This isn’t a story about how I was robbed in Buenos Aires. This isn’t a story about all the horrible things that can happen in Buenos Aires. Telling every detail of my trip that includes all the bad stuff – would hurt some people I care about … and in the end, I don’t want to spoil the “Paris of South America” for people who might still enjoy it by unfairly slanting their viewpoint. So …
This is a story about how being robbed in Buenos Aires changed me, broke my travel cherry and shattered a bit of innocence I still possessed with regards to travel and being a traveler.
I had high expectations for my trip to South America. Together with my dear friend Abby, we were going to attend the wedding of Andi Perullo. Together, we were going to conquer South America. I was naive enough to think that it would be the adventure of a lifetime. Even on my limited budget. I didn’t think I’d need a lot of money. There was going to be easy to use public transportation that was safe at all hours of the day and night, great food, beautiful architecture, fascinating history. It was going to be the trip that would make my career as a travel photographer and writer. See? I didn’t expect much.
The expats I met on my first night in town, told me horror stories of robberies, crooked cab drivers and scams to avoid. It did make me pause. For a minute. By the next morning I was back to feeling like a naive, plucky, excited traveler fully basking in the glow of her rose-colored glasses. That glow lasted 3 days.
What I found on only my fourth day in the city [after my iPhone was taken out of my hands and after another pair of men tried to take my purse causing me to run for my life] – was a place that felt dangerous, unpredictable and seemed dirtier than anything I had imagined. In fact, exactly like the terrible place the expats described in the worst of their stories.
I’ve been through more bad things in my life than most. I thought I could handle anything. Especially when traveling. I actually believed that as a person who has been through the ringer in her personal life – surely there was nothing any country could throw at me that would ever faze me.
Yet the city became violent and unpredictable for me, made me imagine the worst things lurking in the shadows. There was an invasion of my personal space which occurred that would have affected me less if it happened on my last day in town. Instead, it happened before I could back up all the hundreds of beautiful photographs I’d already taken. It happened while I still had more than a week to spend in a place where I felt violated both on the streets and where I was to sleep.
Looking back, I overreacted. Or simply chose the wrong reaction to the things which happened to me. For instance, instead of being thankful for the 11 photographs I do have because I uploaded them to Facebook before my iPhone was stolen – I mourned the ones that were taken from me.
Since my return, I’ve been thinking about the lessons my trip taught me. Actually, it started in the cab ride to the airport where already the feeling of loss coupled with thankfulness was overwhelming me.
People like Abby, Nathan, Lea, Allan, Jonathan, Andi and Lucas … saved the trip for me. My moments with them gave me positive memories I’ll cherish forever now that the dust is settled. If it weren’t for them all I would have is a memory of unpleasant events and a feeling of intense insecurity.
Instead, I know that traveling is a yin/yang experience. You have to take the good with the bad. You have to own the fact that stepping foot on a plane is surrendering yourself to the unpredictability of our world but that doing so is what makes life worth living. You have to realize safety is, in the end, an illusion. You must choose to get over bad experiences so you can be fully present in the happy moments.
Well, maybe you don’t have to own those truths. But I own them now,
because … of being robbed in Buenos Aires.
So I’ll get a new iPhone and use it when I teach an iPhoneography workshop at TBEX and then at TBU. My rose colored glasses may have been replaced with aviators but I don’t intend to stop traveling or be intimidated to the degree that I change who I am. Life’s too short for that!