My First Mugging in Colombia

UPDATE, JULY 2010: Read Life is But a Dream in La Candelaria before concluding anything negative.

After staying in La Candelaria last year, I was convinced I’d live there if I ever moved to Bogotá. After a week in the neighborhood, however, I’m convinced I won’t stay. The bums, drug dealers, thieves, scoundrels, and sketchballs are too much. I’m leaving. Jump to the mugging.

Perpetual Begging

I’m harrassed for spare change by panhandlers daily. I’m also offered drugs. It’s always a persistent sell. They try to shake your hand or call you “my friend” and ask where you’re from. They run the line about the bus or food or whatever. One time a bum stood in the middle of the street and acted like he hailed me a taxi that was going to stop anyway. Then he asked for a tip. In Ryan’s few days here he was so frustrated he started yelling “NO!” by the end of his trip. Some of them hurl insults if you don’t give them money. Most are very dirty, very skanky.

The Brick Incident

Friday I took a bike tour. I was standing outside the bike rental shop with one of the tour guides a half-black, dreadlocked Colombian and super-nice guy who also works for a human rights organization. Some panhandler came up running the line on Juan while I ignored him. Juan was very nice in explaining he didn’t have any money. He called him ‘vecino’ with smiles and apologies. The panhandler crossed the street and started cursing Juan and giving the finger, calling him “hijo de puta.” I said something along the lines of ‘go fuck your mother’ or ‘take a bath’.

The bum got angry and acted tough. He implied he’d whoop me and put his hands up. The sight of this scrawny crackhead who probably hadn’t slept putting his hands up to the sides of his head almost by his ears made me laugh. I wasn’t trying to be cool, I was sincerely cracking up. This pissed him off more and he said he had a knife. He feigned his hand toward his shoe and half-crossed the street towards us, hiding what was (not) in his hand. I squared up. The crackhead turned around, exiting around the corner.

Juan and I and an American girl shook our heads. A few minutes passed and the crackhead reappeared with a brick in his hand. The gringa darted inside the shop. I turned sideways, eyes on the brick but not engaging him anymore. From inside the shop, the gringa said, “Don’t antagonize him. Don’t laugh at him.”

Juan got out his cell phone and called the police. He audibly explained there was a guy in a blue shirt on so-and-so street with a brick, who says he has a knife. The crackhead retreated and disappeared around the corner. Not my idea of a Friday morning.

My Easter Sunday Mugging

M cheap, no-frills hotel doesn’t have Internet so I go to a nearby La Candelaria hostel for their wi-fi. It’s three blocks away. The day after the Brick Incident I was at the hostel all night. I finished around 2 am. When leaving the hostel late at night I lock my laptop in a closet instead of carrying it in the streets.

I left for my hotel. At the second block, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see a little Colombian making eye contact. I took him for a panhandler about to run his pitch. Instead of asking for money, he pulled a knife and blocked my path, demanding my money.

I was scared. I gave him the coins from my change pocket and told him it was all I had (about 500 pesos, or $0.21). He demanded my jacket. I just got this black leather jacket for Christmas. It’s brand new. I wasn’t scared enough to give that up. I stalled. He asked more forcefully.

I sidestepped him and RAN. Not sprinting because I had to decide whether to ring the hotel bell and wait for the night clerk to answer or bypass the hotel and double back. I turned my head to see the Colombian jogging in the other direction. It was over.

While this happened Saturday night (the day after the Brick Incident), the mugging technically occured around 2 am on Easter Sunday.

Leaving La Candelaria

I’ve been thinking about the mugger and the bum from the Brick Incident. Their game is all about inspiring fear. Whether they have a knife or can back up their bark doesn’t matter as much as making me call their bluff. They have nothing to lose. Do I call their bluff to get a KO? Do I try to see through those bluffs? I’m too old for that shit. I’m selling out, moving out of La Candelaria.

I’ve heard other stories. Two gringos ran into a rasta who tried to sell them weed, and when they refused he threatened them with his hand in his coat pocket. Then he chased them a few blocks until they hopped in a taxi. He spit on the window as they drove off.

Some bar near La Candelaria got held up by three guys with sawed-off shotguns. One gringo was inside working on his laptop. He lost his computer and wallet. Egipto, a neighborhood adjacent to La Candelaria, is known for gangs and gunfights. Then there’s Los Laches to the south, a similar neighborhood.

I’ve heard of muggings in all directions on any street. Locals say you just can’t walk alone that late at night. Take a taxi when alone.

I’d rather just move up north.

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