While traveling there are some things I have come to realize. Inherent goodness is heavily present in the world, even if we notice the evil too. And you can trust strangers more than our parents taught us. Well, that is, until you can’t…
This was the case in Puerto Viejo de Limón, Costa Rica; a small Afro-Caribbean town we chose for the duration of our stay. It has the whole One Love, Rastafarian thing down; small, funky, beachy and friendly. Except within the first week our locked bikes were stolen, which we wrote off for the usual petty theft stuff and moved on, although taking note.
It was upon arrival that our landlord warned us not to ride our bikes late at night. “Take a cab,” she told us. We meant to listen, but after riding home the first time in the pitch dark (to avoid having the bikes stolen again), the fear of riding late at night began to dissipate. We felt comfortable and safe, and after two weeks, our guard’s were down, completely.
So naturally, it played out like a bad scene in a good movie.
We had just rode through the treacherous 25 meters of pitch darkness, lucky to have the light of the moon reflecting on top of puddles.
Just as we had gotten through the worst of it, came that second punch no one was waiting for.
Three guys jumped out from the bushes ahead of me, surrounding Karim. It all happened so quick, yet, played out like in slow mo while I stood frozen, unable to move or barely even think.
The muggers surrounded him, taking turns throwing punches and trying to rip his backpack off, but he wasn’t budging. That backpack had our life and he wasn’t letting go. He started yelling for help and that was what snapped me out of my ‘deer in the headlights’ moment.
I must have yelled or made some kind of noise by this time, because one of the muggers was running right at me, so I started running towards him with my bike, aiming the front tire and all of the its weight at his shins and stomach. Next, I ran towards Karim, who was on the ground, one mugger punching the side of his head while the other stood nearby just watching. I went for the one standing and attempted to throw a punch at his face, although I don’t think I made much, if any contact. I started punching the guy fighting Karim, hitting his head and trying to pull him off or do anything to get in the way and distract him. Somehow it worked and suddenly we were running away from the muggers, backpacks on our backs, our bikes laying in a pile behind us. One of the mugger’s masks had completely fallen off, another was hiding in the bushes,they were retreating. The other was already preparing to flee in the opposite direction.
We got lucky. They had no weapons, seemed disorganized, and two were probably just kids, the one who lost his mask was maybe in his early twenties. I had an eerie feeling that they knew us, or me. That it was someone I had met in the community, that we had been targeted because of Karim’s line of work with electronics, which are like gold in Central America. The other reason I felt they knew us was that they didn’t seem to want to fight me very much, and never attempted to grab my backpack. This experiences was a rude awakening about the ugly reality in our world. Desperation due to poverty will lead people to unthinkable lengths.The world is unpredictable, and to be alert and prepared should be rule number one, especially if you are traveling solo.
Remember, listen to what the locals warn you about and follow your gut.