Problems in Central Guatemala
Trip Start Jan 07, 2008
36Trip End Ongoing
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Last Friday night, August 22, 2008, I was robbed and assaulted in my hotel room in Antigua, Guatemala. I AM FINE, and re-working my plans for upcoming travel as I have chosen to stay out of some of the higher risk areas right now. Below is a brief outline of what took place.
At the gated and locked front door of my hotel, a man rang the bell and inquired about room availability (approximately between 8:30 and 9:00 pm). After he told the front desk clerk he wanted one of the available rooms, the clerk opened the door and was rushed by men standing out of sight on either side of the front door. They proceeded to tie up 9 people in the lobby and internet café, empty the safe and then move upstairs to what I am assuming was to "clean out" the hotel. They knocked on my door first.
NEVER OPEN YOUR DOOR FOR SOMEONE IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHO IS ON THE OTHER SIDE. They knocked, I asked who it was, they told me it was "servicio" and I told them they had the wrong room. The insisted I open the door. I repeatedly told them no. They walked away and came back 30 seconds later, same scenario. "NO" from me again. I dressed quickly and pulled the curtain next to the door back and saw several figures there, one of which had his hand behind his back....NOT GOOD. I IMMEDIATELY started screaming for help in Spanish at the top of my lungs. Not knowing what had happened down stairs I expected them to take off and help to come quickly. I assumed incorrectly.
I had, as I ALWAYS DO, I asked to see the room when I came to the hotel earlier in the day. Rule 2 for me...never take a room without being sure that the locks all work and it is SECURE. At the time I looked at it, I noticed a sliding window over the door about 15 feet up. It was EXTREMELY high up and would have required a ladder for access. I assumed it was safe. I was wrong.
When I continued to deny them access to the room and CONTINUED to yell for help, they decided to come in through the window OVER the door. Next thing I knew I had a gun in my face and a very UNBALANCED man was insisting that I again, "open the door". When I said NO he whacked me on the top of the head with the butt of his very large pistol. When the blood started to flow rapidly I looked towards my bed and saw my day pack open and my "DAY WALLET" clearly visible. I grabbed it, handed it to him and told him it was all of my money and to go away. STILL....he insisted I open the door while he tried with great difficulty to keep himself balanced over the doorway. He and I both knew that if he fell he was going to fall on his head and likely break his neck. There was no possible way he was getting assistance with stabilization from the other side because he was too far up. He came further down the inside of the door and reached to try and slide the bolt open to let his friends outside in. He was not successful and I will detail why later. Then he pushed himself up and back through the window. Then they tried to kick in the door. I had made a VERY conscientious decision at that point continue to not open the door. I was sure that if I did it was likely they were going to beat the living daylights out of me and rape was probably inevitable. I decided that I would take my chances with the gunshot through the door. I continued to scream for help. After about 30 seconds more of this I heard one of them say the word "police" and they were gone.
So, a few tips here....
One. Keep your money in multiple places. Always have something you are willing to hand over to someone to keep yourself safe. If we have our entire "travel life" in one location (passport, credit cards, license and such) we have a tendency to not want to let go of it. Every morning I pack up a "day wallet" from my big one. It has nothing but the cash I anticipate needing during the day in it. If I need more, I can go into a bathroom and move things around between my wallets, but it makes it easy to have something to hand over to the would be robbers.
Second. Always check out a room before renting it. See above.
Third. Use every single possible way to lock yourself safely inside your room when you return EVERY time. The room I rented had a bolt action lock that took a padlock from both the outside and the inside. When I went into the room that night, I slid the padlock through the hole that aligned between the action on the door and the free arm. I didnīt actually lock the padlock, but because it was hanging through and securing the lock, the robber was not able to slide the door open quickly. This saved my ass big time.
Fourth. As stated above and I cannot stress this enough. NEVER open your door if you are not absolutely certain you know who is on the other side of it.
Fifth. Donīt be afraid to scream for help. This was an unusual situation with the people being tied up down in the lobby. Usually bringing attention to someone who is doing you harm is the best way to dissuade them from continuing.
Sixth. Have a plan. Think about what you would do in this scenario. What decisions would you make? What is your comfort zone for being a victim? Fortunately, I had been in Rio Dulce a few weeks previously when an American cruiser was killed on his on boat after it was boarded by robbers. He fought them and lost his life because he didnīt want to give them what they wanted. I learned a lot from the conversations that ensued around the river after that. Unfortunately he lost his life, but I was prepared to handle the situation I found myself in much better than I would have been had I not contemplated what took place after his demise.
Remember, I expected someone to come running when I started yelling. I DID ALL THE RIGHT THINGS. I had no idea that my potential rescuers were at the time victims themselves. I handed him my money. I made a decision to not open the door when he held the gun in my face after I gave him the money. THAT WAS A PERSONAL DECISION based on what was comfortable with for what I expected to be coming next. I stick to that decision today.
Overall I am terrific, emotionally and physically. The head hurt for a few days but the wound closed up nicely and I am feeling markedly better. I returned to Rio Dulce and Tortugal the day after the attack, wanting to be somewhere where I felt safe and was surrounded with friends. I am still here. I am in the process of re-grouping and will be in touch with y'all before I hit the road again. I feel more confident than ever before that I am prepared for just about anything that might fall in my lap. I am very proud of the way I handled myself under the worst of circumstances. So please....donīt worry about me. This could happen anywhere.....even the "first world"