Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The first trip

I have to begin by saying that Grant was a Lothario, there is no other way of putting it. Anything that had a vague resemblance to a woman was his and he was lucky enough to be a fairly good looking guy even if I say it myself, so when we arrived at the backpackers to pick up our first three passengers and one of them was a tall slim blond Swedish bird I knew it was going to be a fun business to be involved in. The fact that she was traveling with her boyfriend didn't bother him in the slightest, in fact I think it made it far more interesting. The other guy was a very amiable Irish chap who had only just arrived in SA. Naivety wasn't in our business plan but it should have been as we were constantly amazed by the stupidity of backpackers and their inability to understand the importance of a passport, including one Japanese guy we picked up who on arrival at the first border post produced a photocopy of his passport!!!! so having introduced a policy of asking everyone if they had their passport we then had to start asking to actually see them.

As I said before we wanted to provide an extra special service including all meals, so Ruth and I spent the day preparing home made Pizza and chocolate brownies along with coke, juice and crisps. We had already planed our stops and the first stop was at the Beaufort West Esso garage where we refueled and had a break to eat and drink while changing drivers. The idea was to change drivers every 4 hours and refuel while heading relentlessly north. Having left Cape Town at approximately 4pm we would arrive at the Ramatlabama border post just north of Mafeking 7am. This was our first encounter with them as a bus with passengers even though we had done it once in a car and it was interesting to say the least. The Irish guy who had slept nearly all the way so far, eventually woke up to tell us that he didn't have a passport!!! how the hell he got into SA in the first place I don't know but here he was in the middle of nowhere about to go through the first of many border posts on his Holiday of a lifetime and he had no passport. Our hearts sank and an insight into our future business began to sink in. Fortunately our border post officer was a very attractive and polite woman who we got to know very well over the next three years. The first thing I said to her was "how long did it take you to braid your hair so beautifully" her face beamed and we were all let through without even a glance at the passports, phew. This was only the border out of SA, we had to negotiate the border into Botswana yet, so we hid the guy in the bus, which was not the ideal way to start a legitimate bus company but we had to think on our feet. Once we were in Botswana it was time to have breakfast, so the first town we hit was Labatse, where we stopped at the casino hotel for a slap up full English and a well earned pot of strong black coffee. The passengers were amazed that we were providing so much for them, which to me confirmed that it would all be worthwhile in the end.

This was a very familiar sight in Botswana as we tanked to and fro each week trying to avoid the damn cow's, donkey's, goat's and worst of all people as they wandered from one side of the road to the other depending on their mood and state of mind. Having said that I have a very special place in my heart for Bots, with it's incredibly limited road infrastructure but massive wealth earned from Diamonds, Platinum and Gold mining. It has one of the highest GDP's in Africa yet is riddled with Aids due mainly to the trucks driving through from SA, Namibia and Zimbabwe. If you really want to get a feel for the country then read Alexander McCall Smith and his wonderful series of books telling the tales of Precious Ramotse in the The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Breakfast consumed we were off again heading towards Gaborone and the Francistown, 100k south of the Plumtree Border in to Zimbabwe, nearly there and dreading the crossing with the Irishman. Our first visit to the Botswana side was easy and we managed to get the Irish guy out of Bots with a little help from a US dollar note. The Zimbabwe side was a different situation altogether. Passport no problem, the bus on the other hand, a nightmare. We had researched the all the bureaucracy for these posts with meticulous accuracy but when it comes to Zimbabwe nothing is as it seems. We were held at the post for nearly four hours while Grant and I tried in vain to understand what they wanted. In the end they wanted the engine number of the bus. Grant was crawling underneath and inside to try and find it without success until in frustration I shoved my head right inside the engine and shouted out a number that I had made up in my head, which they accepted without hesitation. so on the first trip we had broken five laws already just to get the passengers to their destination. Driving up to Bulawayo was fantastic and we managed to find a hostel for our passengers who were so grateful they told everyone about us on their travels further north. We knew this because we kept getting various travelers telling us. Our bed for he night was a strange little place called Hitch Haven in the suburbs. Grant and I got completely Hammered on Zambezi at $16 Zim and slept like logs.

Next was to find passengers to go back to Cape Town with.


ExAfrica said...

Back in the day, I could buy with one U.S. dollar:
One Zambezi Lager
One packette of Berkely Cigarettes
& One packette of crisps

And I might even have a bit left over for the tip.

Head of the Family said...

I could buy even more with the Pound. Oh now I can buy even more!!!