Had I known the harrowing anguish about to befall us, I would have booked another night at Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls Hotel and saved many grey hairs and considerable expense.
It all started when my husband and I thought we knew the time of our flight from Harare to Victoria Falls to connect with the once-weekly flight to Windhoek.
We arrived at Harare International Airport in time to see our flight to Victoria Falls taxi onto the runway. With horrified astonishment we discovered it was the last flight to Victoria Falls. But we had to be in Windhoek that evening for taping of a major section of the Miss Universe Pageant where our daughter was the Australian contestant! Our seating and accommodation was pre-booked and paid and we would now miss the only flight connecting with the weekly flight into Namibia.
Controlling rising panic, we hauled our luggage to the Domestic Terminal to seek alternative transport, and finally located someone who could speak English.
‘Can we hire a car to Namibia?’
‘No. There are no roads.’
‘Is there another flight via Johannesburg?’
‘If we get to Johannesburg somehow or other could we wait there until we can catch a flight to Namibia?’
‘No. All the hotels are full. The World Cup Rugby is on.’
‘What can we do?’
The lady behind the desk suggested ringing a light plane company and chartering a plane.
We looked through the phone book and tried ringing but nobody spoke English. Finally she rang for us.
With heartfelt relief we spoke to the manager of one of the light plane companies. He was English.
‘Do you have a plane we can charter to Victoria Falls?’
‘No. There is an Air Pageant on in Harare and all the planes have been booked, but there will be one available later in the afternoon.’
‘That will be too late for us. Is there anything else you can suggest?’
‘I have one plane but it’s grounded because the radio isn’t working. Would you like to wait here and we’ll see if we can fix it?’
By now we were clutching at straws. Our angel in disguise drove over, collected us and ran us to his office. He asked what our Plan B was. There was no Plan B, just Plan A.
As time ticked by we fidgeted and paced about the waiting room. Finally our angel emerged with smiling face and asked for our credit card. Like a dying man grasping for a life line, my husband handed him the card.
$1,500 lighter (this was 1995) we collected our belongings and watched the pilot hastily filing flight plans and selecting drinks.
Finally we were on our way.
Commercial flights take one hour but our light plane would take two and we were almost out of time to catch the Namibian plane.
Our angel said he’d ask the airport in Victoria Falls to hold the plane until we arrived. (Clutching at straws again)
When under way the pilot asked if we would like a drink. We look around the little plane. There was no toilet onboard so we wouldn’t be drinking.
She was aware of the time factor and pushing the machine as much as she dared while we sweated with anxiety. Sometime during the flight the radio died and she navigated by map and sight, pointing out bush tracks and waterholes along the way.
In the distance a plume of mist rose above the falls. We were not far away. When ten minutes from the airport, the radio crackled into life.
To our immense relief our pilot reported, ‘They’re holding the plane.’
Our little plane taxied across the tarmac and stopped beside the Namibian plane. Its passengers wandered outside.
As somebody carried our luggage directly from the charter plane to the Namibian plane we gave all our Zimbabwean coins to our pilot with instructions to buy a bottle of wine to share with our angel.
Luckily we had our $25 US departure tax ready and were rushed through Customs and Immigration. We had made the flight by the narrowest of margins!
I took one look at the Namibian plane: pretty small with a row of single seats either side of the aisle. Did it have a toilet on board? It didn’t, so I raced into the nearest restroom to find my husband in there as well.
We still don’t know whether we were in the Ladies or the Gents.