Posts Tagged ‘fear’

“You used a money belt the whole time, right?”

Back in Ecuador on the Worst Day Ever (See Spidey Sense), I met this Canadian guy named Tony. We kept in touch and decided to meet up in Lima and travel to Cusco and hike Machu Picchu together. Before I leave Ecuador, He warns me about the bus ride down to Lima.

“Blah blah blah. You should wear a money belt! Blah blah blah. The latinos see you as a target and will steal everything from you! Blah blah blah those buses get stopped/robbed all the time. Blah blah blah you should be using a money-belt all the time! You should never take it off! Blah blah blah BE AFRAID!”

I’ll be honest- normally I ignore all these warnings- but something about the tension of his voice, his stories, the fact that I had just gotten (poorly) kidnapped in Ecuador all made me think that maybe I was just getting lucky this whole time- and maybe my luck will run out soon. So I donned my uber-sexy-beige money belt and put everything of significant value in it (my iPhone, credit card and passport), arrived at the bus station late and barely made it onto the bus in time.

That was the most exciting part of the trip.

The ride was advertised to be 48 hours. You weren’t allowed to use the coach-toilet for “solid waste. Only liquid waste”. The bus stopped a few times to drop people off/pick people up but I never knew how long the stop was- so I just stayed on the bus, sitting,  cramped, next to a guy who snored and thought my seat was also his, for 52 hours. The added hours was due to getting stuck behind herds of goats a few times.

I got a lot of reading done. Did I mention I had 52 hours? If not, I’ll say it again. I sat, cramped, on a bus, with all my valuables in my money belt pressing against my bowels, constantly reminding me that I had to poop and I probably shouldn’t have eaten the on-board meals of white-bread, mayo and government-issued cheese slice. As a bonus, though, passengers got their choice of beverage: Inka Cola (tastes like bubblegum) or brown hot water (“tea”).

I won’t bore you with any details of the bus ride. Let’s just say it was long… and boring… The entertainment was endless, though: Movies played (with the audio blaring from the over-head speakers) from 8am until 10pm. If no movies were available then music would be pumped through that reminded me of a party bus. Some of the locals would dance in the isles or have arguments with their spouses.

I wish I could say that I was scared shitless, but that would be the opposite of what I was. I was full of shit and scared- because of a warning and anxiety that was given to me by someone who was unlucky many times throughout his travels. The worst part of the trip was not being able to poop which made me really uncomfortable.

Finally we get to Lima. Surprise, surprise, nothing bad happened on or to the bus. And this was the last time I used my money belt. I actually started using it as a bottle-cap holder but Chilean TSA wanted to search it because they thought this was suspicious.

MORAL: Don’t listen to other people’s fears. Listen to your gut.

Health tip: I found this out later- but if you drink lemongrass tea 1-2 days before your long journey, it acts as an anti-diarrhea agent or a non-cramping alternative to long-travel-time woes.

Wanna LISTEN instead?

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I feel like enough time has gone by for me to finally talk about this. People always seem to ask “what’s the worst thing that happened when you travel?” Expecting to hear a story like this (or of being poorly kidnapped).

In reality- more bad stuff has happened to me in the states/Canada (email hacked, credit card fraud, car broken into, held at needle-point, assault, sexual harassment, etc) than when traveling. I guess we’re programmed to ignore these facts and just believe that the rest of the world is far more scary than our own. Probably because it’s unknown and unfamiliar.

I’ll get back to that.

I got mugged because I was careless and stupid.

Let me back up.

  1. I was walking up an unpopulated hill in daylight (normally- this is fine),
  2. listening to Ted talks on my phone. (Again- normally this is fine)
  3. but I was trying to pick one I hadn’t heard before- therefore- I was paying more attention to my phone than to what was around me (fatal mistake).

I didn’t even see this hooded figure come up next to me. He tapped me on the shoulder and said something about money. I ignored him, thinking he was a homeless person and went to walk away until he grabbed me and stuck a knife in my side and uttered “don’t scream”.

You know that bit in your lizard brain that tells you to fight, flight or freeze? Mine must be malfunctioning because I thought all 3 at the same time.

He got impatient and grunted “Give me money.”

The thoughts that raced through my head were like a channel-flipper.

  • “What should I do?”
  • “Seriously? This is happening?”
  • “Eh- I’ll just reboot my day back to the last save point.”
  • “Oh crap……. This isn’t a dream”
  • “I should kick him in the balls.” (This wasn’t a possibility from where he was physically standing).
  • “Maybe I should just do what they always do- and give him everything.”
  • “Wait- if I do that, I’ll end up with nothing. And besides- that didn’t work out for Batman’s parents.”
  • “There’s no way this guy is getting everything. Not without a fight.”
  • “He’s looking at me funny…. I should probably do something.”

I had my book bag and phone. On the back of my phone was my my-city bus card (which, by the way, in Cape Town is a master card. So, technically, it’s money.) I gave that to him. He threw that down to the ground and grabbed my phone…. MY PRECIOUS!

To most people it’s just an out of date iPhone. To me it is my camera, my microphone, my journal, my budget notes, my translator, my itinerary… And was it backed up? No. Of course not. That would be responsible……….

(Another lesson learned… Moving on.)

Then he wanted my bag as well.

Here’s where it gets complicated. My brain was saying “LN, you always just give them everything. It’s ok. Nothing is worth your life.” Except my passport, cards, first aid kit and journal was all in that bag! Ok- the first aid kit is replaceable but the rest wasn’t! Not easily! My hand-written journal had all my notes from the past month in it. I hadn’t gotten around to transposing it to my google-drive file (super slow Internet…). Besides- I have almost 95 stamps in that passport! Do you know how much of a bitch it is to get your passport replaced?!? Especially after 9/11?!?

Believe me- it’s a pain. And if you have to pick an option of dealing with homeland security or get stabbed? I pick getting stabbed every time.

So I refused to give up my bag. I gave him my best “back the fuck off” lion-stare that I’ve mastered at bars and in the bush. He grabbed the bag and tried to cut it off me. And this was HIS first mistake- because this is when I found out that his “knife” was as sharp as an envelope opener. I started screaming at this point and jumped after him.

Luckily my bag was heavy with bottled water. He panicked and threw that at me and took off- still with my phone. (My precious!)

I mustered up all my CrossFit endurance and took off after him. (Wearing chacos….) He rounded a corner where, for some miracle of gawd, a bunch of triathlon trainers were sprinting the hills. I was screaming “mugger! Thief! Stop him!” They must have heard me and they, too, took off after him.

Confession: I was impressed by this guy’s stamina. And embarrassed by my own. (If only he ran races for a living instead of getting high off backpacker’s pawned stuff! Yep. I’m passing judgement and making assumptions. This asshat had My Precious. I’m allowed.)

The particular neighborhood that I was in has “neighborhood watch” towers. Little boxes where a paid guard sits, texts all day, and makes sure nothing happens during his shift. Normally I disregard them and think they are a waste of money. Not today! Before I knew it, a guard came running out of one, and sprinted after the guy. (Mental note: South African security guards do not eat donuts on the job!) They rounded the corner and the next thing I knew I saw the guard come towards me with my phone.

MY PRECIOUS!

I offered to buy the guard lunch- but he declined and took off for his guard post which was un-manned during his act of amazing heroism.

I don’t know what happened to the thief- this seems to be a big question for people. To be honest, I don’t really care what happened to him because I ended up ok and all he ended up with a my-city bus card with 3$ on it.

Don’t let my hyperbole fool you, though. Afterwards I felt violated. Hyper aware of everything (glances, bumps and bulges in people’s coats/bags, weird smells, my gut feeling) and felt foolish for being so careless. Cape Town reminded me so much of San Francisco mixed with Melbourne that I just took safety for granted and didn’t even consider myself in a third world country (see my craptastic Internet moaning above).

The irony is that bad things happen all the time to people who aren’t paying attention. More has happened to me at “home” because I take safety for granted- when, in fact, desperate people who are looking for easy marks are everywhere.

I realize that there are heaps of exceptions to this opinion. I also realize that it’s exhausting to be hyper aware all the time- and the thought that if you let your guard down for an instant you’ll be a target is enough to make people never want to ever leave the house. So I’ll leave off with the advice I follow and keeps me sane and keeps me traveling with limited fear:

  1. Never travel with your passport if you don’t have to.
  2. There is (usually) power in groups, or advantages to walking quickly.
  3. Always back up yer crap. (Phone, journal, whatever.) Make this a weekly ritual.
  4. If you are already drawing attention to yourself (ie- if you’re the only white girl around) draw MORE attention by screaming, barking, talking to yourself/a sock puppet/whatever. What do you have to lose?
  5. A life lived in fear is a life half lived.

Ah, Cape Town.

I feel like I have lived, died, got reborn, and lived again here. Between love and fear, the past 2 weeks have been a roller-coaster of emotions.

Love: 

I adore this city. It reminds me of San Francisco, Baltimore and Melbourne all mixed into 1. Sometimes I’ll turn a corner and something will be there that will remind of something else. Either which way, Cape Town reminds me of some cool places.

There is a cat in the Hostel named Kai. He’s ginger, just like the Whore. He’s stupidly needy and cuddly and I will constantly find him in my backpack, bed, etc sleeping. He makes me happy.

The community and dancing and singing that goes on in this city is just miraculous.

The interest in where I’m from, what I think of Cape Town, the city itself is astounding! Never have I been in a place and able to communicate so clearly what I think, feel and how I act and feel like I’m understood. I’m also having fun learning Afrikaans (I made sure to learn all the cuss words first).

I’ve met some friends (mostly South African), and have spent a great deal of time with them. Cooking, talking, sharing, exploring the city, sharing languages. Hearing their stories. Their fables. Their good and bad times.

I am constantly reminded that THIS is the reason why I travel. 

Of course, with it comes the flip-side of the coin. The fear. 

I was mugged a few days ago. And while this wasn’t my first rodeo- this WAS the first time I fought back/ran after the guy and got everything back. (phew). But the damage to my ego and trusting myself was done and I had to get over that.

So I forced myself to take short walks when the sun was out. During these walks, I had day-mares of what I SHOULD have done. How I should have attacked him/countered the attack. These day-mares would be so graphic, I would have to duck into a coffee-shop and take a breather. These visions have subsided, thankfully, because I learned to re-trust myself and my instincts and be more aware of how I look. (Which- is still white, curly-haired, girl…. but I can’t help those things.) I smile broadly, say “hello!” and wave and strike up more random conversations with people.

The other thing I’m scared of is Ebola- which, to be honest, is a RATIONAL fear! It’s a virus. A really bad and deadly one. Let me educate you on what I know about Ebola:

1) It’s super contagious (through blood/blood spray)…. or monkey meat, apparently.

2) Eventually, your body, essentially, dies and you just become this shell of a person. (read: Zombie). Your skin is ashen, your stupid sick and your body is oozing blood (because the virus needs to take over something else…. fast!)

3) The biggest Ebola outbreak has killed 1300+ people in 2014. It used to be 100% fatal, but in the recent weeks there are some cures that seem to (HOPEFULL!) work!

For the 10 nights straight I had dreams of Ebola. Someone in the backpackers vomiting all night and I go in to ask how they are doing and there is blood every where and they are ashen/zombie-like. I take a picture of them (with the phone that the mugger did NOT get!) and shut the door immediately and tape it with duct tape- careful to not cut myself or expose myself in the process. I text the picture to the health officials and tell the hostel owner that he needs to evacuate everyone immediately. I get all the HEFTY plastic bags out of my suitcase and wrap myself in plastic and don all 4-pairs of rubber gloves and condoms that I can find and tape everything down with plastic-tape. I go towards the door and interview the guy on tape: “How long have you been sick? Where did you come from? What made you sick? Where all are you bleeding?” etc.

I send this information to the health officials, as well and wait for the Hazmat suits to get here.

I wake up in a cold sweat. it’s 4am. I use the internet (because that’s peak times to use the internet!) I try to go back to bed, it doesn’t work. I go for a run and watch the sunrise over the cape and the tide swells and my breath gets taken away again by the beauty of this city that I forget everything all over again. My heart feels light, my head is clear. The sweat from my run gets taken away by the tornado-like-gusts of wind that Cape Town gets, I get goosebumps. Every bump is a memory of good, bad, indifferent… A story.

Ek Glimlag.

 

This is why I travel.

I fear something different

Posted: October 2, 2012 in Ramblings
Tags: ,

A friend just told me tonight:

“LN, I’m not even going to tell you to ‘be careful’. You are more than prepared. Besides, what are you going to be careful of? The things that you fear are not the same as what your mother fears or what us common-folk fear. Go have fun and just enjoy yourself. You don’t need to be careful.”

(or something to that effect).

And it’s true! I remember talking to my roommate about Israel. He admitted to never wanting to go there. I asked him why. He said something along the lines of “spies and wars” and stuff. I told him he was silly- that there is so much history and things to see! Things to experience!

A few nights ago I was at my local bar, enjoying a beer, watching some football and a guy sits next to me. We get to talking and my upcoming trip comes up (as it always does because, hello! I’m excited about it!). He said “wow. what countries are you going to?”

I start to list off some.

“Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Colombia”

“OH MAN! Be careful! those are some dangerous places!”

“Sir, no offense, but if I were a navy seal would you tell me the same thing? Would your reaction be the same?”

“not at all”

“why not?”

“Because they are prepared for everything.”

“What makes you think I haven’t been preparing myself for the past year?”

He flushed and someone scored a touch-down at that moment which was a nice segue into something else.

But anyway, I like lists… so let’s make one:

Things I’m scared of:

1) commitments. (like signing a 6-month lease. Basically the thought of being locked in somewhere with no option of getting out/leaving whenever I want. The same thing could be said about a full-time job or anything that requires me to be somewhere day-in/day-out.

2) having regrets

3) snakes

4) SAT/ACT tests. (ok. not really…. but I really don’t like tests. Especially anything with math.)

Things that “normal” people are afraid of:

1) bad people with guns

2) falling long distances

3) enclosed spaces (tight places)

4) watching loved-ones-die.

5) heights

What are YOU afraid of? 

I have 38 days until I leave. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. (nervited? exitous?)

I spoke with my grandparents a while back. They are 92 and 89. (Old). They are the sweet grandparents that will tell you to sit down when you arrive at 10pm on a Friday night while they scold you over being too skinny and insist on making you something to eat. 4-course meal later, you’re full and tired and ready for bed.

 

My grandparents are amazing, however they traveled a long time ago and, unfortunately, the only thing they know about the world now is what they hear on the news (which is never good). So– in hopes to change that, I’m adding a “HOPE” category of good stories from various places that I will be going.

 

For example: I’m currently in Troy, Ohio (the town where I grew up). Here there are a lot of bright and educated people who love the arts, love music, love communication, love helping each other. Here is a town full of people who only want to stop, talk, hear your story and cheer you on. I have yet to come across someone who looks at my travels and says “well, that’s silly! Why would you do that?”

 

Another example:

A girl that I went to High School with got her degree in music education. She got married and has recently had a baby. Instead of being a band director she is a stay-at-home mom, but she also teaches sometimes at the local University. She has also started a home-school-band. (Band for home-schoolers).

How wonderful! People of a community figuring out that there is a need (opportunity) for things to bring more people together and show off their potential and ACTUALLY MAKING IT HAPPEN!

 

Of course, we could always focus on the bad, but what fun is that? Who wants to hear about that? Guh. I’d rather have my eyes plucked out by sporks.

So now you tell me some good stories that are going on in your community! 🙂 I’m sure they aren’t hard to list out.