Wednesday, May 29, 2013

´If your going to get robbed anywhere in South America its going to be Salvador´

´If your going to get robbed anywhere in South America its going to be salvador´

As i was sitting on a mattress on the floor of an empty room in an apartment of a man I had just met in Salvador, I found this little piece of advice written scribbled on the first page of my notebook in my messy hand writing. Probably the best advice I had got on my trip, and as I found out, the most accurate. 

I still can´t remember the person who told me this, but judging by the messy and impatient handwriting warning me, they had obviously told me to write it down feeling that it was important. 

Now this story gets a little long and complicated, so perhaps its best to get comfortable, get a snack and get ready for the drama to unfold...

After saying goodbye to my home and family from the last 2 months on board Fiddler, as i sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with them, I waved goodbye and stepped out from the marina, feeling good. Independence was back, it was back to normal, just me and my backpack and plenty of opportunities laying ahead of me. 

As I was walking along I noticed the stares I was getting from people, but I get them in almost every country as it is a funny sight to see a little girl carrying two heavy backpacks twice the size of her. So I continued dreaming up the adventures that were awaiting me as I was on my way to meet my new couch surfing host and to visit a local party that night.

After 3 minutes of walking along the beautiful beach front in Salvador, just past the marina I walked past about 7 construction workers, 2 girls sitting on the retaining wall enjoying the sun and was just about to walk past a fancy apartment block with security guards standing guard outside when it happened.

I stepped around a little pot hole in the pavement and a guy stood back to block my path, I apologised and went to step around him when another guy crossed the street and grabbed me from behind. Here I blanked. I remember a knife at my throat, they grab my front backpack full of ALL my valuables. I try and stop them, pleading in English hoping that some little tiny part of their empty hearts could hold a little bit of sympathy for me. There was none.

I tried to pull my backpack away and the knife moved from a threatening half a metre away to suddenly pushed down my dress, pressing against my chest, one swift movement away from piercing my skin. And even though I don´t remember it they may have grabbed my arm and pushe me about, cause I had some impressive bruises to explain. 

The image that still stays in my mind from this whole situation was what happened after they took my bag. I helplessly looked to the two girls who were sitting 2 metres away screaming for them to help, but they just returned blank stares. I ran onto the highway in the way of the traffic waving my arms about, jumping up and down screaming help and the cars just swerved around me. I then looked to the security guards just metres away with weapons and the ability to stop them, but like everyone around me they all stared back with blank expressions saying ´we´ve seen this all before.´ Meanwhile the two guys just casually walked across the road and started making their way slowly up the hill knowing the way things worked around there, knowing that no one would try and stop them.

After disrupting the traffic I ran down to the security officers and blurted out what had just happened, and even though they didn´t understand my outbursts and pleas in English in between my sobs, they had all seen what had just happened. 

´Please, please I need to get to the marina I need to try and reach my friends on the yacht I was sailing on. They are leaving any minute now for Itaparica Islands and they are the only people that I know here.´

Enter Silvia, a pretty pregnant television reporter who had taken the day off to rest as she was feeling unwell, yet was the first person who came to help me and is possibly one of the most gorgeous and selfless people I have met on my travels so far. She got me water and tried to calm me down as I sat slumped on the side of the highway thinking about all the things I had in that bag and kicking myself for not separating my valuables into my different bags, not having worn my money belt properly with my passport securely in it, not having hidden all my cash in my shoes and not backing up any photos, videos, blog updates etc.

She kindly got her car and drove me to the marina, despite feeling unwell. You know those scenes from the romantic movies where they run down the jetty to stop their loved one leaving and reach the boat just as it is pulling out from the dock and they dramatically and miraculously leap onto the boat giving the story its romantic and happy ending. My desperate efforts to reach the boat in time were nothing like that. Where the main character would have purposefully and gracefully glided across the jetty swiftly and soundlessly, I thumped carelessly and loudly on the deck waking up all those on the boats around me. Rather than being greeted by a pleasantly surprised lead character, I was met by an empty dock, feeling defeated.

Getting back to Silvia and her car, being a reporter, she suggested that we go to the museum down the road and check to see if any of my valuables had turned up there. It was here that we met the police and I made a distraught phone call to my friend Victor who I was going to meet in Sao Paulo in a few days time. Poor thing had to try and work out what was wrong between all the cries and sobs where my main concern was ´without a passport I can´t visit you! I can´t catch my flight!´

I was then escorted by 6 heavily armed police officers who took me back to the place I was mugged and pranced around in circles ignoring the directions I had given to them of where to robbers were. I knew where they were, I had seen them casually strolling off in that direction, yet it seemed the police were more interested in appearing they were doing a good job helping a poor tourist by the side of the main highway pointing their guns in all different directions but not stepping more than 6 steps from the main highway. 

Fed up with their idea of ´help´ I then went to Silvia´s apartment to calm down a bit and send off a quick email to anyone that could help, where I received overwhelming support from everyone all over the world (thank you everyone!). I then called a guy, Marcelo, who had helped me with the recent fishing boat accident that had left me $3,500 in debt already and had kept me busy in various police offices for the past few days since the event (which is a whole other story).

There are people in the world who really get joy out of helping people in difficult situations, who are entirely selfless and will drop everything to help someone in trouble and Marcelo is no exception. He came to pick me up straight away and rather than going straight to the Police office straight away he decided to do a little investigating himself.

We drove around the back streets where I had seen the two guys casually walking with all my valuables. We stopped and talked to lots of people on the street, well by ´we´ I mean Marcelo did the talking, all in Portuguese so I didn´t understand. But everyone he spoke to poked their head in the car to get a good look at the girl who had just been robbed- all knowing exactly who had done it as well. Just a we were driving up the street we went through the ´crack area.´ People squatting in little alleyways on the side of the street lighting up, blank glazed looks in their eyes reduced to animalistic ways of surviving, where the only thing on their mind was how to get their next hit. A little further up the road we passed a long alleyway with about 6 rough looking guys standing in a line with rifles held at the ready, gaurding what lay beyond the alleyway. I was glad we didn´t stop their for questioning, although I was sure that they would know the whereabouts of my belongings.

After our own little investigations I entered the police office, skeptical and confused. The building was falling apart and the reception looked like it had been abandoned years ago. No one there spoke English. Usually I would agree that it is up to the foreigner visiting the country to try and learn the language and not expect everyone to speak English, but this was a TOURIST Police Office. A tourist police office dealing with cases similar to mine everyday with people who don´t know Portuguese.

So the questioning went a little something like this...
The officer points to him, and then to me and shrugs. Receiving only a puzzled reply from myself he them points to my chest, and then to his groin. ´What gender was the attacker?´ ´Male,´ I say and then shyly point to his groin for translation.
Next question, he starts poking up his fingers counting. ´How many attacked you?´ I put up two fingers.
He then points to his clothes and then points to the chair, and then to the poster on the wall, and then to the whiteboard, and then to my shoes. 

They decided this questioning was going nowhere, I agreed, and so they took me to a computer and went through each of the mug shots from all the criminals they had caught in the last year. Smug, threatening, violent faces all stared back at me, and all looked the same. I couldn´t for the life of me remember what the guys looked like, but anyone of these guys staring back at me from the computer screen could have been them. 

After getting almost nowhere Marcelo and I get some food from a roadside stall downtown. We plonked ourselves down on the little plastic chairs and stuff our faces with these meat roll things (being a vegetarian is the last thing on my mind). And this is when things got weird. Out of nowhere a fat man comes and says something to Marcelo, holding a plastic bag in his hand. I am then instructed to get into the car and am handed the plastic bag that the fat man was holding. I open the bag and empty the contents onto the seat. Amongst all the receipts, note books and loose pieces of paper from my wallet are my bank cards, and (!) my passport. before even thinking, I jumped out and hugged the big fat delivery man relieved I had my passport and bank cards back. 

Well done robbers, I may have got my passport and bank cards back, but unless you have already sold all my valuables for crack (which is likely) you now have...
-2 disposable cameras full of photos that mean absolutely nothing to you
-a go pro camera
-5 memory cards full of thousands of photos of adventures you have never (and will never) have
-a laptop full of movies and music all in English
-$500USD cash
-ipod full of music all in English
-two silver necklaces (that they ripped from my neck)
-mobile phone

But in every situation there is always a positive. Thinking back to the situation, these guys were crack-addicted desperate people who would go to any lengths to get quick money for their next high, and I was that opportunity. The desperation and hunger in their eyes showed that things could have gone a lot worse. The fact that I am alive and unharmed I feel that in this unlucky situation I am extremely lucky. And then having help from Marcelo, and the weird and twisted connections to the mafia underground Salvador crime and drug circle, it gave me back the items most important and precious to me; my passport, all my bank cards and my notebooks.

People who were strangers suddenly became my closest friends at that time and I was soon surrounded by a supportive group of people all going to extreme measures to help me out. The captain from the boat I crewed, Captain Kirk, was kind enough to catch a ferry over to the mainland to help me out during this time, I was offered various jobs on luxury yachts, was given free accommodation and food, was driven around by Marcelo´s family, and a police officer even gave me his number after I was being questioned one day. Things weren´t all that bad.

Not only were there gorgeous people in Salvador all offering to help, but the overwhelming help and support I got from friends and family from around the world really highlighted something to me; material belongings come and go, you loose things and things can be stolen but it´s friends and people that support you that you never loose. 

My friend Ali summed it up to me perfectly when he told me ´faith in humanity not totally lost. You´ve still got two strong legs under you so you can still be going where you want to go. This is´t a section of your trip to regret, it´s just another experience to add to the bank!´ 

If I was to sorry about something, it would be that I didn't really give Salvador a chance. I arrived with a bang- literally and then left in the worst position I was in my whole travel so far, but so glad to have so many nice people around me. I needed to do a little spring cleaning and two backpacks were getting rather uncomfortable to carry.

So where am I now? I managed to catch my flight down to Sao Paulo thanks to the fat man who delivered my passport to me that night. None of my other valuables have been recovered despite offers from the fat man to ´maybe be able to find the rest of my valuables.´ Apparently one of the guys who mugged me has now been put in jail, but has forgotten where all my valuables were left. And, well I have just spent the last couple of weeks relaxing with a good friend, Victor, visiting different beaches, little countryside towns, awesome bars and clubs in the city and chilling out deciding the next leg of my adventure (which is slightly more challenging considering I am now $3,500USD in debt and now have no assetts to sell!)

So if anyone was to want a moral to this unfortunate story I have a few pieces of advice for you:
-if you have two backpacks, split your valuables between the two and hide some on you in a money belt (as dorky as they are)
-when in Salvador get a taxi
-back up your things! Don't only have one copy of photos or movies you have taken

Some special people to thank...
Thank you to Marcelo, for everything. You were my gaurdian angel during this time and put your life on hold to help me. And thank you to your gorgeous family, for supporting me, for allowing me to stay in your house and for driving me around.
To Captain Kirk, thank you so much for jumping on the first ferry and for coming over to see me and to make sure that I was alright.
To Silivia thank you so much for being the first to help me, even though you were unwell you still went out of your way to make sure that I was alright.
To Antonio thank you for driving me to the airport, for taking me out to sushi and for always offering words of advice and encouragement.
For my family and friends at home, for all those people who contacted their friends all over South America telling their friends about my problems and getting them to offer me advice, to all those who offered money, flights to various places in the world or were there to talk to me and to make sure I was alright, thank you all.  


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  3. I am so sorry for what happend to you. I am from Salvador and I feel ashamed that this kind things still happening in my city.
    I apologize in my neme and in the name of all the good citizen that try their best to make this city a better place to live and be visited.
    Hope you can overcome this bad experience pretty soon

  4. I read and did not see anything offensive what Hannah wrote, Thanks for sharing in detail. I still shocked and can't forget, so well known of those inhuman, dull, blank stares. Desperation and just survival instincts, no morals. what a shame on humanity when things allowed to drop to such level.,Sick pride or something wrong with 2 first comments.