Just a quick summation of where we are in the story:
1. We met a guy called ‘Steve’
2. Steve seemed nice
3. We got a lift with Steve to a club that was, apparently, 10 minutes away
4. The car had blacked out windows and only one back door worked
5. After driving for nearly 1 hour a ‘Titan’ of a man got in the back of the car with us
6. We then drove so far out of town that we couldn’t even see a single ray of light in the darkness
Ok, so here we go…
So Steve turned around and, in a very kind and polite voice, informed us that we we’re in the process of being robbed.
I couldn’t help myself and I started to laugh, thinking he’s just messing about. Well, it became pretty obvious, pretty quickly that Steve wasn’t the joking type. It became crystal clear as soon as he began shouting in such a way that spittle started appearing at the corners of his mouth like he had rabies. What was worse than this sudden and instantaneous change of character was when he started fishing around in the glove box for his knife!
You are safe in the assumption that, at this point, we’ve started to brick ourselves.
Our sense of dread kicks up a few notches when we’re joined by 20 something Tanzanian men who surround the car waving bludgeons and rusty machetes.
Once we’re sufficiently sh*tted up, Steve then started to rant at us. He told us that if we either lied or don’t give them everything we owned he would bring us back to this exact spot and leave us to the mercy of all the machete wielding loonies!
And so the night of ‘Steve And The Unsuspecting Backpackers’ really began…
Steve’s plan was beautifully simple. He would drive us back to our hostel where we could grab all the money and credit cards that we owned. Once we were back in Dar es Salaam, Steve and his ‘Uncle’ parked up in a large, sandy car park right in the middle of the city.
Seeing as my mate had never backpacked before and our trip to Tanzania was his first time in Africa (sorry mate :-/ ) I wanted him to be the person they released from the car in order to get our belongings.
And because that’s what I wanted, they decided to keep my mate as hostage while I went back to the hostel to get all our belongings. However, before I left Steve grabbed me by the arm and said, “If you talk to anyone, look at anyone or are away for too long – we’re going to drive off with you mate and you’ll never see him again”.
So off I went at a brisk walk. Not because I didn’t care about my mate, but because I’d been instructed not to run. On my way back to the hostel I must have passed at least 3 armed guards, protecting different banks. I can’t explain how much I wanted to shout for help. The problem was, I cared way too much about my friends safety to even take the risk. So… once I get to the hostel, the first thing I do is…
Go and have the longest pee in history.
I know this probably makes me the worst friend alive, but in my defense I was about to wet myself, due to all the beer we drank over 3 hours ago!
After relieving myself I grab our combined money and my credit card. However, when it comes to getting my mates credit card, to my dismay, he has two! And one of them doesn’t have a withdrawal limit. So I went with my gut and pick one, praying it was the one with a limit.
The walk back to the car lasted a very long time in my mind. I kept on thinking about what would happen if they simple took all our stuff and still dumped us in the desert afterwards. After all, we knew their faces, we knew their voices and we knew what the car looked like.During that walk back to the car, my life didn’t play out in front of me. To be honest I didn’t think about anyone or anything in my life. The only thing I thought was, “If I am going to die, then at least it will be alongside one of my best friends in the entire world. I came into this world alone, but at least I’ll be leaving it with one of the best people I know”. My thoughts at the time not only reassured me, and calmed me down but it made me realise just how special and lucky we are to have real friends in our lives.
As soon as I got back into the car and handed over the cash and the credit cards, once again, all hell broke loose.
In my haste I had somehow forgotten to bring back half the promised cash. I had totally forgotten that before we headed out we had separated our cash and hidden half of it, just in case someone broke into our room!
After a few minute of Steve screaming (and my buddy and me sweating) the real robbery began.
I won’t bore you with all the specifics, but from the moment of getting back into the car we embarked on a 6-hour mission. A journey that was made up of going from one ATM to the next, to the next, to the next. This was the general pattern of the evening:
With our ‘pin numbers’ in hand they drove us to a new ATM with the promise that after pulling out all of our cash we would be released from the car. However, once they’d been to the ATM and returned to the car they would lie to us and say that our cards wouldn’t work. This provided the rational for them to drive us to another brand new ATM to repeat the exercise. Our hope of release was slowly built up and up and up until it was crushed by them not releasing us and instead driving to the next cash point. This pattern carried on for hours…
On, and on and on this went – until we were both frazzled and totally bewildered.
And then they started driving out of town again.
This was the point that all hope faded. That’s when we thought, “Sh*t we’re goners!”. It was only as they started driving out of town that my buddy and I started manically shouting and screaming at them to let us go (FINALLY!). We must’ve freaked them out a little because no sooner had we started screaming that they stopped the car by the side of the road. And after about 10 minutes of a fiery debate in Swahili between Steve and his ‘Uncle’ they, for some God knows what reason, release us from the car!!!
However, before we left the car this was how the conversation went:
Steve: “Here is a dollar to get yourselves home. You should know we aren’t bad guys”
Me: “Are you kidding?!? 1 dollar! For traumatizing us you could at least give us $50 so we can buy ourselves a bottle of whiskey! For all we know we don’t have any money left in our banks!”
Steve: “You’re a cheeky sh*t. Here’s $20”.
So we finally get dumped in the middle of God-knows-where. We’re far too stressed out to get back in a car (i.e. taxi) with another stranger. How we managed to find our way home is still a mystery. Once home, we were actually still too frazzled to drink anything alcoholic… so instead we each had a Fanta and passed-out.
In the morning and in hindsight…
Luckily for us, we not only managed to get out of the car but we were even luckier to have only lost about £300 from the whole experience. Thank you ‘Maximum Withdrawal Limits’ – We love you!
Now, even though this was a traumatic experience, I still love to travel and above all else to meet and spend time with local people. The most memorable and fun experiences I have had in my travels have always revolved around taking a chance, going off the beaten track and seeing what life throws at you. Even though this experience was distressing… I think I would fall for the same trap again. Not because I am naïve, but because I refused to let the robbery dampen my adventuring spirit. Travelling would not hold any magic for me if I became too scared to accept the friendship of local people at face value. It is the only way to get a REAL taste of the country you’re travelling in.
The only thing I won’t do again is get into a car with blacked out windows and back doors that don’t work!
As one of my favourite poems reads:
Adventure is a wonderful thing
Pack only the essential
I’ll tell you what to bring
And for skullosaurus attacks
First aid kits
Adventure, is a wonderful thing
I salute you
And those of you doomed to never return
I salute you twice
How traumatizing! I can’t imagine. Thank heavens for ATM withdrawal limits and the fact that you guys were fine. Is your friend open to future backpacking trips? How’d he turn out?
Yea I’ll say – I’ve been to Africa a number of times and experienced some really random events – rescued drowning child, guy pulled gun on police in front of us at routine traffic stop, mob riot throwing rocks at us from afar – but – fortunately never ran into this situation before. Regardless, Eastern and Southern Africa is a part of the world I cannot get enough of 🙂
Paula McInerney says
Pleased you and your mate are safe. This will be a great life story. Its worse than when we were held up at gunpoint in sri lanka. Machine guns at that. Did that turn us off travel. Not a chance. Will this turn you and your friend off – no way. This is serendipity Dave. Take care, Regards, Paula
Anna @ The London Scrapbook says
Wowza! Well done for being able to reflect on this and write the story in an amusing way. I guess you have the right attitude, to not let this experience put you off. Just maybe learn from it :-p
Paula – Machine guns, held up. Sri Lanka. Sounds like there is a good story behind that one as well! What did they want- just to rob you?