‘Course I wanted To Be Robbed.
Two years ago I traded in the leafy streets of Richmond for South America. I wanted to learn Spanish and to live out of a backpack the size of a school bag. By the time I reached Colombia, I realised that I also wanted to be robbed.
It came to me during my first night in Bogota. I stood by the common-room door at a hostel, eyeing off which group to join; the newbie travellers snap-chatting on the balcony or the seasoned explorers sharing pasta from a communal pot. I soon had a plate piled high with penne and a new outlook on my travels.
This girl was held up with a gun on an island near Panama. That guy was stopped with a knife in the back of a taxi. A third had been held-up out the front of the hostel we were staying in that night.
As they spoke I understood that bravery wasn’t necessary. They didn’t big-note their role as the victim; the robbery alone cemented them as adventurers and pioneers. It became apparent to me that without a gun or a knife story these months would be wasted. I needed to be robbed.
I hitched a ride on the back of a motorbike from Bogota to Quito, Ecuador. With my body squashed against the driver in an upright spooning position, I explained how desperately I needed to be robbed and that Quito was the place.
Quito, I had heard, was a burglar’s utopia. A city where a tall, gangly, white man could walk the streets and be confident that he was being watched. A thief would present a knife and then the exchange of valuables from victim to assailant would take place.
My first few days in Quito weren’t what I had expected. I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe. I needed a change of tactics.
I moved in with a local family up in the hills. When walking home one night, I heard the purr of a dirt bike approaching. It passed me and once again this wasn’t my moment. Then the bike doubled-back. It cut me off on the footpath. A boy with short dark hair and green Nike t-shirt leapt from the bike.
‘Money! Money! Money!’ he demanded.
This was it. I was being robbed and, annoyingly, it was happening in English. While I had spent so long devising the plan to be robbed, I hadn’t planned for when it actually occurred.
Would I concede? Would I run? I knew I wouldn’t fight, that much was certain.
A second boy jumped from the bike, he made the same demands, in English again. I raised my hands by my head.
‘No tengo. No tengo.’ I said, practicing my newly acquired language skills.
Like a babushka doll, a third assailant sprang from the bike. This guy was older, maybe 16, he had a screwdriver that was filed down to a point. He didn’t say a word; he didn’t need to. I quickly emptied my pockets of everything. They wanted more but I didn’t have any more.
Now, I had my story. I had my adventure. Sure, I was robbed by three kids and I only lost a map and $17, but I was an explorer.