Saturday, December 15, 2007

O R Thambo...

Its not that I believe you have to be stupid to work in an airport but I am becoming quite convinced that in order to work at O R Thambo you do need to be on the wrong side of 70 when it comes to an IQ.

In Cape Town I find getting on and off an airplane, checking in, collecting baggage etc. to be on par with the rest of western civilization (possibly the East too but I have not traveled there and would hate to surmise). But get yourself flown up to the “Big Smoke” and wheels fall off! (Possibly literally if you flying Nationwide).

My last visit to ORT (sounds like the name belongs in a Tolkien book hey? Shit watch out the ORT’s are coming – someone pass me a dwarf), I waited for my bags only slightly shorter than the time it took to fly them there.

I mentioned to the man in an official looking Day-Glo green vest and walkie-talkie - that it had been sometime since we landed and we still hadn’t seen our bags. He told me that he was sure that they were on the way. I told him politely that I didn’t dispute that – it was really a matter of “when” that I was worried about. To that, he literally rolled his eyes and said he would find out (sorry mate I know its your job and everything…) then disappeared through the conveyer belt hole in the wall – you know the one – where you really wonder what’s happening behind there; hoola girls and poker etc.

Suffice to say I can only imagine that he was swallowed up by the same gargantuan ORT that had eaten my baggage, as I never saw him again.

30 minutes later and after an entire planeload of Japanese tourists had managed to claim their luggage from the same belt (a lot of Nikon camera bags and Hello Kitty paraphernalia – what is with the Asians and Kitty?), our baggage started to come through – not all at a once mind you, drips and drabs.

An hour later and sweet ‘eff all apologies from anyone in Day-Glo green, I managed to get outside.

It would be fine if it were just a once off, but its not. Every time I go there, there is a system crash, gate changes at the last minute, unexplained delays and queues longer than Zimbabwe banking line. Again all this maybe part of an international airport but why the hell can’t anyone tell you what’s going on? When you ask someone vaguely official-looking the stare that you get back is blanker than a Jacob Zuma confession sheet.

I remember landing on a trip home from Washington last year. Several of the people who were seated around me were first timers in SA. We landed on time but then sat 3 feet from the terminal for the next 40 minutes, while an ORT tried to conjure up a set of stairs so we could alight.

To repeat: An international flight arrives (on time) and we sit for 40 minutes on the tarmac while someone tries to find some stairs? It’s embarrassing.

A number of saffers around me started to laugh and say “welcome to Africa”…and “only in SA…” Well crap! We have a world-class terminal at ORT…there are no excuses. Africa or not, if we want to be taken seriously; step one buy some ‘effing stairs!

Jo’burgers will no doubt tell me that Cape Town International is just the same only slower, smaller etc, but to be honest I have never had a problem there. This is not just me defending home territory, just me being honest. Taking it a step further and having traveled fairly extensively, I don’t think I have ever encountered as many problems anywhere in the world as I have at ORT-ville. Even landing in Imhambane “International” in Mozambique was a comparative breeze to get through…trust me its bad…

The World Cup is coming and I know we are up to the job but someone at ORT central needs to take responsibility for appalling service and people who obviously have no clue what’s going on or how to solve a problem.

Blank stares don’t solve problems – they only confirm lack of ability.

Massages, Spas and Pygmies...

My wife and I went for massages today – Monique is a self-confessed spa-freak and I just enjoy the white slippers.

It reminded me of when we were on honeymoon earlier this year in Mozambique. After a few days of snorkeling, whale watching and listening to the insanely ugly and overweight newly weds next door bonk them selves into oblivion we decided to book ourselves into the lodge’s spa.

Perhaps it should have been a warning that the spas signage was printed in black and white on A4 scap, crudely laminated and stuck to the lodge wall with an excessive amount of press stick– not what you would normally expect from a prestige resort…

Be that as it may, we were undeterred by the lack of glossy brochures and pictures of anorexic women with stones strategically placed about their persons; Monique was ready to be drenched in essential oils and I was just as excited about the possibility of the slippers.

They were unable to accommodate us at the same time, so I opted to go first while M stayed back at the room listening to the freshly married whales next door give it another go.

It turned out she got the better end of the deal.

I spent a good while asking the staff at the front desk where the spa actually was – there were no signs pointing to where it was (ran out of A4 and press stick?). at reception I was greeted with large smiles and pointing. It was round the back next to the conference room – turns out the spa doubled up as a storage room so it was fairly easy to miss if you didn’t pay close attention.

Nestled amongst as yet unused roles of pink ceiling insulation and randomly piled sets of conference room chairs was a “room” cleverly constructed from old office dividers. With tee light candles and an odd smell emanating from a scented oil burner the “spa” resembled more of a backstreet dentist than a relaxing area created with peace and tranquility in mind.

Not wanting to ruin the experience for myself, I went with it and entered the cubicle – inside was perhaps the world’s shortest masseuse known to man. Obviously she had honed her craft rubbing the feet and backs of Frodo and other various hobbit inhabitants of the shire.

It also turned out that she was the same women who had been cleaning my toilet earlier that morning.

Apparently she was only a trainee masseuse and filled the rest of her day in her regular role as part of the housekeeping unit.

It wasn’t getting any better and I could fast see my slippers becoming a non-entity in this equation. I had opted for the “Swiss Alpine” massage but had a feeling that the pygmy porcelain scrubber hadn’t ventured very far past a Toblerone let alone Lake Geneva.

As she didn’t speak English, she instead gestured to me to disrobe – I waited for her to the leave but she just stood her ground. Eventually after trying to stare her down, I gave up and stripped down to my underpants. She gestured again that I should remove these too and then climb onto the bed. Thinking that anything to a person 3 foot high must look quite large, I removed the last part of clothing and got onto the table.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that I might as well give up any pretence and buy into the fact I was now naked on a table, in a storeroom about to be manhandled by the lodge’s chief toilet cleaner.

Not quite being able to reach to the height of the table, Shire-girl put her hands above her head and proceeded to attempt to perform her version of a deep tissue massage. I can only liken it to a mosquito treading lightly across my skin so as not to wake me – Helen Keller had a better chance of working out what this girl was attempting to do than I did. As she lavishly poured a combination of what looked like Nivea hand cream and some not-so-essential oil across me exposed body I was tempted pack it in as a bad job.

Only pure embarrassment of making this girl feel bad (and even smaller than she was) made me stay put.

For an hour and half she continued to work blindly on my limbs, saturating me in slim and gingerly picking at my skin in the apparent hope that I would somehow believe that this was the way it was done in the Alps.

For a finale she stepped it up a number of notches with the old “chop sticks” routine – pummeling her fists into my exposed back with a force that to be honest scared the shit out of me. Toilet girl had suddenly become Chuck Norris’ right hand man and I was now being winded and “Hymliched” with each alternative beating of the fist.

Then it just went silent. After managing to catch my breath back, I realized she had left the room. No goodbye, no nothing. I toweled the gunk off and got dressed and left. Hands down the oddest “Spa” experience of my life.

As I left I saw M on her way in for her session – naturally I didn’t say a thing. Why spoil the surprise!