We didn’t have the greatest start to our long Latin America trip in Mexico City. Still wet behind the ears in travelling terms, I had made the mistake of carrying my cash and wallet in my back pocket as we travelled around the city on the metro. I had brought a money belt with me on the trip and had stupidly not used it – possibly out of habit of just putting my wallet in the back pocket of my jeans.
We boarded the train in the rush hour panic and squeezed like a sweaty mass of human sardines in to the carriage, clutching my backpack to my chest to protect it from any would-be thieves but other than that I was unable to move as I was squished against my fellow sweaty commuters. It wasn’t until I left the carriage that I realised that my wallet had been lifted from my back pocket.
Panic set in. Credit cards had to be cancelled. I went back to the hostel upset and stressed. Luckily I had kept a spare debit card and wallet safe in the Hostel locker so I wasn’t stuck in Mexico with no money. Top tip for you there guys – Don’t carry everything you own in your wallet.
I didn’t have much money on me at the time but was furious that the criminals had managed to steal my hostel breakfast vouchers and tokens for free tequila shots at the bar. Enjoy your booze, idiot, I’ll be watching out for you claiming your free cereal the next morning.
I didn’t want to let the experience deter me so the next morning I jumped straight back on to the metal underground horse to head for Xochimilco, an area of the city famed for its canals, colourful gondolas and floating gardens that we had heard so much about.
The area is around 90 minutes from the centre of Mexico City by public transport, requiring you to take the metro all the way to the end of the line at station Tasqueña and then switching to the Tren Ligero (light rail) which is essentially an overground train/tram.
On arrival we tried to head straight to the canals. The whole town seemed fairly quiet and wasn’t well signposted so we followed the only other couple of tourists we could see in the hope of them leading us to our goal.
Along the we were lucky enough to bump in to a parade of children in colourful, yet creepy, costumes weaving their way through the streets playing music and singing. I suppose it must have been a public holiday in Xochimilco, explaining the lack of other tourists on the streets.
The canals were a washout. We arrived to find that the boats were all sitting in the dock empty and that there were only two owners there waiting to take out punters. It was not the carnival on the water we were led to believe it would be. We couldn’t afford to hire a boat just for the two of us so we stuck around taking snaps of the very picturesque dock and this is were our problems began…
As I was photographing a beetle parked up next to a beetles poster, a slightly dishevelled man wandered over to us. I thought nothing of it until he began talking to us (or at us) in slurring Spanish that I couldn’t comprehend (at this point my grasp of the language extended to being able to say ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’). he gave me a weirdly threatening vibe but I realised he was just drunk and decided it might be a sign that we head back to the train station.
I packed my camera back in to the camera bag and we quickly began walking away, trying to distance ourselves from him.
A few streets away we turned to see that he was there, walking behind us on the opposite side of the road. We were being followed.
Maybe I was just paranoid but with the streets empty apart from us and the inebriated creep, we got a move on. I looked behind again to find he was gone – Phew! I suppose my mind was paranoia of being a tourist in a foreign city was getting the best of me. That relief didn’t last long, as we wandered on to the next street he emerged from a side alley heading straight for me. A she got close I stopped to let Becky get a few metres ahead and out of harms way while he approached with a determined look on his face, still slurring his speech in a more aggressive manner this time. He walked next to me as I tried to ignore him before I realised he was trying to reach his arm around the small of my back, clearly either trying to hug me or snatch my money belt. Seeing what he was doing I pushed him away firmly, yelling “FUCK OFF” (sorry to say the Spanish insults I had picked up at the Luche Libre hadn’t stuck). He stumbled away and walked in the opposite direction. I had escaped.
My heart beating fast and the feeling of shock rising in me I started walking as fast as I could without running. We were almost at the station.That’s when I heard the sound of pounding feet from behind me.
I turned to see the man running at me, one hand behind his back as if he was clutching something. I froze. My mind was running a mile a minute – what was he holding, a knife? A gun? Am I going to die just 3 days in to this trip?
He got closer, pulling out his gripped hand in to view. Still frozen, I squinted to try and make out the knife. He was faking. His hand was empty. He was just trying to look like he held a blade. I didn’t have much time to feel relieved as he lunged at me, grabbing the strap of my camera bag and pulling it towards him. My instinct kicked in and i too grabbed it, pulling it back as hard as I could. I wanted to hit him but knew if I let go of the bag he would get away with my photography equipment.
The struggle felt like it lasted an age but could only have been 10 or 20 seconds.
It was fight or flight. Without thinking I kicked him hard and as he let go of the bag strap I managed to pushing him away, again yelling in a tone even a non-English speaker could understand “Get the FUCK off me!”. He started coming back for more but suddenly looked straight through me with a expression of terror on his face before turning and sprinting in the opposite direction as fast as his drunken legs could carry him.
I didn’t get chance to revel in the idea that I had scared him away before five burly Mexican ran past me in pursuit of the would be thief. I suppose that if your neighbourhood relies on tourist cash, people are going to take kindly to you scaring away visitors. I was safe.
I’m not an advocate of corporal punishment but i would like to think that he got what he deserved.
At the train station, with police all around I could finally relax. I never thought I would be so happy to get back in to the crush of the Mexico City Metro.