Robbed in San Juan del Sur

It’s been one week since we were robbed at knife-point in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Since then I’ve had a multitude of emotions and feelings: anger, frustration, forgiveness, vengefulness, regret.

As a traveler or tourist you expect to get your pocket picked on a crowded bus, you expect to get your purse jacked in a bar, you expect your hotel room to not be completely secure.

Perhaps I was a bit naive, but I did not expect two teenagers to come down off the hillside, observe us taking pictures, wait for us to come around the bend, pretend to ask us a question while cornering us against the cliff face, put their shirts up over their noses, and produce foot-long butcher knives out of thin air.

Robbed in San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

I remember saying hola and making brief eye contact as I would do passing anyone. And within what seemed like a second, I had a knife in my face and was being pushed back by the fear of getting cut up. Emolyn was in the same situation but knew enough to say “bag…they want the bag!” after they mumbled “bolsa“. We both threw our bags to the ground, Emolyn got out of the way, and they were still inching towards me with the knives. I had no idea what else they could want since my bag was already theirs and my tee-shirt was with the bag. Eventually, they picked up the bags and scurried around the edge of the cliff where they could no longer be seen.

This all took place on the rocks, at the end of the beach, under the mountain with the statue of Christ on top. On our way out, we passed families spending the day in the sun. Our guidebook described it as a good day hike: rockhopping the northern curve of the bay and around the point, minding the tides, and bringing plenty of water. Done and done. What about the kids with the knives?

The night of the incident we were pretty shaken up, and even for the first few days afterward I was still angry. We looked back on the situation a million times and went through every possible what-if. I don’t know how much of a threat these chicos were. Were they prepared to use force to get what they wanted? Were they as frightened as we were? Had they done this a hundred times before? Was it their first time?

I couldn’t believe the utter disinterest in the police about the case. We had run a half-mile on the beach to the nearest bar to make the call. They arrived quickly but had no interest in radioing over to another officer who might dart to the scene of the crime, or to the road which was the only escape out.

The situation could have been much worse if we lost a passport, a major sum of cash, my camera, or got sliced in the stomach. But these hijos de puntas did get some good spoils. Some, like our handmade journals and Spanish notebooks, had value to us and none to them. With a week’s worth of notes, we planned to study from these for the remainder of our trip.

They got a nice camera from Emolyn and an IPOD mini. A hat, two pair of sunglasses, a watch with alarm, a flashlight, and a Moon Nicaragua Handbook: things that make life on the road easier. My father’s copy of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and Herman Hesse’s Demian are now theirs. In a country like Nicaragua, good books in English are hard to come by. Add to that a blue metal water bottle from Quechua in France. They even got the tee-shirt off my back!

I still don’t regret choosing Nicaragua over other Central American countries like Costa Rica, Honduras, or Guatemala. Here´s what my up-to-date Moon Nicaragua guidebook (I had to buy another one in Granada) says about the topic: Believe it or not, Nicaragua is, for the moment, still considered one of the safest countries in Latin America. If you´re traveling south from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala, you should notice your anxiety level drop noticeably.

Although I doubt I’ll be racing back to any one of these Central American countries anytime soon: almost every person we met had a similar story about themselves or travelers they had met who got robbed somewhere between here and Mexico.