My people, I make my comeback to the blogosphere on an unpleasant note. My blind confidence has been crushed, my carefree approach to the travel has been compromised, and I now walk the streets in a state of paranoia, wearing an untrusting eye for my Chilean brethren.
'Twas a typical Valparaiso Wednesday, commencing with the weekly volunteer job on Cerro Cordillera that I have long trusted to provide me with an impenetrable fortress of good karma so that I needn't concern myself with the notion of misfortune. It was noon-time when there was no more work to be done and I bid my farewell to the fellow volunteer folk to begin my descent from hill to city center. A hot day and the sun beat down upon me while I lazily strolled down the sidewalks in a haze, pondering my plans for the rest of the day. On the final stretch of road before the stairs to freedom, a high school kid leaning on the wall a couple meters ahead stepped in my path with a finger to his lips and started vigorously "shhh"ing me. It brought me back to earth but I was still a little dumbfounded and just thought he was just kind of odd and wanted me to help surprise somebody or something. He started pushing on my chest with his other hand and I turned my head to see a gent of about 18 approaching me, the new guy lifted his sweater above the hip-line to expose a pistol tucked in the crotch of his jeans which pretty much cleared up the ambiguity of the situation.
Needless to say, they were interested in my loot, and it shames me to think of it but with their slight threat I was completely docile. The silencing man grabbed the strap of my backpack and I submissively shrugged it off into his control, he then tossed it up to his compañero who casually slipped it onto his own back and began walking the other direction. The greedy shhher then proceeded to stick his hand into my pocket and grab my cellphone which I instinctively clutched onto, negotiating on behalf of losing my Chilean connects; also in the struggle I felt that the strength was on my side and for a second considered releasing the fury....His associate turned around and caught my eye with a dumb head gesture and a lunge of his hand to the crotch-gun. Again I crumbled at the will of these flaite fools, released my grip, and watched as they made their jolt up the hill with the loot.
When they were in transit I realized that there had been cars passing by and jumped into the road thinking that one of the drivers would act fast to help a fellow civilian in need, but they kind just brushed me off; one driver pointed me towards a convenient store with a phone. The guy behind the counter took his time flipping through an old rolladex, apparently lacking a quick 911 reflex, lecturing me on the dangers of walking alone in the neighborhood. About 20 minutes after the fact, an armored pickup truck carrying three Carabineros arrived and I gave them my report while the locals of the block stepped to the curb to watch. I suggested we ask the surveying neighbors for some leads but they didn't even consider it and said that the locals never say anything; that hood respect. We drove around the hills aimlessly for about ten minutes, looking for the culprits, but it was without doubt hopeless.
My pride still aches whenever I ruminate on my performance under pressure; and the wound deepens with every object I remember being in the bag that the assailants now enjoy at my expense. I picture them now wearing my sweatshirt and sunglasses, nodding their heads to my ill tunes on the ipod, and taking large ungrateful bites from my custom designed lunch sandwich. Even more embarrassing than the way I put my tail between my legs in the face of danger was the realization that, due to plans of making my Chilean ID that day, I had been breaking the golden rule of travel: my passport, travel documents, and all other forms of identification had all been on my person. The problem is that I've always just mistaken my supreme luck as a kind of traveling invincibility and never botherer with any precautions of minding what I carry on me or training in the kung-fu.
Anyways, I'm pretty much past kicking myself over the losses and having to reestablish myself as a citizen of the world; it was really just an expensive way to meet some badass Chileans muggers and take a VIP tour of the hood in an armored car with Valparaiso's finest. I now understand that a number of the cerros, which to a tourist’s eyes are quite intriguing, are basically the Chilean version of the projects in the US. Schools are terrible, income is super low, jobs are hard to find, and drug addiction is rampant (in particular Pasta Base, a really cheap, much more addictive variation on cocaine...like crack but different). It's a popular choice among the youth to resort to muggings; they apparently have systems, work in teams, and will spend a "day at work" scoping out targets and marking them for their associates to seal the deal...I'm not too clear on the details but they've got their ways.
Otherwise, it's all good in the Chile.