Life as a digital nomad is filled with adventure. Unfortunately, getting robbed is one of the scariest adventures you can experience – but it sometimes happen. In my case, it happened when in Bogota, Colombia. It was something I’m hoping I’ll never have to go through again, and I am sharing everything about it here.
I am also going to share with you some tips on what to do if you get robbed in Bogota – or anywhere else in the world. We all hope it will never happen, but it’s best to prepare for the worst instead of being caught off guard, as I was.
Luciano’s note: This didn’t happen to me (the blog’s author). This happened to Cristine, who was commissioned to create this article based on her experience (and is part of my blog re-consolidation project). I will do my best to answer any questions related to this sad situation, though, but I can’t offer direct advice as I was – fortunately – never in a tough spot like hers.
How did it happen?
It was dark outside, although well before midnight. There were still people roaming around and you could still see police patrolling the streets. But I somehow ended up in a dark spot, alone, on one of those charming narrow side-streets. Charming during the day, at least…
I was going up the street, kind of lost, when I saw a group of maybe 5 individuals coming down towards me. I had a gut feeling that something bad was about to happen.
As soon as they saw me, I noticed a change in their attitude: they started staring at me and it was obvious that they were talking about me. My instant reaction was that they were maybe drunk and looking for trouble. I felt like turning away and running, but the stupid “I will look ridiculous” idea kicked in.
I took a deep breath and acted like I hadn’t even noticed them. I couldn’t ignore the fact that there was nobody else on the street, though. Millions of thoughts were going through my head, as the group was casually closing in to me.
They were silent now, staring at me. I was worried for my life and my heart was racing. I kept saying that it’s all happening in my mind only, but that wasn’t helping much. I was actually starting to think that I will die there. But somehow, I kept pushing, one step at a time.
“Just a few more steps and they’ll pass by me. Everything’s going to be OK”
I kept saying that as I was walking up that narrow, dark street, somewhere in Bogota. Then all hell broke loose.
With my side vision I saw as one of the guys broke off the group and casually started walking towards me. My heart skipped a few beats and I had no doubt that something bad was about to happen. He said something in Spanish and I simply froze. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. My mind wasn’t working, my legs weren’t working, nothing was.
A few moments later – and it’s all a blur for me because it happened so fast – the guy had my back squeezed to a wall and a blade pointed at my neck, just like in the movies. The other guys had surrounded me, probably on the lookout for police or other passers by. But there was nobody there but us.
Around my waist, there was a fanny pack that I used to carry around with money and other minor things like gum and candy and whatnot. I also had a bag full of groceries that I had dropped somehow when they attacked, but they didn’t seem to care about it.
With just one expert hand, the guy with the knife took away the fanny pack, gently whispering “Callate!” (Calm down). Over and over again. Probably I looked like I was about to start screaming, or faint. Or die. Or all at the same time. It was horrible.
“Telefono,” he demanded asking for my phone. He didn’t even look inside the fanny pack, he was looking straight into my face, but I couldn’t look back. I think I was crying.
With trembling hands, I barely managed to pull the phone out of my pocket and hand it over. I raised my hands upwards as if saying that I had nothing else left. It was true.
Just a second later, the men were running down the street like a pack of wolves. They said something in Spanish before leaving, but I had no idea what that was. My heart was pounding, my head was hurting and I was still glued to that cold, wet wall, unable to move. I probably stood there for a minute or two – or more – it seemed like an eternity anyway and I was under shock.
Then I started walking. My feet were trembling. I probably looked like a dead man walking. I definitely felt like one.
After turning on a few corners without really knowing where to go, I was lost but finally found a police officer. I don’t remember how things happened exactly, but they escorted my back to my hotel.
There was a long chat between them and the hotel lady who was translating my story. Of course, I was not expecting to get my stuff back. Everything had happened so fast and I wasn’t even able to describe how the attackers looked like, what clothes they were wearing… I was a wreck. It was a nightmare.
I was lucky that I wasn’t carrying much with me. I lost the equivalent of maybe $20 and some minor stuff in the fanny pack. Fortunately, I didn’t have my passport with me, but I was carrying one of my debit cards. I had also lost my phone, which was extremely painful.
I’m never buying the latest models available, but it just happened that I had bought the one they stole less than a month prior. It was a big blow for me, especially since I had on it many photos that weren’t backed up. Nor were my contacts.
I also lost my bag of groceries. The thieves didn’t take it, I simply let it there – I was too shaken to care about it, pick it up or even notice it. Or maybe they took it, too, I don’t know. And I don’t think that the thieves were ever caught, which makes it even scarier for me.
What to do if you get robbed?
I am sure that all travelers, especially if they go to places which are considered a bit on the unsafe side, know of all the safety measures they should take in order to avoid getting robbed. But just a minor mistake – like the one I did – is enough. So what to do if you get robbed in Bogota, Colombia or anywhere else in the world?
1. Try to stay as calm as possible
In my case, it was easy. I was calm because my body simply stopped working. If I had tried to run or scream or fight back, maybe I wouldn’t have been here to tell my story. I know that your possessions are important, but your life matters more!
2. Contact the police ASAP
I ended up meeting a police officer on the streets and he was extremely kind, escorting me back to the hotel. Call the police – or find somebody who can help – and do it as soon as possible. Chances to get your stuff back are usually low, but this is something that has to be done.
3. Cancel credit cards / phone contracts
If they manage to get your card(s) or phone(s), cancel those as fast as possible. Chances are slim that they will be able to use any of them (always use a PIN for your phone!), but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Also, since the contactless technology is now available worldwide, they could still make multiple minor purchases off your money without needing a PIN! So act ASAP to prevent further damage.
4. Reassess your situation
I was lucky that I wasn’t carrying my passport and I still had a backup card and some money stashed at the hotel. I always keep a reserve, just in case and whenever possible I carry a copy of the passport instead of the original.
Others might not be that lucky. So assess and reassess your situation and make the required moves:
– if you are left with no money, find somebody who can lend you some to live off them. Or call friends back home and through a Western Union transfer, you will be able to get your hand on some much needed cash.
– if you also lose your passport (really, try to NEVER keep the original with you!), things are a bit more difficult. You will have to call the Embassy and ask for guidance. Things will get sorted out, but it will take some time and probably even more money and stress.
5. Take some time off and recover
The day after this nightmare ended, I was simply exhausted and I couldn’t do anything. I spent the entire day laying in bed, stress eating and staring at walls.
I watched a few of my favorite series and tried to take my mind away from what happened. I also talked about this via Skype with my family and my friends, and taking that all out helped a lot, so try to find some time for yourself and try to relax and recover. It is difficult, but you have to get back on track and keep your adventure going on!
I am not trying to scare people away from Bogota or Colombia in general. I’ve been there two times after this unfortunate event and I never felt that I was in danger, nor that the city itself is more dangerous than many of the other places I have visited.
Just follow the common steps to prevent getting into a situation like mine and: if you see a dark alley with no people on it, during the night, ignore it. Stick to populated areas and try to never walk alone during the night – stick to the touristier areas or the generally safer areas and never ever risk it. I stupidly did it and paid for it heavily.
Bogotoa – just like the other popular places in Colombia – is beautiful and most of the people there are great. Every country or city has its own set of bad seeds and what happened to me could basically happen to you anywhere in the world. Take all precautions needed to prevent it, but if does happen, cooperate with the attackers and live to tell your story to others!
Bad things like this happen to people all the time. They just do. We can do our best to prevent them from happening and we can do even more to minimize the damage if they do happen… but that’s life and we should not let this types of things stray us away from the path we want to follow. So take it as a learning experience and move on if you’re unlucky like I was.
Did you have any similar experiences while traveling the world? Share them with us in the comment section below!