDP in the weekend's General Election. I was indifferent to the news as in my opinion the ex-Military dictator was merely the 'best' of a poor pair of options. I was in Nigeria during Buhari's initial regime and though he was a strict disciplinarian, completely transparent and incorruptible - he had an appalling human rights record, social infrastructure and the economy fared no better compared to the present. At 71 I remain sceptical of his overall ethos and impact. Hopefully providence will prove me wrong.
I head across Nelson Mandela Bridge into Newtown in search of Brie Street where the Market Theatre is located. Being a Sunday, there is a sparse traffic presence and the walk into the new district is quiet. I stand in awe outside the theatre building - this was where the foundation of pre and post-apartheid theatre in South Africa was built. The likes of Athol Fugard, John Kani and others honed and mastered their craft in this building. And this is from where South Africa was able to peel open the eyes of the world into its internal stride and strife. Mission accomplished I headed back to Braamfontein.
The road ahead of us led to Khayelitsha. A section of this road was lined with RDP homes Reconstruction and Development Programme. (RDP) is a South African socio-economic policy framework implemented by the African National Congress (ANC) Government of Nelson Mandela in 1994. So the Townships were being handed a regeneration push however it is very evident that the push is taking its time reaching the targeted communities. The corrugated rooftops often seen in the media did in reality stretch for miles from far back as Langa across to Mitchell's Plain. And so did the impoverished shacks, popping up wherever an empty space loomed. Some we passed in Gugulethu were ambitiously structured. Ever seen a storey high shack? I have and it wasn't glorious. Thankfully Langa and some of the neighbouring Townships have benefited from formal housing and as we turned left into Thabo Mbeki Road it seemed we were leaving the worst behind.
Saturday 21 March 2015 - Baxter
Final LionBoy Performance.
And then it was back to the Baxter for an emotional finale to the tour. Most members of the cast were inconsolable. We started in November 2014 and have delighted audiences across the globe - London, New York, Bury St Edmunds, Colchester, Hong Kong, Seoul. Now closure here in Cape Town. A befitting end to the Chapter, today being World Human Rights Day (in attendance was the author of successful semi-autobiographical 'A Human Being Died that Night' Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela).
Postscript to Zambia
With all the references to Cairo in Lusaka
I wondered if definitive proof existed pointing out Zambians being the founders of ancient Egypt. The ancient civilization of Egyptian Kingdoms headed by powerful Pharaohs dominated North Africa and the Middle East for almost two thousand years from c 3100 to 1090 bc. This was before Assyrians, Persians, the Babylonian Empire, Greeks, and Romans occupied Egypt. This was also before Christ.
The Egyptian civilization was the first to create a large empire, establish writing using hieroglyphs, large scale political economy, the bureaucracy and built the sophisticated massive pyramids.
I upset a Namibian taxi driver today - not my proudest hour but not entirely guilty either. Nevertheless the experience did leave me a little numb and perplexed for an hour or so thereafter. Basically, Kativa, an enthusiastic taxi driver had intervened in negotiations twixt myself and his colleague (I was quoted NAD280 by the latter, I'd counter-offered half) Kativa must've misheard me, he grabbed my bags and said "Let's Go, I'll take you for that". My lucky day, or so I thought.
Several mountains and a Giraffe later we reached Protea Thuringerhof, Windhoek. He rejected my cash with so much fury, he foamed at the mouth. Kativa hurled verbal abuse, calling me a robber and everthing else untoward beneath the Namibian sky. Regrettably I took him to church too, pointing to the Police Station across the road. He eventually walked away from me in disgust. He never took the money, and for this I was very numb. Not a great start to a potentially fabulous two days I thought.
So I promised him that I'll declare my misgivings in the social media. Rui upgraded my room for the remainder of my stay and I skipped out of the door for the city's 'delights'.
We finally leave Manzini at 5.45pm!
The 18 seater minibus was jammed packed. I was sandwiched between two buxom Swazi women and my right leg was wedged firmly against the seat in front of me - immovable. Among the passengers were several other foreign travellers;
three white Americans (two males one female) and Sulieman a French Morroccan. Tom could be heard saying that he'd once done a similar journey going in the opposite direction. He recalled being stuck between two female Mozambicans who basically munched on grilled fish through the entire six hour journey. He spoke too soon. The two women with me as if on cue began to unfurl their brown KFC bags. My days were 'numbered'. I daren't move a muscle as they were raucous with intent.
My taxi driver, Tebo a Business Management Graduate of six years had been unemployed for the same period - as he poured out his travails he admitted taxi dríving has been his main stay and source of much solace. The airport was 10 Kilometres from Maseru Town. The fare was ZAR150, however due to fast depleting funds we agreed 100 - his genuine plight and extraordinary humility deserved more. Tebo represented a microcosm of the survival story which epitomised his country's strife and an example of many more impoverished encounters my 5460 visits brought me in touch with. Tabo; such admiration and respect.
Tuesday 31 March 2015
Gaborone, Botswana to Namibia
The flight to Namibia was quick. The descent provided a breath-taking spectacle; part Kalahari, part sparse woodland, part "lawd this is Lion King". The runway was so different from the conventional - akin to a sandy bush path morphing gradually into single lane motorway with forest on either side.
My complaints to Elder fell on deaf ears - he was helpless and quivered in fear as I vented my frustration (he did offer me a cup of tea on my arrival - wish I had taken it up) Elder couldn't even provide a candle as he had no matches "no fire, speak to Chief tomorrow"
It was late, I was completely exhausted having been on the road four days crossing four countries and many borders - this was Planes, Trains and Automobiles the Reboot. I was Steve Martin and these issues were a euphemism for John Candy.
I'll face the 'Chief' in the morning I sighed and retired into the darkness.
On arrival we walked up the hill from Seentraal Motors (Shell Garage) on Piet Retief Street to the Methodist School on the corner where a fleet of minibuses were loading for the South Africa/Lesotho border (ZAR15) - Speed limits in South Africa is 100Km per hour and boy do these motorists fly! The young lady I met on the coach, Tado was heading in the same direction and effectively became my guide circum-navigating me through the menagerie of many stops and starts.
We disembarked at Maseru Bridge Entry Post and walked the few metres to have our passports checked and stamped before walking across the Bridge to the other side for the same proceedure with the Lesotho Immigration. The last time I experienced this was almost 16 years ago at the US Canadian Border in Buffalo. Marjorie and I were attempting to cross into Canada visiting Niagara Falls. I was arrested by the Border Police for forgetting my passport.
This time no such thing.
Flight to Bloemfontein was swift
(Mango Air - no frills no thrills)
On arrival I was surprised at the size of
Bram Fischer International, considering the town's significant role within the country.
The City itself was founded by
Major H.D Warden, British resident of the area between the Orange and Vaal rivers.
In 1854, it became capital of the new Boer Republic, the Orange Free State. Following the Union in 1910, Bloemfontein became - and remains - the judicial capital of South Africa, an oddly provincial town with imposing
public buildings and museums.
The Lusaka bound flight was not exactly full and I had free reign of the rear of the plane. I settled for an aisle seat on an empty row. However as my luck would have it, seated across from me was a fairly elderly woman who immediately leaned across and introduced herself, "My name's Denise Gardner, what's yours?" Oh lawd I exclaimed internally, this is going to be one very long flight!
Denise, York born and bred had eloped to Zimbabwe with her husband (now deceased) in the early Sixties. Her husband she says "was born in 1936, the day a British player (Fred Perry) first won a Wimbledon title and died (77 years later) on the very day a Brit won it for the second time (Andrew Murray) in 2013. She misses her husband (Colin) terribly but was determined to live the rest of her life to the fullest. She said she was forever seeking adventures and travelled a fair bit. When she discovered what my profession was, she became very excited. She had an opinion about the state of the industry in Zimbabwe. It wasn't a good one. "Very unprofessional" she claimed, "a bit amdram, there isn't even a National Theatre - but the ballet is very good" she went on.
She disclosed she was firm friends with Esther Rantzen dating back to her 'That's Life' days. "Whenever she's in Zim she always looks me up, though I have not seen her in a while" she added, "it was when she was doing her programme 'holiday memoirs' when we last saw each other". I'm thinking that was quite an age ago.
"Whenever you're back in Harare, don't even think about booking a hotel,
bring your wife over to stay at mine"
"You do know why there's been several hours delays on the flights recently across the ZimZam airpace don't you?" I nodded "That Yemen excuse is a disgrace, I tell you." Dis-Grace, get it? Get it?" Actually, no I didn't. Denise went on to share a well-known rumour that Robert Mugabe's wife 'First Lady Grace Mugabe' had been battling a long-term illness and have been receiving treatment in Dubai. Her trips abroad were customarily preceded by Harare's runway being closed for her exclusive use. Hence the knock on effect on other flight schedules.
Unbelievable! Zimbabwe the basket of Africa indeed.
Denise's parting advise to me as we landed went a bit like this
"Remember Femi, not to get too comfortable with the Africans. You may be Black but you're British through and through" What a character!
We landed in Lusaka. Denise and other Dubai bound passengers remained onboard the Emirates plane, whilst the rest of us disembarked.
A Rastafarian was at the reception desk pleading for 'spray' on my arrival. Several hours later I realised the significance of that request.
I experienced an unfortunate delay checking in due to an oversight by the management.
This was swiftly resolved and I was booked into a double bedroom with an impressively huge mosquito framed net hovering above the bed. The net made absolutely no difference and how I wish I had asked for some spray too. I was bitten mercilessly through the night.
I was a couple hours early for my flight and the main arrival departure lounge (a shoebox) was empty, save for a small tourist information office covered by the delightful Mantahli.
Mantahli worked for the Lesotho Tourist Development Corporation (she too thought I was American, and said I gave all Nigerians a good name. Mad!). She kept me company right up to my departure talking me through the exquisite geographical history of the country (all the bits skipped over earlier at Basotho Hat).
Sunday 29 March 2015
Johannesburg to Gabarone, Botswana
Flight to Gaborone was straight forward. Botswana's airport competes with South Africa's Bloemfontein for most imaginative exterior so far. The Botswana currency is the Pula - also stronger than the Rand. I exchanged enough to get me into town. Max my taxi driver and fixer wanted P100 from me. He had quoted the bloke ahead of me (flown in to look at the country's IMF) P150 so I shrewdly jumped into his cab paid Max P50!
The Gabarone Hotel sits smack bang in the heart of the city's industrious Bus Rank.
A strategic spot and gateway to local and national commerce. I couldn't have chosen a much better and central location. The building itself is a hotchpotch of service provisions; a church, a casino, conference centre, ballroom for Wedding receptions, birthday parties and of course lodgings for its guests.
Tuesday 31 March 2015 - Johannesburg
My third and final visit to Johannesburg was pretty uneventful.
Of course it was, I was in transit (Gabarone, Botswana to Windhoek, Nambia)
Here I make put in abeyance my next African country - Lesotho
Lesotho is the second country in the 5460 series via Bloemfontein, South Africa.
It was a brisky early start packing and whizzing out of Little Scotia Guest House.
Skipped Breakfast, Markson on Reception assisted enormously with checkout.
I miss initial train from Rondebosch Station and being a Sunday the next one was always going to take a long while.
I reached the famous Civic Centre in good time and topped up my CitiCard before hitting Cape Town International ahead of the desks closing. Phew!
My first impression of this novel side to South Africa was comforting.
Like Bloemfontein, Johannesburg is awash with Black people holding their own.
Like Cape Town the poverty and homelessness is evident
(body bag shrouds a homeless man serving a midday siesta)
We reached a small district on the outskirts of Maputo with signs to Bella Vista and Salamanga. It was beginning to feel and look different already - the buildings, the nightlife, the people, the children - playing safely under streetlights and the sky lit moon.
Mozambique - you are bliss
On arrival in Johannesburg from Zambia,
it was straight to bed, Botswana in the morning.
A scholar Dr. Siame had found out that the Bemba term 'uku tunkumana' about two thousand miles away South of Egypt may have descended from the name Tunka Men the name of the ancient kingdom of Sudan suggesting a connection between the Bemba of Zambia people and Ancient Egypt.
We were stopped at a police checkpoint, our luggage searched, passports and visas checked then moved on. The driver drops me somewhere near the top of the hill bearing Av Karl Marx - he has no change so I break 200 Meticais purchasing 2 jumbo sized pears for 50! I begin the mile long descent circumnavigating sand, litter and call girls.
Twenty minutes later I locate the obscure dòorway to the MozGuest Residence. Outside sits a vagrant who points the way up. A bolted door opens and a teenage looking concierge ironically named Elder (Anosef) attends to me - he doesn't speak a word of English, only Portuguese and communicates with me via a translation app on his laptop. He checks me into a basic single room. No TV, no tea or coffee.
As he shuts the door behind me on cue...... power shut down.... no electricity!
Saturday 11 April 2015
Lagos, Nigeria to Casablanca, Morocco
Not only is the airport insanely tiny, it's also in the middle of nowhere. Hence the plethora of Car hire franchises there to greet you on arrival. Ignoring the over zealous Taxi drivers, I made a B-line for Arthur, who'd just picked up two English students visiting Bloem Uni (another prominent town feature). Arthur was loading the boot - I sidled up to him and whispered in a heavy Naija accent "whatever they're paying, accept half from me and I'll not say a word". Arthur obliged and off we sped towards the city. (South African drivers by the way are daredevils in disguise behind the wheel)
Sunday morning renders Bloemfontein a ghost town. Not a soul in sight, save for a Meerkat seen dashing across the renowned Nelson Mandela Way. Enroute there were signposts to Maseru my final destination, and it was all getting exciting knowing that in less than 24 hours from now I'd be in Lesotho:
It was still pouring 'cats and dogs' - but I made it the to the Hat where a kind lady talked me through the Country's heritage, history and current affairs.
Apparently the current ruling Government was in limbo having recently formed a coalition. The previous cabinet had been resolved and the country after many months was still waiting for who and what portfolios were to distributed to the many factionsin the multi-party led Government. No single majority hence policy decisions more complex to reach
More fascinating for me however, was the fact that Lesotho was one of the three remaining monarchy on the continent. I was visiting the other two (Swaziland and Morocco) in the next couple of weeks.
Sunday 22 March 2015 - Cape Town to Bloemfontain (Fountain of Flowers)
Manzini to Maputo was going to cost ZAR90. Down to my last stash of SA currency, I was going to require Moza cash on my arrival.
I approached our driver and he obliged.
The official exchange rate for the Mozambique Meticais was 2.9 to ZAR1. The driver had his own thoughts and offered 2.8.
Friday 27 March 2015
Maputo, Mozambique to Harare, Zimbabawe
Fell asleep listening to Question Time podcast. Great night sleep, less mosquitos though Rui attempted to get me out of bed at 5am only to tell me that water had resumed normal service. Breakfast was swift during which I booked my returned flight to Gaborone, Botswana from Johannesburg. It was originally intended to be a road trip, however logistically it wasn't going to work as the 12 hour round trip would throw my Namibia connection into jeopardy - road was the cheaper option but definitely not worth the risk.
Rui was full of apologies on my way out and remarked that he was looking forward to reading my comments online. Rui hoped I'd return. Nothing against Rui but it'll have to be a strong lead offer in a Blood Diamonds sequel that'll lure me back to this God forsaken country. Shio!
As I made my way towards Estacao de Comboios to catch the 9.35am to Maputo International I took stock of the day ahead of me....
3 countries in 1 day?
Am I insane?
I waited almost half an hour for the 66. My oblivion to the Portuguese language was killing me as only 3 in 10 people spoke English in Maputo and this morning my 'deficiency' almost dented the 'mission'.
Basically I got on the wrong bus. I was halfway across the Maputo plains enroute to Albazine when it suddenly occurred to me "wait a minute, I'm sure my research books said something about the airport being uniquely placed within the city. We'd be on the road now almost half an hour!" I whipped out my phone, text scribed 'Aeroporto' and showed it to the guy sitting next to me. We'd gone too far. The bus had skipped the Aeroporto route. Struggling with my rucksack (which was passed out of the window) I got off at the next junction and joined another bus heading back in the opposite direction.
I arrived at the airport an hour ahead of time. However my noon flight to Harare had been postponed til 4.30pm. Damn!
Dilemma lockdown. I had a connecting flight from Harare, Zimbabwe to Lusaka, Zambia scheduled for 6.50pm - I had only 45mins between landing and getting to the gate. Plus my East Africa 5460 being at stake considering I had forked out £159 to fly to Zimbabwe in the first place!
I explained my dilemma to the South African Airlines ground staff, and damage limitation went into overdrive. First of all my luggage was checked all the way through to Lusaka, Zambia. Secondly I was checked in online to save me standing in line at Zimbabwe's Harare Airport for the same purpose. Understandably they were in no position to help delay the Lusaka flight to accommodate my 5460 challenge. So I began to strategize.
Meanwhile the SAA team (discreetly) began to speculate the real reason behind flight delay. Paul, one of the senior operatives at Maputo International and a Zimbabwean by birth was simply amazing. He gave me exclusive passage to the Flamingo 'Executive' Lounge where I sat eat and drank how to get into Mugabe County.
I acquired the front seat next to Tengetile Sicebile (Tsholo Tee Tee Habile), a young Trainee Nurse heading home to Manzini on University vacation. She instantly became my new Swaziland buddy, a resource for vital Swazi information.
Tengetile was a single mother who's unique tale of parenthood was inspirational - having to give up her child to her 'in-laws', and forever facing the perennial challenge of being dutiful to her estranged partner. Her saga was heartbreaking but I admired her strength and courage.
Saturday 4 April 2015 - Lagos, Nigeria
Long day ahead tomorrow....
early night required
Did you know that due to the country's high altitude, Lesotho's natural air and water is the purest in the Continent? Lesotho is the only independent state in the world that wholly lies above 1,000 meters (1,400 to be exact) above sea level.
The most I could do with the rest of my day was pack in a quick stroll along Independence Avenue and pop into the local Super Mart for a local meal. Thereafter I retired to bed, looking forward to the day ahead.
My final landmark was one of Maputo's most imposing buildings.
The Train Station (Estacao de Comboios) may look familiar to many visitors having appeared in the film 'Blood Diamonds', starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. It was designed by Eiffel and an associate, although Eiffel had never visited Mozambique. Its turn-of-the-century pillars, verandas, dome and wrought-iron lattice work are a joy to behold.
Girls dropped off at Rise and Shine and we reached African Footprints Lodge minutes later. The reception was an oddly conceived and positioned hut besides the main building.
A cleaner called away from duties attended to me and what ensued was my voyage's first mini drama. There was a small issue about paying extra for breakfast in the morning - but I have paid for an all inclusive package. Cue chain smoking hell raising Brenda. Yee! Oh lawd.... I met my maker. Brenda took no prisoners and possessed the look of thunder. "I don’t care what it says on your piece of paper - what kind of business do you think we are running giving away free WIFI and Breakfast? There is free nothing......" She went on and on. It was all resolved...... eventually. "Okay I will give you Yoghurt and Biscuit in the morning I am not cooking for you, okay?" I retired to my room to unpack. There was more drama to follow later that afternoon, all too overwhelming to include here - it will be 'no holds barred' in a few years from now when the 'play' is written. A brief stroll into town followed returning swiftly to Lodge in time for the Chelsea Hull, Liverpool Man Utd games.
On the airport departure concourse, I literally had just a few seconds to pay for a Zimbabwean newspaper from a news stand in South Africa Rand (and receive Zim currency change in return). A quick step outside for a hasty shot of the Harare International Airport Control Tower and a mad dash back in to pick up my boarding card from the Check-In desk.
Lawd Jesus! It was closed. Huh?
I noticed a few passengers had purchased crates of eggs and loaded them on board to cross the border. Could it be poultry is cheaper or of better quality this end than in Mozambique?
I was up by 3am - Lamunu (part of the Easy franchise of hotels) was basic, comfortable and with days to come prove pretty reliable. The helpful receptionist in mapping out JoBurg, advises me against the MetroRail and highly recommends the Gautrain (pronounced with a 'Ha' followed by a guttral sound prior to the 'train' bit)
I venture out to soak up the impressive city, catch the Gautrain (their Gold Card works like our Oyster) from Johannesburg Park Station to Sandton (did a reece on the elusive Transmagnific Coach service which I later abandon).
I calculated that my overall sojourn continues across further Southern African regions, such as Bloemfontain and Johannesburg, and that in fact the latter was to serve as a conduit to many neighbouring countries targeted along the way. It made sense to collapse my entire SA expedition under this segment, and pick up with Lesotho straight after the many detours and returns.
Zambia and I were going to get on just about fine. The mosquitos were a pain in the jacksy but it be fair to say, where Zambia pose challenges, Zambia goes a fair distance in resolving them.
Cape Town March 2015
2.30pm - we were off. I asked Tengetile if she knew where in Mbabane, Eden Guest Lodge was (my crib for the night). She certainly did and warned me that it was located off Malagwane Hill, one of the most dangerous corners on the MR3 motorway. It was a notorious deathtrap which had claimed hundreds of lives in the last decade. She advised, considering the time of the night, to grab a Taxi for ZAR30-40 from the City Centre. We race down many motorways, cruised past countless city malls, crossed many rivers and hit numerous twin towns including Kensington, Balmoral, Belfast, Redhill, Amsterdam, Carolina and Waverley. Carolina struck me as a small community town with a peaceful demeanour going for it, almost reminiscent of a daytime Wakefield in West Yorkshire. We were fast approaching Oshoek Border Post (South Africa side of Swazi) despite the mad sign-posting with its erratic mileage calculation. On reaching the Border we disembarked to process the prerequisite Passport checks - very laid back at this port I have to say.
Thursday 2 April 2015 - Windhoek, Namibia to Cape Town
Been up since 2.30am doing various paperwork and catching up with outstanding British TV. Picked up breakfast pack, checked out then headed out the door. Within 10mins a dodgy cab pulls up beside me, the driver leans across and asks how much I was prepared to pay to be driven to the airport. I threw a ridiculous sum at him. He converses with a shifty bloke sitting at the back of the taxi. He accepts offer and pops open the boot. I close it and tell him I'd changed my mind. There was something not quite right about this mofo. 30 minutes later another taxi pulls up. It's empty and feels safe. We haggle and he finally agrees to do the long distance gig (37Km) to Hosea Kutako International Airport for NAD220. The journey time takes just under half an hour. I check my rucksack straight through to Heathrow (God help me on that score).
On my way to the departure gate I couldn't help but notice a young girl sat by herself weeping quietly into a handkerchief. I approached her and asked after her welfare and if she needed help. She responded that she was okay but I knew otherwise. I deduced she was German from her accent and though her English was frail, she was able to share very clearly, her misfortune. She had been duped by a bogus 'German' online airline agency and 'sold' a fake return ticket to Cape Town. She had obviously approached the check-In desk hoping to catch a morning flight to South Africa. Only to be told that agency, airline and flight details were all non-existent. She was gutted to have fallen victim to the fraudulent company as it had severe ramifications for the next few weeks. I couldn't really do anything for her. As I left to board my plane, she thanked me for the consolation and conveyed that she felt strong enough to plot her next move.
There was a pungent stench in the room which on entering the bathroom I discover came directly from the toilet..... no water.
I was in town for a couple of days so I chose my first day to cross the walkway to the City Mall to gain further insight into the pulse of its people. I meet Kenny a jovial cab driver who I book to pick me up at 6.15am Tuesday morning.
I purchased the local paper and postcards then made my way to the town post office along the famous Kingsway Road - which welcomed King George VI and young daughter Elizabeth to Lesotho in the late 50s. The clerk at the counter was shocked when I told her I was Nigerian. "You look and talk like an American." Huh! Remember folks, my accent throughout 5460 so far had been a blend of Britico Naija.
Whilst writing out my cards at the counter I was approached by the security guard who without initiating dialogue merely warned that as I was 'taking far too long with business', he'll remove me if I 'tried to harm' him. My belly laugh shook the building. Nevertheless I got the message, promptly sped up my writing before grabbing some Maseru street food. I headed straight to Moshoeshoe 1 International to catch my evening flight to Johannesburg.
Thursday 12 March 2015
Personal Ambition Set
Visit all 54 countries in Africa before 60
Monday 31 October 2022
So today begins my first road trip adventure! Seems so long ago (a week ago now) I remember the Intercape Coach trip (ZAR306) from Tourist Centre Bloemfontein vividly, as the weather was intolerable (heavy rain).
Manzini is 36 kilometres from Mbabane, and King Tswati III International Airport (the sole elusive airport so far) is 89 kilometres from Mbabane.
With all of South Africa almost conquered and logged, we step back in time and focus on my last city in the country before my crossing into Lesotho.
Welcome to Bloemfontain
We arrived at the Swazi/Moza (Mhlumeni/Goba) border post at 7.50pm - what followed next was truly unfathomable. Sulieman the French Morroccan gathered up all our passports and walked us all through in uneventful breathtaking minutes. We were sorted in a jiffy. We got talking about mobile phones. He noticed my Samsung Mega and asked what model it was. He had a Samsung Note 5 and was surprised it was drawfed by mine! We moved on to Arsene Wenger who he thought managed Liverpool - I corrected him. He revealed that Wenger was from the French German border hence the name Wenger. He remarked how highly regarded he was in France. Sulieman was a excitable tall fella and loved talking about his home town Casablanca. "I'll be there in a couple of weeks" I remarked "albeit for four hours" - he yelped! Sulieman switched to ambassador. Do you know there are only three surviving monarchy ruling systems left in Africa? The Kingdoms of Swaziland, Lesotho and Morocco. Of course I did hence doing all three within the incoming weeks!
We drove through Constantia stopping on the border to buy boxes of Seedless grapes. As we drew closer to Muizenburg, we stopped by Sunrise Beach to peruse the Surfing Capital of South Africa from a distance. We arrived in Muizenburg and saw enough of the resort to conclude I'll return one day with the family. On our return to Rondebosch, we climbed Boyes Hill viewing Devil's Peak in the background and the lushful and expansive Newlands Vineyards beneath it. A great day.
Saturday 28 March 2015 - Lusaka to Johannesburg
My son Oluwashayo turns 9 today, and Africa's most populous nation Nigeria goes to the polls to elect a new President. Breakfast was lush. The hotel itself had a deceptive ambiance about it, a welcoming foyer, a pool bar area and a breakfast lounge partially open to the elements. The Chef was on point too.
After my poolside breakfast I checked out of Lusaka Hotel and made my way through torrential rain to a nearby Bureau de Change. I needed Kwacha, and I've arrived in Zambia across a period when the Kwacha is stronger than the South African Rand (1 to .67).
I dubbed the driver who eventually drove me to the airport 'Kwacha Man'. He was vehement that his fare was going to be K200 and was keen to drive me round Lusaka til I landed a good rate.
We found one and KM capitulated at K150.
We moved on from the border post into Mozambique at 8.15pm. Maputo remained 42Km away. These roads are rough Meeeen! We only did 2km in 10mins!
Monday 23 March 2015 - Bloemfontein to Maseru, Lesotho (via Ladybrand)
Woke up to the news of Lee Kuan Yew's (man who built Modern Singapore and its ex-Prime Minister) demise. He was 91. During his reign and thereafter Singapore experienced the lowest crime rate globally. He was an Iron PM epitomised the Rule Of Law. A great strategist of Asian affairs and an influential force of economic and political stability.
R.I.P Good sir.
Water restored, I packed and made my exit heading down Malagwane Hill with a view to hitch-hiking into Mbabane town.
I soon hit MR3 Motorway
Major scare on the outskirts of Siteski/Mzilikani when bus abruptly stops in the middle of nowhere. Vehicle did not have the capacity to mount the steep hill. After several attempts, the minibus finally accumulated the prerequisite horsepower and surmounted potholes and speed bumps. A couple of kilometres later we turn into the Maputo highway - smooth like a baby's backside!
March 2015 - Baxter Theatre
I joined Tengetile and other awaiting passengers on the Swazi side (Ngwenya). Among them were a motley crew of 'Swazi gyal dem', who had caught wind of my Naija origins. The girls were quite gregarious in their approach and wanted to know where in Mbabane I was residing so that they 'could come and join me with some Nigerian brodas to have fun'. There was a fair amount of giggling - always a good sign that our nubian 'Swaz' were hyper mischievous and potentially up to no good.
Mbabane was another 24km from the Ngwenya but characteristically closer than expected. We arrived a little after 7pm and I bade Tengetile farewell.
The Motor Park I was heading to was located behind the MetroRail section of Park Station on Upper Ground. More minibuses were lined up to multifarious locations and as per usual the park was awashed with vendors selling food, drink, belts, watches, books, belts etc.
I found my Mbabane bound bus at the bottom end of the garage. Next to it were a couple of men collecting fares and checking Passports. Mine was added to a pile on a table and I was urged to book my place in the bus.
A single day in Johannesburg is never enough to cover all cultural highlights. However as this was my first pit stop in the commercial capital, I began to make an itinerary ahead of my next arrival.
Must get to the legendary
Market Theatre by all means!!
Cultural appetite met, I return to the ranch to retire and plan Nigeria and Morocco.
On the Maseru side we hailed a taxi and Tado advised that I drop off at the famous Basotho Hat building (Tourist Information Centre) - named after the Conical straw hat (the Mokorotio) part of the national dress of Lesotho.
The hat is worn to accompany a colourful blanket (the Kobo or Tambo). It was still pouring 'cats and dogs' - but I made it the to the Hat where a kind lady talked me through the Country's heritage, history and current affairs.
Thursday 2 April 2015 - Cape Town
Smooth arrival into Cape Town from Windhoek, Nambia.
Fiona Burtt picks me up and drive to Rondebosch to pick up Stanley before heading to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for a delightful lunch. It was here the seeds to Fiona's 50th (January 22nd 2016) was planted - she is the DonDada of Fantabulous Parties having recently organised Bishop Desmond Tutu's 80th Birthday.
Post lunch we embarked on a mini walk round the spectacular and enchanting grounds to the garden. Now I'm not renowned for having a passion for botany however on this rare occasion I was suitably smitten by my surroundings. As we mounted the Boomslang Canopy Walkway and followed it round, I felt 50 feet tall. Ahead of me, and much below, sat much of Cape Town - quite thrilling perusing the town and its surrounding mankind. On our descent we came across a patch of purple undergrowth, yielding divine purple flowers. Crowing up above were the biggest winged birds I've ever seen (Egyptian Geese, Fiona called them).
But alas, all good things must come to an end, we had to leave as I had a flight to catch. I did wish I had more time to spend in this exquisite forest of 'perfect dreams, it was time to head back to the airport.
Checking in was dull - the BA bag drop queues were endless and it took ages before I faced the mandatory security checks. It was after going safely through that I was approached by an officer alerting me that I had an unchecked bag waiting for me at the check-In desk. Excuse me?
Earlier anxieties re my Namibia luggage were duly grounded..... and so it was too! In the Lost and Found department. It had been doing the rounds on the conveyor belt whilst I was being wined and dined at Kirstenbosch. The Gods were certainly on my side and though I now had extra hand luggage, I was thankful it was securely accompanying me to the next stage.
Friday 27 March 2015 - Harare, Zimbabwe
We boarded at 4pm, took flight at 4.15pm and landed in Harare 5.30pm. On arrival the tannoy announced my Lusaka bound flight was delayed
a further half hour. So far I was winning.
I dashed towards Immigration filled in a Visa request form (I made up some BS about a brief meeting with a theatre director on the arrivals forecourt). I came face to face with two female passport control officials.
The questions volleyed over.
"What kind of Visa?" The Univisa (Kaza) please.
"Theatre director, what does this mean?
Explain? (Gate closes in 45)
As I waffled through an excuse, a visa was being stuck and stamped into my passport.
But it was a Zimbabwean Visa and not the requested dual purpose kind which included Zambia. I questioned the $5 hike too (U$D55). They smirked back in response.
6pm - Mugabe's cohorts were having a field day.
"You should have said you wanted a Kaza Visa, why are you lying? There's nothing we can do passport has been stamped and processed"
However if I insisted - they'd require an additional U$D50 for a UniVisa issue.
All this under the watchful eye of another female supervisor. Damn, these girls were good!
I declined lining their hipsters, I grabbed my passport and rushed through into the Zimbabwean air.
Wednesday 1 April 2015
A relaxed day. Part lie-in, part excursion.
Smooth arrival in Cape Town. Breeze through Passport control and Customs
We boarded and departed at 6.30am for Ladybrand.
I stayed awake for most of the journey if only to capture the serene countryside and the Maloti range of Mountains, (including the enchanting Black Mountain)
which lined our route within Lesotho.
The rainy weather limited my scope for sightseeing, nevertheless I had accumulated enough evidence to corroborate my short stay. And after ninety minutes of surveying the immediate vicinity I was ready to hit the road back to the airport. Kwacha Man got me toa my rendezvous ahead of schedule but on arrival and much to my despair my original credit card flight booking hadn't gone through, therefore I had to make a fresh payment - all $270 of it. And as if to rub it in, the cashier mentions I reminded her of Chris Rock! #random
I declined purchasing postcards in Zambia - far too extortionate - a dollar each! I'll double up on the ZimZim ones)
This is the first in three stop-overs in JoBurg (Jozi to the trendies) and I needed to maximise my hours exponentially. This extraordinary city has a High Speed train (15 minutes) direct to the heart of the Metropolis - somehow I was persuaded not to use it by my Taxi driver Joseph who was finishing off his shift. He wanted ZAR350 for the door to door service to Hotel Lamunu in Braamfontein. I offered him ZAR200 - and off we went with Police Captain Geminia as co-passenger. It transpired that the duo were inseparable friends. The Police Captain was undergoing a relationship crisis and asked for my wisdom ("you look like a respectable gentleman". Far from me to oblige considering my chequered past but I gave it my best shot. Turned out she'd done a Lisa Stansfield and has finally ended up with a guy she first met 40 years ago in Secondary school. I just had to laugh. Sounds familiar? Geminia loved my 'building solid foundation from hurled stones' anecdote. 20 minutes later I was 'home' at Lumuna.
All motor garages across the world characterises its nation through its activity and people. Mbabane certainly was no different. Mbabane's was the hub of the capital without a shadow of a doubt.
The pulse, the rhythm the heartbeat, the optimism and the pride was all here. Hawkers, entrepreneurs, students and various communters from all walks of life, blended and parted in harmony.
Friday 27 March 2015 - Lusaka, Zambia
Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, Lusaka is a fair distance away from the City Centre. In fact it takes 25 minutes by night and a good 40 minutes during the day.
On arrival I was besieged by many Taxi drivers determined to take advantages of the distance quoting exorbitant fares into town. Blissfully, angels were dispatched to my rescue and the Intercontinental Hotel Shuttle saved me a fortune and delivered me to my doorstep, The Lusaka Hotel.
I make my way up the long winding road uphill towards Robert Mugabe Avenue and the looming Statue of Sam Nujoma, first President and founding father of Namibia.
Across the road stretched the Cathedral of Christuskirche. Adjacent on the road heading back into the city centre was the Goethe Institute, monuments commemorating Freedom fighters of Namibia and the teeming tourist segment of Independence Ave.
Most extraordinary was finally meeting the Sellos (Fiona's family).
Tuesday 31 March, 2015 - Gaborone, Botswana to Namibia
Smooth albeit very very early taxi ride to Seretse Khama International Airport.
Kenny was on time (the complete antithesis to the inbound journey) and patient enough to permit the occasional tourist indulgence.
Wednesday 25 March 2015 - Mbabane to Manzini, Swaziland
No surprise then that I slept right through the night. One of the perilous thoughts running through my head on arrival the night before seeing all doorways and windows open to the Swazi outback, was that bedrooms would be vulnerable to reptiles and all kind of God's creepy crawlies. Safe in the morning my perennial fear was allayed - the lump in my throat wasn't a cockroach but the beginning of the realisation of what I had accomplished so far.
Femi elufowoju, jr
Performer & Director
I am sure from the little I saw of Downtown Lusaka it was enough to give me an idea of what the rest of the capital was like. Unlike Mozambique where the colonial and war ravaged past dictated the aura of its present, Lusaka could still hold its own. And though it remains an impoverished hub for many, the instinct for survival felt more fervent and progressive.
Thursday 26 March 2015 - Maputo, Mozambique
I woke up at 5.30am in a cold sweat. I realised I had been too shattered the night before to even remember shutting the door - it was wide open. Surprisingly my wallet and passport remained intact on the bedside table. I was stripped of my travelling garbs and covered in mosquito bites. The bed too was a puddle of my sweat and small specks of blood from the raging insects.
I could hear voices emanating from the office down the corridor. To my relief electricity and water had been restored overnight though the toilet remained having its plumbing issues. After breakfast I introduced myself to the 'Chief' Rui Raol, a young blinged up suavely dressed man - he initially paced his defence of the lack lustred services from the backfoot. He bemoaned "This is not a hotel it is a Guest House. This is Africa my friend" - Big mistake, anyone who knows me knows that this sort of apathy only riles me even further. I gave him what for - Africa's esteem is disparaged further by irresponsible perpetrators of the 'African' myth. He apologised with a whisper "I am sorry sir. I am not even the manager, just a supervisor. This has been a terrible week for me and the team, there have been far too many complaints from lodgers, a cocktail of bad issues - you are not the first. I am fed up. Please help me get a message to my boss because he doesn't listen to me".
Tuesday 24 March 2015 - Johannesburg to Mbabane, Swaziland
Transmagnific logistics to Swaziland were not favourable i.e travel fare remittance into a Bank account etc. I confided in the receptionist (married to a 'Swazi' and does 'Swazi' almost every fortnight) She advised commuting from the motor garage behind Park Station.
For a measly ZAR210 I could be in Mbabane before nightfall.
Next bus departs 1pm - I had 45mins.
I checked out and made my way down to JPS. Enroute I ventured into a seedy Coach Park teeming with travellers and touts........ it was akin to a motor gateway to the unknown. Power House Cross Border Buses catered for communters travelling long distances to cities as far as Harare, Lusaka, Bulawayo and countless other neighbouring Southern African regions. The depot was characterised by its numerous lines of extra long coaches festooned with destination flags and people spilling out of coach windows and luggage compartments. It was hectic, noisy and I made a quick exit on to Wolmarans St.
Monday 30 March 2015 - Gabarone, Botswana
Never been to a country where everything is so relaxed including its National Security. Within Gaborone rests the seat of Government, and I did things within 'inches' of the President's office that I could of been permanently 'silenced' for.
It's a good 20-30mins stroll from the Bus Rank to the Secretariat district of Gaborone, but boy was it worth it. The sprawling Ministries, Governmental departments and indeed the President's office are all laid out within an area in which all walks of life are able to walk by unchallenged.
The House of Assembly overlooks a rock garden and the inimitable Statue of the Country's national hero Sir Seretse Karma. Across the road from the Parliamentary building sits the British Council.
On reaching Manzini the last departing minibus for Mozambique was gradually filling up. With me in the bag, we were short of 6 passengers.
I found a small heritage shop selling postcards and after a customary visit to Swaziland's answer to Waitrose, I boarded a bus to Manzini (ZAR17) hoping for a connecting vehicle to Maputo, Mozambique.
Off the bookshelf, Manthali picked out her reference point which she later described as her pride and joy - a colourful pictorial hardback written by renowned German Photographer Dirk Schwager.
On my departure Mantahli gifted me a souvenir, the book 'Lesotho, Kingdom in the Sky'. It covered most her earlier cultural highlights and more -It was truly sad to leave having only spent a total of 8 hours on the Basotho Soil.
A fabulous kick start to 5460 and a promising beginning to a love of a Kingdom I'll certainly return to one day.
as are her historical values and indomitable spirit!
The burgeoning love affair with Nation 3 was gradually coming to an end.
Tuesday 24 March 2015 - Johannesburg
The flight into Johannesburg the night before was unreal. A three-man crew manning the tiniest light aircraft ever and the loveliest air hostess from Botswana the 37 passenger plane could wish for.
Av Samora Machel is adjacent to Av Karl Marx so naturally I headed there first. Enroute I was accosted by a security guard for taking pictures of the artwork on the wall of the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism. I told him it was a bit of a contradiction if the country's very remit for celebrating its heritage was also instituting a check on tourists fascination. "I'll arrest you if you choose to continue talking to me" Was it worth it? Nah. I moved on.
Behind us and across the road from the Botanical Gardens of Tunduru was the legendary Iron House. This amazing steel bolted structure was designed by Alexandre Gustav Eiffel (creator of the eponymous Parisian Eiffel Tower fame) in the late-19th century as the governor's residence. (Whip out a camera at your peril). It was transported from the World Exhibition in Paris to Maputo. Understandably it was never inhabited by the governor for the building is not an ideal structure for the hot tropical climate of Maputo. Currently it houses the office of the Museum Department.
I couldn't gain access into the Jardim Tunduru Botanical Gardens as it was temporary closed because of its rehabilitation. However I took solace in the company of the miniature statue of Mozambique's first President, Samora Machel.
Looming up ahead is Independence Square (Praca de Independencia). It is perhaps the first point of visit to the city. Another statute of Samora Machel (four times the size and height of the previous) stands proudly over this well-situated plaza. Across from it is The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The Roman Catholic cathedral was designed by Marcial de Freitas e Costa in an interesting late Art Deco style; he also directed its construction in reinforced concrete which began in 1936.
It was dedicated in 1944.
Visited both the National Art Gallery and the National Theatre of Namibia. The latter was closed. The city boasts several branches of the Namibia Museum - these were all closed too.