Eating Out with Dusty Miller: A long shortest day!

JUNE 21 is the year’s shortest day in the southern hemisphere: the winter equinox. From then days grow longer…warmer…peaking at the longest day, six months later.
My shortest day began when I woke at 4:50 am at Harare’s Rainbow Towers Hotel.
I’d booked an alarm call, to be ready for the purportedly 7am coach to Bulawayo, but have long ceased to trust hotel switchboards in these important matters!
If I’d relied on Protea Hotel OR Tambo waking me, I’d have missed a flight to Durban, almost certainly failing to make an MSC Sinfonia cruise to Mozambique’s Portuguese Islands. Allegedly the phone in my room was faulty!
So, wide-awake in The Kopje at pre-first light, I was already shaved, shampooed, showered, etc when the phone tinkled at precisely 5:30 with my wake-up call; packed and ready for the off when Harvest Garden buffet restaurant opened at 6.
An Afrikaner client paced restlessly outside the eatery, glaring at his watch, muttering he’d normally be on the road by this time on The Rand.
Of course you would Myneer. That’s why we live here!
Van bolted a traditional “English” fried breakfast (US$25) gulping two coffees before gapping. Alone, now, in an enormous echoing empty restaurant, I had cereals, fruit, juice and Marmite toast, with coffee, classed as Continental breakfast, costing US$10.
Other than in Morocco a year ago, I’d never travelled any distance on a bus in four decades in Africa but, car-less after my faithful clunker was totalled: T-boned at 4th and Samora by a callow youth who claimed his brakes (“brain” more like!) failed, I had to make a plan.
I should have known a 7am departure meant Africa time, which subsequently proved a bit more precise than Bulawayo time!
I once waited for a National Express coach at Leeds, coming from North Wales, due to take me to Edinburgh at 11am. At 10:59 there was no sign of it, so I made the mistake of whipping to the Gents. When I emerged at 11 hours 03 seconds, it had been and gone!
The Oxford Coach from Gatwick leaves at 15 minutes to the hour EXACTLY, whether there’s one (or presumably no) passengers aboard or if it’s full! Time-tables must be kept to: difficult when much of the route is M4 motorway!
At 7:04 the coach left a spot where it was being cleaned and stocked with mineral waters and cool drinks moving to a rather grandiosely named Departure Lounge (a cold, glassed-in bus shelter) 100 metres away; pure chaos reigned for the next 20 minutes as tickets were checked and “hold luggage” identity tagged.
I’d been issued with window seat 25 on purchase. This works reasonably well, other than you must walk down the aisle, bent like Quasimodo to spot hidden seat numbers!
A conductor handed out papers: our own NewsDay and the Herald of Total Honesty and we roared into life at 7:37am, meaning City Link coaches are more reliably prompt than the almost always late, unlamented, Air Zimbabwe usually was.
I’m not sure I found a disembodied female voice on the P/A system inviting us to pray with her for a safe, secure trip comforting or worrying!
Three tiny tots competing in the World Screeching Competition I found vexing and, having once endured a similar tournament of tantrums from Heathrow to Togo, potentially grim. But the wee’uns grew bored with bawling by the time we picked up our first (of two) speeding tickets (or did the driver bung bribes?) near Lake Chivero and slept peacefully.
Driving, candidly, faster than I usually do, perched high in the sky in a double-decker Scania Marcopolo bus through choked western suburban rush-hour roads aids appreciation of our city’s huge traffic problems.
Vehicle population must have increased 250-300% in the last few years, but infrastructure hasn’t improved in four decades and there’s been little professional maintenance in the last 32 years.
The tannoy outlined stops and said we should arrive at Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel between 1 and 1:30pm. “Hmmm…” I thought, cynically.
But a five minute comfort break at Kadoma Ranch was just that. We halted to collect pax at Golden Mile, Kwe Kwe for two minutes.
On travelling by Oxford City or National Express in UK, whatever the line was which carried me through the Sahara between Agadir and Marrakech, Morocco, or Greyhound in the US, passengers are severely warned against taking hot, greasy food onto spotless coaches.
Picture my amazement, therefore, when at the final, pull-in, a five minute break at Gweru, the Zimbabwean version of these stern rules clicked in and boxes of Chicken Inn’s finest artery-clogging cholesterol  were delivered to the coach — one per passenger — without being asked for, apparently included in the fare!
I caused a stir by declining this unwanted repast, shuddering as fellow passengers surreptitiously wiped greasy digits on upholstery, many seating areas already ankle-deep in peanut shucks, potato crisp crumbs, sweet wrappers and tissues containing goodness (or badness) knows what: but it did seem half the bus had flu.
We crossed Bulawayo’s municipal boundary at 12:53, reaching our destination at 13:07. Big tick for that! There was the expected chaos de-bussing and retrieving a grip.
The previous day, our Petty Cash Gauleiter sternly admonished me to get receipts for anything spent on this trip. That fell at the first fence as a cabbie dropping me at swish Bulawayo Club had no receipts for a U$2 hop and $1 tip!
Coach fares between Harare and Bulawayo are US$30 single; few people can drive it for that. The trip was comfortably warm on a chilly day. The on-board loo wasn’t working “for sanitary reasons” (apparently they never work), a promised DVD film show (which I’d probably have not watched) was kaput…again, I heard, “as usual”. Cooldrinks and mineral water were served gratis.
They played agreeable CD hits of the 60s-90s at an acceptable volume most of the trip, but I’d urge use of the random shuffle button. One hour seventeen minutes solid of Lionel Richie was a little wearing.
But it might have been worse. Could have been Abba!
(More on Bulawayo in tomorrow’s NewsDay.)
dustym@zimind.co.zw

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