When heading off to South America, I have to be honest, I was a little on edge in regards to safety. It’s been a while since I worried about safety in a destination, but South America does, in all fairness, have a reputation I guess for not being the safest part of the world to travel. Which you know, does it a real disservice.
And it’s tales of such dangers that I had read in the months preceding the trip that had me a little uncomfortable. I read a list of tales of people who had visited Quito and other parts of Ecuador and been robbed. One woman was robbed three times in Ecuador in a short stay. Once at knifepoint. Then there were tales from the Rio Olympics of athletes and others visiting for the Games getting robbed. Some of these turned out to be untruths though, it must be said.
So what was my experience? Well, in summary, I was fine. For two months. I did have one issue, on a boat out in the Galapagos off Isla Isabella. Our tour took us to an island, we were told to leave our belongings on the boat. I left my money belt in my bag, as soon we would be snorkelling. We walked around the island, and then got back on the boat and moved to different waters not too far away.
It was time to go snorkelling and I reached into my bag where I had my money belt as I felt around for my underwater camera. The thing seemed really light. I took it out and searched through it, my credit cards and passport were gone, the money was still there. I showed another person on the tour. I spoke to our main tour guide, not a crew of the boat and he told me not to accuse anyone of stealing and that I’d probably left those things back at the hotel. And I had gone through my stuff and reorganised the money belt in the morning. I hoped he was right and went snorkelling.
Later, after the snorkelling, I checked the money belt again. It was bulkier again. My passport and credit cards were back. The lady next to me agreed, they weren’t in there before the snorkelling. The guide told me I simply must have been mistaken. However, I know I wasn’t.
Aside from that, no issues at all. In fact, I discovered I had an issue with my money belt earlier in Quito when I realised the sides were no longer sewn up. My money in a zip lock bag fell out as I walked down the street and I was adjusting something and didn’t notice. From behind me – ‘Senor! Senor!’ someone picked it up and ran up to me to give it back. It goes to show that however paranoid we may feel, good people populate this globe in abundance and don’t let your preconceptions and that given by others colour your judgement.
That being said, I was pretty careful apart from those two times. I didn’t flash anything but my DSLR about. And that was used along with a bit of judgement too. I was warned to be careful of things bring grabbed at highspeed by locals in Rio. To watch out for kids. My biggest worry, to be true, was that I’d have the camera stolen with the memory card too, and I’d lose all my photos. So, I took out a 1TB Dropbox account and religiously uploaded photos daily to it. And my videos. Speeds varied but generally in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia it was painfully slow.
Stories on the road? Yeah I heard three stories I remember of travellers and crime. One guy on a bus in Colombia had his laptop stolen on an overnight bus ride when he left it in his bag overhead. Apparently the thief left rocks or something in the bag so as not to alert the traveller something had been stolen. Night buses are one place travellers get robbed, and you need your valuables in a sensible place that if you’re asleep others can’t access too easily.
Another couple had arrived in Lima, Peru, 1030pm on their way to their hotel from the airport. Backpack on the lap, stopped at a traffic light a man on a motorbike smashed the window and grabbed the bag. Welcome to South America. Passports, camera and other valuables gone in the first two hours. I made sure my bag stayed out of sight when I was in taxis as a result of hearing this story.
Third story was a guy, expat, living in Buenos Aires, robbed at gunpoint in the middle of the day off a main square down a little road. This shocked me the most and suddenly Buenos Aires became the city I was most nervous about visiting. And I’ll be honest, it felt a little edgier than anywhere else I visited. Definitely a place to be on your guard. Watch out exiting the metro, try to stick to wider roads, exercise caution in the area around the main bus station which is very crowded and had myself, my wife and other travellers I met quite uneasy. On the flip side of this, Argentina outside the capital is very very safe and friendly.
So, what do I think? Be sensible, know where you’re going and no what parts of town are dangerous. That’s just common sense wherever you go really. Know, in the big cities, what taxis are the best to take (usually the marked ones rather than unmarked) and which ones to avoid. Guard your valuables, don’t flash them about. But above all, don’t panic, don’t prejudge people and don’t be afraid to have an adventure. Or three. May the Journey Never End!