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Leaving home, going home

I’m writing this a week before leaving Gibsons, but by the time it reaches your eyes, I’ll already be on my way home, away from home, towards a new home. I don’t know which is which.

The last few months years have been crazy. Moving to a tiny, beautiful town in British Columbia to do this crazy, wonderful, so frustrating but so rewarding job. Getting to travel all over the country, working with some phenomenal human beings, being so inspired that so many people are willing to try to make a difference. Learning so much about myself, becoming (sort of) more patient.

Fast-forward two years later, the unbelievableness of being hired by Doctors Without Borders. Meeting more amazing, inspiring humans who want to make a different kind of difference. Quitting my crazy job. Finding out where my placement will be. Packing up my life, finishing up my program, having last-for-now beers/dinners/walks/knit nights, worrying about war in the Middle East. Everything has felt so huge, organizing so many things, that I never thought about leaving, only getting to moving day.

Well, here I am, 8 sleeps away from leaving the home that I’ve been in for two years, and it’s only just hit me. I started looking for a picture to post on the morning of my departure, and in doing so, I found so many pictures from the last two years. Pictures of this stupid town that I’ve bitched about so many times, because there’s nothing to do and the ferry is so annoying and dammit, I’m scared of bears and cougars. But man, have I loved it. From the ladies at knit night who I’m proud to call my friends, to my neighbours and colleagues who kept me sane in the dead of winter, to my dear, dear friend Karen without whom I wouldn’t have made it here for this long. Pictures of my amazing Youth Peace Network families, people I’ve been so lucky to meet and I know will be a part of my life for years to come. Pictures of this incredible country, and all the accompanying memories of what this job has allowed me to learn and see.

I want to write more, but I’m about to get real depressing, so instead I’ll do two things: share some too many photos of this amazing life I’ve led, and use this opportunity to say thank you and I love you to those of you who have been a part of my life for the last two years, either here by my side or supporting me from a distance. Here’s to many, many more amazing adventures. May our paths cross again. (Especially you, Karen. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. See you in Cyprus ♥ And you, Newton family. Wherever we’re all together next, there’s a game of Cards waiting for us.)

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Mugged in Peru, part 2

Continued from Mugged in Peru, Part 1

Reasons why I’ve attached this Friends clip:

– When I lived in Ecuador, my roommate Marina (the star of this story) and I watched this show religiously. We still get together once a year, and there hasn’t been a single time when we haven’t watched at least one episode together.

– Start watching at 0:39 – Ross’ tone is the one that I use when getting to this part of the story. I know that it sounds scary, but when I retell it, I have everyone laughing. I like to think of my second mugging as a heroic action story.

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At that point, I took my bag off and handed it to the second driver. Marina was still pulling on my hand, so as soon as my bag was free, I just went with her and both moto-taxis drove off. I lost everything: bank card, credit card, passport, camera, iPod, journal.

Upon hearing the commotion, everyone on the street quickly went back into their house and shut their door. Marina ran across the street and kicked down the closest door just as it was shutting. We barged into a family’s kitchen, and she announced that we needed help. Like I said, Marina really is the star of this story – she always knows what’s going on, and what needs to happen next. The family explained that they were worried that helping us would bring them trouble with the boys who had robbed us, but Marina was insistant and it wasn’t long before they agreed to help. They called the police, who came quickly, but were also quick to assume that we were just another set of dumb tourists. We chatted with them for a while and described the situation. We weren’t scared, we were angry. I think that our attitude, and our level of Spanish, convinced them that we weren’t dumb tourists (well…) but just really unlucky. They drove us to the bus station to pick up our bags (which were fine! untouched!), and to a hotel where we could stay for a few days while we sorted things out. It was a Saturday, and we had to wait until Monday to go into the police station so that I could make my report for my insurance claim.

While we were talking about all of this, Marina remembered that the boy had taken us to his house… and she remembered where it was! (Marina, I tell you! I don’t think that I’ll ever meet another travel partner quite like her) We started thinking that maybe the boy knew the drivers who had mugged us, and had gone into his house to call them and tell them that he had two tourists that they could steal from.  The cops decided that we should go to his house to try and identify him – they picked us up from the hotel, just as it was getting dark. Marina found our way back to the boy’s house, and we hid in the back of the police car for an hour (Police stakeout! In Peru! I’m not kidding!), waiting for the boy to come home. He came home, we identified him, and we drove off. They arrested him the next day.

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The rest of our time in Chiclayo was well spent: we spent the Sunday with the two cops, driving around in their car (while they were supposed to be on patrol). They gave us their hats, but mine was later taken from me by customs. We also found out that they’d been demoted, after we left.

Over the weekend, the cops had been back to the boy’s house, which were near some brick ovens. They found a document that was in my journal – we think that they quickly went through my bag, and burned anything that didn’t seem to have any value, and must have sold the rest on the black market. Marina (again!) had originally tried to make a deal with the boy, telling them that we would pay them to give me back my journal, but we had no luck.

On Monday morning, the police picked us up again and took us down to the station to identify him. We did, they thanked us and they told us to wait. We heard them beat him. A few hours later, we all met in a room – me, Marina, the boy, and a lawyer. We were each supposed to tell our side of the story. The boy tried to defend himself, but the lawyer appeared to be on my side and kept contradicting him and telling him that he had robbed us. Between Marina and the lawyer, I was covered. I still feel weird about the whole situation though. We later found out that they had detained him illegally (he was 17), and beating him didn’t help. They had to let him go and weren’t allowed to continue the investigation.

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After this eventful weekend, I got my form, and off we went. We had to cut the rest of our trip around northern Peru short, as I had to go straight to Lima and get a new passport and bank cards. My dad had already organized everything for me from his end, so that as I got to the embassy, all I needed was a picture and a signature, and I was able to process my application for an emergency passport. Still, we had to spend more time in Lima than we had originally planned.

How impressed do I look? I was NOT happy about having to spend time in Lima to get a new passport.

How impressed do I look? I was NOT happy about having to spend time in Lima to get a new passport.

We ended up arranging for all my replacement documents to be sent to Cusco, where we were ultimately headed before going to Bolivia. We were still able to continue our visit of Peru, going to Arequipa, Ica, Huacachina, Nasca and the Colca Canyon, because Marina, yet again a star, was able to cover the costs for both of us until I got my replacement bank card. We finally made it to Cusco around June 10. We fell in love with the city, and ended up staying there for two weeks, only going to Bolivia for a few days before I had to leave to go to Costa Rica.

Funny how things happen! Somehow, this mugging was less scary than the time I was mugged in Cuba, but it has still affected me. When I was in Mali last year, I was always a little uncomfortable when people approached my taxi. Hopefully that feeling goes away. The point is though, that it didn’t ruin my trip. Yes, I’m still sad about losing that journal – I’m only just starting to let it go. But thanks to Marina, the family and the great cops that helped us out, my situation was a lot better than it could have been, and it didn’t affect the rest of my trip (apart from having to spend more time than we planned in Lima!)

Tell me, has anything ever happened to you in your travels? Has it changed the way you travel?

 


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Mugged in Peru, part 1

I lived in Ecuador for a year, from August 2005 until August 2006. (You can read all about that here) I was going to university, and volunteering at The Secret Garden Hostel. When I finished school in May, my roommate Marina and I decided to go backpacking. I was meeting a friend in Costa Rica in mid-July before heading home mid-August, so we had six weeks ahead of us and decided to go to Peru and Bolivia.

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The original plan had been to spend two weeks in Peru, and four weeks in Bolivia. The image below was taken from the journal that I was keeping – it’s written in French, but you can see what our original travel plan was.

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We flew from Quito to Vilcabamba, where we spent a couple of days here – definitely worth it if ever you’re in southern Ecuador! From there, we took a bus to a town in northern Peru called Piura. Seasoned bus pros that we were, we fell asleep right away, and woke up at 3:30am at the border between Ecuador and Peru. The border post didn’t open until 4:30, so we got to stand around in the dark with 50 peruvians, amidst giant grasshoppers flying everywhere, staring at a sleeping border agent through the glass window. At 4:30, we got our passports checked, left Ecuador, walked across a bridge and ended up in Peru. We had our passports stamped on the peruvian side, got back on the bus and fell right back asleep, to wake up in Piura.

In Piura, we switched buses for Chiclayo, where we were going to take another bus to Trujillo to spend a few days there. We got to Chiclayo around noon, and our bus to Trujillo wasn’t until 4pm, so we decided to walk around for a bit and get to know the town. We didn’t want to be the tourists that were dumb enough to walk around town with their backpacks on, so we decided to leave them at the bus station while we visited. However, we also didn’t want to be the dumb tourists who left everything at the bus station and lost everything. It turns out that we were the dumb tourists who didn’t have money belts – we stuffed everything of value in our shoulder bags before hitting the town. Whatever – we were used to being extra careful with our belongings, and were pros at keeping eyes and hands on our things.

We ate some street food, visited the famed witch market, and we had some extra time so we decided to ask one of the motorcycle taxi drivers to give us a tour. He started driving us around town, and it wasn’t long before Marina and I realized that something wasn’t right. We were in a residential area with nothing to see and no one around, but we had no idea where we were so we couldn’t exactly do anything. We told the driver to take us back, and he said that he would in a bit. He pulled up outside a house, and told us that he was cold and was going in to get a jacket, and then he would take us to the bus station. We talked about it, but realized that there was nowhere for us to go, so we decided to stay in his taxi. The boy came back after a few minutes, got back in and said that he was taking us back now. As we were driving through a more populated neighbourhood, he started mumbling something about us getting robbed. Just as we asked him to repeat himself, I felt a jolt: another moto-taxi had bumped into my side of the taxi. Marina, always quicker than me, had already figured that we should run. There was a narrow canal on her side, and she pulled my hand as she jumped onto a small bridge crossing it. To be honest, I was still confused. Marina was pulling on my right arm, just as I felt someone yank my camera out of my left hand and start to pull on my bag. I started pulling back, and then I looked up… straight at a gun.