Quito, Slashed

I’m trying, Quito. I’m really trying to like you. Trying to love you, even. But I don’t. Not yet. And here is another reason why…

It was a matter of time. I knew that. But it doesn’t make it feel any less degrading or offensive. It doesn’t make me feel any less violated, any less angry. But, luckily, I didn’t get robbed. Not technically. However, I got slashed. My bag that is. And my good feelings about Quito. I’m not happy about it — not happy about either.

Let’s see… I’ve been here since May 17. That’s two and a half months. Already, I have been involved in two hit and runs (once I was the “hit” while riding in the back of a pick-up truck – yeah, didn’t tell you guys that one yet, the other time I was the “run” while riding in the back of a pick-up truck after a woman got hit and had her foot run over by another car). I’ve been hospitalized with a parasite AND bacterial infection (which came with three weeks of feeling like total crap). And now, I’ve been (almost) robbed. Yes, it could always be worse.

What are you supposed to do when someone who is literally pressed against you on an extremely crowded bus (or, as we call it here, the Ecovia, which is more like a tram with its own private lane) appears to be slicing your bag open with some sort of knife or blade? What do you do when you realize this and pull your bag away, but it’s too crowded to see the damage, and you are in an enclosed vehicle, inches from the thief’s face, while they do everything they can to cut through your paper-thin cloth bag with a knife, centimeters from your stomach?

You let them try, because you can’t stop them. Not with a knife that close. And what did I have to lose? A pair of spandex? Some socks? My deodorant? But, just because you’re a foreigner, you’ve got to be worth the effort, right? And because robberies of under a few hundred dollars have no penalty in Ecuador, what do they have to lose? Nothing. They have the knife. Only you have something to lose. So, you wait for those doors to open, and you wait for the moment to pass. You take it, because you have to. It is unfair, and wrong, but in Quito, it’s life.

Ecuadorian woman and her baby. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.

Luckily, I didn’t have far to go. The next stop was mine. I looked over at my French friend, Clemence, who also knew something was up. She felt the same tug at her bag. But we were sardines in a bumpy tin can. The Ecovia often stops and turns so suddenly that people literally fall on each other and bang into each other worse than any public transportation I’ve ever been on. When someone has a knife pointed at you, sawing their way through your worthless gym bag, do you call them on it? Do you grab their wrist and say HEY, GET THE FUCK OFF OF MY STUFF! Or do you hope the doors open so you can get out before you stop suddenly and they accidentally let the knife go three inches farther than they had intended?

When the doors opened, we got out and I immediately looked down. There it was, a six or seven inch slash right through my t-shirt -thin bag. I quickly checked for what little valuables I had (phone and half my cash – $7 or so – was dispersed throughout my jacket as planned, iPod was at the other end of my bag – safe – and keys were in my extra bag within the gym bag, unnoticed). I was not bleeding. I was not robbed. I had all my belongings including my most valuable – the keys to my apartment. Clemence had a hole in her bag too, but they didn’t get anything, or so she thought. She was fine. Her bag was thicker, with leather. She found out later they got her phone.

But we were ok. Pissed off, but ok. OK enough. And let me just tell you, I had an AWESOME workout after that. Couldn’t think of a better place to go with that anger surging through me than the gym.

This had to happen on a day I was missing NYC like crazy, during a week I had to stop myself from thinking about home, the bliss of summer, the time I anxiously await every freakin’ year. This comes one week after my friend who has been living here for four years got robbed TWICE, two days apart. The week two friends got engaged. The week of some really crazy dreams and a few nightmares that made me wonder about a bunch of things. A week during which I KNEW I was going to get robbed… I woke up Monday, and I just had a bad feeling that this was the week… But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to jinx it. And here I am. Me and my freaky instincts. And there was nothing I could do.

Sometimes, I don’t know what to make of it all. I keep trying to do what is best for me. I keep trying to find my way to that good and beautiful place where all the pieces fit (please tell me it exists!). But I keep getting bumped around. The challenges just keep on comin’! I guess that’s life, eh?

Jumping with friends (From L to R: Clemence, me, Leah, Lexie) in Old Town, Quito.

The most important thing is that I am ok. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this. I’m not sure where I am supposed to be right now. Or why I’m here in Quito. But I’ve got to just keep believing that this is good, this is right, this is where I need to be. Because in all honesty, when something like this happens, it makes you want to run away — anywhere, just somewhere else. I know challenges like this comes with the territory when you’re a traveler, but I’m ready for the good stuff. It feels like I’m constantly being forced to be strong… stronger. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re forced to. I’m tired of having to be tough, and trying to be strong… but sometimes, I get tired of the challenges. And then I wake up and I know I’m ready for more.

Half the time, I’m having SO much fun! I’m having this incredible adventure and I’m loving it! REALLY! I think that comes through in the blog. And the the other half the time, I wonder why I am here and not sipping chai on the Upper West Side, where I feel safe and at home. But I guess I already know the answer to that one: I’m here because sipping chai on the Upper West Side is not enough. I learned all I could from sitting on the Upper West Side with chai. As much as I might want that right now, I didn’t come to Quito to play it safe.

My bag may have gotten slashed, but my trust in the fact that I will get something valuable out of this experience –something so valuable that a thief cannot steal it — and that maybe I already have…

Well, the thieves on the Ecovia certainly couldn’t take that from me.



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17 responses to “Quito, Slashed

  1. Marta

    Hey Tavel, don’t freak out. What happened to you is a common occurence worldwide. It even happens in NYC, exactly as you described it…. Naturally, in less privileged areas.

    • travelswithtavel

      Hey Marta- Not really freaked out at all. This was so to-be-expected at some point. I was just giving the honest reaction to when something like this ACTUALLY happens; even though it’s expected and a part of travel (trust me, I know!), it never feels ok. But, I’m here, as I said, and taking it all in! Just wasn’t pleased last night.

      And people keep saying that this could have happened in NYC… Well, I’ve spent 22 years in NYC, and while, yes it’s possible, here, it is a completely different experience.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment and your thoughts! Truth is, it takes a lot more than that to freak me out, for better or for worse 🙂


  2. Emily

    hey tavel, i think you’re the best jumper in that group!

  3. Geordie

    Ayy, Tavel. Glad that you were OK.

  4. Sue

    As in all situations, you handled this one with poise. Sorry to hear about it Tavel, and glad it didn’t end up worse and that you are OK!!! You’re a champ!

    • travelswithtavel

      Thanks Sue!! SO glad I didn’t have to be more fierce… It could have been MUCH worse. I hope it never goes there…

  5. Susana

    If Quiteños are as short as they say, you should have bumped him on the head from above with a smashing fist and a kick in the balls, then twisted his hand until he cried in pain and released the knife; then you could have slashed his forehead with a sign that said “Ladrón, Hijo de Puta” And then you would have flexed your very conditioned biceps, put your foot on his head, and ask him to beg for mercy. I would have loved to see that!

  6. fan of quito

    quito is cooler than you are.

    and you’re missing the point.

    stop thinking about yourself and your privileges that you miss so much and you’ll really start enjoying spending time in a culturally and geographically fascinating city. think less about what you can GET from the city, and try to focus on what you can do to ameliorate all the sad things that you are witnessing. you’re a visitor, but people actually live there. this isn’t a zoo, it’s a city with real live people who are just as valuable as you are.

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