Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Adventures in Muggings, Robberies and Kidnappings

If you have ever been pregnant or known anyone that has been pregnant you may recall the inevitable change of conversation from the gushy congratulations, when are you due, is it a boy or girl, rub of the belly stuff to some horror story from labour and delivery.  If it is not a labour and delivery nightmare there is colic, nursing or sleep deprivation that moms feel the need to share.  I don’t think people mean to scare the day lights out of unsuspecting mothers, they feel it is their duty to share their experiences, or their cousin's friend's sisters.  Perhaps it is a bonding experience - a kind of warning that will miraculously allow the receiver of such information to avoid the pitfalls of the teller.  No I am not trying to segway into an announcement that Mark and I are expecting, but merely creating a parallel to travelling. 
Four crazy tourists visiting the Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam.  Doesn't look like we are suffering too much!
The same kinds of warning stories happen among travellers.  Stories about who had to replace their passport, got their camera stolen with six months of photos, or got their hotel room broken into while travelling, are plentiful.  Usually all of this stuff has happened in the country we are headed to next!  If we are really lucky, we will hear about the young woman that got locked into a taxi and driven around the countryside, then dropped off in no man’s land without any money or a phone because she got mugged too!  During our trip we have heard some nightmares and met some ‘real life’ people that have been victims of some sort of major scare, crime or inconvenience.  So, like every new mother, it is only natural that one (OK ME!) would feel a little nervous or anxious when travelling to some of these countries. Particularly when I'm now carting around a catalogue of warnings from some stranger’s boyfriend’s sister’s friend, from ten years ago.
Just in case, we purchased a wishing ribbon to keep our family safe while travelling.
Thankfully, Mark only hears about how beautiful the places we are planning to visit are, how amazing the food is and immediately starts making lists of the places we need to see.  I on the other hand am zoned in to every scrap of information that will prepare me for the inevitable muggings, robberies, and kidnappings! Mark and I have fallen into our roles quite well.  He is the ‘tour guide’ and I am the ‘protector’.  I am armed and ready to pounce on the first person that approaches us in any new country.   Actually, I really don’t like confrontation at all, but just try to take advantage of me and I turn into some judgemental, crazed, human being.  To be honest, the occurrences have been seldom and of really little substance, but when I put on the ‘not going to happen face’, even Mark and the girls get scared.  Of course the perpetrator doesn’t realize that my heart is pounding out of my chest and I’m ready to run.

If you look carefully, Mark has his phone in his hand researching a restaurant for dinner.  I on the other hand
am chatting with a local.  I was skeptical about his approach initially, but it turned out he was
a computer engineering student who just wanted to practice his English. 

As it is my duty to ensure our conversation heads to the traveller’s horror zone, here are our adventures in muggings, robberies and kidnappings.  Be warned it is not that exciting, but I could introduce you to my friend who has a brother and his girlfriend’s sister could tell you a story much more colourful than ours! 

Incident #1 Rope Robbery:
A cow vendor in Kenya stole one of the ropes we had purchased to lead the cow back to the village.  Fortunately for us, he stole it while I was videoing the scene of the crime.  Thieves can be really dumb sometimes!  Within minutes the thief was apprehended and rope returned.  I didn’t have to put on my mean, scary face, but the guy that wanted to charge us an additional fee to register the cow in our names and provide me with a licence, got an earful.  I had felt victimized by the rope thief, and be darned if I was going to be ‘taken’ again.  Turned out the licence was all part of a legitimate cow transaction and I had over reacted – who knew? 
See that white rope - it is ours, and the fellow in the light blue hat walks off with it. Busted! 
Incident #2 Pineapple Kidnapping:
While in Vietnam a pineapple vendor came up to the girls and plopped a conical hat on their head and a quang ganh (two baskets slung from each end of a bamboo pole) on their shoulders.  It was my fault; I had paused to see what she was selling and that was the moment of opportunity.  It is such a sight that you automatically want to capture it on camera.  Thankfully for us, this was not the first time we had been requisitioned for money after taking a photo, so Mark knew to negotiate a fair price before the happy snappy!  After our small payment, the girls were returned to us safely, and were spared a life of pineapple peddling.
Pineapple anyone? Very cheap price!
Incident #3 Magnet Replacement
While poking around in a souvenir shop, Mark accidentally knocked a high end, made in China, poorly painted, magnet off a rack.  Actually the magnet was so weak it just slid down the metal board and hit the floor.  Immediately three women, who spoke little English, pounced on Mark.  The magnet was scooped up, claimed to have been damaged, wrapped and was now being used to demand payment.  Mark looked at the other magnets on the board; all were damaged and were merely samples of the new plastic wrapped magnets below.  No way, the ‘not going to happen face’ came out.  If we had truly damaged something of course we would pay, but clearly we had done no damage to the ‘sample’ magnet on display.  Actually all of the sample magnets were in poor shape, I wonder how many tourists had fallen for that scheme and were the proud new owners of ‘damaged’ goods?

Incident #4 Bait and Switch
Check your goods people!  Electricity is expensive and in some areas you pay more for a cold drink as apposed to a warm one.  We stopped off at a convenience store and requested four cold waters.  The sales clerk put them in a plastic bag even though we tried to tell her we didn’t need one (Asia is obsessed with plastic bags).  We quickly realized the plastic bag was used to conceal the two warm bottles, placed underneath the glistening cool bottles!  Sucker!!  The same goes for fruit people…pick out your own and don’t be lured by the beautiful sample the salesperson has in their hand that you end up negotiating a price over.  We've come home with a few “lemons” on our shopping trips.
Fun times at the market!
Yep, I know pretty scary stuff on the Mitchell World Tour, I told you it was a horror show!  We feel pretty fortunate that these are the only incidences we can report (so far), and even then we had to brainstorm to come up with a blog post!  Despite all of the horror stories, most of the locals and tourists that we have encountered have been friendly, generous, helpful and kind. Our positive traveller stories could go on for pages and far outnumber the negatives (but that wouldn’t be too exciting). So there you have it folks, my contribution to the traveller’s nightmare. After reading this you too can now say, "I had a friend that knew someone that blah blah blah…." Perhaps we should write a book!  We could title it What to Expect When You're Expecting to Travel - we could be millionaires!  Just think of the travelling we could do then. 

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