by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
“Weren’t you ever afraid?” So many people have asked this question about our seventeen years traveling and living outside of the U.S. I always say ‘No’. We did visit a couple of dangerous places like South Africa and Brazil. However, in all places we visited or lived, there is a dangerous side to every city. We just don’t go there.
In South Africa, we were told to stay away from the pier side in Port Elizabeth even in the middle of the day. We did and went the other way. In Johannesburg, we thought we would walk the three or four blocks from the hotel to the train station. All along the way, people asked us what we were doing. By the time the third person asked, we started to feel uncomfortable even though it was at noon on a bright day. At the fourth block, when a woman told us to follow her and she would guarantee our safety getting to the station, but cautioned us to take a taxi back. We followed her suggestion and took a taxi back to the hotel. South Africa was the only country we visited that advertises a gadget to put under the car and when a carjacker tries to steal the car, flames come out from underneath and burn the intruder.
In Brazil, Ted had his camera tied to his wrist, and I had mine in its case around my waist. People would come up and warn us to put the cameras away or risk getting robbed. I never took my camera out the whole time we were there.
These were the only two countries where I felt unsafe. It was true that in several other places we were warned to stay away from certain areas of the cities. Like living in most cities of the U.S.A., there are places where a lot of crime occurs and we stay out. We have found that most people in the world are friendly to other humans. If not, we wouldn’t have seven billion of us on the planet. Also, I believe that people treat you as you treat them.
We did have a couple of times where we were robbed. The first happened in Thailand at a big open air market. I bought a melon and used the equivalent of a ten dollar bill. The salesperson gave me the melon in one hand and the change in the other. The market was crowded, and I saw an alleyway that looked empty. Dumb me. As soon as I stepped into the alley, three young men rushed at me, grabbed the wallet from my hand, took the money out and handed the wallet back to me. They took what amounted to about twenty-five dollars. And it was my fault. If I had stayed in the main market, no one would have robbed me. I was glad they hadn’t taken my purse or my wallet.
The only other time we were robbed was at a bus station in Buenos Aires. We had bought a small insulated bag that held a six pack of beer or soda. I was sitting with our bags, including our computer bag while Ted went to find a taxi. A man came over to me and shoved a hand written message on a piece of cardboard in my face. I knew what he was doing, but it happened so fast, I couldn’t move fast enough to stop another man grabbing the insulated bag. They got off with the bag and a coffee mug.
There was another time when we were in Indonesia and we were waiting for a ferry to take us to the island of Flores. One of the tours sold Ted a ticket on a fast boat. Of course, there were no fast boats.
Those were the only times we were robbed in the ten years of traveling by ourselves. We didn’t wear any jewelry or have new or fancy bags. Nothing about us screams Money! When we stopped for lunch we didn’t hang our bags or cameras over the back of the chair where anyone walking by could take the bags. Ted’s camera had a long leash that was attached by a Velcro closed bracelet. My purse and camera straps crossed my chest and anyone grabbing them would not easily loosen the strap. I had modified my cloth purses by sewing Velcro on each of the inner slots. Sometimes Ted would joke that it took ten minutes for me get the passports or wallet out of the purse. My thinking was that if it took that long for me to get something out from where I knew it was, no pick pocket would be able to steal anything important.
In Turkey, the conversion rate was over five million to one U.S. dollar, and the five million note was the same color as the five thousand note. Only once did we give a five million instead of a five hundred. We learn fast.
We traveled by motor home, bus, train, car, and airplanes. We visited fifty-seven countries and rented homes in Costa Rica, Spain, Thailand, Kenya, Argentina, and Mexico. In some countries the money was so confusing that when I went to pay for anything, I would just hold out my hand and let them take the money out. Never once did I feel that they hadn’t been honest.
I agree with Ms Ruiz, I believe most people are good people who try to do the right thing.
Thank you so much for sharing.
Hi, Maria! Thank you for sharing this side of traveling. In Instanbul, a man dropped a brush for shining shoes and I handed it back to him. I had no idea it was a ploy to get my shoes shined. Our guide chastised the man. We gave him some money and moved on. I really thought I was doing the right thing.
I’ve never been afraid traveling but I am now! Thanks Maria. Love you. V