A weird tale of two coastal cities
STADE DE Port-Gentil is so new that you can smell the paint in certain areas while the legs of the chairs in the media stand were still covered in bubble wrap. You can see the adhesive on the tiles in the toilets in certain areas was recently applied.
The grass on the pitch showed it still needed time to grow, easily succumbing from being punished in two matches. The sand-like foundation underneath the grass popped up from the pressure. The precinct is still receiving some final touches, including where there is supposed to be grass. At the moment there is just sand, and a sign that says don’t walk on the grass.
It’s an ambitious statement, just like this stadium that has a built-in hotel.
Barcelona and Argentina star, Lionel Messi, laid the first stone. His dress-code for that occasion, torn pants and an unkempt appearance with his bear unshaven, caused a stir just as the $3.5-million (just over R47-million) Gabon’s government allegedly paid him to appear. The government denied making such a payment. “The messiah of football arrived in Gabon like he was going to a zoo: dirty, unshaven and his hands in his pockets, looking for peanuts to throw to them! When you’re called Lionel Messi and you’re a multi-billionaire, you don’t have the right to present yourself to officials of a republic, even a banana one, with your hands in the pockets of a ripped, tattered pair of shorts,” the country’s opposition party, Union of the Gabonese People, said in a statement.
Messi’s appearance that day reflects this city. More than a decade ago it was named the world’s most expensive city. But it’s hard to see where those riches went to given the city’s appearancerance. Currently Port Gentil is the financial capital of Gabon because of oil and timber. But it looks unshaven and tattered.
We could easily have been at the countryside as we drove from the airport to this stadium such was the state of the road. It was tar then suddenly it became gravel and then back to tar again.
The tar ended and we entered gravel before re-entering tar. A large stretch leading up to the stadium that had dirt, was covered up by banners promoting the Africa Cup of Nations. This beautiful stadium stands out with the bamboo-like structure that looks like Cape Town Stadium. The weather on Monday felt like the Mother City. I woke up to the regular heat in Libreville. It rained just before my flight and I arrived into a hot Port-Gentil that later turned overcast, threatening to rain. A light drizzle ended the long day.
Rain in Libreville almost put me in trouble with the ushers at the airport. It was raining when we made our way from the boarding gate to the small plane that carries just over 50 passengers. The usher menacingly told me to slow down because running isn’t allowed on the runway, even in the rain. I listened.
People, mostly journalists, boarded that plane as if they were taking a taxi, there was no reserved seating. There was also no screen to show the safety procedures. The attendant had to mimic it, doing each act twice – when the voice explained it in French and in English. It was a quick flight, taking less than 30 minutes. The view between the two coastal cities was scenic.