I lost my virginity in Guatemala!!

Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) November 1, a big holiday here in Guatemala where people celebrate the dead. Well, that day the spirits of the dead were certainly out in force. My friend Leah from Michigan Bschool just arrived the night before to visit for a week including seeing the celebrations where people gather at the cemetary of Santiago outside of Antigua to fly kites over 30 feet wide with bright colors that are typical of Guatemalan culture.
Click here for photos of last year kite flying

Leah arrived the late the previous night and we checked into one of the most beautiful hotels in Guatemala, Casa Santa Domingo, where Bill Clinton stayed on his visit. The next morning we got up early in the morning to go see the kite festival riding a chicken bus for 20 min filled as usual like sardines. I softly mentioned to Leah to be careful with her bag as it is common to get pickpocketed, while not trying to scare her about the realities of Guatemala on her first day here in country. But luck would have it that the spirits of the dead were not with us on that day.

I used to be proud backpacker who have traveled all over the world to some of the most remote and dangerous countries not ever having been robbed or pickpocketed. The more I traveled the more cocky and confident I got, as I heard of endless stories of backpackers getting robbed in the most strangest situations. I always thought that only happened because they were not alert. With over one year in Guatemala, argueably one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America, my cockiness increased as stories ran rampant about other volunteers getting robbed. I estimate at least 50% or more like 70% of the volunteers have been robbed once at least hearing about one girl being robbed at gun point something like 7 times before she finally decided that she had enough and left the country.

Well, right after I told Leah to be careful of her bag and the bus arrived at our stop, I thougth it was strange how it was taking longer than usual for people to get off the bus. then I heard a women at the back of the bus yell "Get your hands out of my bag!" before she got off. Then I naively laughed as I told Leah there must be robbers on the bus, thinking this is an adventure. Then finally it came out turn to get off the bus and we make our way to the back of the bus, and all of the sudden these women decided that they would change seats from one side of the bus to the other, dramatically jumping from one side to the other, at one point actually lying across the aisle pretending to crawl from one seat to the other side. Then people started pushing me from back and front, that is when I realized that they are the theives. I started pushing back and wrestling with the men around me, yelling to Leah they are the thieves and to quickly get off the bus. I wrestle with the men, trying to clear away for Leah to get off the bus, at one point wrestling one of the men down to the seat and then staring him in the eyes trying to intimidate him. Then I noticed someone was pulling on my bag and when I pulled it back towards me, I strangely thought why is the guy go another bag on top of mine. In the commotion, i naively thought maybe it was just the commotion and that our bags clashed. Finally I was able to free myself from the wrestling match and my bag and got off the bus and cleared the way for Leah to also get off.

I was happy to see Leah was safe and had all her stuff and cockily thought to myself I outsmarted the thieves as I yelled at the bus attendant helper that they bus is filled with robbers. He didn`t pay any attention, later I realized he was in on the whole thing. But cockily started at the thieves in the window as the bus drove away thinking that I won that battle. Only when the bus was out of site, I got over the excitement enought to check my pockets ...and realized my cellphone and wallet were gone and then I saw that one of the zippers in my backpack was open and the camera inside missing.

Not only in that short time were they able to pick my pockets but also opened my backpack and took my pocket digital camera which I recently bought so that i would not have to 35mm nikon around and get it stolen. At that momment, i went from excitement of incorrectly thinking that I survived a robbery to a someone who have was personally violated. I would guess anybody who have been assaulted know what I mean, but I felt more to me as I have always been cocky about been "violated" in my travels.

As I told my local friends what happend to me, i realized how lucky I was. The first reaction when you tell a local Guatemalan about being robbed they immediately asked did they have a knife or gun? So I guess I was happy but again it hurt my ego more as realize I was simply robbed because I was outsmarted!!

So in the end, I should be happy that I was not assaulted with a weapon and that I should realize that no one in immune to the cleverness of the robbers around the world, not matter how well traveled you are and how alert you think you are.

So now what would have a been a typical bus ride last night from the capital to Antigua...where I would have zoned out to block the crowded people around me and the bumpy ride..i was totally paranoid and alert, staring at every movement of people around, checking the locations of their hands and wondering if each rub against my body is an attempt to pickpocket me. So this experience have totally changed me, where as I naively thought I was some type of superman with a protective shield around me and my backpack now, i am your typical backpacker riding on a chicken bus thinking everybody is out to get me. Somehow, I feel like all of the sudden I am in Guatemala for the first time since I have been here over a year ago.!!

At the end of the day, this was a necessary wake up call to an experienced backpacker who have forgotten the most basic lesson of safety travel and that is always be alert and guard your stuff and never fall a sleep on the job!!!