It was my last full day on Margarita Island, Venezuela, and I went to the beach one more time. The same beach that I’ve visited every weekday for the last two weeks. The same road I’ve walked each day, and the same bus I catch each way. Except for it being a Sunday, with more people at the beach than usual, everything was the same.
Happy that my usual spot of sand away from the main crowd and most of the debris was vacant, I neatly laid out my sarong and lay down to enjoy the sun. Same as I have done every other day. I spent some time on my phone, looking up Spanish phrases for a new tattoo I want, and messaging some friends.
Always trying to be aware of who is around me, I had a fleeting bad feeling about two young guys as they walked past, and again when they walked back the other way, so I lay with my arm through the strap of my bag just to keep it safe.
A while later, a couple who had been sitting nearby were packing up to leave. The guy made a motion with his hand, pointing two fingers in a V shape at his eyes, then towards his things, or mine, I wasn’t sure. I watched as they wheeled their motorbike across the wet sand, and they stopped briefly to say something, which I didn’t quite hear, but I nodded my head yes and smiled as they walked off. They didn’t seem very happy, and I wondered why. In hindsight, I should have asked what they said, because I think it was a warning, but that’s hindsight. Not available at the time unfortunately.
My usual time to leave the beach was 4pm, because the sun goes behind a big building, and with the buses never running to a timetable, I always want enough time to return to the house before dark. This time I left at about 15 minutes later. Walking back towards the main group of people, I skirted around the edges of the groups to the small hill and the main road to catch a bus.
Happy to see a bus approach as soon as I neared the road, I crossed in a hurry and waved the bus to stop, but it drove right past me. There didn’t seem to be any passengers on board, so I was slightly annoyed, but I decided to walk until the next bus came along. I’ve done the same thing about ten times now, and there is usually another one within a few minutes. Every so often I glanced over my shoulder to check for a bus, and I could see the two young guys I’d noticed earlier, now following me.
I got an odd feeling as the guys got closer to me, so I stopped at a clearing in the bushes on the side of the road and stepped up onto the gutter to let them pass. Stuffing my wet sarong into my bag as I waited, it was a decision I thought quite normal and reasonable, but in hindsight was another mistake.
Within microseconds, the guys were in front of me, and startled, I glanced up to see the older and bigger guy flashing a knife with a long blade. The knife was big, about 40cm. Instinctively I grabbed my bag and held on tight. He growled something at me, and although I didn’t understand the words, I tensed up and backed away slightly.
He came at me with the knife held near his shoulder, and I shouted “No”. What exactly happened next is a blur, but I remember thinking ‘get out of the bushes and onto the road’, and feeling him grab my bag.
It’s strange, the things you recall at the most stressful moments, because I clearly remember thinking ‘I super-glued this strap to the bag after the last guy snatched my phone, and I had to chase him to get it back. I know the strap is strong now, and will hold up. So if I can just hold on, they won’t get my bag, or my phone in it.’ Rational thought? No. Crazy, irrational, and motivational? Yes!
The long blade was tarnished and slightly rusty, but it still occasionally caught the rays of the setting sun, and seemed to glint at me from a close striking distance.
I don’t know what happens in my head, and why I can’t let go without a fight, but I was determined not to give them my bag. Relying on the superglue to help me, and keeping an eye on the knife being waved in my face, I attempted to pull us onto the road. There had to be a car coming along soon, I thought, and – $%&# – the other guy has a knife too! The younger guy had pulled a similarly long knife from his pants, and his blade was serrated.
Why the serrations mattered, I don’t know, but it was then the fear kicked in hardcore. He thrust his knife towards me with both hands, and I knew he was the bigger threat. I swung around to try and keep my bag between me and the knives, and to drag us further onto the road. It was then I felt a warm trickle down my leg. Without looking, I knew my bladder had let go and I’d wet myself, and that made me mad.
The only words coming out of my mouth were ‘No’ and ‘Why?’ yelled in Spanish, and my only conscious thoughts were to keep hold of the bag while keeping away from the knives, fleeting prayers they wouldn’t stab me, and that a car would drive past soon.
Maybe twenty seconds went by, and we continued this weird tug of war – the guys growling incomprehensible words and motioning at me with the knives, and my face a sure combination of fear, anger and determination. I don’t remember their faces because I was watching their knives and trying to keep my balance.
Suddenly two cars appeared, on the opposite side of the road. Thinking they kept driving, my heart stopped momentarily, then without another word, the bigger guy let go of my bag and both guys ran off. The sudden lack of opposing force jolted me, and my sunglasses fell off my head and onto the road. I didn’t care to stop and pick them up, and I took off running in the opposite direction, back towards the beach.
Breathing hard and shaking, and I ran towards the car that had stopped. As I approached it though, they drove away. ‘No, what are you doing, I need help damn it!’ I checked that the guys were not following me, and continued to hobble towards the beach in despair. A car stopped on the other side of the road, and the driver called out to me. Not understanding him, he drove over and pulled up next to me. I saw it was a taxi, and checking again that the guys hadn’t reappeared, I cautiously opened the passenger door and peered in. We established I was not ok and where I was going, and he indicated I should get in.
My sense of smell returned, and I suddenly remembered I needed to wash my shorts, so I wrapped my sarong around me before I sat on his seat. I was in shock, and only capable of answering his questions with basic answers. Stopping at my street, I asked him how much I owed, and he waved me out of the car without taking any money. I was cognisant enough in that moment to thank him profusely for his kind deed, before hurrying back to the house.
I stood transfixed in the house for some minutes, shaking and mentally replaying what had just happened. It was so far outside my reality I’m still struggling to comprehend it almost 24 hours later. I’ve experienced two attempted robberies in the space of 3 and a half weeks, and they have escalated rapidly. Today my arm muscles feel like they’ve been torn from my bones, the muscles on my sides and back are aching, and my finger is swollen and bruised.
Last time my legs cramped and my feet blistered from chasing the guy without my shoes on the burning hot road. I don’t seem able to just ‘give them what they want’ as I’ve been advised to do, so I think it’s wise I don’t stick around to see what my reaction is if a gun is pointed at me. I feel deeply sorry for the people of Venezuela, many for whom this is now their reality, however I cannot stay here much longer.
I need a hug and a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell me it’s all going to be ok.
Let me know if you’ve experienced something similar in the comments below – I know this is not an isolated event and I’d welcome suggestions on how to deal with it (I didn’t sleep at all last night because my head wouldn’t stop replaying it over and over)..