Monday, January 28, 2008

a change in plans

well, the only way to say it is, these past couple of days did not go as planned and were definitely NOT how i'd have liked to spend them. in my last entry i wrote about how courtney and her friend essie were coming to visit me - we were gonna go hiking...specifically, laguna verde on friday and saturday we were going to go down to sonsonate and hike cerro verde with antonio. then the whole monterico thing on sunday. that's not what happpened.

what happened is this: courtney and essie came on thursday night and we chit-chatted and went to eat at a comedor with antonio. later we planned our trips to laguna verde and cerro verde and called it a night. the next morning me, courtney and essie headed out for the hike to the laguna at around 9:15 or so. it was a great day - not too hot, not to fresco. we got about halfway up the road to the laguna (it's about an hour or so hike from apaneca to the top), past this stretch of pine trees when courtney turns around because she heard a noise. i saw courtney turn around so i did as well. essie was ahead of both of us and kept walking. when i turned around, i see this guy coming up behind us wearing a ski mask and he's pointing a gun at us. he kept asking us for "pisto, pisto" (money), and both courtney and i immediately got out any money we had and handed it over to him. meanwhile, essie had just turned around to see us giving this guy money and not being able to speak spanish was like "whaaaaat?" courtney told her to give him her money, and he moves over to essie to get whatever money she had. she had her camera in her hand and held it behind her back and when she went to take her backpack off, he realized she had her camera so he grabbed that from her. then he gets the idea that we all have cameras and whatever else, so he moves back to courtney and is shoving his gun in her side and asking her what else she has. courtney opens up her backpack and shows him that all she has is her water and shirt and tries to give it to him, saying "no soy mentirosa" - i'm not lying - and he decides he doesn't want it. then he comes over to me and starts pointing the gun at my stomach and asks me what else i have. i told him i didn't have anything else and i was arguing with him, telling him i live in apaneca and why would i bring he feels my pockets and then keeps asking me "lleva más" meaning, did i have more stuff. i told him i didn't have anything else and started taking off my backpack to show him like courtney did and he ripped my backpack off and took the whole thing. then he moved over to essie and takes her whole backpack and then tells us "vayénse" - get outta here. we were like - what.the.fuck.

so, he walks away, down the road and i asked courtney if she had her cell phone and she did, so i took it from her. meanwhile, she's telling me "but he has a gun." she was worried that he was going to turn around and see us on the phone and shoot us or something. i honestly wanted to chase was like, it was hard for me not to...i knew he had a gun, but i kept thinking - that asshole just took off with all our stuff! the guy disappears into the cafetel and i dial 911 and get the san salvador police and they have to transfer me to the apaneca police. so i tell the apaneca police what happened and they say they're sending a truck up. so after i hang up, we then see the guy come back out of the forest - but he's completely changed his appearance....the ski mask's gone, he's got on a baseball hat and he's got a different shirt on. he's got mine and essie's backpacks stacked on top of one another and he takes off into another part of the forest. then, less than a minute later, a pickup truck comes up and passes us...then another car and truck. and us three are just standing there, not even believing that that just occurred. then we call peace corps and tell them what happened and they say to get away from go to a house or something. but there are no houses really, so we just decide to start walking down. we then meet up with the police and they ask us what happened so we tell them. then they ask us to get in the truck and they proceed to drive all over that damned mountain, 4x4'ing it through the forest and into these fincas looking for the guy, asking other people if they've seen him. but we knew that the guy was long gone, hiding somewhere eating the oranges and pan dulce i had in my backpack.

so the police finally take us back to apaneca and we proceed to answer a bunch of questions and fill out a police report and then when that was finished i had to go to the licenciado's house to get the spare set of keys he has so i could get in my house, since my keys were in my backpack. essie had had her passport in her backpack and that was obviously stolen so she had to call the embassy to see what the process was for getting a new one. meanwhile, i had to search high and low for antonio's phone number because i had his number on my cell phone, but not in my memory and my cell phone was in my backpack, long gone by now. fact is, i don't have anybody's number in my memory!

so that is what happened in place of hiking and going to guatemala......since essie's passport was gone, she obviously couldn't go to guatemala. that afternoon we immediately decided that the only way to deal with this is to have some drinks. i mean, really, is there any other way?? we took the bus to ahuachapán and i was hoping to get another cell phone but i was told that if i wanted to keep my same number, i'd have to go to one of the metrocentros - sonsonate, santa ana or san salvador - to do that. so we went to eat, then stopped at the grocery store and loaded up on roasted chicken, beer, vodka and tick-tack (salvadoran sugar cane liquor).

as we sat there drinking at my house, we deconstructed what happened and ended up deciding that we probably could have overtaken this guy (this theory came well before we were drunk). the guy acted kind of nervous and courtney and i think it's because she caught him off-guard by turning around when she heard that noise. we think he was trying to surprise us...which he did, but not the way he wanted. if he would of come up to one of us and stuck the gun in our backs, i would've been waaaaay more scared than i was. secondly, courtney and i were speaking spanish right back to him - arguing with him and what not. he was probably expecting that we were just a few tourists passing through.

i kept staring at his gun, i mean, it was so close to me, it was hard not to. it was some kind of old revolver, but the way he was waving it around didn't really make it seem like he knew what he was doing....or maybe that he was just nervous. i feel like, in hindsight, i could of just reached out and grabbed it or knocked it away from him. i didn't even really think it was loaded, but then we got to talking about the details and courtney said she remembered looking at it and not being able to see through the holes that were sticking out from the place where the bullets go...what the hell is the name for that thing? anyway, so it was loaded and i am 100% certain it wasn't a toy (which antonio keeps telling us he thinks it was a toy, but he is just theorizing because he wasn't there but wants to think he understands everything that happened). but it definitely wasn't a toy. it looked like an old ass gun, but it wasn't a toy.

anyway, this guy was totally not a professional...i mean, i'm sure he's robbed people before, and he was prepared (hence the ski mask and gun and changing clothes routine), and he obviously got what he wanted from us, but courtney and i keep saying that if we'd just been able to think a little faster, we seriously think we could have overpowered this guy. he didn't have us all close he had to keep looking from one to the other to make sure we weren't up to anything. he never told us to put our hands up....we could have been carrying anything in our backpacks...mace, a knife, anything. but he allowed us to freely go through our stuff to give him our money. there were three of us! so looking back, we're kind of kicking ourselves for not thinking faster. but on the other hand, i'm not so sure that that would've been the greatest idea either. i think what we did - just give up what we had - was the smartest thing to do. it's kind of weird, but i felt more threatened by the gun after he walked away and i was on the he was gonna try and deter us from calling the police. like when he was up in our faces and had the guns in our sides and all that - i really never thought "oh my god, he's gonna shoot me!" honestly i just kept thinking - you have got to be kidding me. like when i saw him coming up behind us with the mask and gun, i was like - this can't be for real. it was so fake-like. like it was a movie or something. i thought - he can't be coming to rob us. it was definitely weird.

but the good thing is, we're all ok and the stuff that got stolen was just stuff. i lost my camera, my cell phone, a few bucks, my nalgene oranges! pan dulce! i had just picked those damned oranges at the school on thursday and they were sooo good. i think the thing that i'll most miss is that backpack. i loved that backpack. plus my gray sweatshirt....the twin of the red one i lost in honduras last year. i remember losing that red one and thinking, oh well, at least i still have the gray one. and now it's probably being worn by that guy's cousin or he himself is traipsing around wearing it. i also lost my detroit tigers baseball hat AND my lucky "detroit tigers" dollar which was folded up in one of the pouches in the backpack (one day five or six years back, i found a dollar bill in the middle of a book written by sparky anderson, former manager of the detroit tigers, that my dad had lent me. i ended up having to use that dollar in an emergency parking situation when i was living in cleveland...i thought "this sucks that i have to use this!" a couple months later, i was walking outside of the tigers' new stadium, comerica park, when i looked down and there was a dollar bill in front of me. that became the new lucky dollar. now it's gone! and i'm in el salvador. how are the tigers gonna replace it when i'm in el salvador?).

what a shitty day. but that's all stuff that can be replaced and thank god we weren't hurt. we three kept saying how much more worse it could've been....i mean, at least there was only one guy. i seriously think i would've shit my pants if there'd have been a group of them.

so we're going to go to monterico tomorrow. we three came into the capital today and got an emergency passport for essie and spent some time at the salvadoran immigration department to get her another travel visa. Everyone was really nice and helpful and so we’re glad we decided we weren’t gonna let that jerk ruin our plans...we’re just doing them on a different day.

the thing that irks me is that people keeps saying how "you know how salvadorans are." when essie called the embassy, one of the people she talked to said this, and then something sarcastic like "welcome to el salvador." i had an incident back in october of last year where i had some money stolen from me and i was upset and talking to the police in ahuachapán and they were like "you know how salvadorans are" and making the hand gesture for stealing. i just think that's a stupid thing to say. not all salvadorans are like that and i'm not going to generalize the entire population by something a couple people did. no wonder people and countries get stereotyped. there are robbers everywhere, including the united states. the thing that makes me mad is that those who steal or rob tourists here, or anybody who's trying to explain why other people hold up buses or whatever, kind of try to justify it by saying "we're poor," or "they're desperate." there are tons of salvadorans who are just as poor, but don't go out stealing or robbing people with guns. they do what they can and hope for the best. they take work when they can find it and they try and make the money last. they don't go around hiding in the forest waiting for easy targets. it's funny because i told my neighbor and the licenciado what happened and they kind of had this reaction of surprised-ness that it happened to us, but you could tell that it wasn't like it was that big of a deal. because this happens all the time's just something to expect at some point in your life if you're a salvadoran. whatever - that may be the case, but i still refuse to believe that all salvadorans are like that. it's simply not true. most of them are victims just like courtney, essie and i. i just hope karma gets all the bad guys in the end.

the good thing is, we've been able to laugh about what happened. i don't feel traumatized or anything. the day after it happened, i was having a bit of trouble trying to fall back asleep early in the morning because i kept picturing that guy coming up with his mask on and with that stomach would get all tight and wound up. but more than likely the wound up stomach was due to the fact that i was extremely hungover. ha.
so our plan is just to put it behind us, which i think in a few days will be the case. in the meantime, although i'm super glad i'm here to write this blog entry, i'm also gonna miss that red backpack a whole bunch.