Getting Robbed at Gunpoint in a Guatemalan Highway

I learned so many lessons yesterday. Damage report: 150 USD and my cellphone lost and a more experienced Nomad.

Introducing the Plot

Guatemala city is known for being a bit dangerous, as any other big city in the world. I went there in the morning to exchange some bitcoin with a local guy because I ran out of money and my card hasn´t arrived yet.

I got there at eleven in the morning and everything went smooth. I took the chicken bus back to Antigua and got my backpack prepared and hit the road at three pm.

A chicken bus is slower but it is half the price than a tourist shuttle, it is faster than hitchhiking and it was already late so I decided to jump in because it was a six hour trip to Xela, mi destination.

I made some good local friends there. Cesar sat next to me and my backpack, a local Xelan coming back from visiting his girlfriend in Guatemala city. Yazmin, a 67 year old woman who at one point was telling her granddaugther on the phone how to cook dinner for the family, told me all about her life. Lastly, behind me was Alejandra who was travelling with her mom for holiday.

This weekend takes place a National holiday in Guatemala and a lot of people got paid a monetary bonus and got friday off work so the chicken bus was full, at least 70 souls driving to Xela.

The plot thickens

It was 7:30 at night. Around 20 people got off the bus in their stops and everyone was sitting cozy in their seats. We were all watching John Wick in the driver´s 40 inch TV when it happenned.

At first I thought we got of the road and we were heading for the cliffs because I lost notion of time and space, my ears started buzzing and I grabbed as hard as I could to my seat post, but it wasn´t a car crash.

It was a gunshot.

Followed by men screaming in spanish You are all doomednobody moves, you are getting robbed, NOBODY MOVES!! I didn´t know what was happening but I could hear women screaming and I saw 2 people in front of me getting up and another one passing by my seat heading to the front, he aimed the gun at everyone while passing through the seats. They turned of the TV and turned off the lights.

I wasn´t scared, I was still processing what was happening and I immediately thought Damn, all of my equipment, my camera, computer, cellphone is going through the sinkhole. I don´t panic in these situations so I assesed my options. My machete was in my backpack which I had on my lap but movement was out of question because they were at least three and one of them had a gun.

I could hear people crying behind me. Yazmin was praying. A lady two rows front of me was singing a church song very quietly but overall all I could hear was the robbers telling people Get up, I am gonna search your pockets. I wasn´t moving, still calm, I was conforting Alejandra who reached for my hand from behind. It is going to be ok, just give them everything and don´t panic Ale, I was telling her in the most controlled voice I could handle, my legs were shaking.

Then this woman came from behind and started sweeping people from the back to the front. Well, at least they are organized, this sons of barkers.

My turn was up, I got up and my pockets were emptied by this six foot tall, fat and bald guy who smelled like alcohol. Good bye cellphone and the 150 USD worth of Quetzales I had with me. Holy crap, this is going to be a hard one to bounce back from.

The leader, who had the gun, stayed in the front with the driver. At gunpoint he told him to not stop the bus, to keep it going. Every driver has a second mate who helps him run the bus. He was also in the front under the gunman´s control. The leader was shouting in code, I rememeber the crew´s code names, they were called Sierra 1, 2 and 3. He was asking them how the process was and how far were they in their mission.

They finished searching people, Oh, please, just get out, you have least have 50 smartphones and a lot of petty cash from everyone, this is a good loot, just get out.

The turn of the screw

In code, I assume the crew told the leader they were done, because the code was a bit obvious. Yes, get out! I thought.

But they had time, the leader made them know. Less than ten minutes had passed altough for me it seemed hours. That is when the captain told them to seacrh the bags. I´m doomed.

Every chicken bus has a small luggage place right above the seats and there is were I was keeping my frontpack. They started registering everypack taking everything, not caring if it was money, credit cards, keys or documents. Or passports. I was the only foreigner there so I was very very nervous.

Yesterday´s morning I packed my stuff in a different way of how I usually do it. I usually pack the tent, sleeping bag and my clothes in my backpack and I keep my camera, computer and GoPro in my front pack. My favorite quote in Hebrew is Acol Leto vá which means everything happens for a reason. That morning the weather was very hot and I didn´t want to carry both packs on my shoulders (one on the back and one the front) because I always end up sweaty as a pig after ten minutes of walking. I decided to pack everything on my backpack and just carry water and my raincoat in the front pack to be able to carry it with my hand and not my shoulders.

In order to pack correctly you need to put everything heavy close to your back and in the lower part, that allows you to keep your balance. I packed my computer and cameras way down and close to me and all the clothes were covering them.

When the robbers searched my frontpack they found something in the front bag and in the dark I saw the fat guy take the stuff. I didn´t remember where my passport and card were so I started to panic. When they searched my backpack I told them in my most foreign accent You already took my money and cellphone, I only have clothes there I said, taking the chance that he finds my stuff and realize I was trying to play him, then shit hit will hit the fan and everyone will be covered with it. But hey,  twere in a hurry and it was dark so I took the chance.

He searched in a very shallow way and he only saw clothes so he started searching Cesar´s pack. I exhaled in peace… well, kind of because the passport issue was still bugging me.

Just get out, you already have all of our stuff

They finished sweeping everyone and every pack so they al headed to the front. They kept talking in code and the leader made a phone call.

Around five minutes after the bus stopped and the robbers got out. Immediately the driver accelerated and everyone started crying or angrily talking. I was still comforting Ale and Yazmin joined her to be comforted. I have to admit I was a bit proud of myself being able to do that for them.

I searched my backpack and found my passport. A person on the back had time to hide his cellphone so he called the cops which arrived thirty minutes after. Yeah, now I feel safe dudes, thank you for nothing.

We were something like thirty minutes from Xela but the bus stopped and we were all interrogated. The cops wanted to seize the bus as evidence but the people were angry and just wanted to get home so everyone made a mess about it and they let us go after taking our statements.

I finally got to Xela, only material stuff taken from me and still alive and I am grateful with Father destiny for that.

I wouldn´t judge Guatemala based only on this isolated incident and neither should you, this is a beautiful country and I was asking to get robbed. I travelled in nighttime in a payday and National Holiday, something like this was bound to happen. I am not going to stop traveling like I do, I just have to be more careful and learn from every experience.

Today, more than any other day, I am grateful I am able to say to myself…

Remember, Be Here Now

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