Thursday, 16 February 2012

On to Zambia

Tuesday, 14th February 2012

After a good night's sleep, I got up fairly early, took a very simple breakfast in 'The Warehouse' and re-packed my luggage. I decided to take the 08:15 shuttle bus to the airport, which took less than ten minutes and the driver dropped me off at International Departures.

When I arrived the check-in desk wasn't yet open for my British Airways flight to Livingstone but after a short walk to check out the booking hall of the new Gautrain Station (Sandton in 15 minutes!), staff had arrived and I was swiftly checked in for the 737 flight. With the airport still quiet, security and passport control was painless and I was soon at the oddly-named SLOW Lounge. It titles itself 'The SLOW Lounge for Busy People' so they seem to have embraced the idea of a brief oasis between periods of stress. There were some interesting comments about time carved into the woodwork as you entered. The place was quiet, clean and the staff obliging. Although there was Wi-Fi available and fixed computers, both seemed to need a subscription and, at that time of the morning, it was far too ambitious to consider setting up an account. So I passed the time doing off-line text preparation on my computer.

The Domestic Departure Hall at O. R. Tambo Airport.

At the requested time, I made my way to the Gate. A large departure hall had one wall completely glazed. This wall had a series of doors leading to a number of bus stands. Large airport transfer buses were backing up, loading passengers and taking them to the aircraft. Quite soon, my flight was called so we boarded the bus and, after a little delay waiting for stragglers, set off on one of the airport roads which crossed the apron. After a few hundred yards, we came to a row of smaller aircraft and pulled up beside a 737 which gleamed in the morning sun in its British Airways livery. This part of British Airways is run by Comair Limited.

After a couple of flights in 'Big Jets' the 737 seems rather small. Economy is laid out with 3+3 seating, with a single, central aisle but the first three rows had business seatng arranged 'two and a half'+3. The business seats are a little wider so the group of three seats on the starboard side extends a few inches into the central aisle. To compensate, the seat group on the port side is two business seats with a narrow 'seat space' in between so the central aisle width is maintained, with a slight "dog's leg" through the business section which is scarcely noticed. Flight BA6291 took us to Livingstone in Zambia in about 75 minutes and a pleasant meal was served en route.

Livingstone has a single, long runway set in scrub land. The existing terminal buildings are a little primitive by modern standards but massive building works are in progress. We had a fairly long walk across the apron from the aircraft to the immigration hall. Apparently, you can purchase 'Visa on Arrival' which slowed things down. Four people went through before me and the process involved taking a picture and fingerprints. I only had my picture taken, presumably because my visa had been obtained before I left the U.K. My bags arrived safely at the single, small baggage carousel so I was soon in the arrivals hall, checking the nameboards held by the 'greeters'. None carried the tour operator's name 'Wilderness' or my name so after a few moments of indecision, I asked one of the friendly-looking men. He turned to the car park and bawled a name.

A tall Zambian in a blue 'Thompson Holidays' T-shirt came over. He seemed to be expecting me but said he had some other names to meet, inviting me to sit in the shade of his bus. I preferred to stand in the sun and watch the local dancers and musicians who were performing for the arriving tourists.

Local dancers and musicians performing outside the terminal building at Livingstone, Zambia.

Eventually, the 'Thompson Holidays' guy decided his missing passengers had not arrived on the aircraft so he set off to distribute us amongst various hotels. The airport road was a long, straight tarmac road, carrying little traffic. Workmen were using simple tools to dig out a trench at the side of the road. Further on, men were constructing a shallow 'V' in concrete in the trench, clearly to improve drainage. The airport road met Livinstone's main street at right angles and we made our way past a variety of building styles towards the main hotel area towards Victoria Falls. After dropping off a few passengers at other hotels, we were admitted via a gatehouse to the grounds of the Royal Livingstone Hotel and Zambezi Sun Hotel. At a road island, signs indicated that the road to the left led to the Zambezi Sun so we took the road to the right, passing first a group of giraffe, browsing on the high leaves of the trees and then a small herd of zebra. All the animals were completely nonchalent about the passing bus. Soon, we stopped at the central buildings of the Royal Livingstone Hotel.

More Pictures:

Protea Hotel.
O. R. Tambo Airport.