Friday, January 29, 2010

A reminder of the times we live in

Preface: I hope this story does not turn anyone off from coming to this wonderful city. This is an isolated incident and could have happened in any city on Earth (even our "super safe" American Cities)

So far all of my tales of adventure here have portrayed this city as a dream come true. With a style and culture like no where else on the planet. And no matter what happens i will always maintain that attitude toward this place and these people. However...with light comes the darkness, there are two sides to every coin, you will find evil when you see the good conquering it. Tonight we got to see an ugly side to this place. One that while not everywhere you turn, and certainly not something you need to worry about every moment you live, is none the less something you need to always have in the back of your mind.

Me, our Dearest expat friend Crystal, Jakub (Czeck boy as the girls call him) my fellow American expat and roommate Jon, and our Wisconsin visitor Harmony (See my other blog about finding connections where you least expect it for more information about her) had just finished having dinner in one of the oldest bars/restaurants in the city called "El Bar Federal" in San Telmo about 6 blocks from our apartment. Seeing as this is Buenos Aires we began walking looking for another place to go and have a drink to end the night.

As i said before we are in a neighborhood known as San Telmo. This is historically the oldest part of the city. Originally built in the mid 16th century this was the first place the Spanish started building when they arrived here on the Rio de la Plata. Until the mid 18th Century this was the richest part of town with huge houses built for the wealthy of Buenos Aires. After a plague swept through the area everyone left and moved to Recoleta on the far side of the city to escape. However to this day many of these old mansions are still here in San Telmo where they have been revamped into various apartments and such. With its historic buildings and cobble stone streets this area is perfect for people who want to experience the history and passion that is Buenos Aires upfront and personal. Now a days this area has many vacation rentals and hostels that cater to backpackers and the like from all over the world. As such seeing foreigners walking around the streets here is not uncommon.

As we were walking back tonight me and Harmony were talking and enjoying the beautiful night outside. All of a sudden i feel something land in my hair as we walk under a low branch on a tree. I think that its water at first falling off the tree from a recent rain shower. After we walk a few more steps i feel another drop of something land in my hair. Again as we were still under the same tree i just assumed that it was more of the same. Until we walked up to the corner when i noticed that harmony had some kind of brownish liquid on the back of her shoulder. As i was in the middle of saying something she began to notice the same strange substance on her. Then suddenly out of no where comes this woman running up to us telling us that we have something on us. It is then when we stopped and looked that we notice that both of us have this strange liquid all over our backs. This woman kindly takes out a large stack of napkins from her purse and starts helping us wipe it off. She hands me a few to help Harmony while she starts patting off my back. When we ask her what it is she points to the building above where we just were. Not being that fluent in Spanish i didnt really understand what she was saying as i was more concerned about what exactly was on me! I started trying to understand what was going on and what had just happened with Harmony. As we were at a loss for words we just kept standing there in utter shock at what had just happen. While i was helping Harmony this "kind" woman was helping clean both of us off. When she handed me some more napkins and told me to help Harmony. As i was doing such the woman "bumped"my wallet in my back pocket. Seeing as i am extremely paranoid about people stealing my wallet, (even back in the states) i as an immediate reflex grabbed my back pocket to make sure my wallet was still there. She continued to help clean me off and then started helping Harmony as well. Once i told her it was ok and that we were only 3 blocks from my house she stopped and began walking away from us. As i watch her standing there a few feet from us i told Harmony to check her wallet and her purse to make sure nothing was missing. She did and also like me found nothing to be gone. We went back to our apartment where we cleaned ourselves up and started piecing together what had just happened.

We have come to the conclusion that this was all just one big ploy to take advantage of us. Nieve turists are such easy prey for those who know what they are doing. And tonight we must have seemed to be complete rip for the picking. For one thing we were talking only in English since we had no locals with us only 3 Americans and one Czeck who speaks English perfect but is only learning Spanish, we had no need to talk in Spanish. Also being in San Telmo where there are lots of bars and hostels we could easily been mistaken for normal run of the mill tourists out bar hopping at 1 am. Most of the time we are hardly thought of as foreigners by the locals, me for looking just like the rest of the Argentine population (Tall slender dark haired Italian decent thats almost everyone here) and Jon with his perfect Spanish. All of these factors which normally we would not have going against us all worked to our disadvantage tonight.

Now looking back on it i have read of this sort of thing happening to others while on vacation. The same Modus Operandi as we had tonight. We believe that is was far to convenient for this "kind woman" to just happen to be right behind us when right after this happen. And who carries around a whole wad of napkins from a restaurant in their purse at 1 am? We believe that something was thrown on us and then this woman's job was to come pretend to help us and while doing so take our valuables. I think that they must of hit us twice with it seeing as i didnt stop and notice it the first time i was hit with it. I surmise that they then dropped some more on us so that i would notice it and so that this woman could then come and "help us". Also while the woman was helping us she kept giving me more napkins to help Harmony clean up while she was busy wiping the back of my shirt and pants. I think she was trying to distract me so that she could grab my wallet, (which is easy to see since i shrunk these pants and they are super tight and i had just went to the ATM and had a bunch of cash in my wallet. ) without me noticing.

All and all my being in a constant state of paranoia saved us tonight. I am glad that in the end this did nothing but reaffirm that we always need to be vigilant no matter where we are. This neighborhood is perfectly safe, and normally i never feel even slightly worried about walking around here at night. This while not changing that has however has reminded me that you always need to be ready just in case something like this happens.

P.S. Some of you are probably wondering what it was that got thrown on us. Well to at first all we knew was that it was a brown, watery liquid that had a fowl stench...(get were this is going?) However after looking at it closely and getting a smell of it after we got home i have come to believe that is was some kind of Chimichurri mix. It has a small like that of Vinegar and looks like the Chimichurri sauce that they use here for beef.


  1. You had me so scared with your preface! I thought it was going to be something horrible like blood. I'm so glad it was just a kind lady with a penchant for hoarding napkins.

  2. i was there too!
    - crystal