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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.


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.


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.


FAQ – Moving to a new country

I want to move to a different city/country. Where do I start?

First of all, yay! That’s great news. Change is great, and you’re taking the first steps on a big adventure. In my opinion, you have two options, and it really depends on the kind of person you are.

Option 1
Go! Line up a hostel or another form of short term accommodation, and just figure it out once you get there. I know that it sounds scary, but that’s what I did when I moved to Ecuador. I was going there for University and I had a couple thousand dollars set aside. I’m sure that I read about the country a bit before going, but I actually didn’t plan very much.

I turned down the homestay option offered by the university. The internet wasn’t a big deal back in 2005 and I couldn’t really set anything up in advance, so I decided to book a bed at The Secret Garden hostel for a week, thinking that I would play it by ear once I got there.


The view from the hostel. I knew right away that I had made the right decision.

Things ended up working out really well for me. The hostel is owned by an Australian-Ecuadorian couple, and is an amazing network of expat volunteers and amazing travellers. I had been staying there for about four days when the Swiss manager told me that they were looking for volunteers who could make a month long commitment. In exchange for volunteering for 8 hours a day, volunteers got free accommodation, meals, drinks, and Spanish lessons. What a deal! I took the position right away – sure, it was hectic with my school schedule, and the living situation was sketchy (volunteer accommodation has improved since!), but it was free and allowed me to get to know the city and country like I never would have otherwise. About three weeks into my volunteering stint, the same Swiss guy told me about an apartment just behind the hostel that had a room for rent for $100 a month. I ended up living there for the rest of the year. It’s where I met Marina, who is one of my best friends to this day – last fall, I flew to England to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Throughout the year, I continued to work part time for the hostel, helping them run tours throughout the country and running reception when they needed me.

calle oriente

This is where I ended up living for the year

In all honesty, I think that my year in Ecuador spoiled me for all further travel. Somehow, I left with the assumption that things were always this easy – you don’t need much money, or planning, and things will just work out.

Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that this isn’t the case, when I tried to move to London. I was more prepared – I had temporary accommodation and a job. However, I left with almost no money, and no knowledge of how expensive life was in London. The job that I had did not pay enough for me to live in London, and my temporary accommodation was too far away for me to find a second job. I ended up moving back to Canada after 6 weeks. Which leads us to option 2!


No wonder I couldn’t afford to live in London – this was a transit pass for one week. Plus STD, apparently.

Option 2:

Do your research! Make sure to come up with temporary accommodation, or try to set something up in advance. Make sure that it’s not two hours away from your job (as was mine in London…) Make sure that you know what to expect in terms of not only rent, but down payment and possible furniture (as I found out when I lived in West Africa – You can read ALL about the hell of trying to find accommodation in Mali here). Try to connect with people who already live where you are moving to, to see if they can help you with anything. Make sure that you have a backup option for work. Most of all, just make sure that you have enough money in case things don’t work out – and don’t forget about cost of living! I was more prepared for my move to British Columbia than I was for anything else, but I didn’t think of everything. When I originally budgeted for my life here (what a foreign concept to me!) I didn’t realize that you pay monthly for health insurance, and that car insurance is much, much higher than it is in Québec.

In all honesty though, I would probably go straight back to Option 1, again and again. It’s more exciting, and being thrust into new situations with less of a support system pushes you out of your comfort zone. In the future, I’ll just make sure that I have enough money to survive in my new city!

Is there anything else that you are wondering about? Comment below, and I will try to answer and travel-related questions that you might have!