World Cup #13 – Pickpocket in Cape Town

A long but uneventful bus trip from Port Elizabeth/Nelson Mandela Bay to Cape Town comes to an end before dawn Tuesday morning. The most difficult part of the 10 and a half hour journey was being forced to watch two and a half Steven Seagal movies at full blast before being permitted to try and get some sleep.
Upon arrival in Cape Town, I step off the coach to find the passengers’ luggage, which has been stored in a trailer behind the bus, strewn across the pavement. The driver seems to have decided to make this a quick stop. There’s no bus station to speak of. Just a busy intersection in the cosmopolitan downtown of Western Cape’s largest city.

A flock of locals, claiming to be taxi drivers, descend on the bleary eyed passengers, picking up bags and suitcases, motioning to follow them to a promised, but out of sight, transport. Most of the passengers resist, as do I.

In the chaos of the mass of bodies, I feel something in both my trouser pockets. I look down just in time to see a pair of hands withdrawing. Not my hands. Attempt to grab them but their owner is off in a full sprint. Take three or four steps after him about ready to show him that I’ve still got some decent speed of my own – his frame is slight enough to confront, even for me. I’m already planning to run him down and clip his legs to trip him, a maneuver I am proudly adept at having performed it on the odd opposing defender on the soccer pitch.

But quickly rethink this.

My luggage and camera bag are still on the street and I look back to see one of the supposed cabbies reaching for the larger of the two.

With a polite, and likely agitated, “sorry, not now,” I push the man aside.

He’s probably just an honest taxi driver looking to get a fare but he’s going to have to find someone else this morning. I shoot him a look to show I mean it, while searching my pockets to see if I’m any lighter. Notice that my wallet is hanging by my leg. It’s an old wallet and is attached to my belt with a chain.

It’s my ‘travel’ wallet and this morning it has done its job brilliantly, even if the chain does have the unwanted aesthetic result of helping me look like an ex-skateboarder desperately trying to hold on to his youth.

But the other pocket is empty. The mobile phone I’ve rented is gone.

A cold sweat hits me but I’m quickly resigned to the loss. I turn in the direction where I last saw my assailant and send a top of my voice double expletive his way.

“Well done Stu,” I mockingly laugh at myself. “That’ll show him.”

Paranoia begins to manifest in my weary head. Grab my bags and head to the nearest wall, with my back to it. It’s probably somewhat on the dramatic side but I’ve always done this when traveling and I don’t feel right.

“Keep things in front of me. I’ll be ready for the next one.” The next one never comes of course.

The bus is heading off.

“Done enough damage here today, huh?” I think at its driver.

On the same wall, a few feet from me, there’s a German couple that were on the same bus with the same idea as me. They are either from Dresden or Düsseldorf, I can’t remember now. They both have the look of resigned panic that I’m sure is written across my face at this moment. Turns out one of their wallets is missing. Money, ID, and credit cards gone.

I fiddle my wallet chain with my fingers. “Could have been worse, I suppose.”

A short African woman of about 50 walks aimlessly in front of us with that same look. Apparently one of her bags is missing.

“Welcome to Cape Town,” I think, starting to feel embarrassed at being caught off guard.

Eventually find where the legitimate cabs are lined up around the corner and head to the motel. Start the process of canceling the phone and letting people know not to use that number anymore.

Get some rest in preparation for catching the Spain/Portugal clash at Greenpoint Stadium later in the evening.

Things are bound to happen from time to time. And they can happen anywhere and at anytime.

South Africa does have a reputation for being a little more common for this kind of thing though. There have been stories published about incidences involving visitors and media since the World Cup began. Some pretty scary stuff. Many of the locals seems to have at least horror story ready to tell about themselves or someone they know as the victims of crimes, and/or sometimes violence.

But on the whole its safe enough and the numerous kind and warm South Africans of all backgrounds, who have bent over backwards to help, offering transportation when needed or simply provided a well timed and much needed smile, more than make up for some small-time hood running off with a phone.

And at the very least, as my parents and girlfriend have both reminded me since, I’m on an adventure and now have a story to tell. Though to make it worthwhile, they recommend adding a weapon of some sort on the next retelling.

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