When you mention that you’re travelling to South America you get looks of concern for your safety. Banditos, guerrillas and drug lords will no doubt have their eyes on you. La policia will stop you at blockades and threaten you for cash. You will be expected to bribe your way out of every confrontation. Keep your cash and personal items close to you at all times. Really?
I lived in Buenos Aires and was told not to walk in certain areas alone at night. I was robbed twice – both times in broad daylight on a busy street: once, unbeknownst to me at the time, on a crowded pedestrian street, once, tricked in the nicest possible way on a Saturday afternoon. I was not hurt.
Buenos Aires is a city of many poor and desperate, needy people. I was never disrespected. I was never short-changed by a taxi driver. I walked bravely and boldly (maybe stupidly) down the middle of an empty street at midnight several blocks home through San Telmo – one of the areas I was warned to not live in and not to walk through.
While away, I heard news of home. Home is a small city of one million nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Asian gang wars were increasing and bystanders were being killed in the crossfire. A quiet, middle-class man in my neighbourhood flipped out, taking the lives of his family members, his tenant and himself. A passenger on a greyhound bus was randomly decapitated by a fellow passenger. No one advised me against going home.
I planned a trip to Mexico where travellers were reportedly being kidnapped, held for ransom and killed. I was advised not to travel. Friends and family were afraid.
My travel companion was eighty-four and had been driving south to Mexico every winter for the past fifteen years across the American border without a problem. This year he had a new car. Would it be a neon sign flashing ‘rich gringo’?
No. Five and a half weeks driving through Mexico we were essentially without incident: only one hubcap was removed. Mexicans respect property too. No drug lords in sight.
I returned home, went hiking in an inner-city park with my girlfriend. Put my purse in the glove box of my locked vehicle. I came back to find both locks busted and my purse gone. Welcome home.