Held at gunpoint
in the middle of the night
(wild camping namibia)
Before I start, I just want to say that everyone I’ve met since arriving in Namibia a month ago has been extremely friendly and easy going. I’ve really been enjoying my time here so far. This was an isolated incident.
finding a camp spot
I’ve been riding towards Etosha National Park for the past few days. After running out of water while riding through Messum Crater and Brandberg Mountains, I wanted a couple of easy days riding along the paved roads.
The problem with the paved roads is there are generally fences on both sides of the road which means wild camping can become a little challenging.
My strategy so far has been to camp under bridges. I’ve done that already 3 times since cycling through Namibia and it hasn’t been a problem.
So after having cycled 85km for the day, I found a bridge under the road and decided it would be the perfect place to escape the sun and setup camp for the night. It was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t think it would be a problem.
It was about 4pm when I went down there and I proceeded to cook dinner, setup camp and watch a movie.
I was quite tired and fell asleep at around 8.30pm.
what happened at night
At about midnight, I woke up to the sound of footsteps in the distance about 50m away. I looked up but couldn’t see anything. The footsteps were very slow and didn’t sound like a normal walking pace.
It was 4 steps then stop, then 2 more steps then stop, then 6 steps then stop etc.
You have to remember that I’m in the middle of nowhere and to get down to where the footsteps were coming from you would have to walk down from the road through the bushes and there is absolutely no reason to do that.
They definitely sounded like human footsteps although with the strange pattern of steps and the sound of a cow mooing, I convinced myself it was just a few cows grazing near the fence.
After about 15 minutes and hearing that the footsteps had stopped, I fell back asleep.
About an hour and a half later at 1.30am, I saw a torch coming from the same direction and within moments it was shining on my tent.
Immediately, I knew I was in trouble. I quickly searched my tent for my knife as my only form of self defence.
“Get out of the tent NOW!” I heard a voice scream 3 times.
I quickly replied “I’m coming out of the tent now, it’s all good”
I made my way out of the tent quickly with the knife closed and hidden in my right hand.
The flashlight was pointed directly at my face and I couldn’t see anything. It was coming from about 15m away
“Put your hands on your head” he kept shouting at me.
My hands were on my head and not moving and he just kept repeating the phrase.
As I was standing in my underwear, going through my head at this point was that I’m on public land right now, it’s the middle of the night, I’m in the middle of nowhere, and it seems this person has been following my tracks. I was thinking that I was probably going to be robbed and hopefully not killed.
Surprisingly, I was feeling pretty calm.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m riding my bicycle and I’m just camping here.” As I pointed to my bicycle, I realised he couldn’t see my bike because it was leaning up against the wall and from where he was standing, all he could see was my tent.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m cycling to Etosha National Park and needed somewhere to camp” I kept saying using different words to describe my situation.
The conversation went like this for the next 10 minutes staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
He then got on his phone and called someone. He was speaking the local language and I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
I thought he was probably calling his friends to come and meet him there. I wasn’t sure if maybe the footsteps I heard earlier were him or maybe a second person.
He got off the phone, walked closer towards me, still with the shotgun pointed at me.
“Keep your hands on your head. Don’t move.” He approached closer.
It wasn’t until he was only a couple of metres away before he saw my bicycle.
He started laughing and lowered his gun.
Wow, what a relief!
I could finally see him and he was wearing a coat that said “security.”
Talking to him
Still with the knife in my hand, I lowered my arms.
After I noticed that he wasn’t very interested in my bicycle, I decided I needed to hide the knife so I didn’t threaten him.
When he turned to the other direction, I quickly dropped the knife in the sand and stood on it to hide it.
He then started to explain to me the story.
He is a private security guard that has been hired by one of the farms. They have had people camping under the bridge and waiting in the middle of the night to throw spears at cows, kill them, butcher them and carry them away.
It had become a bit of a problem, hence the reason he has been employed there for the past 6 months.
He assumed that I was probably one of these people and was being very demanding as he didn’t want to be shot, incase I had a handgun on my side.
The conversation continued and he explained that he had seen me riding along the highway earlier in the day when he was driving passed and was waiting for me to pass the farm entrance (still another 2km) where he was posted. But I never arrived.
So he assumed I had gone down at the bridge and had entered one of the farms (it was easy to get under the fence to the farm there) and he was trying to track my footprints into the farm.
So the noise I heard an hour and a half earlier was actually him.
He didn’t have his torch on as he was trying to secretly track and find me before killing one of the cows.
I never walked that way so I’m not sure what footprints he was trying to follow.
After talking to him for about half an hour, I offered him some water and an orange and asked him if I could go to sleep.
He said that was fine, so I secretly bent down to pick up my knife and went in my tent.
He then sat down between my tent and my bike.
Obviously, this was a little uncomfortable and I wasn’t able to sleep.
He didn’t leave until 4am.
I finally dosed off and started dreaming that one of these guys with a spear came and tried to steal my bike. But because it was locked to itself, he wasn’t able to ride it and he gave up.
I went in and out of sleep as the trucks started passing above me on the bridge.
I woke up around 6am, packed up my things and started riding.
Surprisingly, I didn’t really think much about last night while riding today.
I guess I got over it pretty quickly.
It’s the first time I’ve had a gun pointed at me and I was surprisingly calm.
Knowing that I couldn’t do anything probably helped the situation.
That’s what I like about travelling by bicycle. You never really know what’s going to happen and how you’re going to deal with the situation…and difficult situations arrive often.
In normal life, I tend to avoid difficult decisions and always take the easy way out. Sometimes I even get anxious walking into a shop and having to talk to the shop attendant.
But when there is a shotgun pointed at me in the middle of nowhere at 1.30am in Namibia, I’m calm and relaxed.
Who would have thought.