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Food and Travel: Casino-less Caribbea Bay could do better

A REGULAR put-down from readers who disagree with my rating of (say) a restaurant, hotel, lodge or airline, goes something like:
“Ag, man. But they know you and bend over backwards to make sure everything is fine. You should have been there when we went the next day. The place was a disgrace.”

What they mean is that the one constant and consistent failing in Zimbabwe’s so-called hospitality industry is a total lack of consistency!
Returning from Kariba I found an e-mailed complaint about a “fateful” incident involving Brick and Lace and water at Rainbow Towers, from a keen young wannabe journo who thought we should run a regular column on tourism to keep hotels up to snuff. (She probably fancies writing it!)
I’d no idea what the message meant, but de-briefing the newsroom, established that Brick and Lace were a Jamaican group who’d left Rainbow Towers, due to a lack of water in the hotel in the government-owned high rise building, and booked into Meikles.
The young reporters are excited about the claimed imminent arrival of Senegalese-American singer Akon; an entertainer with apparently a long string of criminal “form” which –– in the good-old bad-old days –– would have seen him automatically barred from this country under the Immigration Act.
But they knew nothing about an “Archbishop Mwale”, whose motorcade, complete with ZRP outriders had just passed me in town. In cloth-of-gold robes and mitre, the purported primate travelled through the CBD, upper body poking through the sun-roof of an obscenely long, wide Hummer, giving the sign of the cross and waving a shepherd’s crook to mystified passers-by, surrounded by scores of balloon-bedecked, but mainly battered, clunkers, noisily sounding horns.
The Hummer was sign-written “Happy Birthday Archbishop Mwale!” and cops let this cavalcade sweep through busy road junctions against red lights.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have suspected a university students’ rag prank. But do our students, these days, have rags? Play pranks? Or pull stunts? I hear they’re far too busy selling their bodies and substances controlled under the Drugs Act to get involved in something as immature as charity rags!
Anyway, who is “Archbishop” Mwale? In which church was he consecrated? Where, When and by Whom? And why do police apparently kow-tow to him?
I digress.  The only thing I’m likely to have in common with temporarily unwashed Brick and Lace was a total lack of water at Caribbea Bay, Kariba, last week and, YES, they knew who I was. I’d been invited. It was a “familiarisation visit” before a houseboat cruise (“educationals” the hospitality trade calls Press freebies.)
And if African Sun bent over backwards to impress me and my fellow travellers, I’d hate to see how they look after ordinary guests or indeed what they’d do if they really wanted to vex someone!
I assume staff had all had in-depth training in full-on, in-your-face, over familiarity? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want servility in the 21st century and didn’t enjoy its occasional appearance in the 20th. Civility: yes; servility: no!
Friendliness from waiters, chefs, barmen, porters and room cleaners is welcome. But all members of the Caribbea Bay staff with whom we came into contact were on the grossly impudent, seriously unfunny, side of damned cheeky.
I’d have sworn the duty manager was under the influence of something much stronger than tea or tobacco and looked to be unsuccessfully fighting sleep.  They changed my allocated room twice while we had drinks at one of the swimming pools with water the colour of pea soup, which couldn’t be used. Eventually I was in a grand well-appointed room, but as far as possible from the people I travelled with… bar…dining room, reception etc.
Getting to it took me past a second pool which (it may be coincidental) was as empty as it was during my last visit, during the humorously-named General Election. The kids were told they could cool-off on the water slide: at $2 a head and “…oh, it shuts in half an hour!”
Please, this was the Zambezi Valley…at the start of summer… after an almost 400km drive!
Two hours later all taps dried up. It was a municipal problem we heard. The resort town was totally dry. Nothing could be done!
We abutted a lake the size of Lesotho. Its waters lapped lazily, about seven metres from my stoep.
Have African Sun not heard of pumps?
Gardens are lush, verdant: sprinklers sibilantly swish life-giving water over indigenous and exotic plants 24/7.
Why not fit a non-return valve and hook-up irrigation plumbing to the water reticulation?
Couldn’t management have let diners, folk in bars or in their rooms know what the problem was?
Staff members were reportedly seen taking water pails to rooms. Not a drop came near mine.
I tried to boil a mug of shaving water. The new looking- (and smelling) tea kettle was kaput! Thinking the socket may be faulty, I unplugged the TV to try that one. Still no luck and the telly lost its very limited channels: permanently.
Water began to trickle slowly, around dawn, but on checking out three hours later, hadn’t filled the WC cistern on the ground floor.
To avoid theft by baboons, or others, we’d emptied boat and trailer of steal-ables, but gave up trying to get porters to help re-load the gear. We saw them hanging around the bar, talking animatedly, but no one was keen to do the jobs they’re paid for!
There’d been more staff than guests at a very ordinary breakfast, but it took seven separate and increasingly cross requests to get paper napkins. At dinner, the mixed grill wasn’t very mixed; steak was gochaed.
(I can’t say for sure that “something” in the breakfast gave a 15-year-old a bad bout of Lobengula’s Revenge but, four hours after saying that baked beans and beef sausage on the buffet “tasted funny”, he took up an almost permanent position on one of our houseboat’s only two toilets for two days.)
A waitress brought the bill, demanding payment for kids’ cooldrinks, while we were still on toast-marmalade-and-coffee.
I’ve often stayed at great well-run African Sun properties across the sub-continent, but –– sadly –– Caribbea Bay (now without its eponymous casino) could — and should –– do MUCH better.


Dusty Miller

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