Travel broadens the mind - not!
The adage goes that travel broadens the mind. However my experiences of flights between match sites during an Africa Cup of Nations run counter to that saying. I feel voyages just confirm my fears.
As a Cup of Nations debutant in Ghana in 2008, flights from Accra to Kumasi or Tamale and back were, for me, gruesome affairs.
In Angola two years ago, I was, by comparison to the first trip, more seasoned.
But in Angola moving between Luanda and the three other match venues, I entered a vortex of Kafkaesque incompetence.
The trip to Bata for the semi-final between Ghana and Zambia was seeped in the indifference that the administrators of this tournament lavish on the paying public.
A flight chartered by the organising body COCAN was scheduled to leave Libreville at 13.30 for Bata. The idea being that the 25 minute flight between the capitals of the two co-hosts should leave supporters and journalists plenty of time to reach the stadium for the kick-off at 17.00.
Well the plane left around 35 minutes late but it didn’t matter. The Ghana supporters were dancing and singing songs of joys to come against Zambia.
The plane arrived at 14.40 in Bata. Technically this should not have been a problem.
But customs/border control officers in Equatorial Guinea clearly hadn’t been factored in.
You need to have finger prints and a photograph taken before you’re allowed to enter the country. I’ve got no issue with that but there weren’t that many people dealing with a plane load of 200 passengers.
Besides it was searingly hot in the converted hangar.
Before tempers can rise, the air conditioning system gurgles into life. Within minutes the inferno is transformed into Ice Station Zebra and a man in a white, collarless shirt with rather fetching black buttons, emerges centre stage.
He strides between the bank of four officers with a concerned visage. A few hapless souls trundle past and then the computers break down. We wait.
By the time the machines are reanimated, the collarless controller has returned with a walkie-talkie and furrowed brows.
People are processed but it is laborious and the Ghana supporters aren’t singing any more.
As for my own plight, I’m through the hi-tech party by 15.30, nearly 50 minutes after landing. But then we descend into the lo-fidelity waveband.
My passport – along with several others - is taken away by the collarless shirt into a hut marked Policia. Eight minutes later he comes out and starts clutching the passports open for the supposed holders to claim.
My passport which is swaddled in a Paris Metro map holder – a yuletide present from my clearly prescient daughters – is easily recognisable.
An hour or so has passed since getting off the plane. Fortunately the journey from the airport to the stadium took just over 20 minutes so I was there with about 45 minutes to spare before the teams emerged.
Leaving Equatorial Guinea was even more difficult which I find odd. I would have thought if the authorities are so reluctant to let people in, then they’d be keen to get rid of them.
No. Only one woman on duty to check in all the people who’d been on the plane earlier. And as she told around 40 Ghanaian journalists: the plane doesn’t leave until I’ve dealt with you all.
What I particularly liked were a couple of Gabonese journalists who said they had priority because they were Gabonese journalists.
The Ghanaians didn’t wear that too well – their team had just been turned over 1-0 by the unfancied Zambians.
As voices rose, I managed to extricate myself from the impending war zone; I’m a sports reporter not a conflict correspondent.
The flight to Libreville – scheduled for 21.30 – did indeed leave late. Well past 10pm.
The Bata airport experience was inefficient, crude, dehumanizing and illogical. True Bata airport is not Equatorial Guinea but it is the initial encounter and as the corporate shtick goes: you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Has my mind been broadened by my day trip? Am I wiser for the journey? It certainly doesn’t feel that way.
But of course I am.
At the airport I managed to remain calm if quizzical. My Cup of Nations travels over the years have ameliorated my tolerance levels but not to the point of being world weary.
There’s still room in life for surprise. And that’s no bad thing.
Unless you’re a Ghana fan.
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