A common occurrence for immigrants after spending some time in their adopted place is that they begin to feel more comfortable, at ease with their new surroundings. Not a bad thing in most scenarios. Indeed, it’s what most of us want to happen when we decide to rock up in a location that may be outside of our comfort zone.
However – and this tends to be place dependent – there are times when you can get to a level of comfort that slips into complacency. This is when things can get dangerous, something we’ve found out to our cost on a number of occasions here in Bogotá. Before we look at those incidents, it must be stated that even taking the best precautions is not going to guarantee your safety. That’s something that in reality can never be met, anywhere. Yes, some places are worse than others, but nowhere is completely trouble free.
No matter where you are though, there are certain things you can do to at least lessen the chances of what Colombians call: ‘Dar papaya.’ This phrase basically means leaving yourself exposed – not just physically, but mentally – to be taken advantage of. Letting the guard down, so to speak.
Our cautionary, ‘lesson must be learned’ experiences involve two of the things that we like to do best – socializing and the feeling that we’re getting value for money. The two stories we’re going to recount here were, as most of these sorts of incidents tend to be, completely avoidable. But when you can walk away from such events relatively unharmed, you should be all the stronger and wiser for them: that’s the theory anyway.
The first ‘eye-opener’ (or ‘skin-opener’ to be more precise) occurred in the Zona T area of Bogotá – a place we usually feel ill-at-ease in any case but that’s more to do with the arrogant types that frequent it, not for feelings of insecurity. As you tend to pay ridiculously high prices in this part of the city for anything, we took it upon ourselves to purchase a bottle of aguardiente and knock it back in a quiet, dimly lit public park – we were unsure about the legalities of drinking on the street – before meeting another friend in an upmarket (and therefore outlandishly expensive) club.
While ‘warming ourselves up’ in this park, three lads walked past us – something our more shrewd German companion apparently noticed, not lik- ing their vibe, but he decided to hold his counsel. He should have trusted his instincts, for back came our ‘friends’ re- plete with knives and intent to harm. Two of them managed to pin down our German mate, not before managing to inflict a minor stab wound on our little finger. Seeing red, quite literally, and a little bit unsure as to what was happening, we confronted the third member of the group. Within seconds the lowlifes fled, once they had taken a little bit of a bounty from our friend – but in relative terms not that much. They took nothing material from us, but they did of course manage to split open a finger.
The lesson learned: don’t nonchalantly go drinking in quiet parks at nighttime in Bogotá. Okay, a no-brainer perhaps, but complacency very much set in for us on this occasion.
Which brings us on to the next ‘what were you thinking’ cautionary tale. The context here is our dislike for taking taxis, especially when we know there’s a cheaper alternative. And with buses running more or less through the night in Bogotá, we generally find this a much more agreeable option to get home. Many locals tend not to speak too highly of these late night/early morning buses. We’ve never had a problem with them though – that is; when we take them when we’re ‘with it’ or at least close to being ‘with it.’
This night however, we don’t even remember getting on the bus to get home – in fact, we’re only guessing that this is what we did, but we can’t be fully sure. It seems however the most logical course of events to explain how we ended up in very dodgy territory in the ‘not very safe’ south of the city, miles from where we were meant to be. Due to a significant black-out, our memory of events goes from being in a pub in the north of the city with friends and colleagues to lying on the ground in this inhospitable location in the far south with two men standing over us, emptying our pockets. Keys to the house, cash, mobile phone, ID – everything material they could take, they duly did.
Thankfully and most importantly no physical injuries were inflicted. Considering how exposed we left ourselves, we were lucky on that front. Once we ‘came round’ we managed to bum a third of a bus fare from a guy on the street, with the bus driver seemingly taking pity on us, allowing us to board. Needless to say, we couldn’t get out of the place quickly enough.
As mentioned earlier, when you can walk away from such incidents pretty much in one piece, you have to be grateful. The most important thing is to learn from them and amend your practices accordingly. Not to do so is just plain stupid. For if you ‘Dar papaya’ around these parts, there are plenty of people willing to feed off you.
Brendan Corrigan www.wwcorrigan.blogspot.com