Getting (almost) robbed on my way to meet Mark Manson
From my book How to Be Cross Eyed: Thriving Despite Your Physical Imperfection — a mémoire and lifehacking manifesto
A lifehack for meeting interesting and influential people is to travel to exotic places and network with other english speakers. Sure you can easily find plenty of rowdy Australian backpackers to swill beer with but if you want to network up try to connect with entrepreneurs. In almost any cosmopolitan metropolis you can find on Facebook a local entrepreneurial group.
In just such a group I saw that a few acquaintances of mine were getting dinner with the eminent blogger and author Mark Manson at a swanky restaurant in Medellin, Colombia. I sent a few private messages to get myself invited. I dressed sharply and headed out.
I was walking through one of the nicer neighborhoods in Pablo Escobar’s hometown when a shady looking local guy rather unassertively tried to rob me. About 10 feet before we passed on the sidewalk, the grungy looking guy yelled at me Dame tu cellular! But he did it a bit nervously. If he had gotten in my face, grabbed me or thrown me to the ground I would have certainly handed over whatever he wanted to avoid violence but he just didn’t seem that serious. I think I know how women feel when men daygame cold approach them unassertively. In a millisecond, I gauged the distance between us and thought to myself I really don’t want to give this loser my smartphone. I bet I can run faster than him! And I sprinted the other way as fast as I could, I didn’t look back until I reached a nearby hostel with a very secure front entrance.
From the hostel I did what I should have done in the first place, called a taxi to bring me to dinner. I met Mark (who doesn’t use the F-word nearly as much in person) and his nice Brazilian girlfriend.
Getting robbed by a pig
But that wasn’t the first time I was almost robbed in Colombia. My first day in that equatorial country was hectic to say the least.
I was traveling by boat through the San Blas Islands. We had to debark the speed boat to get our passports stamped to enter Colombia but in the spring time the swell in the Caribbean is especially strong and after an hour we were unable to safely dock the boat at the pier. The captain announced that we had to swim for the shore to get to dry land — this was the adventure that I had signed up for! He would carry our passports in a waterproof box. We jumped overboard and swam through the choppy water to a rather uninviting rocky beach covered with broken glass (and a dead bird!) We were all angry to discover that the captain’s waterproof box wasn’t! All our passports were soaked but dried quickly when laid out under the sun.
We were staying our first night in Colombia in a very dinky hostel in the outskirts of a coastal village. The girl who checked us into the hostel surprisingly informed us that we would be staying there alone that night, she would be leaving and going camping. A colorful assortment of friendly locals (including some very young soldiers with large guns) stopped by that day all asking about her.
Next to the hostel lived a giant ugly, grey pig that apparently had been trying to knock down the fence between the properties. Me and the other travelers hung out on the patio, sharing stories, joking, messing with the pig and imbibing. A few hours after the sun went down and darkness embraced our environs, one of the girls I was traveling with interrupted us asking who left a boot print on my bed!?
None of us had. We were all relaxing on the patio. We investigated and discovered that we’d been robbed! While we were distracted by the pig some small time thieves had gotten through the broken fence on the other side of the hostel, climbed through our window and had stolen some backpacks and things from our room. My paranoia really paid off that day, I don’t let my backpack containing my laptop and valuables out of my sight when I’m in a new unsecure place.
Later we’d joke that the pig was an accomplice to the crime! If it wasn’t for that stupid pig we probably would have heard the guys sneaking around the other side of the hostel.
Once while staying in a different hostel in Colombia I heard several cries of Ayuda, Ayuda, Ayuda! from in front of the hostel. I rushed to see a distraught girl shaking the frontgate wanting to get in, behind her a couple of guys where in a scary altercation, one guy was on the ground being attacked, some really bad looking guys were looming over him swiping at him with a knife!
I vaulted over the reception desk to hit the unlock button as fast as I could. The girl rushed in, the thugs took off and an argentinian guy who was now injured limped in. He’d been stabbed in the leg by one of the low lifes and needed to go to the hospital. Apparently they’d been approached by the thieves in front of the hostel who demanded they hand over their backpack, he’d aggravated the situation by getting aggressive with them and holding his ground, so they shoved him to the pavement and stabbed him.
Travel can be dangerous
But as my stories illustrate it’s not that dangerous if you’re vigilant and take some preventative measures. I lived in downtown Denver for about 5 years and heard of plenty of casual violence and petty crime, I’ve actually witnessed more fights there than I have in Colombia or any one of the other +20 countries I’ve visited in the past 7 years. So travel is less dangerous than you’ve maybe have been led to believe if you don’t act like an idiot. You’re never really safe unless you’re behind locked doors, armed and isolated on a rural property with a loyal guard dog and good neighbors.
- As a foreigner in foreign lands you’re often a target for petty criminals. Don’t wander around in flip flops. Wear shoes so that you can run if you need to! If you’re dressed sharply you’re a target, even in nicer neighborhoods, just take taxis to get places.
- Don’t let a backpack or piece of luggage containing your valuables out of your sight if don’t want them to be stolen.