24 hours to squeeze as much into a quick Barcelona stopover as possible. We weren’t really expecting to spend most of it chasing criminals and filing a police report but that’s exactly what went down. That’s right, over 30 years travel experience between us, and Benny and I still managed to get robbed by a couple of punk street kids. It was the next day though when we were enjoying a couple of cold ones together, recalling our accounts of the night when we both agreed it was actually pretty fun. The more we chatted about the times we’d been robbed (my 8 times grossly overshadowed by Benny’s 14) the more we agreed there was actually a whole lot to be gained from the experience. Maybe not necessary for it to happen as regularly as Benny and I but we agreed, having it happen to you at least once in your life might actually be a good thing… Read on if you want to hear how the robbery went down.
We were on our way to bar number 5 (it could’ve been 6… or 7) when we stopped on the corner of a street in the Ciutat Vella District to check Google maps. Even though Benny had mentioned earlier that this wasn’t the friendliest part of Barcelona for tourists, the Cervezas, Vermouths, and Gin cocktails had worked their magic and our inhibitions and street smarts were somewhat on vacation for the next 12 hours or so.
And so begins lesson #1 in why we should all get robbed at least once:
Complacency is a traveller’s biggest enemy, not the shady character walking towards you on the street. I’m not saying we all need to be on edge the entire time we’re walking the streets but there’s things you should do when you’re out and about that may prevent you from getting in trouble. Like for example, if I’m walking home alone from a night out and I see someone coming the other way who looks big enough to do some damage (we’re not talking that big either) then I cross the road and walk on the other side and I do this regardless whether I’m in Burleigh, Berlin or Barcelona. To me the definition of complacency is not considering these type of things when you start to get comfortable in your environment. Granted the drinks were playing a big part in the complacency the night we got robbed but that’s a lesson in itself.
Which brings us to lesson #2 If you’re going to get drunk and walk the streets be prepared to find yourself in a sticky situation because you’ve got a big ol’ target painted on you. You’re a target for thieves, a target for aggressive horny lady-boys and a target for people just looking for trouble. Sometimes the police can be your biggest trouble, like the ones who fined Benny and I for drinking in public on the way home the same night we were were robbed, or the ones who held a gun to my head in Santa Marta, or maybe the ones who tried to rob me in on a beach in Mexico. I’ll be honest, most times I’ve been robbed I’ve been drinking. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop drinking but does mean I’ll own my consequences if I continue to find myself in these situations when out on the beers.
So back to the robbery and those mischievous little street kids. Yep there were two of them. Confidence in numbers I think as the act they pulled was pretty ballsy to say the least. I felt a figure come into that space where thousands of years of evolution has told the hairs on my neck to stand up, the blood from stomach to rush to the muscles in my limbs and my heart to start pumping a little faster. Welcome to your stress zone, fight or flight, where anything could happen in the next couple of seconds; a gun to the head maybe, a fist to the face, or it could just be a friendly tap on the shoulder to tell you that you just dropped 5 euros from your pocket. In mine and Benny’s case it was a swipe of the phone from the hand and the inevitable chain of events to follow.
And they’re off and racing. I got the jump on Benny as he was more the horse that jumps too early from the gates and pushes itself straight in the metal barrier before it’s even opened. Benny claims he lost his footing but I think it’s more the case that his brains were already galloping but the vermouth cocktails had delayed the message to his legs, either way I was in a steady second place, El Bastardito Rapido (The Quick Little Bastard) had a good lead headed down the first straight, Benny was in third place still on his knees at this stage and the fourth runner was yet to even make it to the barriers but had plans for a late surge.
Lesson #3 embracing stress
Stress is such a dirty word these days. Humans spend so much time in states of stress that we fear it, avoid it, and spend billions of dollars a year on a wellness industry designed to recover from it. What if I told you that stress is actually a good thing and if delivered in small amounts over time can actually be a lot of fun and should be embraced.
Some would argue that the best thing to do when faced with our situation would’ve been to let the little buggers run off into the night and let the insurance look after it from here. In fact this is the advice I give fellow travellers all the time but my body had other plans and before I knew it I was off in hot pursuit of the quickly disappearing mobile phone.
Even though I was a little tipsy I still clearly remember the thoughts that went through my head:
1. This guy is young and skinny and doesn’t present too much of an immediate threat
2. I’ve got Benny with me and he’s clearly the easier target and I’m better a patching knife wounds so hopefully he’s attacked first. Sorry Benny.
3. There were a few people around and they weren’t all bad guys so surely one will jump in on Team Robbed rather than Team Bastardito Rapido
4. My legs were kinda just moving in that direction and I didn’t want to waste this little adrenaline rush
Ok, back to the race. I mentioned a late starter. With Benny’s stumble at the start it gave Rapido’s little friend the chance to get into third place, about 1 length off me. I feel like this wasn’t his first rodeo and he was quite crafty in dealing with blokes like us who actually give chase when robbed. The good news for Benny was that he was in a perfect position to have the next scene forever embedded in his memories. Like a lion waiting for his baby elephant to become vulnerable and tire, the kid waited until he had me in perfect gait, side by side and sat next to me until the timing was just right. There’re already lots of questions being raise; how’d he match your incredible speed Rusty? Why didn’t Benny call out to you? Why didn’t you take him out before he took you out. Well the first question still baffles me. Benny didn’t call out because he was either A, too breathless from his first 50 metre sprint in 10 years or B, he knew what was about to happen and couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to stand back and watch the spectacle unfold. The reason I didn’t take the kid out was because as unrealistic as it may be, I actually thought Benny had caught me and was overtaking me. I know, ridiculous right.
So with impeccable timing, as one foot glided past the other, the accomplice nudged me in the side of the head, destroying my perfect gait and sending me flying into a metal roller door followed by what can only be described as a superbly crafted commando roll down the road. If Benny had any spare air in his lungs I’m sure he would’ve let out one of his famous laughs with a “Wizard move street-kid” thrown in for good measure as he hurdled over the top of me, continuing the race in what had now unfairly turned into a steeple chase.
With that comes lesson #4 in getting robbed
Keep yourself conditioned because you never know when you’ll end up in a real life Jason Bourne film and a well executed bounce off a roller door followed by a neatly tucked commando roll may save you from severe injury. I always wondered how Bourne jumped out of 2 story buildings and continued to beat the living shit out of the bad guy when he gets to his feet. Plenty of Yoga and stretching, lots of time spent surfing and a bit of high intensity conditioning thrown in the mix means I’ve got the confidence that my body will hold up ok when battered unexpectedly from a 60kg 17 year old Spanish “Thug”.
At this stage I could’ve given up but I felt like while I’d been beaten physically in the exchange thus far, my years of travel, street smarts and having watched entire Jason Bourne movie set, had taught me the good guys are supposed to win and the baddies always loop back around. It had nothing to do with not really wanting to follow the three of them into a labyrinth of dark alleys and I had no idea what would be waiting for me around the corner. Benny wasn’t as concerned and took the first bend of the race off into the dark narrow streets.
I on the other hand, are better suited to the straights as my agility in and out of laneways, I’m sorry to say it, can’t match that of the professional juvenile criminals we were chasing. With some quick trigonometry and Pythagoras’s theory I decided it was best to just keep jogging in a straight line and that they’d eventually make a loop back around to find their next victim. Low and behold, about 3 or 4 mins later, tweedledee and tweedledum come power walking at the end of my street, like Kel and Kim, both dressed in tracksuits so it was even more appropriate. There was no blood on their hands so I just assumed Benny hadn’t been stabbed and had just given up on the chase (now on his way to the bar to start telling stories of my vertical trampolining off the roller door). I yelled out to the pair in my best Australian accent “Oi Fuckers! Oh yeah, you blokes are fucked now. I’ve got fresh legs”. I thought I’d throw a little drama into it just in case anyone was actually paying attention. “Holt thieves” just wasn’t exciting enough for me. In hindsight I now realise they would’ve had no idea what I was screaming at them as I ran down the street chasing them like a crazy gringo. It still felt pretty good running down the street telling them I was getting closer and I could see their legs slowing up.
I’m pretty sure they could tell I was actually getting closer to both of them and this is when I was fooled. One started to fall behind the other and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to take down at least one the fuckers. Little did I know that the reason there were two of them was not because the other one was just up for midnight jog, he was there as decoy, and it worked a treat. So like a bear to a honey pot I took the bait. I caught the slower of the two and confronted him. Not sure if he was carrying a knife or anything that could do a bit of damage, I kept a bit of distance and started talking to him relatively calmly. “Just give me the fucking phone you puta” “dame el telefono you little prick” I kept mixing up my Spanish and English to keep him on his toes. He actually looked pretty scared and just kept saying “yo no tenerlo” (I don’t have it). “Mi amigo ha lo” (my friend has it). “solo fui corriendo”( I was just running)… yeah at midnight, in the same direction as Bastardito Rapido
By this stage we’d drawn a bit of a crowd and the next thing I heard was people yelling, “policia, policia”. Perfect recruitments for Team Rusty and Benny, or so I thought. Long story short the police patted the kid down and there was no phone. They explained to me that without a phone there was nothing they could do and asked if I was 100% certain it was him that took it, which I wasn’t.
This next bit’s gold. I was so confused as to whether it was even him in the first place that I was kind of starting to feel sorry for this kid I had cornered in the street and was now accusing of stealing my mate’s phone. And then it happened, I stuck out my hand and offered to shake hands as some kind of truce. Hah, what the fuck was I thinking. The police were confused as hell. The kid was confused as as hell. I shook his hand and went on my way and now I was confused as hell as to why I just shook the hand of the criminal who pushed me into a roller door and led me and Benny on a foot race into one of the most dangerous parts of central Barcelona. I think part of me was impressed at the fact that the decoy move had worked a so well, part of me saw some desperation in his face when the police came and part of me just wanted to get on with life and track down Benny for recovery beers and a proper warm down from our unplanned 2km sprint.
Lesson #5 when facing your robber maybe a handshake’s not the best way to leave things but it’s better than a gun to your head or knife to the belly.
Firstly, I understand that some people may read this and have had a much different outcome in their own story so I want to say I mean no disrespect to these people. I’m one of the lucky ones though and there has been a lot of life long lessons learned from the experience.
We spend our lives doing everything we can to mitigate risk and even attempt to eliminate risk. Education departments in Australia do this by banning all activities associated with perceived risk. Councils do it by putting up safety barriers so people don’t do stupid shit and fall off cliffs. Parents do this by wrapping their little darlings up in cotton wool and blaming everyone except their children when they make mistakes. How do we learn from risky or confronting situations if someone’s always removing them from our lives? How do we expect people to accept responsibility for their actions if they’ve been told their whole lives it’s because of someone else that they’re uncomfortable, challenged, or failing at their task?
Our human make-up it is designed to deal with stress, we have it wired into our genome but how do we ever expect our bodies and instinct to tap into this wiring if we’re never training it? If we’re never allowed to walk close to the edge, if we’re never pushed over by someone, if we don’t understand why we made the mistake and why being responsible for it is ok and actually a good thing. This is not a justification for all the stupid shit I’ve done and in fact there are couple of things I’d have done differently looking back but that’s the point. I’d rather not do something again because I found out through experience that there’s a better way than have someone tell me everything and experience nothing.
I was robbed and I was lucky enough to not get seriously injured but in that encounter I was reminded not to become too complacent in dodgy parts of town, that stress can make the body do some pretty incredible things, that criminals, regardless how young, can outsmart someone who considers themselves pretty up to speed in the act of being robbed, that getting drunk and walking the streets makes you an easy target (I feel I’ve learnt this one before but nothing like a friendly little reminder), and finally, that it’s weird if you shake your robber’s hand.