I’ve just roughly estimated that I must have so far spent almost 3 years travelling (in total, not all at once). It’s no surprise, therefore, that I have had a couple of minor incidents along the way. There have been several accidents too, but we’ll get into those another time. This post is about the one occasion on which I was robbed, plus two near-misses.
Held at gunpoint
In late spring 2000 I’d been in South America for about 5ish months (I forget how long exactly…it was a long time ago!). On the day before I was due to fly home I was walking along a street in Quito, Ecuador, when we were approached by several men. They briefly stopped to talk about football – a common conversation wherever I go – and then abruptly asked me to give them money.
“Que? No!” I replied. This was clearly the wrong answer.
One of the gang made a grab for my sunglasses and, when I tried to stop him, another held my arms behind my back so that his friends could take sunglasses, watch and money. When one of them showed me his gun I knew that I should just let them take what they wanted (including from my money belt – useless!)
Apart from that this was a non-violent robbery. We all knew what was going to happen, it happened, then after it happened a car pulled up and the driver explained that this gang had robbed the other people in his car and would I like a lift to the police station. My faith in the kindness of Ecuadorians immediately restored, I made my report to the police and received a paltry sum from the insurance company.
A common scam
As with the previous story, this robbery happened on the day before I was due to leave for another country. Unlike the previous story, this happened in Ethiopia, and I actually managed to stop the robbery from happening.
Bored on a flight from Lalibela to Addis Ababa, I was reading the Lonely Planet guide on Ethiopia’s capital. I even reached the end, where it lists some common risks. Apparently people will approach you with a tray in their hands. They will hold the tray above your arms to better show you the items on it. As they’re doing this, they’re using their other hand to remove your wristwatch.
When two young children approached me in the street and started to do just this, I immediately remembered that warning, and caught one of them in the process of trying to remove my watch. I’m annoyed with myself for getting angry with them, when it was obvious that they were both desperate. If I could run that moment over again I would instead react more kindly.
“You have been poisoned”
Back in the days when I went on fam trips* I was lucky enough to be offered one to Kiev. It was an amazing trip and all was going well until one evening when many of the group went out to a nearby nightclub.
The nightclub was open air and situated in a massive courtyard – it was spectacular. It was my round and, at the bar, I got chatting to a friendly couple of locals. They kindly bought me a vodka shot and, together, we toasted and drank.
Soon after I began to feel very peculiar. I hadn’t yet drunk enough to feel this way (I was old enough to know my limits), and so knew that something wasn’t right. Through a blur of confusion, I managed to let the other people on the fam trip know that I was returning to the hotel. I also, luckily, managed to catch a legitimate taxi.
Back in my room, and still feeling not at all well, I called reception, asked for a doctor, then blacked out.
I woke up with two paramedics taking my blood pressure. “You have been poisoned,” I was told, “We must take you to hospital”. They insisted I call my insurance company, who answered immediately and simply told me to go to hospital, get receipts, and don’t worry because everything will be covered – excellent service.
Having been given the choice of the public hospital or “the American hospital” I quickly chose the latter. It took a while for the hospital staff to find someone who spoke English, and who could explain my situation. I was subjected to a large number of tests, and the next morning, feeling much better, I was keen to resume the fam trip.
It was when they told me that they’re going to intubate me that I decided to discharge myself. I suspected that the tests were becoming unnecessary, but were just a way for the hospital to make more money from me. With a HUGE bill in my hand, I re-joined the fam trip having lost only a few hours of sightseeing.
*In case you don’t know, ‘fam’ or ‘familiarisation trips’ are often run by tourist boards, cruise companies etc. and offer travel employees a chance to visit a destination/ship/etc. for free so as to expand their knowledge and better sell the product when they’re back home).