close

She said, She said: Perspectives on an attempted robbery in Montevideo

no thumb

Isn’t it funny how differently two people can perceive the same event?

When we rehashed what happened after experiencing an attempted robbery in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, the two of us realized just how differently we perceived the same set of events. Rather than try to meld it into one story, we’ve created another edition of our She Said, She Said series. We’ll let Jess start.

Jess said:

Of all the lessons I have learned in the past three years,  learning to trust my gut sits right at the top. The problem is all the second-guessing that happens just after that sharp pang of a gut feeling happens.

On our first night in Montevideo, the street Dani and I were walking down had become increasingly dark and uninhabited, but we were just a few blocks from our posada, in the heart of the Ciudad Vieja area of the capital. What could go wrong?

After ‘the incident’, when we compared stories, it turned out that Dani and I both had a bad feeling at the exact same moment on the street. About to turn right onto the street of the hotel, a group of three boys, one on a bike and two just standing around, stood huddled up on the corner and immediately I felt vulnerable, aware of how empty the street was, and these three were just too stereotypical – hoodies, baggy pants, BMX bike. It was because they fit the idea of a hoodlum so well that I convinced myself they wouldn’t do a thing. After all, we’ve been in all sorts of shady situations and almost nothing has ever happened to us.

Until that night, that is. We turned the corner, our backs now to the boys and with just one and a half blocks to go, I turned my head to make sure we weren’t being followed. In that moment, one of the boys was right behind us, reaching for Dani’s backpack, which she had securely on both shoulders. He yanked so hard that he pulled her down to the ground; she landed right on her back on the top of the backpack, making it impossible for him to grab it. Then, Dani started screaming bloody murder. Scared, frustrated and honestly quite pissed off at having to deal with this obviously amateur robbery attempt, I too started screaming, just screaming. Startled, he turned to run and any fear I had turned into anger. I ran after him, chasing him down the street where his other two, less bold, friends had been waiting for him.

montevideo ciudad vieja street
The ‘crime’ scene

‘Hijo de puta!’ I screamed after him, repeatedly, running down the street. Son of a bitch, asshole, and any other Spanish swear word I’ve ever used came flooding out of my mouth. After two eternity filled minutes, lights in upstairs apartments flipped on, and local residents padded barefoot downstairs to see what all the commotion was about. I screamed that they tried to rob us, that I had seen their faces and knew what they looked like. I screamed and yelled like a crazy lady. Then I turned to look at Dani who was crying and staring at me, shocked. Jess, I am scared. I just want to go back to our place now, please?

It was hearing the whimper in her voice that I realized she had not reacted the same way, and that I had left her, in the street, having just had someone pull her down to the ground. I felt terrible, and I still don’t know what came over me. But the way Dani tells the story now, I feature nicely as a bit of a hero, so I’ll take that over feeling like a crazy lady any day!

Dani said:

We have been traveling for nearly three years now and feel incredibly lucky to have avoided major incidents or mishaps so far. The worst that has happened was a woman on a chicken bus in Guatemala who attempted to slice Jess’ bag open with a knife – Jess realized what was going on before the woman could get anything – and of course when we fell hard for a scam in Bangkok– our egos are still bruised from this.

The scam taught us to keep our defenses up and stay vigilant, but now sometimes we are extra paranoid, such as when we see a group of teenagers and make them out to be big, bad robbers. Time has taught us that this paranoia is often completely off the mark.

That’s why, on our way back to our guesthouse from dinner in Montevideo when three boys started to walk behind us as we turned the corner into our street, I tried to talk down the feeling that they would try to rob us. I said to myself, ‘Dani, not everyone is after you, don’t be so paranoid all the time’.

I honestly felt guilty for presuming the worst in people, when the next thing I knew, someone was trying to rip my backpack from my back, pulling so hard on it that I fell to the ground. I started screaming uncontrollably. I was imagining knives or worse, a steel wire rope around my neck – though we had possibly been watching way too much Dexter at that point.

The attacker must have let go when I started to scream, but I couldn’t be sure. There I was, paralyzed with fear on the ground, and I see Jess yelling after them. Somehow they were already far away, and running further by the minute. I can’t believe how tough Jess is, while I am cowardly sitting on the floor, she is driving these thieves back.

My heart beat like crazy in my chest and I still couldn’t believe that had actually happened, even though when I saw the boys, I felt that they would rob us. Luckily, my backpack survived, my dSLR camera and my second lens were inside, undamaged, and we didn’t even have to hand over our long-expired debit card we carry around just for possible cases of being mugged.

montevideo ciudad vieja buildings
Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo

All I wanted was to get back to the guest house. I felt sick to my stomach and was shaking uncontrollably. This could have ended so much worse, I was thinking, and I didn’t want to ruin our ‘good fortune’. Later in the posada, one of the co-op owners tells Jess how lucky we were. “North of the border in Brazil,” she warned, “people get stabbed or shot for backpacks everyday.” Hearing that made us happy to be in Uruguay, of course, but for the next few days we didn’t leave after dark. Ciudad Vieja is a charming old part of town during the day, but even then I was too worried about taking out my camera unless Jess acted like my bodyguard for each picture I would try to snap.

The reality:

Is Montevideo unsafe? Not entirely, but increasingly so. Uruguay is a small country that has traditionally relied heavily on both tourism and business from neighboring Argentina. The 2001 economic crash there hit Uruguay hard, and things are slipping back into a serious recession yet again. InternationalMan.com, a website based in Uruguay, put it best: ‘When Argentina sneezes, Uruguay catches a cold’.

The truth is we had always pictured getting an apartment there for a month or two, and if you keep your eyes peeled for Dani’s Montevideo photo essay later this week, you’ll see the beauty that had always attracted us to the idea of an extended stay here.

However, now we might only recommend a few days in a nice hotel and then moving on to the quieter parts of the country, both on the coast in places like Punta del Diablo or Punta del Este, the popular Colonia del Sacramento just across the river from Buenos Aires, or head inland to experience the estancias and gaucho culture of rural Uruguay. What we wouldn’t recommend is running after thieves, no matter how deluded you are at the time to think you are tough! Nothing in your bag is worth getting hurt for, or worse!

montevideo horse carriageWondering about travel safety in other countries? You might like our posts Travel in Mexico, safe or not? and Travel in Honduras, safe or not?.

Opt In Image
Beyond the Blog: Get updates straight to your inbox!

Keep up with me! Get updates, additional stories that don't make it on the blog, future travel plans, and travel tips. I also answer reader questions and have some pretty sweet travel giveaways exclusive to newsletter subscribers!

Tags : She Said She Said

20 Comments

  1. Thanks for bringing this subject up again. It’s the main downside while traveling in places where you’re unfamiliar. I also have the attempted robbery story, and also should have known better. It seems like there is a common thread to most stories. It’s after dark and there’s nobody around except you. As it doesn’t happen frequently, we tend to become complacent. That gut feeling is the reminder that you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be doing.

    It’s been many years (25) since the robbery attempt in Guatemala when I was stabbed. But, many times since then when it’s dark and I’m alone, I get that sinking feeling that I’m being stalked. I get it, but I still need reminding. That’s my guts’ job.

    1. Oh geez! Steve, that’s awful that you were stabbed. I feel like we have been so lucky to never have been hurt like that. Of course it can happen anywhere, but when traveling there is simply more of a need to fight off complacency and stay vigilant as you are not on your home turf and have to always trust your gut.

  2. Hell of an experience, good to hear you’re both OK.

    I think our gut is the biggest thing that keeps us safe. Had a weird experience yesterday where some boys wanted me to take a photo of them but seemed to want it in a rather secluded area. I obliged right where I was in plain view of a lot of people and moved on. All my gut was saying was bad idea to go anywhere.
    Adventures Wtih Pedro recently posted..Adventures in a Hospital in Guatemala

    1. Wow, Pedro, thanks for sharing that photo story – it does sound like they were trying something with you and I haven’t heard of that sort of ‘scam’ before, so good thing you trusted your gut and that nothing happened. It’s tough because one of travel’s biggest lessons is that the majority of people are good and yet you always have to be on guard in situations like this!

  3. Crazy stuff. Good thing it turned out to be a fairly amateur robbery attempt and he didn’t have a weapon or anything.

    You chasing after him yelling Spanish curse words is a hilarious site to imaging though. Haha. Good job.

  4. That must have been so terrifying Dani! Jess, you are a super hero. That was so brave of you to run after him. I bet he was well scared. 🙂 I really feel for you though. A guy on a moped tried to rip my handbag off me in Phnom Penh once, but as I held onto it with my hands as well he only got the strap. He actually fell of his moto and wasn’t looking so brave anymore when he realized that I just realized he tried to steal my bag (and worse damaged it), and even more so when he saw an angry and drunk English man next to me. He was gone before we could go after him, but it too left me shaken a little bit.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..3 quirky things to do in Berlin

    1. Ugh, Tammy that sounds awful. That’s never happened for us so far, and we are definitely paranoid of moped theft and try to keep our bags on the other shoulder not on the side of the street in places where that is common. But you just can’t be on guard the whole time when you’re nomadic – talk about fatigue! It’s tough!

    1. Ciudad Vieja is dark and deserted and since sharing our story, we’ve heard others with the same ones. I feel like Pocitos and other spots are a totally different thing altogether. And of course we didn’t feel unsafe in La Paloma 😉

  5. I am glad everything turned out to be ok. We were in Montevideo and did not feel threatened at all. It shows that it really is situational. We were also there on New Year’s Day when the city was completely shut down. We had a hard time finding food after arriving on our flight.

    It is great that you shared. I think it is important to continue to be aware of your surroundings. May not need to be scared all the time, but to be conscience of where you are and how to get out of an attack if possible.
    Angela (@angelatravels11) recently posted..Yosemite Time Lapses

  6. So glad you are both alright. Wish I could give you both a hug!
    I had my phone stolen from my rucksack last year by a pick pocket and I was paranoid for a while whenever I had it on after that. I didn’t even see anyone in the street I’d been walking down let alone feel them open all the pockets to my bag and take out my phone. It upset me but what happened to you sounds a lot worse. I felt like I was letting them win if I worried too much about it happening again.
    Wishing you safe and happy travels.
    Kathryn recently posted..Winchester Cathedral, one of the loveliest in England

  7. Eurgh, how awful. I’ve yet to experience anything like this yet. Actually I shaved my head in Colombia, and noticed people were a little wary of me, occasionally crossing the street. I assume because of my appearance.

    I’m not sure how I’d have reacted. I always tell myself that if I’m confronted with that situation, I’ll just hand over what the attacker is looking for, but in reality? I really don’t know, and hope I’ll never find out.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..I Don’t Speak Spanish & I Went to Colombia.

  8. I’m glad that your story didn’t end on a bad note and that you guys are safe. My husband and I are headed to Nicaragua at the end of this month, and I’ve often wondered about whether it’s a good idea to carry around my camera bag. Your story and others like yours has me thinking about what steps I can take to prepare for a situation like this.
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Beach Bummin’ in Tybee Island Georgia

    1. Dana, If you normally carry a day pack with all your other stuff during a day out walking, keep your camera in there until you want to use it. If you’re out in public and around a lot of people, I wouldn’t worry too much. Just be aware of everything going on around you. Hold it in such a way that someone cannot come up behind you and snatch it and run. I speak from experience.

      It’s not a good idea to carry a dedicated “camera bag” with the camera company’s logo on it.

  9. I’m sorry you had such a experience in my city, Ciudad Vieja is a finance district very nice and alive during the day but pretty much no man’s land after dawn.

    We have seen an increase in crime in the last few years but still the situation is much better than in neighbors countries.

    1. Hi Flavio, thanks for commenting! Yes, it was sad that our experience in Montevideo was darkened a bit by the attempted robbery, but we still had a lovely time in Uruguay and thought that Ciudad Vieja was beautiful!

Leave a Response

CommentLuv badge

css.php