Well, my fourteen month good luck streak has finally ended. As far as these things go, I’m merely short some stuff. However really I’m short a good bit of peace of mind. I made it through four years of college in South Central with nary an incident by being careful and lucky, of traversing warehouse concerts and working in a dock area. But this isn’t where this tale begins or takes place.
I’d finally left the farm. I was excited to be on the road again, off to the coast to not work and sit on a beach all day. I was going back to my roots, to surfing Santa Christmases that I am used to. But before I headed out to the beaches i was heading for Esmeraldas, a large city of the north. Rough Guide had no information on it and just said to miss it, Lonely Planet mentioned that the city was trying hard to shed it’s reputation at the most poor and dangerous in Ecuador. I’d met a retired American professor while in Cotacachi and he let me in on the less well known history of the province. Started by a successful slave revolt after a shipwreck, Esmeraldas is still home to a majority African population. Back in the day it was the only African governed region and was supposedly given commonwealth status to self govern by Spain before anyone else on this continent. There was possibly a museum or two exploring this unique history and he highly recommended I go check it out.
He didn’t really need to tell me twice. I was on the first bus and transfer out there. Except we got stopped in the north. There’s still a drug war going on in Colombia and it appears to be fueled by guns from Ecuador. At the gun check, the money I had nervously shoved into my money belt at the ATM in the morning came flying out in a fat stack when I groggily reached for my passport. The whole bus glanced at me. There were whispers. I didn’t know it yet, but I was doomed.
A few hours later as I was confused at the bus transfer at a random intersection, one guy showed an old lady and me where to go. We all started chatting. He continued to talk to me on the bus. Great, I thought, talking to a local. But I was wary as well, possibly yet another overly amorous mid thirties guy thinking he was getting somewhere. He invited me to join him in Atacames the next day, a party-centric beach not too far off. We got off the bus at the same stop downtown. Only later did I realize I had tried to leave once or twice, and thought he had misunderstood my Spanish, but no he had his bulls-eye on me. We ended up at a hostel and in the same dorm room. I tried to get a different room to no avail. Oh well, I thought, one night here and I’m off to a different town from him, he’s going to party beach. I’ll be fine.
As you do with other hostel guests, you group a bit. We went to dinner. He paid, I was again suspicious of more amorous motives. We went for a walk on the beach after dinner. The sun glinted on the water, families played, and runner went up and down to the docks. I was again on the watch out for moves. He sat down to rest because he was a bit fat. I became more wary. He put his arm around me and I shrugged it off. That’s when he just full out grabbed everything out of my pockets and my jewelry. He got to my back pockets when I managed to shove him. He bolted into the brush. I ran for about a second before realizing what a dumb idea that was and ran to an old couple watching a bathroom. That was one hell of a head fake. Six hours, dinner and taxi rides paid for later. Oh, and he didn’t even get the stack of cash, he got all of twenty dollars. My cell phone was probably the most valuable thing he got.
This is where the story really makes me sad. When I reached the old couple and asked for help, asking them to call the police, they just stared blankly. That was dumb, they said, don’t do that. Thanks for the advice, please call the police. He was black wasn’t he, she intoned in a condescending manner. For the love of God lady, call the bloody police. Yes, Esmeraldas is majority African and sadly neglected and not treated well by the government. It is a poor region. I had to give up on this old woman and ask a random lady entering the bathroom for help. The next few people I ran into were helpful. One old guy offered to take his son’s motorcycle to take me to back to the hostel, to make sure he hadn’t returned first and taken everything I had. It was serious panic on my part, my life is in that backpack.
The police arrived and blared through traffic sirens ablaze. There was a lot of stop and go as people didn’t always get out of the way. We got to the station where there were eight other officers standing in the front. They handed me the key to the room and let me go in first. Thanks guys. Luckily everything was there, including the thief’s stuff. When we searched it, it appeared to be stolen clothing and new toiletries. Ah, I’d been had by a thief by trade. We talked a bit. The hotel owner thought we were living a telenovella and kept asking over and over if he was my boyfriend, the police finally told her to shut up and pointed at the multiple beds in the dormitory. Still, they weren’t taking my descriptions very seriously and seemed more intent on cracking jokes. The police then, for some awful reason, told me sit there in the hotel room for another half hour as they patrolled. I wasn’t all too sure the hotel wasn’t in on it and sat nervously in the locked room. They returned an hour later, even police run on South American time, and took me to another hotel at my request. They asked a few times though, as if I’d want to stay in that room. They then took down only my name and left. I have little hopes of ever hearing more.
The thing is, shaken as I am now, I don’t know if I would change that much besides being a little more alert. The last fourteen months I have had the luck and joy of meeting so many friendly locals. Not everyone is good, not everyone is bad, but I’ve certainly been blessed with a lot more good considering this is the first terrible thing. That is not to say one should not be wary, but it has taken little jumps of trust to enjoy this trip in the way I have.
During our hours long bus chat I had mentioned where I was heading. I was now nervous about going to any of the towns I had mentioned and had no desire to go to the party towns I wasn’t planning on . Onward and inland I head, it’ll be Christmas in the mountains for me. In the meantime, I’ve been to four police stations in vain search of a police report to no avail due to the holidays. All I want for Christmas is my stuff back and perhaps a little peace of mind to add to the usual wish of peace on Earth.