Springboks and Fuzzy Ducks: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: drove east through Etosha to the other camp at Namutoni, a German fort, spotting another male honey-coloured lion and its kill (a zebra), a two-toned herd of zebra with their stiff upright brush-like manes trotting together shoulder to shoulder (we have now seen so many zebra  we are very nonchalant, barely glancing at them as though they were herds of cows), wildebeest, springbok sheltering from the heat beneath the spreading trees, a falcon, flocks of Egyptian geese, a couple of giraffe heads down and legs splayed around a water-hole and two spotted hyena – it’s like writing a shopping list – but still no elephant! Continue reading Springboks and Fuzzy Ducks: Snippets from an African Diary

Aardwolves to Zebras: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: a very long and dusty day mostly on dirt roads as we drove into the Namib Desert to a private campsite. Strange trees along the way called quiver trees (kokerboom), which are really aloes, and large communal nests made by sociable weaver birds. Getting a little sick of Crowded House ‘Take the Weather with you.’ Stopped briefly at Seeheim Hotel to stock up on drinks and got licked to death by a mad bull-mastiff puppy. We continued to Bethanien, where Michael and I hunted down ice cream and anchovy paste, and then we stopped to eat lunch by the side of the road under the shade of the one tree in the area, only to be eaten alive by big biting ants. Taking a shovel with me to go to the loo is a new experience. Continue reading Aardwolves to Zebras: Snippets from an African Diary

Oranges in the Fish/Fish in the Orange: Snippets from an African Diary

December 2000. As far as I was concerned this was the time to celebrate the millennium. When 2000 rolls over into 2001. Last Christmas and New Year I was unable to take any leave because I worked in IT and because the whole world was obsessed with the effect Y2K would have on all our computers. Working practically around the clock to ensure nothing disastrous would happen to the 1000 plus machines the department I worked in was responsible for was manic and being ‘on call’ for the 1st Jan was annoying in the least. I had dreamed of visiting my son in Sydney to see the 20th century disappear over the Harbour Bridge watching the firework display that the Aussies are famous for. It wasn’t to be.

So now, at the beginning of December, a 26 day camping journey around South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe awaited me as I stepped off the plane at the politically neutral named Cape Town International Airport. I couldn’t wait. After living in South Africa for 12 years in the ‘70s and ‘80s I was more than ready to explore the dramatic landscapes surrounding my beloved country.

Continue reading Oranges in the Fish/Fish in the Orange: Snippets from an African Diary

Room 202

If you have read my experience “Windhoek Warning” you will know what this is about. If you haven’t, perhaps you should read that post first so this makes some sort of sense.

Monday dawned and we reluctantly returned to the police station in Windhoek to obtain the necessary copies of the crime report in order to put in insurance claims on our return to the UK. This was unable to be done on Sunday because the Duty Officer did not have a key for the room in which the only photocopier was situated. Neither of us looked forward to going back into the city, but needs must. We finally managed to persuade the manager of the villa where we were staying to add the cost of a taxi to the police station on to our bill so we could be dropped off right outside the door. Then the fun began.

After queuing at the complaints desk for 40 minutes in a hot, malodorous and jam-packed room we finally reached the counter only to be told,

“Oh no madam, this is not where you need to be, you need to go upstairs to the black door marked Enquiries”.

So, elbowing our way back through the crowd, we went upstairs and through a black door marked Enquiries only to be informed,

“Oh no, madam you need to go upstairs to Room 202, the crime enquires”.

We were now beginning to wonder how many floors there were in this building, and how many rooms marked ‘Enquiries’. There were an awful lot of black doors along each of these corridors. Anyway, we climbed up another flight of stairs in search of Room 202 – the doors had no logical numbering to follow so we wandered up and down the narrow corridors. No-one challenged us.

Eventually at the end of one corridor we found Room 202 where three constables were sitting behind desks piled high with beige files of varying thickness– no signs of computerisation in here. Looking at the reams of paperwork, and the height of the files, my heart sank; it was obvious that these guys had a lot of crime reports to deal with – and equally obvious they weren’t going to recover any of our items. But I needed that crime report for my insurance claim; I realised this could take a while.

One of the older constables eventually raised his head,

“Hello madam, what can we do you for?”

I passed over the slip of paper that I had been given when I reported the crime. He took it gingerly, glanced at the crime number, flicked through the top of his pile of reports and said,

“No, that’s not here, I put it somewhere, now let me think, where did I put it? No I cannot remember, maybe you can come back later?”

and put his head back down to his paperwork. I explained that we couldn’t as we were flying out in the morning and it was important that I had copies of the report today for insurance purposes, but I wasn’t sure anyone was listening. A young lady then entered the office and our constable became engaged in conversation with her, rubber stamping and filing more complaint sheets. She left and once more his head went down. I sighed; it was going to be a long morning.

Eventually he paused in his stamping and looked up to find that we were still patiently waiting in his office. He then jumped up, grabbed an enormous bunch of keys from a drawer and beckoned us to follow him down the corridor. He unlocked one room, peered inside it, shook his head, locked the door and continued to the next room into which he disappeared. We waited outside for several minutes not sure whether he wanted us to follow him inside and just as we were thinking of doing that out he came and beckoned us to follow him back into Room 202. What was all that about?

As we re-entered the room one of the younger constables stood up at his desk and handed over a green folder – yes – our report! But this wasn’t over yet. Now for the issue of the photocopier. Today, being Monday, thankfully the room was not locked, but to get the three copies we required would cost us NAD$30. I calmly explained that we did not have any cash – it had all been stolen during the mugging, but we did, fortunately, have one credit card, so would they accept that? No; they didn’t have a card machine.

After much discussion and shaking of heads one of the constables gave us directions to the nearest ATM and my poor husband was duly dismissed to draw out some cash feeling very uneasy about going out on his own worried that he would be mugged yet again. I dare not leave the office in case our report vanished under one of those piles, which were growing by the minute. The constable scrawled something onto the record sheet which accompanied my report – no doubt writing something to the effect “don’t bother any further with this one as the victims are leaving the country tomorrow” and I have a feeling that once we had left our report would vanish for good. Meanwhile I eyed that green folder like a hawk.

My husband eventually returned, puffing and sweating, but at least in one piece – those stairs, that heat and the stress of carrying cash were not having a good affect on him. I was concerned that he might not survive until the flight!

The money was handed over and we were led to yet another Enquiry office – Room 211 – where we waited for a different young constable to go and make the three copies I’d requested. We then returned to Room 202 – it was beginning to feel like home there – where the older constable took his rubber stamp and joyfully stamped each copy, signing them with a flourish and handing them over to us with a wide grin. I thanked him and we left, grateful that it had only taken us three and a half hours!

Windhoek Warning: A hard lesson to learn

We were forced into a stopover in the Namibian capital of Windhoek due to a change in our flights back to the UK and we had hoped it would be a nice experience to add to our two weeks in South Africa. It was indeed a memorable visit – but for all the wrong reasons.

Our stay started badly as the pre-booked and pre-paid transfer shuttle from the airport to our accommodation did not arrive and the man at the airport information desk would not phone the company for us unless we paid him R10. Eventually after several phone calls back and forth, a driver from a tour company gave us a lift to our accommodation, Villa Verdi Guesthouse. Our second disaster was that instead of the luxury double room I had booked we were given a large apartment right on the road and next to two villas where very noisy parties were taking place (this being Saturday night). The apartment was dingy, cold, dark with little furniture and very unwelcoming, plus it had hard single beds with worn sheets, no bedside tables, no luxury shower, and no fluffy towels. The whole place needed a good clean too. It was also isolated from the rest of the complex and felt very insecure as a result. I was not happy and after eating second-rate food at a first-rate price on a cold open-air patio I was already regretting not extending our holiday in Cape Town.

The next day I insisted that we changed rooms, and got the “luxury double” that we’d paid for. A comfortable double bed, side tables with lamps, a spa bath and a walk in shower – much more like it, but still the thin worn towels! After this we walked into town, only about 10 minutes away, though it felt very unnerving as cars passed hooting at us and the locals gave us very odd looks. We walked to the Tourist Information Centre, only to find it closed, so headed uphill to have a look at the Christuskirche and the Parliament buildings. There were a few other tourists around, though mostly in groups and on tour buses. But it was broad daylight, sunny and a Sunday and although we didn’t see many other white people, we didn’t feel particularly vulnerable. We really should have known better.

After wandering over to the Bahnhof we decided to walk up Anderson Street to the water tower, where, according to the “Windhoek on Foot” guide, you get a fantastic view over the whole of the city. Unfortunately we got rather more than that. As we approached the scone shaped water tower, which is only minutes away from a residential district with people mowing their lawns, two black men strolled out of the bush in front of us. My stomach did flips as I acknowledged that we were on an isolated stretch of the road and I glanced backwards at my husband who was photographing the city sights. The tallest, biggest man approached me and muttered something under his breath, as I looked at him and asked “what?” he grabbed my wrist and muttered the word I had been dreading, “money”; without waiting for a reply he grabbed the straps of my rucksack and began to drag it off my shoulder. The other, smaller man went for my husband and began punching him and trying to pull off his camera and money bag.

Without going into too much detail, we were well and truly “mugged” and the worst of it was that for the first time during the holiday we hadn’t taken our usual precautions when venturing out. Every day in South Africa we had carefully allocated around R100 each, carried only one credit card between us, and carried very little in the way of valuables. Of course in South Africa we’d also had a hire car so didn’t need to walk anywhere except where it was reasonably safe. Fortunately we had left one credit card, our passports and a camera back at the villa. Unfortunately we were carrying both mobile phones, a camera, camcorder and all the rest of our cash as we’d not unpacked properly after the flight from Cape Town.

Immediately we retraced our steps to the police station which was no more than five minutes away. The police woman taking my statement seemed rather bored and inconvenienced. She was not concerned about any injuries we might have had, she didn’t offer to help us back to the villa and she didn’t offer us the details of the British Consulate. Although the incident had only just occurred it was obvious that she wasn’t going to send out a patrol car to see if there was any sign of the thieves. On top of that she couldn’t even provide me with a copy of my report, necessary for insurance purposes, as the room with the photocopier in was locked on a weekend! My husband and I were both bruised and badly shaken, but had to walk back to the villa as we had no means of getting back any other way. Contacting the British High Commission in the evening I spoke with a very kind lady who was the only person to express concern about the event. She was shocked that this had happened in broad daylight, though said it was a notorious trouble spot in the evening – a pity the guide-book didn’t mention this fact. Her theory was that Namibia was being overrun by refugees from Zimbabwe and as a consequence the petty crime rate was escalating.

Although this incident happened in 2008 I feel it might serve as a useful reminder to those travellers who may be heading to Southern Africa. Do not walk anywhere, even in broad daylight, without making sure the area you are walking in is completely safe. Even in affluent residential areas it is easy to find yourself isolated within minutes, as we were. My best advice is to check with staff at your hotel or villa, or call the consulate and find out if there are any no-go areas and always take taxis even if the route looks safe and the distance is short.

I love Africa, I have lived in South Africa and I have travelled throughout Namibia in a group – but this incident shocked me as I had thought we’d taken sufficient care. I can only say that being at the end of the holiday perhaps we let our guard down – an unfortunate way to end what had up to then been a fantastic experience. And a hard lesson to learn.