On July 13th, at around 4:00 PM, in broad daylight, I was assaulted and robbed on the road between Monserrate and Universidad Los Andes.
As I was walking downhill on this curvy street, a thief who was about 16 years old passed me on the other side of the road, changed his path and started walking in my direction. I saw this and immediately changed my direction.
At this point, he countered my move, quickly intercepted me, brandished a large knife from his midsection and lunged at me.
I saw the knife and realized I was in deep trouble. After living and traveling extensively in Latin America for six years, I understand that life means nothing to these types of punks. Killing for 10 dollars is not a problem for these predators.
It was so sudden that while trying to avoid the knife, I fell backwards onto the ground and the thief jumped on top of me and put the knife to my face and took my freedom away.
It was incredibly fast and he was experienced at this.
I ripped out 40,000 COP and my business card wallet out of my left pocket and threw them at him. He grabbed both, ran over to a friend waiting on a motorcycle and they sped off.
After the shock of this incident, that may have lasted a total of six seconds, I realized that I had been fortunate enough to escape without losing my brand new camera (which I bought at Foto Japón at the intersection of the Septima and Avenida Jiménez three hours before), my I-pod, watch, sunglasses, apartment keys, and, most importantly, my life.
I was surprised for many reasons. Many people mistake me for a thug. I’m a bigger guy at 5’11”and 205 lbs (1m 80, 93 kilos); I look in shape, and kinda mean looking.
Thieves have passed me as a target.
After all of this time traveling with almost no incidents, the unthinkable happened.
This incident has affected my life in many ways.
First, I cannot help but remember that I have distributed over two thousand digital and print travel guide books with the following passage on the walk to Monserrate:
“The walk from La Candelaria is a nice stroll that takes you by the Universidad de los Andes.”
Even though the walk will always be a nice stroll because of the surroundings, in my eyes it’s now a dangerous place and a correction to my books is needed.
For me, the question that arises is what is my responsibility as a travel writer and travel guide company owner that publishes information on Colombia?
My responsibilities as a publisher at this point are very clear.
I must warn all of those who have downloaded or purchased my book. This is difficult as I have given over 1000 PDFs of my guide for free off my site, without asking for emails to download. I have also sold a number of Kindle versions on Amazon and my first print edition has over 1200 copies in circulation.
Books cannot be recalled. What must be done is to change them and release the information as quickly and effectively as possible.
I had to pull the PDF and Amazon copies of my guide off their web pages to correct the information. I will also post this blog entry on my site and forward it to other channels for further viewership.
I decided to take it a step further so that there could be an awareness of a potential area that needs to be understood when passing by there.
Those who use that area as a passage should be aware that it has dangers involved.
After I was robbed, I saw about ten Colombians who were standing about 30 meters away and who witnessed the incident. They all came to make sure I was alright (they couldn’t have intervened; it all happened too quickly). They directed me to a police station that was right around the corner from the crime scene (the police couldn’t see the robbery because of a huge building blocking the view).
I told the police my story and they listened and apologized. They offered to escort me home which was a very nice gesture. They also offered to take me along for a search for the thieves, but the criminals were long gone and it would have been a waste of time.
I went home in a state of disbelief. For the next few days I went through a process of disbelief, anger, fear and a feeling of having been violated from having my personal freedoms taken away.
But I was lucky.
I lost so little and walked away with so much. Even if I had fought back and was able to escape the risk was too high. Some people may call me a wimp for not fighting back, but when you are totally surprised walking down an incline, in a very pleasant area, not being on your toes (this was my fault) and your opponent has a knife, you are in a very bad position.
A few days later, I decided that, since I was bound to address this incident in my writings, I should look further at the issue of safety on this route and the general area.
I spoke with multiple tourism operators who have been involved in Bogotá’s tourism industry for many years.
Through one contact I was able to arrange a meeting with officers with the Bogotá Tourism Police. This meeting took place on July 24th.
They listened to my story and we discussed the whole situation.
It was agreed by all parties involved that this was an unusually rare incident due to its location and time. The general advice given about walking on this route is to avoid it after 5 P.M. This is from both the police and from within the local tourism industry (some hostels info may vary).
On the day of the incident, the universities in the area were not in session and there were considerably less people in the area than usually. La Candelaria totally changes when university students are not in session. The whole area turns into a completely different place and the risk goes up.
The road of my incident can quickly go from busy with people to very quiet. The road also is totally void of vendors or businesses. This is the perfect ambush spot if no one else is around.
The police, a tourism business owner and I discussed safety in La Candelaria and on the road. It was apparent that police are making an effort to connect with the tourism industry on the issue of safety in La Candelaria.
There is a line of communication which has led to progress and a higher level of safety being worked on, but some questions remain as to how safe La Candelaria really is.
Blogger Brittany Robinson, who writes on Stars on the Ceiling, was also the victim of a robbery in La Candelaria very recently.
Her ordeal was a lot more devastating due to the behavior of her attackers. She lost many more important personal possessions (She was accosted and robbed by five thieves in La Candelaria in May, 2013 and lost her I-phone, passport, cash, computer and credit cards).
She tells us about her ordeal in an article written in English only that can be found here:
There are lessons to learn from her article which has useful information on what to do if you are a victim of a robbery.
My case, like hers, was a crime of opportunity. Two thugs saw a lone walker in an isolated place. Maybe being a gringo played a part, but I doubt it as I’m often mistaken for a Colombian in Bogotá, especially from a distance (when I talk or when people look close, they know I’m a gringo).
My current advice is to avoid this road and take a taxi to Monserrate if you are traveling by yourself, even when students are in the area.
I was robbed on the road next to where the people are walking on the sidewalk
If it’s in the middle of the day and you’re with a group of people, this may change the situation, but you should watch your back on that road at all times.
As for the rest of La Candelaria, watch your back at all times.
La Candelaria is an amazing place that I will always love. I wrote my first book a block from the Chorro de Quevado and now I’m managing my blog and business from the same area.
There is a magical feeling of progressiveness and positivity, mixed in a darkness that can only be felt in person.
I find the area uplifting and, as a practicing writer, I feel inspired by a force that is hard to explain to others.
I will always have that feeling in La Candelaria, but the honeymoon is over and I must use caution at all times.
I have changed since the day I was mugged. While some of my travel habits may slip back to the way they were, I’m now a completely different person.
I’ve drastically changed my security procedures and, in the end, all this could be for the better.
Before this happened, I would walk in any street at any hour. I would roam cities without much care. I would always be careful with what I carried and how I presented myself, but I didn’t limit myself to where I would go.
Now, before I go outside I treat it like I’m going to get jacked and I don’t go where I don’t belong.
I carry the bare minimum.
When I have to carry something, I put it in a known pocket and I have a dummy wallet in the other. If a thief sticks me up I’ll give them the wallet with 10,000 COP (in 1000 and 2000 COP notes) and some change to make him happy.
I have also limited my hours outside at night to only the bare necessity. I stay on the bigger streets, such as Avenida Jimenez, the Septima and Calle 19.
Whenever I’m out, I’m thinking of security and I watch everyone around me.
I’m sure I may lighten up in the future but, for now, safety is my prime concern.
When I met with the Bogotá policemen, I asked them a few questions about how tourists should think about security while visiting La Candelaria.
The conversation went something like this:
Is La Candelaria safe?
Bogotá is a huge city of 8 million people and we must provide security to both Colombians and foreigners. La Candelaria, like all of Bogotá, has issues with crime. Everyone must be careful with their possessions and be aware of their surroundings. Do not walk around late at night without a destination in mind. If you’re going to point A to point B, choose the route with the most people. You must always think of your personal security.
What are your suggestions if someone gets mugged?
Your life is more important than your possessions. Give them your things and get out of the situation as fast as possible.
Can I carry a machete or other weapon to protect myself?
That is a very bad idea. You could have legal issues and the attacker could use the weapon against you. These thieves are proficient with weapons and they don’t care if they hurt or kill you.
Are there solutions to these crimes?
These types of crimes in big cities are hard to fight. We want to work together with the tourism operators to have a presence in the hostels and also to assist with issues. People need to be careful about where they go and what they carry. Traveling with many people is always suggested.
I agree with these answers.
Protecting a huge city is a very difficult task and Bogotá has immense levels of poverty, which creates a cycle of crime. The Bogotá police face the same challenges as those in other big cities. Chicago, New York, London, and many other cities have the same issues with crime.
My family lives in Chicago and, at this very time, in their neighborhood (A very nice one, bordering not so nice ones) there is a rash of robberies going on and they can’t walk outside at night.
I left the meeting asking myself whether or not all this was worth the effort?
I decided it was worth it because there has been positive dialogue between multiple factions about a serious issue.
I’d like hostels in Bogotá to be aware of this incident so that they can make their own calls on the recommendations they will give their guests when they go to Monserrate.
After my robbery, I talked with several members of the tourism community and got many different answers. Many think there needs to be a higher level of security in the area, and a few are satisfied with positive change from the years past when it was much worse.
One tourism operator voiced his opinion in El Tiempo about the issue, which was published online on July 22nd (last article on the page).
(This article is Spanish only. It deals with the question of security in La Candelaria, and is told from the point of view of a well-known member of Bogotá’s tourism industry).
I appreciate this letter as I believe an extended discussion is needed about security in La Candelaria.
I’m not looking to point fingers at anybody or for a cure for these crimes (this would be nice if possible); I’m just looking for an improvement so that less Colombians and foreigners don’t have to suffer violent ordeals in La Candelaria and on the road to Monserrate.
I really want the police to ask themselves what they can do more to protect these precious areas.
I also ask that hostel operators make sure they make security a high priority and ask what they can do to protect their guests.
I will still wholeheartedly recommend visiting La Candelaria, but it’s essential to have security protocols in mind at all times when visiting this area.
Those who are new to Latin America or who get scared easily should stay in a hostel or hotel in North Bogotá.
Those who like to rough it and are more travel-experienced may appreciate La Candelaria more. Its location is beautiful and there is so much to do there. Odds are that nothing will happen, but it appears that the odds do catch up to some people every so often.
La Candelaria is a special place and it should be explored by both Colombians and tourists alike, but with many cautions.
The good news is this experience has not made me like Colombia any less.
I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time in a big city and, after all these years, it was my turn…
I will continue my project on Colombia and, hopefully will not have any more such incidents. I have learned from this that I must be much more careful in my surroundings at all times.
I’m now happy to be able to focus on the beauty of all that is Colombia, its cities, people, natural settings, culture, food, nightlife, music, and all of the other great parts that make Colombia the amazing country it is.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story and, if you feel it has value, please share it with others.