Friday, March 16, 2012

Troubles in Durban

Sorry that we have no pictures today and the length of this posting, but we were robbed while we were in Durban. Before going any further, I will dispel your worries by adding that it was the car that was robbed while we were elsewhere, so we are fine, just a bit inconvenienced and we are continuing on after purchasing a few replacements. The story is a bit long also, so we may have to split it in pieces. Hopefully, we can get a few pictures up later.
We spent our night in Durban at the beautifully chic and modern Tega Tata B&B, overlooking the Durban bay. Durban is the largest port in South Africa; we never saw fewer than 18 ships waiting, coming or going during our day there.

We spent some extra time after breakfast talking to Monica, our hostess, and a couple of other guests. He is from South Africa, but married a Swede. They moved to Sweden around 1990 when a number or Europeans left rather than face the uncertainty of the end of apartheid. They had come back to South Africa to see old friends, but were going back to Sweden and home rather than stay in the new South Africa. Monica called us typical tourists in that we were not spending any real time in Durban to see all it has to offer. Most people do that, she said. We just used it as a jumping off point to get elsewhere, whether into the Drakensburg Mountains or to fly to Cape Town. That described us perfectly.

After breakfast we took Monica’s advice and drove along the shore as far as we could to the sounther ned of the waterfront drive. The port facilyt must be further south since we saw no evidence of any working port other than the many ships in the harbor. We turned around at the UShaka Aquarium which is supposed to be quite good and drove back towards the airport. We stopped at a couple of places to check out the beach and purchase some souvenirs.

Our big stop was at the stadium built for the FIFA World Cup two years ago. It is a tourist attraction because it includes a trip to the top where you get a spectacular panoramic view of the city. We took some pictures up there and bought some clothing souvenirs in the gift shop.

Then we headed to the Oyster Box Hotel for the recommended lunch. Several people had said this was a must in Durban and after looking at the view and enjoying a drink and cheese plate we agreed.

Until we returned to our car and found it empty. We had parked in what seemed to be an extremely safe spot between the Oyster Box and the Beverly Hills hotels. These are two of the best hotels you will find anywhere, fancy without being ostentatious. We also saw one of the security guards that inhabit all the parking spaces in South Africa that are not gated. The thieves must have been well-organized and brazen to have taken all of our stuff from that location in the middle of the afternoon.

All we were left with was the clothes we were wearing and the cameras we had carried into the Oyster Box along with the two pair of binoculars, my older 100-300mm lens and three jackets. Oh yes, they also decided we could keep the souvenirs we had just purchased.

While this was a bad thing, we were not involved in the robbery, so we are safe. But the best news is that the people around started to help us in ways we could never have imagined. The security folks helped us call the police and allowed Linda to call the tour company that had arranged much of the trip. Jan Vogel of that security group even walked Linda to a phone store to help us get a phone.

Then while we were at the police station where Jim and Marcia needed to go to get an affidavit that their passports had been stolen, John de Canha, manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel called us to offer us a room for the night along with dinner and breakfast and laundry. That was just the beginning. Jim and Linda spent a total of about four hours that evening and the next morning using the internet and phones to deal with credit cards, medical prescriptions, and travel arrangements. Then John drove us up to the pharmacy to clear the way for us to get our prescriptions refilled. The chemist is a friend who simply asked what we needed and took care of us. It took about 45 minutes to get them all filled. We paid the bill and returned to the hotel where we took a few minutes to regroup in our rooms before dinner. A bottle of wine awaited us in the room.

While Jim and Linda spent time on the computers and phones, I talked to Brian, who is the head of the security operations for that area. He has been working for the last couple of years to create a safe environment in the area, so he took our situation pretty hard. He had walked into the hotel and told John what had happened. He said John’s immediate response was to help us.
We can’t say enough kind things about the Beverly Hills. John was magnificent spending over two hours just helping us. The rest of the staff, Werner, Colin, Brian, and others I don’t have the names of, helped us at every turn. Getting up to freshly cleaned clothes helped us get off to a good start then next day as Linda and Jim spent a couple of more hours getting more things taken care.

It did help that Linda still has good connections at iQ Credit Union. It also helps that Linda and I did not have our credit cards compromised or lose our passports. We also had wonderful quick help from Jason at Azumano Travel, Theresa at Mango Tours, and Dawn at Wilderness Travel here in South Africa in getting us new vouchers for the rest of the trip and even sending photocopies of Jim and Marcia’s passports. That helped a lot in getting them replaced.

Other than losing almost all of our stuff and all of the pictures I had taken, the only real negative of this entire experience was trying to get in touch with the US Consulate in Durban. When no one answered the listed number, Jim called the Embassy in Pretoria and was given an emergency number. No answer there either. When we were at the Consulate in Cape Town yesterday, Michael, who helped us there, said that they are told not to answer the phone at certain times so they get their real work done. Wow!

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