You may have been wondering why we have been radio-silent for the last few weeks. We had a bit of a reality check when our car got broken into and we lost our electronics and some cash, which was cause for some soul-searching about why we’re on this trip and what we’re doing wrong. We’ll catch you up on the nicer side of travelling shortly, but here’s the story on how we got robbed in Guatemala.
The day before getting robbed, we were at Volcan Santa Maria with JFDI Overland. Santa Maria was supposed to be a potentially dangerous hike, where others had been robbed on the trail. We left our cars with a family at the trailhead and went as a group of 4 plus Leika. You know, because she’s so protective. Although the weather didn’t cooperate, the hike was fun, and we were up and back in about 5 hours, leaving plenty of time to drive somewhere else the next day. Volcan Tajumulco was next on our list, the highest mountain of Central America at 4,200m which has amazing panoramic views on a nice day. Heather and Dan had just camped and hiked it the previous day, and we knew of others who had done the same. So we drove over in the afternoon and pulled up the dirt road. As we drove through the last village some little kids hopped on our back bumper, trying to ride along – that made us feel a little weird but we thought nothing of it. The road up the trailhead to Tajumulco is in really bad shape, with deep water runoffs and large boulders. It’s pretty difficult to get all the way to the actual trailhead, so parking a little lower and walking up the rest of the dirt road is a popular option. We pulled off to the side of the road on some relatively flat grass and spent the night there. When we got up it was a cloudy day, we started hiking around 7:30am and made it to the top in good time. Unfortunately we didn’t have any views, so we stayed at the peak for 5 mins and turned around. The descent was quick as well, and we were back at the car by 10:30am. What we discovered shocked us both: Someone had shattered the passenger side window after having failed to pry open our sliding door with a crowbar. Once in, they thoroughly searched our car (they didn’t seem to have been in a rush), went through all our storage compartments and found our electronics and some of our cash. Thankfully we still had our passports and car papers.
Anyways, after talking to the villagers (“only God knows who may have done this”) and filing a police report (the nearest police station was 1 hour drive away) where the officers found our visit rather entertaining, we were both pretty devastated and angry. Driving with the open window, we found ourselves very vulnerable and felt unsafe whenever we saw other people. We started to ask a lot of questions: Are we driving the wrong car? Are we just totally careless? Are we plain stupid? Has this trip even been fun so far? Is Central America too dangerous? Does it make sense to travel if you have to worry about this stuff around every corner? The gut reaction was to just turn around and go home.
We drove to Antigua, where 2 tourist police officers helped us phone around for a replacement window. After calling the Mercedes dealer and getting quoted a gringo price, the police officers accompanied me to a window shop in Guatemala City. Thankfully we managed to get a custom plexiglas window made the same day, and we could stay at the tourist police compound in Antigua for 2 days, a safe place with other overlanders around.
So what are the lessons for us here? Clearly, we have let our guard down, just trusting that what others had done would be “just fine,” not applying our own judgment. This incident isn’t something that can be blamed on Guatemala, Central America, poverty, or anything else. It’s our fault. Never leave your car unattended. In hindsight, the mistake seems so obvious, and we have no idea how we could be so stupid. If a place does not feel 100% safe, go somewhere else that’s safer. If this means skipping something on the itinerary, it’s probably worth it.
Everyone on the Panamerican trip seems to think that their car blends right in (“we look just like one of the public transit vans,” “we look just like any pickup truck around here”, etc.) but that’s simply not the case. If you look like you’re driving around with all your belongings, you don’t look like a local. If you leave your car unattended, you’re running a pretty high risk. In the end, just don’t create opportunities for theft, whether you’re in Tajumulco or in California.
Is it worth being afraid of what’s around the corner? No. if you apply common sense and have some level of awareness of your surrounding, you should be fine. We came to the conclusion that if we were to find ourselves in constant fear or anxiety after this incident, than this trip would not be fun and we would turn home. As you can see – we’re still on the road 🙂
We took a few days to get our thoughts in order and calmed down. We can’t thank others enough for their support in getting us back on track; most notably Heather & Dan, Ike & Bethany, as well as Pierre on Lake Atitlan. We continue to talk about that mistake often, and also reconsidered what we really want out of this trip. With this in mind, we continued our trip through Central America. Let’s hope we won’t have to be taught another lesson.