A Travelers Worst Nightmare

Matopos National ParkI don’t meltdown often but sometimes something happens that you know is your own fault and screaming won’t help. An internal assault takes place where your mind and body go to battle because there is nothing, and no-one else, to blame. Today was that day for me and the realization of my neglect came in the middle of nowhere surrounded by globe shaped boulders quite content to balance precariously on top of each other as if all the world was in perfect harmony.

It was a metaphor for my day but I didn’t realize it then.

The worst thing that can happen on the road is the loss of travel documents, tickets, and money. I strap this all to my body when I am traveling and unless you take my pants off chances are you’re going to be fresh out of luck if you think you will be able to swipe my stuff; unless of course I leave everything that is valuable sitting on the bar of the hostel.

My excuse is not one that involves a late night of drunken debauchery and hedonism, often the root cause for the loss of common sense, but rather an early morning wake-up. With blurry eyes and a mind still dreaming I wandered from bed to bar; ate an omelette then outside to the jeep for my day safari in Matopos National Park.

As the jeep wound its way down dusty side roads with an ever-changing urban to wild landscape a grey cloud slowly settled over me. At first it was more a mental itch but that itch would grow.

We have all lost our wallets. It’s in that initial moment when you slap your pockets, rustle through whatever bag you may have, do a deeper dive into clothing crevasses, check sleeves, hat, and basically any garment. You cling to the hope that maybe, just maybe, you were not as stupid as you are about to realize you are.

My personal fondling lasted a while…I can be stubborn. 

Eventually it dawned on me as we passed through the gates that my day at Matopos was going to be mentally overcast; one riddled with anxiety. My money belt was not secure around my waist. Flickering in the back of my mind like an old memory, the one’s you would rather forget, was the image of my money belt casually resting on its buckle next to a white plate containing the remnants of a mornings egg breakfast.

We were a couple of hours away so I couldn’t go back; nor could I ask for the jeep to do a u-turn. “Sorry guys, I am a dumb-ass who left my most important papers on the bar…do you mind if I ruin your day as well and we all head back there so I can feel better.” No, that wasn’t going to happen.

I sunk inside myself and became the quiet guy in the corner, counting the hours till we departed the park and headed back. One trail I wasn’t about to travel was the “what if” trail. I just put that worst scenario out of my mind and when a zebra trotted by followed fairly closely by a rhino, some semblance of calm wrapped me up in a protective cocoon.

Matopos offered its fair share of wildlife. Within minutes of arriving we had seen waterbuck, baboons, elk, kudu, and a family of giraffe; Mum, dad, and a young one.

The parks main attraction though is the 6000 year old cave paintings sketched by the San people; otherwise known as the Kalahari Bushmen.

Sitting outside the caves, on the crest of a perfectly smooth and massive boulder I became more contemplative. Just looking out over the park made me feel at ease; it was a gorgeous sight. Matopos has an unusual landscape. Unlike any other park I have been to. Almost a moonscape topography yet with trees and water.

The other big attraction at Matopos is the critically endangered Black Rhino. Only called black because the other rhino to which it is compared is the White Rhino and this name has nothing to do with color.

Something got lost in translation.

Early Dutch explorers noticed the wide mouth on this species of rhino and described it as such. The translation to English became “white” as it sounded similar but lacked any kind of similarity in definition. It caught on though and has stuck.

Seeing the rhinos in the flesh is an amazing spectacle. They are like trotting tanks; covered in armor. As big as they are though, they move with grace. They seem to glide as they maneuver through the knee-length grass.

No-one knew of my dilemma; I am guessing they thought I was just the quiet shy type but as we left the park and headed back towards Bulawayo the excitement was too much and I felt the need to explain myself.

The driver seemed less than concerned and for an extra half hour we circled the outskirts of town as he attempted to find his boss’s new house.

He had to drop a package off….arrrgghhh!

At 6:30 PM I got back to Hitch-Haven and bolted through the front door and into the bar. The manager looked at me. He must have sensed my urgency and I found out later the prank he had planned fell by the wayside as he recognized the anguish in my eyes.

Locked up, safe and sound, was my well-worn brown leather money belt. He had taken care of it during the day and now that evening was upon us he handed it over like a sacrificial offering.

I am not sure I have ever breathed a sigh of relief that intense. It was a sigh built up over the course of an entire anxiety ridden day. To say I was a happy man in that moment would be an understatement…lesson learned that’s for sure.

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22 thoughts on “A Travelers Worst Nightmare

  1. That must be an awful feeling! I can’t even imagine! I would have freaked out, it would be so hard for me to relax while worrying about my personal stuff. I am known as the paranoid one to my friends. I haven’t had this happen to me yet during traveling but it has happen to me when I am out in my home country or even just my home. I tend to lose my keys or wallet. I finally figure out a strategy though so it doesn’t happen too often now. Glad that you were able to get your wallet back safe and sound.

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  2. God that sounds awful! I’m prone to be clumsy and loose or break things so I try not to have anything material in my life of too much value, but travel docs and money are things you can’t really go without. Such a shame that it ruined your day but at least the day didn’t end in disaster. Always have to try and find the positive silver lining.

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  3. I understand how you felt. About a year ago I was at a large flea market and looking at purses at one of the stalls. I liked one but wanted to be sure everything I carry would fit so I filled the purse, but discovered it was too small. I removed my belongings and we headed home. When we got there I discovered I had left my credit card case with my credit cards and all my IDs in the purse. Unfortunately, the flea market is only open on the weekend and was closed till the next week.

    I had no money for my stay (luckily my friends floated me) and had to go through a special line at the boarding gate to prove my identity. My friend volunteered to go back the following weekend, as I was able to direct her to the right stall in this huge market. By gosh, the case was still in the purse, Happy ending.

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  4. For me the worst was being mugged in The Gambia at knifepoint and nearly losing my life. I found out later that The Gambia has/had one of the worst crime rates in Africa, but even if I’d known about it I would still have gone on the trip to an uninhabited offshore island for a picnic with about 20 others as it should have been totally safe. Unfortunately, at low tide, a strip of land allows access from the mainland. I and my partner had wandered off from the others to explore and that’s when it happened. A friendly hand in the air to say ‘hello’, then I’m on the sand with a knife at my throat. Twenty years ago, I’m still recovering from it. You never lose the fear.

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  5. That’s one of the worst feelings ever, and I think I’m right there with you in stubbornness. It’s always like if I just look in that bag or pocket just one more time, the lost item will magically appears. In Amsterdam my ex and I managed to leave the Canon and its associated bag of lenses behind. We got all the way back to our hotel before we realized, and then had to take another 20-minute cab ride right back to pick up the camera. The bag had been on the floor by his chair, so he didn’t even think about it when we left. Luckily, the restaurant staff tucked it away for us.

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  6. This is the second blog post I’ve read today that involved travel bloggers’ wallets being left behind and then returned many hours later by honest people in other countries. It’s almost enough to restore my faith in the human race—until I read today’s newspaper.

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  7. My mouth got dry just thinking about your lost money belt. I lost my purse once, right before Christmas & a trip out of town. It was found by an honest shop employee but it was the worst feeling and then the best when the purse was given to me.

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  8. I can certainly imagine your sense of relief when you were given your money belt … have been there. So nice to see that there are honest people around. 🙂 Impressed that you were able to keep cool throughout the tour!

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  9. Whoa! Goes to show you that even the most experienced travelers make mistakes. This just happened to me too. I missed a flight & got scammed in the same day. Unreal Mistake. I hope things go better for you.

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  10. I know how you feel Tim although I haven’t left my documents behind, rather my very expensive camera. 8 whole hours touring the Bavarian Alps not knowing where my camera is, thinking had I left it in the cafe before the tour, at reception of my hostel or was it sitting safely in my room. Turns out it was best case scenario in my room but boy did if spoil the day with me mulling it over and over in my head. Now I don’t leave my room unless I know it is securely across my body. Very glad you still managed to enjoy some of the day and that it all turned out well for you in the end too!

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  11. Oh dear! That is awful Tim. I’ve done that more frequently with my darn flat or curling iron. More as I get older. I THINK I turned it off before leaving but then my mind plays crazy games with me and for the time we are out (fortunately not a whole day like your story) I am worried about it. Then of course on getting home I find it was off all the time.

    Thank goodness for honest people in the world and that the manager took care of things for you.

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  12. Woah, what a day. That really is an awful thing to happen, and while I have narrowly escaped it at times, the anxiety of the moment is awful. What a drag to have had such stress doing such amazing scenery. It looks an incredible place.

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  13. Oh my! I was feeling your anxiety big time! I think we’ve all done this at one time or another. So I am glad that it was safe and sound…but I know that feeling that shrouded you all day long and how hard it can be to shake it off and enjoy Matopos. I DO think that driver could have been more empathic and gotten you back to the bar more quickly! Sigh!

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  14. That really sounds like a nightmare but the manager is really honest and nice. It reinforces the fact that there are more nice people than bad ones in the world. Try to stay safe and mindful when travelling! 🙂

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