One change in my travelling style between the first MariesWorldTour.com in 2001 and today’s trip is this:
When faced with a choice between favouring my cheaper side or favouring my lazy side, I've started to act in favour of the latter. Even when I’m running low on funds – which is often, as I’m only able to work part-time from the road, making comic books for Kuwait during my evenings and down time – I still lean a bit more toward convenience now than I did ten years ago.
Time becomes more important than a few dollars when there’s actual employment involved, and that is one reason why I took the Town Hoppers shuttle bus from Swakopmund to Windhoek instead of the coach. Door-to-door service to my Windhoek backpackers lodge, for just a few dollars more.
I’d enjoyed my last few days in Swakopmund and didn’t know when – if ever – I’d return. I’d visited this small Namibian seaside town a lot over the years – sand-boarding, quad-biking, horseback riding, visiting seals, renting a flat, availing myself of the local emergency clinic, and just yesterday, I’d taken a tour of the dunes outside town to see chameleons and snakes up close.
I hope I get back here one day, I thought, as the van pulled away from town and onto the long ribbon of asphalt that led through the desert to Namibia’s capital city.
I was glad I’d paid for the door-to-door transfer when I got to Windhoek. The distance from the bus station to the hostel wasn’t that far, but I didn’t want to walk it. I’d been warned in the past against carrying luggage – or any bag that might be snatched – in downtown Windhoek. How serious was this warning? I didn’t know. I’d never had any problems in Windhoek before. But to avoid finding out firsthand, I would have had to book a taxi or hostel transfer.
After the shuttle left me at the backpackers, I learned that the lodge charged $4.37 an hour for WiFi. I argued for a while with the clerk, pointing out that I’d prepaid an en-suite single room based on the lodge advertising WiFi on its website, but of course advertising WiFi and offering it for free are two very different things. The clerk rightly pointed out that there WAS internet access – I just had to pay for it. This annoyed me. I had hours of paying work ahead of me and didn’t want to double my bill by using what I reckoned should be included.
There’s a Mugg & Bean coffee shop in downtown Windhoek that offers free WiFi. But I didn’t want to carry my laptop downtown given all the warnings about crime. I’d have to do what I could on my phone and would just pay for laptop access later.
I locked my luggage into in my room, put some money into my jeans and my phone into my hoodie pocket, and headed downtown.
I didn't wander around Windhoek, but instead put my head down and headed straight into the pedestrian street in the centre of town, where the coffee shop is.
"There aren't any muggers here," I thought, laughing at my paranoia. It was lunchtime, broad daylight, and business people were all out getting their midday meals in the restaurants that lined the pedestrian zone.
Then suddenly, five men were around me, crowding me. Five young men, dressed in urban wear you'd see at home, or in any city. They were close.
I slowed down and veered a little left to give them space. Didn’t they notice how close they were to me?
And then they were there again. One on my right, his hand firmly on my elbow, steering me. Another on my left, his fingers surrounding and pushing into my upper arm.
There wasn't time to question their motivations or intent. I stopped dead in my tracks.
"GET AWAY!" I yelled at the young men, calling attention to myself.
Simultaneously, I folded over, covering my hip pockets with my elbows and covering the pocket that held my phone with a hand, while pointing the fingers on the other hand right at the men.
They laughed, appearing to find my response hilarious.
They melted away then, disappearing suddenly and quickly before anyone around me had even turned a head to see what was going on.
What just happened?
I didn’t even stop moving. My autopilot started me walking as soon as the men left me alone, New Yorker to the end, act like nothing happened.
Was that an attempted pickpocketing? An attempted mugging? Do muggers hold you, feel your pockets, grab your phone and money before you can react and then disappear?
What else could that have been?
I hurried into Mugg & Bean, where I ordered a muffin, coffee, WiFi password, and sat there, dazed. Confused.
I'd never been mugged before. But to not be sure if I'd been a target or not... this was disconcerting.
I love Namibia. But I'm less keen on muggers.
What the hell just happened?
This didn’t stop me from returning to the coffee shop a few more times, but I avoided the crowded pedestrian street after that. I’d thought there would be safety in a crowd, but there hadn’t been. For the next couple of days, I walked down the main boulevard behind the mall, where no one was likely to walk near me.
I wasn't sad when I headed out of Windhoek on Wednesday for the overnight double-decker coach to Cape Town, even though I knew I'd have to watch plenty of insipid on-board movies. This was it. The final leg of my continental Africa journey. I got two seats to myself, thanks to a kind coach host.
Would I ever be back to Namibia? I didn't know. Certainly I was a lot less interested in Windhoek than I had been.
But I was sure looking forward to Cape Town.
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