Sunday, February 19, 2006

I Was Robbed

Salvador, Brazil

First off, Jason and I are both completely fine. This was not one of those "getting stabbed in a dark alley" kind of muggings. I got robbed by two apparently unarmed assailants in broad (very broad, in fact) daylight. I'll get to that part momentarily.

Lonely Planet Brazil is full of warnings about street crime in Salvador. They strongly recommend leaving cameras and backpacks at home, avoiding the steep streets between the high city and the port, and staying out of the barrios on the east side of town. Partly due to guidebook-induced paranoia, I had as yet shot no video of Salvador. The bright sunshine was providing perfect conditions for getting some footage of this extremely picturesque city. Emboldened by several days of crime-free living in the well-policed city center, we struck out with camera in backpack to see the sights and photograph them thoroughly.

We crossed the center without incident and decided to head town to the tourist market by way of a steep street between the high city and the port. Some minutes were passed there perusing piles of yellow and green t-shirts and a capoeira school in action before heading back up by way of another steep street. This time we managed to hitch a ride on the back of a construction truck without really asking. We just sort of jumped on. It got us up the hill but not exactly where we wanted to be. After a few twists and turns, we were walking through the barrios on the east side of town.

If I were going to make a film about two American backpackers getting robbed in Brazil, I might choose this exact setting. The narrow streets were flanked by crumbling colonial buildings in advanced states of disrepair. The ground floor of every third building hosted a makeshift bar, each with the same plastic chairs and tables, and each housing a similar group of outwardly staring locals. Uniformly shirtless kids too young or too poor for beer, were gathered around in bored groups. There was a lot of piled up and it was hot as hell.

As perfectly suited as our environs were for a mugging, I was not feeling particularly scared or cautious. In the last eight months we have walked through a lot of seedy streets in a lot of seedy places and come through with nothing worse than a shit-covered shoe. Earlier in the day, I had pointed out to Jason that we were blithely ignoring the Lonely Planet's advice. He thought it unlikely that we would be accosted in the middle of the day in an active city street. I replied that "stranger things have happened", but was myself quite convinced that no highwayman might be so bold.

The funny thing is, we were very nearly back in the city center - an area crawling with tourist-protecting military police - when the banditos struck. A twitchy fellow got my attention and pointed to something to my right. I turned my head to check things out when his accomplice dove fingers-first into my left front pocket. My hand dove in immediately after and I found myself in the awkward situation of trying to keep another man's hand in my pants because his hand was clasped securely around maybe 25 US dollars of my money. I could not see the second man at all. In my head he was imagined as an AIDS-infected, knife-wielding, leviathan crack addict, so I released by grip and sat down on the street, preferring to lose a bit of money to dying at the hands of an HIV-ridden basehead.

Said basehead wasted no time in making his getaway at speed. Oddly, the other guy paused for a moment, said something, kind of half-grinned, and then trotted off as well. His parting words were unfortunately lost in translation. I considered chasing after to ask him to repeat himself, but only very briefly. The whole episode took less than 5 seconds. The robbers made off with a bit of cash and my street crime virginity, but failed to grab the much more valuable video camera in my backpack, and left Jason completely unmolested. I guess they were in a big rush because we were on a busy street in the middle of the day and very near to a group of 3 rifle-toting coppers. The temerity of Bahian thieves is not to be underestimated, but they ain't stupid. A block earlier, things could have been a bit worse.

The experience of getting robbed was more immasculating than scary. I realize there is no shame in being surprised by professional thieves and preferring the loss of a small amount of money to possible death, but I can not help but feel like a massive wimp for not putting up some kind of a fight. The intersection of rationality and honor can be an ugly meeting indeed. The longer-term lesson of this incident (and the loss of Jason's iPod onboard the HMS Stinky Boredom) is that the OC needs to be a bit more careful. Travel longevity apparently does not grant crime immunity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count your lucky stars it was merely $25. That's not worth putting up a fight.

2/20/2006 9:15 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi guys,

sorry to hear that crime has struck you twice now (although i'm happy to read that you weren't hurt, and that jason didn't lose all the document etc when the ipod was nicked). i've had the pleasure of being relieved of my document-and-credit-card-containing wallet twice in my life so far, and both times the hassle was pretty big - and i was not far from home at the time. so i can imagine how much work it would've been for jason to make all the neccessary arrangements. and i agree with mike - why risk your health/life for a bit of cash?

keep on enjoying the trip, don't let crime taint it for you.


2/21/2006 11:27 AM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What good is all that ninja training if you can't beat up some sissy street urchins? You are representing the USA in your travels. We do not back down from evildoers, we do not give in to terrorists, ever. You should give up your citizenship and become French.

2/21/2006 7:17 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So pirates ARE way cooler than ninja...

2/23/2006 11:55 AM gmt

Blogger jason said...

> sorry to hear that crime has struck you twice now

Better make that three times. My camera was ripped away from me two days ago (there will be a post, I promise).

Brazil is becoming annoying.

2/23/2006 2:55 PM gmt


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