How NOT to get mugged in Colombia (A Guide for idiots) Part 1

13 Jun
Robbery not allowed

The do’s and don’ts of muggery!

Important: to any of you who know my parents I beg, on bended knee, that you don’t tell them about the contents of this post nor even of  its existence. It’s not that I’m lying to them it’s just that I feel withholding the truth keeps them from worrying too much. PLEEEEEEEEEASE!

The title of this post has two intended meanings:
1: What NOT to do if you get mugged
2. How to AVOID getting mugged in the first place

An unfortunate stereotype that Colombia has is that it is a dangerous country. Obviously that reputation developed in the days of the drug cartels ala Pablo Escobar and by all accounts Colombia was an exceptionally dangerous place to live. Thankfully things have greatly improved and Colombia is probably safer now than it has been in the past 30 or 40 years.

That does not, however, mean that it is completely safe.

I have lived here in Cali for 9 months now and I have been “mugged” twice (mugged is written in inverted comas because the people who tried to mug me didn’t actually get anything, thanks to one occasion of quick thinking and another occasion of pure, frightened idiocy and luck on my part). I had never been mugged before coming here.

I have heard many of my friends tell me stories of how they were mugged at knife point or gun point; I have heard stories of people getting mugged by taxi drivers who take them down a side street where they and their friends take everything; I have heard stories of delivery men and people at ATM’s getting shot in the middle of the day; I have heard stories of what is called “El Paseo Millonario” (let’s translate that as “the millionaire’s roundabout”) where you get abducted and taken by your captors to numerous ATM machines until you’ve emptied your account; and actually I have heard of much worse.

I really want to stress that I’m not trying to demonize Cali or Colombia in this post. You can get mugged virtually anywhere, in any country in the world. I just, unfortunately, got the incentive to write this post and I think that some people will benefit from learning about this from my blog as opposed to learning it the hard and scary way like I did.

I’m going to tell you what happened to me both times I was mugged, why it happened, what I did, what I should (and shouldn’t) have done and what I do now to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

My first mugging (January, 2012)
I was having some repairs done in my apartment and my landlord told me I should go to Cali’s downtown district (El Centro) to get some materials. He gave me the address of a store and told me how to get there. I hopped of the Mio (Cali’s bus service) on a busy street (La 15) I had been on many times before. To the west of this busy street was a busy shopping district where I regularly go to buy clothes and stuff for my house. It is always bustling with people during the day. To the east of this street is an area I had never been to before. It’s made up of warehouses and smaller stores selling building supplies.

I was always cautious when I went to El Centro because everyone told me to do so. That day I dressed very casually, jeans and a T-shirt, I had a courrier-bag over my shoulder and I had my mobile phone (an iPhone 4) in my front pocket. I dressed casually so that I wouldn’t stick out too much, although being as white as I am that is next near to impossible here. The phone was in my front pocket because that pocket is very tight and even I have difficulty getting it out so a pickpocket wouldn’t have a chance of taking it unnoticed.

As I proceeded east down the side street, away from the main street, I noticed there were much less people and the further I went the less safe it felt (I can’t explain where the feeling came from but it had to do with the people I saw and the poor state of repair the area was in). As I walked down the street (on the left side) two young men (in their early 20’s) approached me and one held out his hand to shake mine. They were speaking fast and heavily accented and not only was my Spanish poor but I didn’t even want to understand what they were saying. I didn’t accept the handshake (something I had been advised on many years ago) and kept walking. They disappeared.

As I continued walking down the street (I was bout 3 blocks from the main street at this stage) I felt very uncomfortable due to the lack of activity and so crossed the street to the other side and started walking back towards the main street. The two men who had approached me previously reappeared and started speaking to me again but I tried to ignore them and kept walking. Then, one of them, from behind, put his hand on my shoulder. I wrenched my shoulder forward sharply to get lose his grip but he immediately put it back and with a lot more force. I span around. My back was facing a car and the two men were in front of me slightly to my left and right. I was effectively trapped. It was only then that I realized what was happening; I was getting mugged.

One of them launched his hand towards my front pocket (towards my phone) and I “reacted” by blocking his hand away with my forearm. I say reacted because I didn’t consciously think about it. Years of Karate training have made that movement automatic. He reached for my pocket again and once more I blocked him. They both were saying something to me but I think I was too frightened to understand.

I looked around and tried to take in the situation as best I could; it was broad daylight, there were other people on the street and there were people standing in the shop entrances nearby. I figured I needed to draw attention to what was going on so I started shouting, very loudly, in English (I had learned at a safety seminar for foreigners in Japan that shouting in a foreign language tends to draw much more attention than shouting in the local language). It had just the effect I was looking for; everyone nearby started looking in my direction and as soon as the two guys realized that they were the focus of everyone’s attention they turned around and took off in the other direction. I’ll never forget the look of one of them just before he turned around; pure pissed-off!

I turned and headed, shakily but quickly back towards the main street, checking over my shoulder every now and then to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Along the way one guy told he he saw what had happened and told me to be careful there. Back on the main street I looked around for a cop (there is a considerable police presence in Cali) but as luck would have it, couldn’t find one.

I quickly hopped back on the Mio, feeling very shaken up, got off at a shopping center near my house and proceeded to calm my nerves the only way I knew; Chocolate cake.

Post Mugging Analysis
This was a crime of opportunity. Those two guys saw a really white guy, looking slightly lost in a bad neighbourhood. My clothes were all Colombian but my physical appearance is clearly not. They saw a bag and possible the outline of my phone in my front pocket. They saw an opportunity and went for it. They didn’t show any weapons (which doesn’t mean they didn’t have any) so that gave me the incentive to do what I did.

In this case, I think my actions were pretty sound. It was broad daylight and their were other people around which meant these guys “probably” weren’t going to attempt anything crazy. Drawing attention to the situation by shouting saved my ass without me getting physical (which would just have made the situation much more dangerous). When everyone was looking at them they realized they had lost their prize of juicy little Irishman and they took off.

How I’m dealing with this now?
For one thing, I’m never going to that area alone again. I told my landlord what happened and we went back, together, a week later to pick up what I needed. I’m still pissed-off that he sent me there in the first place!

I carry much less money with me when I go to El Centro (and most places in general); just enough for what I think I need to get and I often hide most of it in my sock with just a little in my pocket (I hope the readers of this blog won’t use this information to rob my socks in the future).

IF they had had a gun, my actions (I hope) would have been very different. I would have shut the F@$K up and given them absolutely everything they asked for and prayed they wouldn’t shoot me. A gun is a game changer. You see one, you have already lost. Give them what they want and fast.

Next post
In Part 2 of this post I’ll talk about my second experience with the criminal underbelly of Cali. It was an experience that could very easily have gone, but thankfully didn’t go VERY, VERY BADLY!

I’ll talk a little more about the effect that experience has had on my current behaviour in my day to day life in Colombia and I’ll give a more detailed list of safety do’s and don’ts that I hope will keep you safer in the future.

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12 Responses to “How NOT to get mugged in Colombia (A Guide for idiots) Part 1”

  1. Natalia June 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    “I hope the readers of this blog won’t use this information to rob my socks in the future” LOL

  2. margarita moran June 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Afortunadamente en el primer atraco saliste ileso 🙂 Estas experiencias siempre se repiten en Colombia y en el peor de los casos no viven para contarlas. Gracias a la vida vamos a tener a Richi mucho mas tiempo para contarlas 🙂

  3. Javier Bustos February 13, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    Como Tips te puedo dar algunas recomendaciones:
    Caminar no en el andén sino en la calle y con actitud segura. No mirar a los ojos cuando estoy solo en sitios no confiables.
    No llevar joyas, ni reloj o celular expuestos o llamativos.
    Si ves Policía, preguntar “Como está el Orden Público en la zona” y solicitar que estén pendientes.

    Yo ya he tenido algunas experiencias en el tema, de hecho alguna vez casi me matan… luego te cuento cuando nos veamos….
    Buen post.

    • The Dancing Irishman February 13, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Gracias Javier,
      Sí, es claro que si uno esta pendiente puede evitar muchos problemas de seguridad acá. Tengo muchas ganas de escuchar lo que te pasó cuando nos veamos. Te cuidas amigo.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How NOT to get mugged in Colombia (A Guide for idiots) Part 2 « The Dancing Irishman - June 20, 2012

    […] If you haven’t done so already you can read Part 1 of this article here. […]

  2. Cali: One year on! « The Dancing Irishman - September 5, 2012

    […] something that I’ve learned to do from a couple of bad experiences that you can read about here and here. Colombia is definitely the most dangerous place I have ever lived but with a little […]

  3. Humble Pie (and why you need it!) « The Dancing Irishman - October 17, 2012

    […] just stood there with a look something similar to what I looked like when I realized I was getting mugged for the first time “Is this seriously happening?”, “Oh God […]

  4. 21 Things I F##KING HATE about Colombia! « The Dancing Irishman - February 12, 2013

    […] country. In fact it is the most dangerous place I’ve ever lived in my life. I’ve been mugged twice here myself and I constantly here of people getting murdered for their phones or jewelery, people getting […]

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