Run-of-the-Mill Travel Bummer Tuesday (Nkhata Bay, Malawi)
I was up early, reading, when the knock came at my door.
"Yes?" I called out.
"Mike? It's me, Emmet."
It was strange that anyone would be knocking at my door before 7:00am, let
alone Emmet, an Irish guy I'd been hanging out with, who was supposed to have
left Nkhata Bay the night before.
"What's up?" I asked as I opened the door.
"I'm afraid I'm here under unfortunate circumstances," he said. "I
was mugged last night."
Not All Beaches and Banana Pancakes
I've made an effort to stay optimistic in my travel reportage. My goal with
this project was to share the highpoints of my trip. But I wouldn't be painting
an accurate picture of independent travel if I didn't point out some low points
Last Tuesday was not an atrocious day. It was just your run-of-the-mill travel
bummer. My objective was to travel to the city of Mzuzu, 30 miles away from
my base in Nkhata Bay, to change money, access the Web, and stock up on groceries.
Step One: Escape from the Souvenir Shops
Situated on an unavoidable stretch of road in Nkhata Bay are eight craft shops.
Generally pleasant guys, the Rasta owners of these shops are also fairly aggressive.
Rule #1 of their sales logic seems to be this: if you win
a tourist's attention, you can pressure them into a purchase.
I was on a mission and not in the mood to shake fifteen hands and endure as
many sales pitches.
"Michael my friend!" a shopkeeper shouted as I walked by. "Come
here, I want to shake your hand."
"Michael! Michael Jordan!" another enthused. "I've got something
new to show you!"
shopkeeper with his goods
"Not now, fellas," I said. "I've got to get to Mzuzu."
"Promise you'll stop on the way back?"
The dreaded promise of return!
"No promises, guys."
Tosh and G were at my side a moment later, extending hands, smiling. "Brother
Mike, we need to talk to you. Business is very bad today. We need you to buy
something. Little something, anything, so we can get lunch…"
"I bought stuff just two days ago. You can't expect people to buy every
"Yes, but business has been very bad all month. We're very hungry."
"I'm sorry to hear that, guys. Maybe you need to find a different line
"Just look. Looking is free. No charge for…"
"I'd love to guys, but I've got to get to Mzuzu."
Tosh dropped off, but G escorted me to the bus stand, a deft execution of Sales
Rule #2: invest time in the potential buyer – even if it's
against their will – and they'll feel obligated to purchase.
Now, I don't blame a guy for trying to make a living. And, in fairness, the
souvenir touts in Nkhata Bay are decent fellows with some handsome crafts for
sale. But I'd been in town for one week at this point, had hung out with these
guys every other day, and had even made a few purchases. Must I be hard-sold
every time I walk by?
Bummer Bus to Mzuzu
Nkhata Bay bus park
The minivan leaving for Mzuzu was the sorriest-looking vehicle I've ever laid
eyes on, which is saying a great deal. An impressive collection of dents, gashes,
and dings gave the van a fresh-from-the-demolition-derby feel. The sliding side
door hung askew on rusted hinges. Three giant cracks spider-webbed out from
the passenger side of the windshield; my first thought was "bullet holes,"
but more likely these were made by passenger skulls.
The interior of the vehicle complimented the exterior beautifully. The upholstery
had long disintegrated; burnt, scuffed metal lay exposed on the roof and the
floor. Two of the four narrow bench seats were covered in grubby foam; the other
two were just boards atop a metal skeleton.
Was there an explosion in this vehicle? Had it been shot from a cannon?
G smiled at me and we shook hands. "How long is it to Mzuzu?" I asked.
I knew it was less than 45 minutes away, but I needed reassurance.
"Just minutes, man. Just minutes," G said.
Although all of my instincts screamed "don't do it!" I climbed aboard.
It was a short journey, after all, and the only option was to join 15 others
in the back of a pickup truck.
I was the fifteenth passenger. Although dangerously overfilled by Western standards,
the minivan sat motionless for another 20 minutes until four more people arrived,
adhering strictly to Rule #1 of Minibus Operating Procedures:
The minibus shall not leave until 18 or more passengers have boarded.
Although the driver was ready to leave, the minivan was not. After extended
grinding sessions on the starter, the "conductor" and another passenger
got out to push-start the vehicle.
We were on a hill, facing upwards. The men eased the vehicle into the road
and, with out looking back, the driver allowed the vehicle to roll backwards
down the hill. Once we'd gained considerable, worrying speed, he popped the
clutch and brought the vehicle spluttering to life – a feat I'd never
known possible in reverse.
The engine sounded sicker than the vehicle looked. Miraculously, we lurched
to life and wobbled up and over the hill toward Mzuzu.
Both touching and traumatic, Rule #2 of Minibus Operating Procedures
states that: There is always more room in the minibus; no one shall be left
Observing this, we stopped frequently to collect and unload passengers. Maximum
passenger density reached five to a bench – a roomy journey by East African
Although the vehicle had died and been resurrected many times along the way,
the engine quit for good once we'd crossed the city limits of Mzuzu. The conductor
fished a plastic can out from under one of the seats.
"We've run out of gas?" I asked him.
view from the back of a minibus
"You mean to tell me that you collected over 2,500 Kwacha ($25) from these
passengers and you didn't put any gas in the vehicle?"
He gave me a look as if to say, "What's your point?" as he exited
the vehicle and began walking.
The passengers disembarked.
"Excuse me, how far is it to town from here," I asked a kind-looking
"It's about five kilometers," she replied.
"Ah. Are you going to walk?"
I turned to a man next to me. "Are you going to walk?"
"But the conductor's walking into town to get gas, right?" I asked.
"So rather than walk, you're going to wait for him to walk to town, get
gas, and then walk back?"
The man gave me a look as if to say, "What's your point?"
The sun was 65° above the western horizon. I had no time to lose. I jogged
Convenient Banking Hours
The first buildings of Mzuzu came into view after 20 minutes. To my delight,
one of them was a bank. Check one objective off the list!
Ah, but nothing is this easy in Africa! The bank doors were locked.
An employee sitting outside the building noticed me pulling on the doors and
said, "Can I help you?"
"Yeah. Are you closed?"
"Yes, we close at 2:00pm."
"What time is it now?"
"Why do you close at 2:00?"
"Every bank in Malawi closes at 2:00."
The currency exchange was a bust, but some Web access could still salvage the
day. It'd been two weeks since I'd last connected; I had a story to post and
I wanted to contact family and friends before my four-day cruise down Lake Malawi.
My spirits plummeted when I noticed the drawn metal shutters at the Mzuzu Business
Center. The shop was closed. I walked to a nearby telephone bureau to find out
why. As I stepped in the bureau, I noticed an "Internet" sign and
a bank of computers along the wall. Success!
Ah, but nothing is this easy in Africa! The power had been out for days, the
young man behind the counter explained. He suggested I try a store down the
Annoyed and upset with myself for being so technology-dependent, I jogged over
to the other Internet center. The lights were on! The computer screens were
Failure. The connection hadn't been working for weeks, the shopkeeper explained
to me. Sensing my disbelief, she demonstrated on one of the modems.
There was one last hope, she said. A telephone bureau at the edge of town might
have a connection.
I jogged to the store in question. They were open, they had power, and their
connection worked. I could have wept with gratitude.
I've learned to not expect much from Internet connections outside of capital
cities. I'm happy to get any access at all, regardless of connection speed and
price per minute. At least that's what I told myself as I sat on the 19.2kbs
line at $.25 a minute (this was the second most expensive connection I've experienced
on this trip; the grand prize goes to a shack up in the Nepalese Himalaya that
summoned $1 per minute for a satellite connection).
Round Trip Runaround
The sun sets before 6pm at this time of the year in Malawi; when I left the
Web café it was less than 25° above the horizon. I was anxious about
returning to Nkhata Bay after nightfall – especially after Emmet's ordeal
the night before – so I abandoned my grocery-shopping plans and headed
straight to Mzuzu's taxi park.
Five other people were aboard the minibus to Nkhata Bay when I arrived. As
we waited for other passengers to appear, I watched the sun sink lower on the
horizon. Thirty minutes passed. Nobody showed up. Three young men sitting next
to me asked to be let out. "We've waited for over an hour now," they
That left just three of us on the bus, fifteen passengers shy of the departure
requirement (see Rule #1 of Minibus Operating Procedures above). The
situation was hopeless – I'd never make it back before dark.
If ever there was a time to use my relative wealth to insulate myself from
the nastiness of shoestring travel, it was now. I stepped off the bus, walked
over to the taxi park, and hired an $18 private taxi to my hotel in Nkhata Bay.
Emmet (at left) and friends during happier times
What happened to Emmet was this: he was waiting near his night bus to Blantyre,
fiddling around with his bags, when, without warning, the bus sped away without
him. Aggravated, he strapped his backpack and daypack on and headed toward a
guest house less than once city block away.
Three young men jumped him before he could get there. One leapt on his back,
another held his arms, and the third tore his daypack from his body. Then they
ran away. It was dark; Emmet didn't see their faces clearly. The encounter lasted
less than one minute.
On the bright side, he suffered almost no physical violence. Getting a bag
stolen can put a damper on your trip; getting a knife stuck in your belly can
put a damper on your life.
On the dark side, his money belt containing $30 in cash, traveler's checks,
credit cards, and his passport had been in the daypack.
Complicating matters was the fact that Emmet was due to meet his girlfriend
in Cape Town before week's end – impossible without a passport.
Hours after I saw him, Emmet took a day bus to Blantyre, where he could visit
the Irish consulate, use the Web, and make phone calls. I later heard that his
passport and ATM card had been recovered and returned to him by the police (a
dubious stroke of good fortune). I don't know if he made it to Cape Town in
time to meet his girlfriend or not.
Posted on September
16, 2003 10:29 AM
What do you think?
I had to board my my bus leaving from Blantyre to Cape Maclear leaving at 6AM to expediate a fast departure 'just now' which filled to maximum capacity with rice, sudsa, the most travel friendly children saronged to their mothers backs and livestock by an unuprecedented 1PM. The human contents of this normal coach sized vehicle were expected to make the last 5KM leg on the back of a backie (ute, pickup) complete with shopping in one starlit trip standing up. Being prudent and in the back early I was stuck in the middle standing over my backpack with my arms squeezed over my head in a search for space. By the time people were actully falling off the sides we were full enough to leave and I faced a bumpy hour and a half holding my arms in the air like some torture position named 'sugar cane.' The road if in Australia would've probably featured in a 4WD documentary and the destination was as usual worth it by far but in africa this trip would rate as...standard.
I haven't been mugged or had any travel horror stories in the third-world that come close to comparing to yours Mike, but I did have a little frustration attempting to find Internet access in Trinidad in July 2003. It was the rainy season and I couldn't get past some flooded roads one day around San Fernando, to get to cyber cafes. I had a hard time driving my small rental car over some of the moon-cratered roads, which were everywhere. Anyway, your reports are fascinating. I always read them. Take care.
Now that's what I call an amazing story. That really hit the spot, Roger!
Mike, you have an excellent website. I've been following your adventure for some time now. I once had the (dis)pleasure of sleeping in a parasite ridden hostel bunk in Granada Spain. I'd venture to guess your travel pains are on a whole 'nother level in Africa. Just remember, it all adds to the experience! Take care of yourself out there.
poor rich western travellers! it must be so hard not to find an internet cafe!!!! do you guys had any real problems in life?
I now regret my earlier comments. It was not a good example, and I'm sorry if I offended anyone.
I 'got' to ride in a bus similar to yours in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru for about 6 hours going up and over an incredible mountain range; the road of which was so sharp turning that the bus couldn't make it up w/out making 3 point turns. Packed like cattle as you always are in 3rd world countries, the only thing that made this trip extremely horrid for me, aside from the metal spring lodged in my bum during the entire ride, was the awful, screeching old woman on the stereo trying to make what I could only imagine was music. And the batteries on my cd player had died.
Other than that - travelling by Grande Taxi in Morocco is just as bad as your bus adventure in Malawi. But, as you say, that's how it's done in Africa.
Great post Mike! Keep 'em coming.
It seems that people who enjoy travel expect and , therefore, enjoy the "interesting" experiences. People who just like to "be" in other places don't enjoy the process. When I found that a drunk had thrown a beer bottle through my rental car's windscreen in Wales, I counted it as part of the experience and met some interesting people because of it.
First off i would like to agree with the person above who mentioned that bad days are part of the experience. They make the good days that much better. I dont know why but today Im feeling negative, so heres my list of craptastic travel days...
- 16 people 3 chickens and a dozen bags of rice in mini van from Kampot, Cambodia to Ko Kong, Thailand. No AC, same cd played constantly for 9 hours. Missed the border by 8 minutes.
- I wake up around 2 am on an over night bus from Phuket to Bangkok and I think theres a roach on my back - nope, just some creepy Thai dude looking for love
- Slide wrong way off motorbike, Hua Hin, Thailand. Burned my leg on the exhaust pipe. I have a ("singha") scar the size of a 10 baht.
- Having the flu in Bangladesh. Not fun at all.
- Before we got on the ferry in Ko Phi Phi the sky opens and we are soaked. When we get back to Hua Hin 12 hours later everything is still damp.
hehehe. all i can think of off the top of my head. i ove the site!!! theres so much to look at. thanks for all your work. :-)
You're just jealous and have to resort to pale, snarky comments to hide that fact.
You shouldn't flame people for having things that you don't, or for things that *they* demonstrate a need for, be it money, location, or the ability to return to or enjoy a nice, modern life. As those privileges offend you to the point of jealousy, you might consider trying to obtain them so as to truly appreciate their beauty and the fortune to behold them.
Besides, silly, you wouldn't be reading this epic if it wasn't for an occasional internet cafe.
Sorry to disturb, Mike. Carry on!
Moaning about how hard it was to find an Internet connection in a small town of what's so ethnocentrically called "a third-world country" is something like queueing for two hours at K-Mart and then complaining when you find out they don't sell any Armani suits.
I don't know what leo really meant, but it seems pretty much like he's not against technology or Armani suits themselves, but against those who expect to find them where they're not exactly likely or supposed to be and, what's worse, complain afterwards about it.
Alas, name calling doesn't help much.
A sad tale from a silly traveler - hope everyone has fun laughing at me (it's long, so settle in...Mike, you may remember me telling you this one in Jordan):
After spending 8 brilliant days on Zanzibar, I arrived back in Dar es Salaam for one night before heading off to explore other parts of Tanzania. It was meant to be a pleasant, peaceful night - check my email, have a nice dinner, get a good night's sleep, etc. Not quite the way it worked out.
I got back to Dar es Salaam and proceeded to snare a hotel room and look for a cheap bus ticket to Lushoto, my next destination in the Usambara Mountains in NE Tanzania. I was feeling very relaxed, healthy and happy after my Zanzibar visit. Everything in Tanzania seemed so mellow and easy compared to the intensity and hassles of India (my previous stop) – this false sense of security is one of the factors in what happened to me.
In Dar es Salaam (as in other heavily touristed parts of Tanzania), walking around town attracts many kids who want to sell you stuff or just chat - it's a bit hard to distinguish between the two groups, however...and as I have learned the hard way it is best to be extremely cautious when talking with anybody off the streets.
But, as explained, my guard was down and I wasn't as vigilant as I should've been. Up to this point, I had had nothing but entertaining, fun and pleasant exchanges with everyone who had approached me in Dar (on my first night in Tanzania) and in Zanzibar (fantastically friendly and hospitable people there!). Yet another reason why I was a bit too carefree.
So, a kid approaches me and I greet him happily and we start talking. Displaying a precocious ability to judge the interests of his audience, he preyed on my weakness: music. After exchanging some pleasantries and a few laughs, he tells me that he is a drummer and his group is giving a performance of traditional African music and dance this evening: would I like to see where the concert will take place so I can come back later in the evening? Sure, sounds cool and I love music and African rhythms. I thought I would check it out. It was around 4pm when we first met...to gain my trust, he helped me find a bus ticket to Lushoto at a reasonable price with a nice travel agent. So, now it is around 5pm and we start walking to the supposed venue for the concert. He said the place was close by, but we ended up walking longer than I would've liked (about 20 or 25 minutes) and indeed my suspicions began to mount - vigilance was truly in full effect. But, this kid was slightly built and probably only 16 or 17 and it was daylight and there were enough other people around that I wasn't fretting too much about the longer than expected walk. We finally turned on a long, dusty unpaved street (still with enough people around to make me feel reasonably comfortable) – but, at this point, it was too far for me - I told him I was turning back (good lord do I wish I did turn back!) - but he assured me it was just down this long road and around the corner...so, reluctantly I followed along. As we turned the corner, much to my great relief, there indeed was a large stage that conceivably could be the location of a big music/dance party. After seeing the stage, I relaxed (far too much) and assumed the kid was telling the truth the whole time. At this point, the kid waved to another young teenage boy across the street to come and join us. He was introduced as another drummer and seemed like a nice kid. As a group, we all walked back the way we had come. My greatest mistake of all comes next: the boys suggest a shortcut through a little side street - I say no, but they say it is much faster, so I relent and come along. This side street has people on it, but not many and it is now close to 6pm and night is starting to set in just a bit. I was definitely ready to get back to the area around my hotel. At any rate, about halfway down the side street the original boy (Chris, or so he said) pulled out a joint and a bag of marijuana and offered it to me. I declined (and now was worried and highly uncomfortable). He lit his joint and exactly at that moment a car pulls up out of nowhere, 3 large adult men grab Chris and pull the joint out of his mouth and grab the bag of marijuana from his hands. I'm crapping my pants bigtime! One of the men shows me a police badge and says these two boys are known drug dealers and that everyone has to come down to the police station now - they tell me I must come to be a "witness" against the boys. I have no idea what to do and this all happened extremely quickly - I was a bit panicked at this point and not thinking clearly at all - in my distressed state, I thought that my only option was to go with the police to the station - what else was I going to do? So, I get in the car (huge mistake!!!) - in the back seat was one man, then me, then the 2 boys - in the front were the other 2 men. I was trapped. The boys, meanwhile, were putting on an incredible display of acting - they were carrying on hysterically and crying (I swear I saw real tears...) and moaning about how much trouble they were in. All of this commotion added considerably to my confusion and state of distress.
After we get in the car, there is no more talk of me being a witness...the talk is of how I will be charged with possession of marijuana and that the minimum sentence in Tanzania is 7 years in prison and a $2,000 USD fine. They say they are taking me to the station where I must remain overnight. Now, I'm really freaking out. Meanwhile, the boys keep crying and say how sorry they are for getting me in trouble. I'm pleading my case, explaining how I followed Chris to see where this supposed concert was to take place, that I had no idea they had drugs, and that I never touched the stuff. The "cops" acknowledge all of this but said all this information was irrelevant. They told me the law in Tanzania is that anyone caught with others who are using or handling drugs is charged with possession even if they never touched the drugs themselves. In my messed up mental state, they were convincing (but not for long).
While this was all under discussion, night fell and I had no idea where they were driving me, adding considerably to my terror. We finally pulled up next to a man in front of a building whose sign I couldn't make out in the dark - he was introduced as the superior officer to the 3 men in the car - I tried again to plead my case and explain how absurd this all was - I was denied again - I asked to speak to someone at the US embassy - denied. After much back and forth, I was basically told that this could all be forgotten if I agreed to pay some money to the arresting officers - a bribe for my freedom. I really didn't like the sound of this - it just seemed to me that a bribery of police would only get me in more trouble. So, off we drove while I was given the opportunity to think about what I wanted to do. By the way, the boys were still crying and the superior officer, when mentioning the possibility of a bribe, had expressly said that the two boys were not to be given a way out - only the "foreigner."
They reiterated that the minimum fine was $2,000 USD - this was the starting point for negotiations. I, of course, don't have this sum of money. I offered $100 - they said this would not do. While we discussed my bribe (it took a long time as I was trying to gather my thoughts and was talking only sparingly), I finally realized this was all a setup and that I was in deep, deep trouble. Obviously, all of you reading this know by now that I was being set up - but, try to put yourself in my shoes way back to the point where the kids produced the drugs...of course, I should never have followed anyone anywhere in an unfamiliar city, but again it was daylight, he was just a boy, and I felt no threat with other people around (until we hit that side street).
Here are the clues which finally came to me in the car as we drove around: (1) On the walk to the concert venue, Chris stopped to "go to the bathroom" - I'm sure this is when he called his friend who later met us at the concert site. (2) After his friend joined us, he stopped briefly and made a call on his cell phone as me and Chris walked forward - very clearly, this was the call to the 3 men in the car who accosted us - the car appeared minutes after this phone call. (3) and most obviously, I was first told that I would be a "witness" and after I entered the car all the talk was about how I was going to be charged with possession of marijuana. All the clues came together, but that was little consolation - I was stuck in the car with people I now knew were thieves and possibly worse. To make matters worse, I had all my money on me - in my wallet, I had only Tanzanian currency - turns out I had 70,000 TZ schillings - about $70 USD. Under my pants in my money belt, I had all of my US cash (to be used for safari later) and travelers checks and credit cards and passport and plane tickets - in short, everything in my possession of value. All they had to do was perform a simple search under the guise of being police and they would've discovered my money belt - they didn't do this – thank god. At this point, I had to become the actor. I didn't want them to realize I could pay them up to $600 or so and I absolutely positively didn't want them to know that I knew they weren't real policemen. To make this long sad tale short, here is what happened: I was able to convince them to take what was in my wallet (the 70,000 schillings) and that if they would drive me back to my hotel room, I could get them the rest of the money they requested (we had settled on $200 more). Unbelievably, they agreed - they drove me to my hotel and parked across the street. They let me out of the car (without a search!) and I walked up to my hotel room and never looked back - they didn't follow me up. In my room, I reflected on how lucky I was to only lose $70 USD, and, of course, I was playing everything in my head over and over again to see what I could've done differently to avoid this and I was left with only one conclusion: I was plain stupid and after they had me in the car, I did the best I could do to minimize the damage.
But, other than that minor inconvenience, my trip in Tanzania (and my time with Tanzanians) was absoulutely brilliant and I can't wait to get back to Africa again someday!
Not too bad an experience but difficult at the time. My husband left me on the train platform with all our luggage in Amsterdam while he went off to get some bottled water before we traveled on to Paris. Final boarding call, I am still waiting on the platform with all the baggage--the train leaves and still no husband.
So there I am with luggage, minimal money and no husband. I could not believe that he was nowhere to be found after I finally got a porter to help me move everything to a locker so that I could look for him. Frankly I thought that he had been mugged or had some terrible medical emergency.
Turns out that he had gotten on the train, then couldn't get off the train since it had minimal stops.
Railroad personnel were semi-helpful, finally found someone to call the train, find him, get him back to Amsterdam after many frustrating hours.
Not a horror story with life-threatening situations but a hassle with a lesson learned to have alternative plans with your travel partner should you get separated.
Keep having fun and posting your adventures.
wow. thank you Mike, and everyone here who shared their experience. especially Urb, I sure learnt something from that.
Your story illustrates what one must be prepared for when traveling in poor third world countries. It is precisely because of experiences I've had similar to the ones you've written about that I no longer want anything to do with them.
I do not think I am close-minded, unenlightened, or the like. Is it really enjoyable to arrive in a foreign country and have a swarm of beggars harass you everywhere you go? I don't think so.
Does anyone agree with me?
That post of yours, Dan, sounded pretty much like "I'm not racist, xenophobe or the like. Is it really enjoyable to let your daughter get married to a foreign black man? I don't think so."
Sorry about that, but I just don't agree.
It is time for you to leave. You are sorely needed back at the trailer, where your sheep and sister anxiously await your arrival.
You are scum.
As for Dan, please do not feel that that scumbag reflects the views of the rest of us.
Dear Mr. Lycke, did you perhaps notice the capitalized personal pronoun in my last sentence? It's needless, obvious and pleonastic to say that my opinions do not reflect anyone's views but mine.
Whether it's time for me to leave or not, that'd be up to Mike to decide and to me to agree. Not to you. I might hail from a "third-world" country. I might be one of those beggars, too. And I don't, but it's funny to see how some of us seem to be driving in a one-way lane, even in a website whose visitors are supposed to be at least trying to see the world from different points of view.
The fact that you do not agree with my opinions or that you can not appreciate my sarcasm makes me feel sorry, but I guess I can't fight that, after all. At least I've been making small but valuable contributions to this site with tips and comments based upon my personal experience. You will never see me call anyone a "scumbag", ask publically how to translate "dipshit" in Spanish ("cretino" would be fine, btw), relate haikus to "doggy doo" or reply arrogantly "yeah, what he said" to someone who posts his compliments in Portuguese -- and yes, these have been your most significant contributions to this site. Just pure scatology.
Open your eyes and have a nice day.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to respond to this. But, after a great deal of retrospection, my original post is most effective. You are scum. Regardless of what culture you live in, false and unfounded accusations of racism are the realm of the loathable scumbag. If you feel my scumbag accusation is false, because I do not know you on a personal level, than you have just experienced the frustration that you forced Dan to experience.
I think your response to Dan's post is way off the mark. Agree or disagree, to throw the "R" (racist) word out there is a bit harsh. How do you know Dan isn't black? I just don't get how having an aversion to touts and violent crime makes one a racist. I agree that his view might demonstrate a lack of insight, but racism???
I see there's been a considerable misunderstanding here. My fault, for not having chosen a better allegory to reply to Dan's post. By no means I wanted to suggest he's a racist, no way I could ever go so far from his comments.
Dan stated he doesn't believe he is a "close-minded" person, yet in the same sentence he added he thinks "it is not enjoyable to have a swarm of beggars harass you in a thirld-world country." I found that funny and regarded it as some kind of an unintentional, self-indulgent oxymoron.
And then I drew a comparison. A bad one, since I didn't realise it could be misunderstood. If I had to reformulate it, I guess it would go like -- "I'm not gay, but I would surely stalk George Clooney." That doesn't mean I'd be calling Dan a gay, it's just trying to highlight and emphasize a self-contradiction in the same sentence. If you're not gay, how can you say you'd surely stalk George Clooney? And if you're not close-minded, how can you talk about beggars as a reason to stop visiting "third-world" countries?
That was my point. My apologies for that misleading sentence I wrote to everyone, but especially to Dan. And thanks to Jurgen for proving dialogue is the only way towards understanding (without his post, I'd still probably be wondering what the reason for craigers' name calling was).
To the Cave Mate:
More intellectualizing will result in much less apologizing. By western standards, I am person of color and fail to see the same inferences as you in Dan's post. Perhaps the prejudicial projections you cast towards other people mirror what harbor in your own heart.
I have simultaneously enjoyed and detested (your patronization of Roger) your contributions but this last one to Dan put you over the line. Also, are you the one that called someone a "Pollyanna" in past submissions?
It is interesting that my non-PC opinion engenders such animosity.
I am trying to communicate my view that at some point travel hassles in third world countries outweigh the positive experiences of the trip. Everyone must decide when that point is reached for themselves. If some of the people posting here were mugged a few times and had their life threatened, they might not find the "third-world" experience so enjoyable.
Having said that, the solution is to raise the standard of living in these countries so that the citizens are not so desperate. Many muggers and beggars either have never known another way of life or can think of no other way to make a living. They are the inevitable result of their bankrupt religious and political systems.
You have no need to apologize. Those rational beings understood what you had intended. It is unfortunate that not all are as clear thinking.
Some advice for posting comments from Tom Coates seems appropriate here: http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2003/09/advice_for_members_of_online_communities.shtml
hey cave canem,
beware of dogs, they are a lot on this website
Hello Boys & Girls
Since I am the unfortunate Emmet Gombeen who started this sorry saga of hard luck tales & silly asides I feel that I should add an uninteresting word or two to the depraved debate (as it seems to have become). Those words are herein enclosed for all to view with as little interest as they deem fit.
I am indeed the silly paddy who was relieved of his valuables by a few of Nkhata Bay's more nefarious natives. Mike has already given you an account. Let me pad the account out just a little with irrelevant details. Apologies for the length.
It was like this:
Nkhata Bay is a beautiful spot (possibly the most endearing that I had visited on my limited travels). Picturesque scenery, white sand beaches, sun, unspoilt waters, heart breaking sunrises, comfortable accomodations, fine food, friendly & interesting locals (for the most part) & magical Malawi Gold (local weed). The latter ingredient was perhaps partly to blame for my minor mishap.
I had spent over a week in Nkhata Bay. Most of my week there had been spent lounging on the beach & making a pig of myself with the local narcotics. I had become so mellow that the night of the aforementioned "incident" was the second time that I had tried unsuccessully to leave Nkhata bay. My previous attempt had involved my travelling to the nearest town (Mzuzu) and turning staright around again after a feed as getting a connecting bus in my mellowed out mood "just too difficult, man".
Well anyway, on this Sunday the 30th of August I was determined that I was going to prise my useless self away from the clutches of Nkhata Bay. I had an appointment with a lovely Irish cailín in Capetown. I would be severely punished if I did not make it meet her at the appointed time.
I decided that I would make good my escape on the 7pm overnight bus to Blantyre & from there get a bus to Jo'burg & connection to Capetown. I realised that this was a long journey so as I prepared to place my baggage on the bus I decided that it was best to bring an extra jumper on my person to stave off hypothermia and malarial mosquitos. This turned out to be a bad decision.
The bus driver had revved his engine a few times but I had made clear my intention to pay hard earned cash for a comfortable standing space on his vehicular transportation and presumed this was merely the usual 20-30 minutes of irrational engine revving designed to attract further custom. It was not. When I looked up my gaze of confusion was met by a bus fart of fumes & some dust. The bollix had gone without me. I was furiously surprised. Like an eejit, I decided that the appropriate course of action was to shake my fist angrily and shout expletives. In hindsight this was a particularly inappropriate course of action & merely drew the attention of the local miscreant to the rich guy (in relative terms) with all his bags & possessions standing at the bus station in the dark with nowhere to go.
Now, Nkhata Bay is a lovely place. Very small. A tiny village on the lake. After over a week there I felt quite comfortable. I had been walking in the dark back & forward to town & had encountered no problems. Add to this illusion of safety the fact that I was pissed off. That bloody bus driver had totally wrecked my buzz, so to speak. My accomodation was 4 minutes walk away. I strapped on my two bags & off I went, up the dark road and around the corner to the hostel.
In hindsight it was a stupid move. After I got around the corner I realised that it was pitch dark on this stretch of road. I could see the hostel entrance in the distance but I immediately got a bad feeling that someone was behind me. I quickened my pace but to no avail. I had all my bags strapped on me so running was not an option. Three guys jumped me. One hung from the small bag I was wearing on the front until I gave it to him. The others stood behind him. They had five knives (in each hand).
Well, actually they didn't. They didn't have any weapons and they didn't use any serious violence. I suppose they might have if I had resisted. I did shout a bit but I didn't think my meager possessions were worth any major resistance.
The guy who took my small bag from me immediately ran off and one of his accomplices followed with due haste. The third guy paused for what seemed like a minute but I'm sure was a matter of seconds. I had by this stage dropped my large rucksack on the ground and it was resting beside his leg. I saw him look at me and then at the rucksack. He looked at me again and I could almost see the little cogs in his head working over-time. He was doing the math - his maximium velocity divided by the weight of the bag. Could he make it & would I follow? I knew that I most definitely would not but he wisely decided to cut his gains and pursue his friends to their pre-arranged destination.
He was correct in his approach as it turned out as all my valuables were in the small bag. I only realised this when I got back to the hostel. I had been so relaxed from my ingestion of copious amounts of Malawi Gold that I had failed to take my usual precautions when travelling in Africa. I would normally wear my passport, tickets, credit card, all my cash (a minimal amount) etc in my money belt. But this time I had left them in my small bag. What a goon!
I was helped by a friendly Israeli working in my accomodation to go to the police & file a report. They asked me for a description of the three guys. I told them that I was "pretty sure that they were black". Despite this far from helpful description the cops actually made some reasonable efforts to search the area but to no avail.
I spent the whole night awake worrying. Personally I would not have had a problem waiting in Malawi for a few weeks until I got a replacement passport & credit card etc but I had an appointment with my girlfriend in three days time in Capetown. She was going to freak.
After a night of thinking what the hell I was going to do I decided that the best thing to do was to tell my girlfriend (who flew the next day) to try to change her flight to fly into Malawi. You can imagine how she took that.
Fortunately, the police came up with some of my goods shortly after this phonecall (including my passpost & ticket) and I was able to make my way expeditiously to a south bound bus that very day & make my way (eventually) to Capetown. I didn't question how the goods came into their possession.
In hindsight, I was very lucky and if this had happened in say Nairobi or Jo'burg I would not have escaped alive, methinks. What was uplifting about the whole experience was the kindness of others after I had been so misfortunate/stupid. You must remember that even after I got my passport & bank card etc back I still had not a penny of cash. My bank card only worked in South Africa but I had no money to get a bus there to use it. The guys in the hostel in Nkhata Bay gave me accomodation and food for free. Mike (the interpid explorer, author of this site and genuine decent bloke) gave me $100 even though he had only known me for a week. Another girl (Eimer), whom I had only met one day before, insisted that I accept another loan of $100 to see me on my way. Of course, the fools haven't a chance of seeing this cash ever again - I'm back in Dublin and out on the tear every night spending Mike's hard earned dollars on lashings of creamy black porter to soothe my weary soul!
Only messing, Mike. You will be reimbursed, of course. Thanks a million for the loan & get in touch if you ever make it back to the Hibernian Metropolis.
And for christ's sake will Dan and this Cave Man geezer please kiss & make up. This animosity is just tearing us all apart!
What am interesting account. I am glad it all worked out alright. It is the kindness of people like Mike, Eimer, and all the others that helped you that make traveling irresistible - despite the occasional downers.
You have inspired me to have a healthy amount of stout tonight.
I took the overnight train from Hua Hin to Bangkok. After 5 hours on the train I was ready to find some accomodation in Bangkok. The place I wanted to stay was White Lodge. This place is a block away from Siam square, just across the street from the National Stadium.
The train dropped its passengers off in Hualampong Station at 5 am. I caught a taxi and showed him on a map where to go. He had no idea how to get there, and ended up dropping me off about 20 blocks from where I wanted to be.
So here I was, my first time in Bangkok, no idea exactly where I am, and its 5 am. Fortunately, I was able to make my way to White Lodge.
I am very thankful my worst experience doesn't involve me losing possessions or being threatened with knives or guns.
Another perspective (and another plug for getting out there and seeing the world!)... I caught a man breaking into the house I was staying. My friend was mugged on a busy street in broad daylight. A car ran a stop light and hit me in the crosswalk. Those all happened last year here in San Francisco. Another friend was abducted and murdered -- on a trek in Africa or Asia? No, years ago in Wisconsin, on her way to work. Life throws you curves wherever you are and if anyone reading the stories above is still the least bit worried about traveling to third world countries, just look at your risks back home. Not to mention, I'd bet the vast majority of travelers you ask would gladly accept "harassing" and a mugging or scam in those places again for the chance at meeting so many amazing people (locals and travelers), forming friendships around the world, understanding other cultures firsthand, being humbled by so many things, finding there's so much else out there and on and on.
Taking a holiday in a war zone or a romp in the jungle during an Ebola outbreak might be stretching your luck, but by following your usual instincts you may statistically be safer in a third world country than you are in a developed country like the US or the UK. Being slightly curious (and bored), I checked out Interpol's International Crime Statistics (http://www.interpol.int/Public/Statistics/ICS/downloadList.asp). They don't break down crime by tourist vs local (which, would be more telling), but, there's some interesting stats in there nonetheless. Tanzania? Slightly higher murder rate than the US, but, only about 5% of the thefts (Urb, you got the shaft!) South Africa's the anomaly, with a very high murder rate, but, it's stats for thefts and breaking and entering is about the same between the US and South Africa. And SE Asian countries pale in comparison to the US/UK in terms of all theft, robberies, etc. Ok, sure, who knows how accurate or skewed the data is, but, from my experience you roll the dice whenever you leave your home, and hell, sometimes even when you stay in it. If you're lucky enough to have the opportunity, might as well take your chances in some far-away place and get all the nice benefits like eating fried crickets and realizing your native tongue sounds pretty dumb. Oh, and all the other benefits I mentioned earlier.
Anyways, back to your question Mike! Most of my horror stories while traveling in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and other countries included weirder things like nearly being thrown from a speeding horse, having fireworks blow up in my face and getting lit on fire (the last two being oddly unrelated). And those were all my fault, I'm afraid to say.
I too, am a member of the "Around the World" club ('87 to '89) and have been traveling vicariously with you throughout your travels. As a mid-life retirement, I traveled for almost two years with a backpack through 37 countries. My trail resembled yours, but included six months of VW camper travel through Europe at the end of the second year.
My only really bad experiance other than getting pick-pocketed twice (Nairobi & Arusha) was on another one year trip to Central America in '90. I was stabbed in the chest in the "UN Park" just outside of Guatamala City. It was after dark, we were the only ones in the area and two guys tried to rob me as I stepped out of my camper. It was only a flesh wound. Ten days of penicillin had me going again. Guatamala seems to be my unlucky country as on another trip (15 years previous) my car was broken into and my pack with all my stuff was taken.
This sounds like alot of bad luck, but you have to consider that I'm a travel junkie with 35 years of traveling through 55 different countries on who knows how many different trips. I think I'm still in the luck of the averages, home or abroad.
I love to travel and would certainly consider going back, even to Guatamala. To the ones who can't stand the beggers and other inconveniences of the Third World; Stay Home!
Mike, you did a very fine job of conveying your experiances during your travels. I have lots of pictures and five log books (pre-computer or internet) to chronicle my life on the road. I'm looking forward to my next trip with some of the equipment you had to work with.
The oddest thing is I was in Nkhata Bay when all this went down. I have to say, Mike's recapping of his trip to Mzuzu was flawless, and unfortunately it was always like that. I dreaded the Mzuzu days.
I lived in Nkhata Bay for 5 months and I was lucky, I had no bad mugging experiences. thing is, they seemed to be concentrated to the area around the bus depot. It's very unfortunate. But it is a lovely town with excellent people.
I'm curious to see if I met the author while he was there. Hey Mike, if you see this, did you go into Chimango Tours at all? It's beside Golden Dawg, on the way up to Mayoka and Njaya.
Yep, I went to Chimango Tours several times. I did an overnight canoe trip with Dave, "G", and Abraham and a mountain bike trip with Dave's brother (you can see some of these characters in the Malawi photo gallery).
I think we did meet - we discussed traveling through the Middle East. And fingercuffs.
Greetings from snowy Chicago!
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