A lesson in smart-traveling or why we should read the ‘Dangers’ section of the guidebook beforehand.
I stood on a corner of a large junction, with my back against a local shop. I was just lowering the camera, ready to put it away when I felt and arm grab my left shoulder. I didn’t expect it and I got startled. Even gave out a little scream. I turned around to see a young man, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. He was annoyed that I was startled and sort of tried to hush me down. For a second I thought he might just want to ask a question. By that time I’d managed to put the camera in its case and zip it halfway through. Next thing I know he is asking for the camera.
– Dame la camara – he said quietly. That’s when I realised what was happening. ‘Shit!’ I thought. ‘I am being mugged.’ My face darkenened and tightened. I shook my head no. What followed happened in about 5 seconds.
I wasn’t going to give my camera away. I considered my options – give him the camera, negotiate with him (would that work?!), or scream. I couldn’t run away because he was holding the camera case and I couldn’t punch him because he would get away if I let go. ‘But screaming is rediculous!’ I thought. I even considered a seductive strategy that a friend and I had discussed in Rio. Under the circumstances, screaming was my best option. I had to attract attention, hoping people would help me. Next thing I know I am screaming at the top of my lungs.
– Deja me! Dejame! (Leave me alone!) – I screamed. Those who know me know how loud I can be. While I was screaming I also held my camera tight. Luckily the case was elaborately strapped to my handbag which gave me time. If it wasn’t, the guy would have been long gone with my camera. As I started screaming the guy got pissed off. I saw him reach down his belt and lift his T-shirt. ‘Shit!’ I thought. ‘A knife!’. I don’t think it was a gun because it wasn’t bulky enough. I don’t even know if there was a knife (maybe he was just trying to scare me) and I am glad I didn’t find out. I wouldn’t let the camera go and the guy was trying to hit me. At some point the case snapped from the strap and I thought I’d lost the fight. He managed to make a couple of steps before a group of local men who’d heard me scream jumped on him before he could get away. There were at least 3 of them punching him, keeping him pinned to the ground but I only remembered one. He was a dark, middle-aged man, sporting a beard and wearing an apron. He must have worked at the store, probably the meat section.
– You are gonna beat women, huh!? You are gonna beat women, huh!? – he shouted in Spanish while punching the guy. The thief dropped the camera and I quickly picked it up, along with the case that contained my main debit card and some cash. Next thing he was running down the street and off into the nearby houses. I as standing on the street and the police was running towards me.
-Gracias! Gracias! – I said as my saviors were walking away from the scene with a fierce look in their eyes. I was so grateful to the man in the apron and I couldn’t thank him enough. Here is where the situation got rediculous.
Two policeman, patrolling in the neighborhood had already come. Then there was a police car, the another one, wheels screeching on the asphalt as it stopped in front of me. Before I knew it there were 3 police cars and at least 10 policemen. I must have given them a description of the guy as they were soon chasing him with their guns out. It was surreal, something out of a movie scene. I heard them spreading the descriptionof the man to other policemen on their radios while telling local kids to get out of the way.
I was standing on the pavement waiting for them to do their thing. The fight was over and ow I could feel my knees weakening and my hands shaking. Surprisingly my Spanish was flowing fluently as I was giving description or telling the story of what happened to local women hungry for gossip. I didn’t feel anything during the fight. Didn’t feel weak or strong, didn’t feel the man’s grip, didn’t see my surroundings, didn’t think about anything. I was just focused on holding tight and screaming as loud as I could. A female officer told me to go to the other side of the street and wait. So I did.
Soon after a policean came and took my details as well as the description of the man.Then he escorted me to the police car and asked me to wait. I sat at the back of the air-conditioned police car, clenching to my bag, looking through the criss-crossed metal grid while wondering whether I was really safe in there. The car wasn’t locked.
By that time I’d calmed down and felt guilty for what was happening. Ther was so much policeout there, chasing after the guy when nothing actually had been stolen. Surely there must be more important crime to fight than fuss around a stupid ‘gringa’ who’d thoughtlessly gotten herself in a dangerous situation.
While sitting in the car, a few more policemen came over, noting details or asking whether I was ok. I remember one of them saying that the thief as hiding in the house 20m down the street but they couldn’t go in. ‘Why?’ I asked. And he gave me an explanation that I couldn’t fully understand. Maybe a warrant was needed…? We all know that justice and law are ot the same thing.
After about 30min the fuss had died down ad a couple of policemen drove me back to the tourist area and assured me it was safe to take photos there. I was done exploring the ‘real’ city. It was a bit too real for my taste.