Robbed at Gunpoint: Not How I Expected My Bolivian Romance to End
On my last night in Cochabamba, I was robbed at gunpoint. I had been in Bolivia for just over a month and managed to avoid any major safety catastrophes up until that fateful evening stroll through the business quarter. Worst of all, I was on a date.
I was studying abroad with a group of twenty other students during my junior year of college. We had traveled to Vietnam and Morocco before finally arriving in Bolivia, and, socially, it was a breath of fresh air. Our experiences in the other countries were incredible and irreplaceable, but Bolivia was the first place we had been in months where most of us (me included) could speak and understand the lingua franca. Instead of spending weekends awkwardly tagging along to homestay family activities or sitting in our own “American corner” of the local bars, our group finally had the opportunity to mingle with the locals.
In a rare stroke of romantic luck, I happened to meet a particularly handsome local at a party in town. He thought my accent was cute, leaned against the wall in a way that made him look like a Bolivian James Dean, and had cheekbones high enough to send me through the stratosphere. We talked almost every night after that, texting as I trekked through the Chapare on weekends or calling between flights on my way to Salar de Uyuni.
I was completely committed to nourishing my Great Romance Abroad, obsessed with the idea of flying out of Cochabamba with my own love story to rival Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
My friends teased me incessantly – “Oh it’s him again, isn’t it?” they’d goad, annoyed, as I scampered away from dinner to get on Facebook chat for a moment. I was completely committed to nourishing my Great Romance Abroad, obsessed with the idea of flying out of Cochabamba with my own love story to rival Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (which, admittedly, may have had an inordinate amount of influence on my concept of romance after I watched it as a fourteen-year old at a slumber party).
On my last night, I was determined to spend some time alone with my paramour. Despite the myriad group activities planned for the evening, I planned an independent rendezvous in the city, just the two of us. It was complicated and stressful to coordinate the ideal time and place, but I had convinced myself that the only possible way to make this a real foreign romance was to have a night completely alone, whispering sweet Spanish nothings until our tearful goodbye at the airport in the early hours of the morning.
He was confused. “Couldn’t we just hang out at the bar where your friends are?”
“No,” I insisted. “Let’s just do our own thing. It’ll be more fun.”
Finally, we were alone together, walking down the street in the completely abandoned area of town. In any other circumstance, I probably would have been more cautious of deserted areas, but I felt invincible walking with a native Cochabambino. Besides, I was focused on remembering my flirting vocabulary, which is not reviewed nearly enough in academic Spanish courses.
They whipped two Berettas out of their waistbands, pressed the muzzles to our temples, and shouted “¡Danos todo! ¡Pronto!”
Just as I had remembered how to say “smile,” a silver SUV pulled up and two guys jumped out with black bandanas covering their mouths. They whipped two Berettas out of their waistbands, pressed the muzzles to our temples, and shouted “¡Danos todo! ¡Pronto!” My date emptied his pockets (including, I might add, a brand new cellphone and credit card), and I threw my purse at the perpetrators (luckily, my passport was back at the hotel – my llama-embossed leather bag, however, is lost to the winds). Needless to say, the evening was hardly romantic after that.
We went to the bar where my friends were. Everyone was immediately sympathetic to our tale, and suddenly I wished I had been there all along. Relationships, especially forced romantic ones with cinematically unattainable expectations, are stressful. When traveling, it may be more substantive to develop friendships instead of imposing romance. If I had known that, perhaps I could have salvaged my final evening in Cochabamba, made a lifelong long friend, and kept my llama bag safely on my shoulder.