Taking Down a Thief

We should have predicted that this would happen. We had toasted to the lack of adversity we have faced during our trip over dinner the night before. Traveling is so easy and safe, we had said.

And from that moment on, we had nothing but trouble.

It all started at midnight. The hostel owner owed us 70 Soles (or about $25) change for payment on our rooms. He was throwing a party that night and was paying for the DJs, the lights, and alcohol with the cash he had brought in from his hostel guests. Our 70 Soles was part of that cash and he didn’t have any change to give us. So we sat at the bar watching for any money that was coming in so that we could grab it before he spent it on more party favours. The party wasn’t going well – it was raining – so we sat for a long time. We were patient but persistent and eventually got our change and quickly escaped to our room and locked the door.

The party raged all night with loud vibrating music. It felt like we were in a nightclub rather than in bed at our hostel trying to sleep. And we didn’t sleep. We stayed awake, huddled in our beds, as belligerent party-goers jiggled our doorknob and tried to get into our room. We heard a dog being kicked, a lot of yelling, and the pouring, angry rain.

At 4:30 in the morning, we had to leave to catch a ferry to Colombia down the Amazon River. We needed to get out of this place as soon as we could. It was at this time, ironically, that the music finally stopped. Our hostel is mainly open air so as we stepped out of our room in the dark morning, we were immediately soaked to the bone by the torrential tropical rain. We hurried past the crazed looking hostel owner and grabbed a mototaxi at the top of the river bank. As we sped through town, water from the roof of the taxi splashed onto us, down the necks and sleeves of our rain jackets.

Miserable, tired, soaked, and a little frightened, we arrived at the ferry dock. We paid the driver a ludicrous amount of money and stepped back into the pouring rain. Leah got her bag out of the back of the mototaxi and I struggled to get mine out as well.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man running at me and before it even happened, I knew what was about to go down. I let out a scream as the man snatched my purse, tugging it and ripping it away from me. The purse was strapped across my body so I was being pulled along with it. He could have the 100 Soles (about $37) that I had but there was no way he was getting my passport – we were on our way to Colombia after all. So I fought back.

I grabbed the purse with one arm and punched him in the head with the other. I yelled profanities at him and kicked him in the groin as hard as I could. I jerked the purse from him as if it was a rugby ball in a maul, ripping it away from him as he had done with me. I jabbed my thumb into his eyeball repeatedly, jabbing and pressing, jabbing and pressing. While all this was happening I was also very aware of everything going on around me. A mototaxi was driving at his right side – either his getaway car or a bunch of men interested in watching a gringa beat up a thief in the middle of the road. I heard Leah yelling, “Help her!”, but nobody came. I was determined, but I knew that I would retract if he produced any kind of weapon. My life is not worth my passport.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, he let go of my purse and took off. Most likely blind and impotent, I’m very sure he had learned his lesson. I limped back to the fifteen gawking men who had done nothing to help me with a broken Birkenstock in one hand and a broken purse in the other. Leah, who was protecting the rest of the bags, handed me my backpacks and we got out of there as fast as we could.

My broken purse

The ferry “dock” is just the muddy slope of the Amazon River so we found a concrete guardhouse to get out of the rain while we waited for the boat to arrive. I hyperventilated and sobbed as the adrenaline flowed out of me. A Peruvian man asked me if I was okay. I told him the story and he apologized for his people, but I wasn’t very quick to forgive.

Eventually we boarded the ferry for a 10 hour trip to Colombia in soaking wet clothes. From now on, we will be wearing money belts.

My broken Birkenstock. This was the saddest breakage.

My cracked watch from hitting the thief on the head.