close calls

Despite all the luck we’ve had this trip with just about everything: places being spectacular and living up to reputations, perfect weather, awesome fellow travelers, transportation working out, being able to meet up with people when planned, etc., we have had a few bumps in the road. These first couple hiccups are ones where we were the victims of other people’s stupidity.

I mentioned in a previous post that we had beautiful beach-front accommodations in Mancora, on the coast of Peru. We were a 10 or so minute walk out of town, but it was a very pleasant walk along the calm beach, so we hardly minded it. At the hostel, on the way out to the beach, there was a sign posted with warnings. From not swimming alone, to wearing sandals on the scorching hot sand, one of the warnings was to not walk the length of beach between the town and the hostel late at night. They reccommended taking a cab into and out of town. We of course assumed that the hostel was getting paid a premium by the cab drivers to post that warning and saw no reason why two, 6+ foot, hairy, able-bodied guys couldn’t walk anywhere they wanted at any time.

Well, it turned out that we were in town pretty late one night, doing a bit of drinking with fellow travelers and locals alike (we actually spent most of the night cutting the rug in the living room of a big, local, Peruvian family home that was celebrating a birthday- one of the rare nights that I forgot my camera, such a shame!) and of course opted to walk back along the beach. I don’t think the warning at the hostel entered our minds for even a second.

During one of the particularly dark parts in the walk, I noticed a hooded guy walking a few meters behind me. I turned to tell Karl, and as I did I noticed two more guys walking a bit behind him. We seemed to notice at the same time and just as we started to vocalize our concern, the guy behind me ran up to my side with a glass bottle raised above his head shouting “MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!”.

I don’t know if it was liquid courage, general stupidity, or just plain not wanting to be a victim, but somehow both of us had already decided that we weren’t about to get ripped off. It all happened so fast and the vision I have of it in my head is a reconstruction, but there are certainly some things I distinctly remember. We both started yelling at the guy, NO TENEMOS! NO TENEMNOS! (we don’t have) and AFUERA! (get away). Around then the other two muggers seemed to get the memo to attack and ran up to Karl to try to rip his backpack from his back. I pushed the guy with the bottle away from me and headed over to where Karl had fallen to the ground. Karl smashed one guy in the face pretty hard and got him off. I helped get the other guy away and Karl got back to his feet. We then noticed the guy with the bottle try to break the bottle on the ground and totally fail, and another guy try to pick up a rock to threaten us with, but drop it. That’s when we started running towards our hostel and yelling for help.

When we got back to the hostel  we found some people crowded around trying to start a campfire. Apparently they heard nothing. Looking back, I think it was a combination of things leading to the outcome we had. First of all I’m pretty sure both of us were taller and bigger than each of the  three muggers which I’m sure was frightening for them individually. Second, they definitely seemed like amatuer muggers who had maybe never run into conflict in their muggings. Finally, I think our initial reaction, once we noticed what was going on, helped us a lot. We were very loud and firm with our words and I’m sure they could tell we were determined not to hand anything over. The funny part is that we really didn’t have hardly anything to steal. I didn’t have my camera or ipod, Karl didn’t have his laptop. The most they could’ve gotten was maybe $20 US in cash, which I’m sure they would’ve been dissappointed with. We did lose something- Karl’s sunglasses were on his head and fell off in the bout. Yes, the purple plaid ones. Damn.

When we ride long distance buses, we usually check our bags under the bus (although they’re probably small enough to carry on) and take a small bag with us that has all of our valuables (camera, ipod, laptop, passports, that’s about it). That way we can keep a close eye on the important things and won’t be totally screwed if our big bags get taken.

The bus from the coast of Ecuador to Quito was overnight and from sea level to about 9400 ft. All the climbing means that the ride was full of switchbacks and hairpin turns. Trying to sleep on a thrashing bus when you can barely stay in your seat is miserable. We were lucky that the bus wasn’t very full so we could split up and have a set of 2 seats to ourselves, though it didn’t help much. I even strategically placed my bag behind my leg so that if I ever fell asleep it wouldn’t fall on the ground and slide around the floor of the bus.

Well, I dozed off briefly at one point and when I woke up my bag wasn’t where I left it. I found it on the ground behind one of the seats I was in. At first I attributed the move to the swaying of the bus, but then when I reached down and grabbed it my passport fell out. The drawstring was loose. That’s really the only reason I looked through it to see if everything was in there and found that my camera was missing.

I first went to Karl, apologetically waking him up to make sure the camera wasn’t randomly in his backpack. We made double sure. Then I checked my bag again to be certain I didn’t miss it. Still nothing. It had to be somewhere, I had it when I got on. I gave the guy sitting behind me the benefit of the doubt and envisioned my camera sliding across the floor of the bus. I started crawling around looking for it. The conductor of the bus even got involved and turned on the light for us in the middle of the night. I woke up a few people in my search, asking them if they’d seen anything. Nothing.

Well, the guy in the seat behind mine was conveniently ‘asleep’ during the whole search. Eventually the lights went back off and everyone went back to sleep. There seemed to be only one more place it could be. Karl and I approached the guy together, telling him that I had lost my camera and needed him to move so we could look for it. He said he was sleeping and made no effort to listen or be helpful. We apologized, but told him it would be quick and easy. He didn’t want to move. He leaned forward to do a quick look around and told us it wasn’t there. Thankfully he didn’t have a bag to stash it in or even pockets to hide it so when he leaned I barely saw the corner of it poking out from behind his back. We told him we knew he had it and demanded he give it back. He swore he knew nothing about it. We got louder and firmer and told him that we knew he stole it and would tell the people on the bus if he didn’t give it back. With that he asked us to quiet down and handed over the camera.

We didn’t sleep the rest of the ride- not because of the winding roads, but because we had a bit of adrenaline keeping our blood pumping. We were stoked to have narrowly averted getting jacked, once again- we were glad that we had the balls to take action and prevent it. The more we travel the more we learn how to avoid problems and hopefully the fewer we run into.

Thanks for reading- more to come.
Until then,
-willrl

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