The past 9 years when I would come to a new place, I would wander around, mostly without maps. My general belief was and still is: “Sometimes when you lose your way, you find YOURSELF.” I never gave much thought or trust to when people said ‘it is dangerous here’ because you hear this everywhere. In fact, many places, I had lived in or walked through people would tell me after that it is ‘very dangerous’ there.
My perspective, at least to some extent, has changed after having traveled in Ecuador. For some time, I had become much more aware of my surroundings in a way that I did not want to see myself in. But let’s jump right in.
El Panecillo in Quito
I had flown into Quito just 4 days earlier and as usual, I started wandering around the city. This morning, I decided to walk up the hill to the big symbol of Quito, El Panecillo. The climb was uneventful, a nice walk with a quiet staircase, not many people on the way as most people seem to take public transport or taxis to the top. On the top, I saw many tourists and still nothing unusual.
The descent was when the attack happened. I was going to do a round-way but couldn’t find the street so I decided to simply come back where I came from. The staircases that brought me up. I did not even give it a second thought. I had walked through so many similar places before in other countries. I was alone, it was around 3pm in the afternoon, and suddenly it started to rain. With my raincoat on, I took down the hoody, keeping just enough space so I could see the steps in front of me. From downstairs, I saw two guys, nothing special. They even seemed to have smiled to me for a split second. At that moment, I was thinking, ‘oh I should say something like it rains a lot here in Spanish and have a little random chat. Thinking about how to form this sentence, I was caught fully off-guard when one of the two guys took out a 15cm long knife and immediately rushed towards my throat. The other guy took my hand and pulled me to the ground while pulling off my jacket and my sunglasses. Everything happened very fast. In this very second, when he grabbed my jacket, I took off running, using the distraction of the moment. I was flying down the stairs. I rushed around the corner, yelling ‘son of a b****’ in Spanish. I didn’t stop running until I had arrived at a little corner store just less than 100m away from where the attack happened. Here I was. The material value was close to nothing but the mental wounds would persist for a while.
What happened next?
I walked back to the hotel, on the way stopping at the police station but of course, they could not do anything. I was scared. I kept looking around, turning, even though the streets were busy. I was under the impression that I was left completely vulnerable in this city. I was caught in plain sight of the daylight with an attack that could have ended much worse for me.
The weirdest things happened when I arrived at the hotel. The shock had finally gotten to me as I felt save here. I started crying for a brief moment realizing that I had a 15cm long blade pressed against my vocal cords and I had gotten away with just having my jacket and sunglasses stolen. For the next few days, I would experience some sort of paranoia. I would keep checking my visual field during my walks alone through the city and I thought, ‘oh wait, this guy looks exactly like that guy…’ I caught myself having second thoughts about certain routes that I wanted to walk.
How to cope with the aftermaths?
I try to think of it as ‘shit happens’. The violence involved in the attack was unnecessary but realistically, I do not think that they would have used their weapons to seriously hurt me. I was in a shock because of the size and the moment of the attack. Try to talk to your travel partner or other people about your fears but best is to just go on with your life. If nothing happened, don’t try to overthink it, you got away and everything of value can be replaced.
Can you avoid it or should you even try?
I don’t believe that you can avoid it. These things can happen to anyone almost everywhere. You should enter certain neighborhoods with certain contentiousness or better stay out of there. Another obvious point is: the less you bring, the less they can take from you and the less they have reasons to attack you.