On my final day in Manizales I walked around all day taking in the city. As the sun went down I debated whether I should head “home” or stay out a bit longer. I was in the Zona Rosa, or nightlife zone. It was a Friday night, though it was much too early for partying to start.
I went into a restaurant and spent about 1.5 hours online while I had some amazing fruit juice. I saw on Google Maps that I was 7km/4.4mi from where I was staying, so I had to take a taxi. But I was kind of hungry so I figured I would buy a $0.60 empanada on the street somewhere and then catch a taxi.
Upon leaving the Zona Rosa it seemed like all the street food vendors disappeared. I was still in a nice part of town, but there were only restaurants or cafeterias. I wasn’t interested in a meal, just a snack.
Well, I walked thinking I’d give it another few minutes before calling it quits and just eating the granola in my backpack for dinner.
I was on Avenida Santander, one of the three main streets in Manizales. It was well-lit and I felt relatively comfortable.
I walked up the street, which went uphill and turned into an overpass. As I walked, I got stuck behind two young guys. They were walking slowly, but we were going uphill so I guess it fit. To my right was a green area and a bus stop. The guard rail stopped, so I could pass the two guys. Since the traffic is on the left, I passed on the right.
I passed them and then was ahead of those two guys, and behind another guy. Soon after passing, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that they were approaching. I didn’t get nervous.
Soon thereafter, his arm was around my neck. It might be the way a boyfriend puts his arm around his girlfriend only his arm was bent and he was squeezing my neck – but he wasn’t squeezing too hard.
I guess everything happened quickly, but I know I didn’t resist at this point. In all honesty, I thought he was mad at me for passing him, as if I cut him off or something. It would be like road rage, minus the cars.
The guy with arm around me was talking to me. I think I had the presence of mind to turn off my ipod since I later had to hit play to make it continue. Or I may have turned it off instinctually as I saw the guys approach out of the corner of my eye.
Soon after the arm going around my neck, the guy in front of me turned around and started pulling on my jacket. He was pulling me closer to him.
At this point I resisted. I think they continued talking to me, but all I heard was “hijo de puta” or “son of a bitch.”
Soon enough I was free of being restrained. I didn’t run away though. I just stood there. The guy in front of me, who was pulling on my jacket, kept looking over my shoulder. Given that we were on one of the main streets, cars were going by and I’m sure pedestrians were approaching the bottom of the hill.
I heard they say “hijo de puta” a few more times and then it was done. I walked backwards keeping an eye on them as they continued walking down the street. They’d turn around and look at me every so often as well.
I still wasn’t nervous, I didn’t shake or go into shock or even have much of an elevated heart rate. I just thought to myself how strange an event that was.
As they walked down the street, I saw them go back to walking in a line as if they didn’t know each other.
That’s when I realized they must be a team of robbers. Their technique is to walk slowly and trap people in between them and then pounce.
As I looked to my left to cross the street, they disappeared. I think they went into a restaurant but I wasn’t sure.
I crossed the street and continued walking. Not really being too shaken up, I kind of still wanted my empanada. But I realized I should go back and take pictures as this would, obviously, end up on the blog no matter how much my mom is going to hate reading it.
So I went back to take a picture of where it all went down and then continued my search for an empanada.
About five minutes later I saw two policemen. I told them my story and they were cool. They said they’d keep an eye out, but it was obvious that my story was nothing out of the ordinary. They were nice enough to take a picture for the sake of this article.
I think they thought my Spanish was worse than it is because they kept on asking me if anything was stolen. I kept saying no! They also asked me if they had a knife, which I replied no as I didn’t see one. This being Colombia, where such “petty” crime is normal, no report was taken and I didn’t expect one to be taken. I just wanted to let them know that there were robbers in the area.
I asked the policemen if there were any cheap places up the road where I could get an empanada. One of them asked the owner of the restaurant where we were standing and he took the picture of us and told me that there were some cheap places just down the road. I promised the policemen that I’d just go up there and see if there was anything to eat and then I’d definitely take a taxi.
I didn’t end up finding any empanadas or street food so after the next batch of bars and restaurants I caught a taxi. It was a bit more difficult than I expected, but I was lucky and found two people getting out of a taxi a little in front of me.
I asked the guy how much it would cost to get to where I was staying and he said he’d use the meter. Fine. He heard my accent and asked where I was from. He lived for a little while in New York working as a courier for a publishing company.
He was a very cool guy and, in much the same way a father would scold a child with love, he did the same to me when I told him what just happened. He was simultaneously supportive yet strict in telling me, in his good but semi-broken English, to always pay attention to your surroundings and to be careful. Got it.
He then told me how his motorcycle was stolen in New York, which was his means of getting around as a courier, and then how he was robbed at gunpoint in his apartment by thieves. It’s not as though I see New York or the U.S. as the safest place in the world, but he used this as an example to reiterate that you have to be careful no matter where you are. And he’s right.
When we arrived at where I was staying, I gave him a nice tip for the pleasant ride. I also asked if he minded if I took this picture, and he was a good sport. The thumbs up was all him!
If you recall, the first time someone tried to rob me in Guatemala City something similar happened. The nicest guy in Guatemala City also lived some time in New York and warned me to be careful. I wouldn’t call the taxi driver the nicest guy in Manizales, but he was pretty awesome. Nevertheless, what is it with people who used to live in New York appearing just before or after a robbery attempt?
I have already written a series of articles about “How The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls” where you’ll see the measures I take to stay safe and how I do everything from finding volunteering opportunities to finding ways to get online.
Thus, I won’t bore you with my security measures yet, but one thing I have never done in my life is keep my wallet in my back pocket. Given that there were three guys, one to put his arm around me on my side, one to rough me up in front and keep a look out, and a third guy doing..? I have a feeling the third guy’s job was to steal my wallet amidst ample distraction.
Since I don’t keep my wallet in my back pocket, presumably all he found was, especially by Colombian standards, a disappointingly flat butt.
So, I’m beating the robbers 2-0. Not bad.
Once again, a combination of luck, good preparation, being present, and maybe some physical strength to get out of being restrained. Still, it’s the second robbery attempt and The Happy Nomad Tour is just turning six months old.
I should say here that I’ll be more careful to placate my parents. The truth is that I already am careful and I think that’s partly why the score is 2-0. But ok, I will be more careful. I promise..
I will also never execute a pass on the right in Colombia. Big lesson learned!
I also thought for a moment if I should be carrying around pepper spray in my pocket. But it’s bad enough to take precautions against potential thieves and live in a constant state of semi-fear of being robbed. Having countermeasures is almost an attitude of expecting to be robbed.
Similarly, given that there were three guys, I don’t think it would have helped much. It easily could have resulted in an escalation and if they had a weapon on them they would have probably used it. Not cool.
All I know is that I seem to have a guardian angel looking over me. This was a statue I found in Medellin. I grew up idolizing Superman. Maybe he’s got my back?
About Adam Pervez
In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.