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If You Don’t Get Robbed in South America, You Didn’t Do it Right

Well, the word is out.I was robbed in Chile. Twice. (Three times if you include the whole group).

Now that the cat is out of the bag. I guess this is where I fill the space up with explanations and background details in order to save face. But really, the only thing I particularly want to share is the irony of the fact that after getting robbed the first time, I wrote a blog on my phone about my first day in Chile, and the very last sentence was “one thing is for sure, I won’t be getting robbed again.”

I had it saved on my phone, ready to post as soon as I got access to wifi, and then … I was robbed again. This time, my phone was taken. Naturally, aside from the utter irritation and unease of being on a foreign continent without a way to contact anyone, I had to set aside a small giggle for the universe in the way that one played out. Some people, particularly my Jamaican brothers and sisters, would say I “goat-mouth” myself, which means I spoke it into being. “I should have never written out that last statement to begin with”. But let’s  be honest here. If we are talking about all the things I should not have done, I think it’s fair to say that writing the blog was the least of them.

At any rate, I guess if you are still here with me, you’re waiting to find out what happened. And I guess here is where I will begin to tell you.

My first day in Chile I was robbed. But it wasn’t the kind of robbery that is blatant and scary, though that might have been less of a blow to my ego. (I still have a tiny tiny one, somewhere in there.) I found myself the victim of a good old-fashioned swindle. The same kind of swindle that I see every time I am in Jamaica. Yes, the same kind I warn those pesky tourists about before they go to my homeland.

You see where this became a real problem for me?

To cut that story short, because I would really rather not expound upon and relive the utter disgrace it was for me to let this happen, I ended up paying about five times more for a taxi ride from the airport to the place I was staying than I ever should have. All because I didn’t have enough confidence in myself, even though I knew and studied the exchange rate before I got there. I didn’t travel alone this time, and my peers were equally not as confident, paired with a sprinkle of discomfort and a dash of shyness that comes in tandem with traveling with strangers. Aka: None of us spoke up for fear of shaking things up. So we all just forked up 50USD eachhhh to the non-English-speaking taxi driver in an unmarked vehicle (NOT a taxi) who really could have taken us anywhere and robbed us of the ridiculous amount of money he knew we just took out of the ATM. (Look at that beautiful silver lining!)

The exchange rate in Chile is about 600 pesos to 1 USD. We knew this. I knew this. But the confusion set in when the ATM said I could only take out between 10 and 150 pesos. Now, in thinking that I needed 600 to make just one dollar, I decided, against my better judgment, to take out 150. When the money came out, and I realised I really took out 150,000 pesos, I panicked.

How I managed to still get tricked into paying 30,000 pesos for the 10-15 minute drive to the hostel, I don’t know.

We gave ourselves about a good half an hour to sulk, not even so much about losing the money but more so about feeling like that good ol’ ignorant tourist, now slightly apprehensive to take the next step. But after that we proceeded to explore Santiago. I won’t spend too much time describing this portion of the trip, not because I want to focus on the negatives, but because, honestly, I wasn’t captivated by anything in Santiago. Nothing there spoke to me. It felt like a city I could have enjoyed more in photographs, all of which I ended up losing by the way. (More universal irony! Yay!)

Still, the second day, NYE, was where the excitement lived. I went to Chile to celebrate the new year, and part of the thrill was that they have some really unique NYE traditions. Among them, most of the people head over to Valparaiso/Vina Del Mar to watch the fireworks over the water, which was basically the number one reason we went to Chile. So we made sure that if nothing else, our trip there was booked and ready for us in the morning.

We also had plans to eat 12 grapes at midnight, making a wish on each grape, wear yellow underwear inside out, and drink champagne out of a glass with a ring inside. (Most of these superstitious activities are carried out with the idea that they will bring you love and happiness in the new year).

I wish I could say we did all of this.

I won’t discount our last ditch effort to enjoy the trip, though, where we changed our yellow underwear in the middle of La Moneda in Santiago, underneath the midnight fireworks in the presence of all the overly affectionate Chileans who often looked at us as though they’d never seen creatures like us before–in a good way. But the rest of them we missed out on.

And if you’re wondering how and why we ended up back in Santiago to bring in the New Year, despite the bus ride to Valpo where I wrote my original blog (and subsequently Vina Del Mar) then that means you’re paying attention.

The second robbery came in Valpo, almost immediately after I got off the Santiago bus. The worst part? I don’t know when it happened. I don’t even remember it. All I know is that I found myself on the bus to Vina next to Alejandro (who let me use his phone to whatsapp my brother a very cryptic “I was robbed. Don’t message back here. I will contact you.” message), frantically looking for my phone while a guy with angel wings, a pistol, and his face painted in white, paced back and forth on the bus begging for money. It would have been the most eerie thing I’ve ever experienced if my phone hadn’t distracted me. But even the distraction couldn’t veil the suffocating creepy energy of everyone on the bus trying not to make eye contact with the white-faced passive aggressive man.

The third robbery, this time for my friend, happened in Valpo too, arguably in the same exact spot, and even more arguably by the same exact man. And to continue down the path of universal irony, we had this man on video from when we first got to the city. That’s what made me stare at him intensely when we returned to the downtown market, thinking where had I seen him before, and feeling the overwhelming sense that he had my phone.

Yet still, it hadn’t been more than 30 seconds since I told my peers to put their valuables away that he took advantage of the opportunity and forcibly grabbed everything right out of my friend’s hand and ran. He made off with her purse, ID and money and all, and her phone as well. Meanwhile, we literally stood there watching him run thinking “this cannot be real life.”

Needless to say. That trip was cut short. After robbery number three we not only had enough of Valparaiso, but also Chile in general. We only barely missed the last flight out of Santiago for the night, after spending the greater part of our NYE inside the PDI (Chile police station) and the other half begging the people at the bus station to let us back on the bus despite the fact that her return bus ticket had also been stolen and that we weren’t supposed to return until the following evening. (Need I remind you, all of this communication happened in Spanish. I owe my thanks to Mrs. Tejero!)

That is the only reason we ended up in Santiago celebrating the new year, instead of bringing it in at 30,000 feet in the air, headed to some kind of island destination where we could lull our frustrations away on a white-sand beach.

It would have been hard enough convincing me to go back to Chile even if we hadn’t gotten robbed. But now? It’s running pretty close to impossible. And this isn’t because I hate Chile, or even at all blame the country for my experience, which by the way I wouldn’t even call horrible or say I was particularly angry about any of it. (The food was horrible though. No qualms about saying that.) It’s just, overwhelmingly, because there wasn’t enough beauty and captivation in the city to balance out the feelings it gave me about the lack of compassion in humanity and how myopic they are in their selfishness.

Granted, it’s a big country with lots more to see I’m sure, and I’d hate to judge an entire country based on one not-so-great experience. But let’s just say it’s not on the top of my list of things to do. It’s not really very close to the middle either. In fact, it might just be closer to the bottom.

And trust me. It’s a pretty long list.

Until next time.


  • Emeil Hinds 26/02/2015

    Great read lol

  • […] alongside local community volunteers and even the families themselves. It was founded in Chile, ironically, and has completed projects in Brasil, Honduras, Colombia, Haiti, Uruguay, Argentina, and other […]

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