Contributed Story: Mugged in Medellin

Posted on 02. Jul, 2012 by in colombia

This story comes from my buddy Dave’s Colombia travel blog (Medellin Living). To avoid most trouble by staying in Medellin’s upscale district, Poblado, see luxury apartments in Medellin

Last Wednesday, I was robbed in Medellin while in a taxi heading west on Calle 33 to renew my tourist visa at the DAS office in barrio Belen.

It was 11:20 AM when my taxi came to a halt at a stoplight. We were surrounded by other vehicles. I was sitting in the front passenger seat with the window down. A figure with dark pants approached my window from behind. I’d been playing with my Blackberry and, instinctively, I swung it toward the center of the car in case the street vendor or beggar tried to snag it.

colombian-cupid-buttonWhen I looked back to my right, I was staring at a silver revolver held against the man’s stomach, pointing toward the front of the car. I don’t remember if he said anything. Words weren’t necessary. I handed over my Blackberry and 75,000 pesos ($40) cash. The thief, thinking there was something more of value, reached in the window and felt my shirt pocket.

I pulled out my passport, saying “solo pasaporte” in a vain attempt to save it. He grabbed it and went back to the motorbike where his accomplice was waiting. They sped off to the right so we couldn’t note the license plate.

The light turned green and my driver pulled away, not saying a word or expressing any emotion.

I wondered why they took my passport. I knew it could be sold to counterfeiters, but all I could think about was the hassle and cost required to replace it, and my lack of comprehensive travel insurance to help cover the cost of my phone.

At DAS I explained what happened. The local police were called. The taxi driver reported what he saw, and gave me his business card before departing. I was taken to the new Belen police station to file a report, which would be the documentation needed to report the loss at the US embassy in Bogota, as well as explain to DAS why I would have to overstay my tourist visa.

All the police were courteous and friendly. They did their part to take down the details, though we all knew the chances of catching the thieves were slim to none. An official one page report in hand, the police then dropped me off back at my apartment. One of the officers gave me his phone number.

I’ve been living in Medellin 16 months, and this is the first time I’ve ever been threatened or confronted. I hope by sharing my experience honestly and openly, it does not deter people from visiting this amazing city. At the same time, visitors and residents should not take their safety for granted.

See Dave’s original article, Robbed in Medellin.

See a longer, more in-depth version on Dave’s other site GoBackpacking, Anatomy of an Armed Robbery in South America.

Colin’s take: I agree this should not deter people from visiting Medellin. I’ve always felt safe, even in sketchy downtown areas. However, Medellin is statistically the most dangerous in Colombia. I always attributed that to extreme violence confined in the slums and among the cocaine trade, while most of the city is safe. However, the worst news in the country of violence against foreigners continues to come from Medellin. In April a US tourist was killed in a hostel robbery. In January another was killed (Daniel Fernandez). And last year a Brit was shot and killed.

So don’t let the smooth taste fool you. Travel abroad is not for the faint of heart and can be quite dangerous. If you want to minimize your risk then maybe you should just stay home and seek your thrills on PokerBlog.

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14 Responses to “Contributed Story: Mugged in Medellin”

  1. Jim

    02. Jul, 2012

    Colombia is not safe. I don’t feel unsafe there, usually, but that is pure ignorance. My girlfriend lives in a middle-class part of Envigado and has an office job downtown. She is very worried any time she goes out. Her brother got robbed pretty aggressively coming out of the bank awhile back. I even got to see a bus burn, part of that thing with the drug gang in January. The places most foreigners go are pretty safe; I have heard Laureles has a lot of robberies, so Belen probably would also. She and her family seem a bit paranoid to me, but they live there and know the territory and what’s what.

  2. Scott

    02. Jul, 2012

    I have read in several places about taxi stick ups in Medellin. Most writers encourage taking the bus to a taxi there. Glad Dave didn’t get shot!

    Most of the murders there were from expats / tourists who fought with the mugger… just give ’em your stuff. Not worth it.

  3. Jimmy

    03. Jul, 2012

    Could the driver have been an accomplice? Is it practical to always call for a taxi?

    For this reason Colombians are very careful they let into their lives.

    To tip the odds in your favor avoid contact with obvious scumbags and don’t unnecessarily offend anybody.

    Thankfully the author walked away to enjoy further advenntures in Colombia.

  4. Alex

    03. Jul, 2012

    fuck havng a smartphone in colombia and put your money in your sock..never fails

  5. Brad

    03. Jul, 2012

    Thanks for the tip on Pokerblog. Feeling saucy today.

  6. Jimmy

    04. Jul, 2012

    Little backgournd on the Urabenos moving into battling “Officina de Envigado” for control of the storied underground economy.

    http://www.insightcrime.org/insight-latest-news/item/2834-urban-battle-in-medellin-as-outsider-drug-cartel-moves-in

  7. Colin

    04. Jul, 2012

    Jimmy – I would’ve suspected the taxi driver too. However, if he had something to do with it I don’t believe he would go into DAS and the police office to give a statement.

  8. Transmillenium

    04. Jul, 2012

    From Medellin comes the worst stories about attacks against foreigners, but still the most unsafe city is Cali. Despite what stadistics say, the “security perception” is improving significantly.
    _______
    This mugging mode of robbery is known as “Hurto a mano armada en vía pública”, but at least they din’t perform a “Paseo Millonario” or a “Secuestro Express”, other modalities that are performed.
    ______________
    But it’s always told that is better to call the taxi (from your mobile, your girl’s house, the bar, etc) than taking it from the street.

    Now they’re planning on installing security cabins inside the taxis. What do you think about that?

  9. Colin

    04. Jul, 2012

    @ Transmillenium – As I understood it, the Millionaire’s Ride was a BOGOTA thing. Also a thing of the PAST.

    No?

  10. Transmillenium

    04. Jul, 2012

    I don’t really know, but I haven’t heard of new cases recently, what I have heard that is proliferating is the Mugging or “hurto a mano armada”, for example a band that operated in Bogota’s downtown was identified: men who assault the peatones using knives that they hide in their necks and butts, then they run away, change their clothes, leaving the old ones and the goods with the women who carry them in their purses in order to avoid the identifications and the requisas. Rinse and repeat.

    But I think the paseo millonario has lessened because the Alcaldía, the Police and the Taxis have strenghtened their bonds, forming and “alianza estratégica” to reduce crime. Also I think it’s maybe because they have formalised more the “gremio taxista” by enforcing the registry of the taxists.

    What I’ve heard that happens in Medellin a lot are robberies using motorcycles and guns

  11. Rawley

    04. Jul, 2012

    Yeah I still suspect the driver could be a part of it..its easy enough for him to go into the DAS and just make up bullshit about a stranger on a motorcycle.

    Yeah keep money in various places on your body, some cash in the obvious front pocket or wallet to give up in case you did get mugged (At gun point or something serious) and kick over the 30-40 USD and move on. Def not worth trying to be a hero for a few dollars.

  12. Colin

    04. Jul, 2012

    Rawley – it’d be easy, but not if he wants to keep doing it. The police would notice the same taxista coming in to make statements about robbed clients.

  13. I told this story to quite a few Colombians, including other taxi drivers. They all asked what the taxi driver did, and when I responded “nothing” they took that to mean he was involved.

    @Colin – the driver certainly didn’t volunteer to talk to the police, but he didn’t try and ditch me either. He waited at his car while I told DAS what happened, and they called the local police who took his statement there in the street. I was the only one who went to the police station.

    Like I said, he gave me his card, and I even considered calling him to pay him for the ride, but I never bothered.

    I wasn’t in the taxi very long, and I couldn’t recall him making any phone calls, so I’m not sure how he could’ve tipped off accomplices.

    My roommate, a Colombian, said the 15th of June was an especially bad day to be out because Colombians get some kind of bonus pay twice a year (or maybe it’s just an extra paycheck as happens in the US for people paid every other week). June 15th was one of those days, which the robbers know, so they’re more likely to be out robbing people.

    I gave up trying to figure out exactly what happened.

    I’m thankful there was no violence, and I’ve been able to travel the last 12 months through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay without incident.

  14. Barry B

    27. Mar, 2014

    First I like to thank you Dave for the story. This hit home to me. My office is off of 33, I live in Belen. I am always on my phone in the back of the taxi. I no longer do this. Windows up, phone away till I get to my destination. Kind of gave me a wake up call here, that anything can happen anywhere.

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