Some would have us believe that it’s a big bad world out there. But most recently (as always) I’ve preferred to keep thinking the best of people. Give ’em the benefit of the doubt. Skin color, religion, number of limbs, height, sexual orientation, geographical location & politics aside. We’re all just humans right? Plus, it’s those little differences that make for the most interesting conversations & make us wanna travel in the 1st place.
Btw, when I say recently, I mean: since my current spout of aimless wandering began. Having divorced myself from the love of my life, then more recently from my job (plus associated rat race), my feet got itchy. I decided to go see what’s over the next hill. Or even over the other side of the pond.
First a quick whistle stop tour of some places I hadn’t yet visited in Italy. Then, some countries I’d never visited at all: Puerto Rico, Mexico & every country in Central America. With these new (to me) countries at least they mostly spoke Spanish & I’d only have 1 language to learn. How hard could it possibly be? ;o)
Mostly I’ve been drifting and making it up as I go along. More of an adventure. But I’m not a complete dummy; I’ve been known to google on occasion. Living without a plan can be liberating, but there are certain practicalities to be attended to.
As I said: understanding the spoken & written language is kinda handy. Duolingo on my iPhone, Spanish lessons started. Check. (Wifi permitting, that is). Visas: the countries I selected are all easily accessible with my UK passport. (Pre-Brexit that was. Hopefully, after the dust has settled, they will remain so). Cross the next border, have my passport stamped, leave before the visa expires. Job done.
I already had some vaccinations from some previous beach-like vacations. Sheltered bubbles in places like Kenya, Jamaica, Maldives, Bali, Langkawi etc. Didn’t bother with any new ones. Figured I had the main ones covered. Anything else I could contract would be unpleasant, but not life threatening.
I also did a little due diligence wrt UK and USA government web-sites. Any natural disasters, viral outbreaks and wars I should know about? This is where the big bad world syndrome kicked in for me tho. Seemed there were always warnings re: crime and violence. But surely that’s the case in most big cities? (Couldn’t be as bad as all the mass shootings in the USA).
I wondered how much would be propaganda. Spread fear & mistrust, so we’d spend our hard earned cash closer to home, where it’s safe. Plus, maybe support our own government’s foreign policies wrt Johnny Foreigner.
In fact, when I started traveling, I thought I saw even more of it. Hotels telling you not to trust taxis. (Licensed) taxis telling you not to trust buses etc. (Don’t do day trips on your own; use an agency…it’s safer). Everyone seemed concerned with your safety… (not monopolizing your hard earned cash… honest).
When I actually got onto the streets, I used common sense. I avoided dodgey areas, refused kind offers for recreational drugs, extras with my massages… and didn’t mess with anyone’s special lady. (Anything that could lead to someone getting pissed off). If the majority of crimes were due to gang fights etc, then fuck it, I was gonna steer clear of wobbly neighborhoods.
As if to renew my faith in my fellow man… Everybody I’ve met (until today) has been friendly, welcoming, helpful, patient and often bemused (as to what the heck I’m doing here). Many people are interested in the differences, much like we are. Most people I’ve met have told me: not to trust anyone; to keep a careful watch on my possessions; plus to offer no resistance whatsoever if confronted with a knife or a gun. Better to lose ya stuff than your life. Check.
I’ve been pick-pocketed before. In Zürich actually. So I’m quite aware of my pockets, my backpack and my personal space. (Plus, reflections during the day and shadows at night). Most of the natives I’ve met, so far however, have been primarily chest height on me. So, unless they are tooled up, I generally feel fairly safe most of the time. (Statistics & physics, not cockiness, I’d like to think).
The only real exception, so far, was San Salvador (El Salvador, Central America). People I’d hooked up with in Honduras were giving it a wide berth and other people had warned me not to go. Again, the natives were… you’ve guessed it: friendly, hospitable, helpful, patient and often bemused. But, having scoped the place out, I definitely erred on the side of caution. I ate dinner, had a few scoops and headed back to my lodgings as the sun was setting. (Figured that would guard against gang violence, vampires and of course werewolves).
“What more could there be”? I hear you ask. Of course I’d completely forgotten about my viewings of both the Sting and Paper moon, in my formative years. Confidence tricksters, basically. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but nor am I the dullest. That said, boy do I feel dumb today.
Long story, short. Quiet park, resting my feet (and my iPhone’s built in camera). Little old guy sits next to me and starts chatting. (In Spanish of course). So I start practicing, we talk about cultural differences, such as I can. Conversation I’ve had multiple times whilst traveling. I’m from Inglaterra, he’s from Perú. Two foreigners in Bolivia. Can you see what’s coming yet?
Next thing: some immigration official happens along, flashing his credentials and doing spot checks. It seems some foreigners don’t have official paperwork. (Mine’s back in my hotel, with my passport). Plus, these same foreigners are doing drugs, which apparently is frowned upon… and warrants hefty fines.
Quick summary: pockets the IDs we do have (driving license for me) and insists on driving us to respective hotels for necessary paperwork. I’m insisting, all the time, I want my ID back and at this point I’m getting suspicious. But he’s got my license and mentions of Policia and Hotel from me only bring confusion due to my apparently abysmal Spanish; plus he’s getting shirty at my lack of respect for his authoritah.
Old guy’s telling me not to rock the boat and we hop in the car. Anyway, we both get our IDs back as he drives off. Which eases the tension. Shortly after tho’, he pulls over and starts checking for drugs. Sniffing each item of our belongings, as if he’s a bloodhound. All the time the old geezer’s clearly nervous and quick to comply. I’m keeping a close watch on what the ‘official’ is doing, especially when searching my shit. Getting even more suspicious now ‘cos the old guy seems to be doddering & interfering to distract me.
Official guy continues driving. I start again with the magic Policia word and insists he hands my shit back. Official Guy’s had enough, pulls over, says he believes us and makes a show of carefully replacing everything. (Nothing up my sleeve practically). Decides to kick us to the kerb. Old guy shuffles toward me and I get out. He slams the door. They both screech off. Gaaaaah!
Check all my shit immediately. All my Bolivianos are there, as is my bag, my jacket, iPad, Kindle & various odds’n’sods. But, despite my best watchful eye efforts, those fuckers made off with all my American dollars. Fuckers!
Feel like such a gullible idiot. Two apparently separate encounters, but obviously in cahoots. Well played. I have no clue what cop IDs look like, never mind this migration shit. Of course the old guy sold it all. It appeared we were both in the same boat & he showed me how to play along. All happens so fast, ya head spins.
Really put a crimp in my day, I can tell ya. Bottom lip out. Feeling like a complete nob. And worst of all: it makes me distrustful of others. Even if I’d twigged in time and smacked the fucker, is it worth ruining ya day and ya knuckles over a few bucks?
Gaaaah! Idiot tax I guess. Pure’n’simple. I’m sticking with my Policia defense from now on and parting with the square root of naff all in future. Biatches! Lesson: don’t trust non-cop and don’t hand over your ID. I guess it’s better to be a victim of a robbery gone right, than the victim of a robbery gone wrong.
Here endeth the rant…
Initially decided there was no point reporting it. (Won’t get my idiot tax back). But then again, a word to the bizzies… so they at least know the scam and where it occurred… couldn’t harm, right? I walked into the cop shop and asked the female oscifer behind the desk if she speaks English. (Much too complicated to explain in my limited Spanish). She says “no” and asks if I “want a map”? ;o)
Fuck it. I smile and politely decline; then walk out to carry on sulking. Pah… ;o)