Tonight I will embark on my first overnight bus since this past April. Back then I was half way through my 2013 Epic Journey. I had stepped onto my 7th continent, Antarctica, drank water from a crevasse Perito Moreno glacier, sailed up the coast of Chile and ‘showered’ at the grand Iguassu falls. My life = Bliss.
That night in early April gave me an experience I don’t wish upon any other. Luckily no one on board was physically harmed but I believe most of us returned home with a bit of emotional and/or mental scar.
A few minutes before midnight I jolted awake from my deep slumber, remembered that I’m on a double decker bus, traveling from Brasilia to Rio de Janeiro. I just have a few more days left in Brazil before heading to Asia. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking long distance buses in South America as it’s very affordable and the top of the line buses offer leather bound seats that resembles those found in a First Class compartment on an airplane. Some bus lines in Argentina even have an attendant to offer up personal TV, champagne and full 3 course meal.
However, my thoughts were interrupted when I feel the bus driver slam on the brakes and my body lunges forward. Then I hear “Pop, Pop, Pop”. I look at the other 9 passengers around me with bulging eyes. Next thing I know, the door that leads to our compartment is thrown open and a man with a handgun is staring at me.
I froze. My purse with everything of value is on my left side, looped around my arm. (This is what’s suggested from forums and guidebooks). My thoughts all gone, just trying to grasp at what’s happening right now at this millisecond.
The gunman hollers something I don’t understand in Portuguese. I see the man in front of me throw up his arms and I follow suit. The gunman walks up the aisle and grabs my purse and throw it down on the floor by the door. Soon there’s a pile. Then I hear someone pleading “My Passport!! My Passport!!”
The lightbulb in my head flashes red and I start pleading “Mi passport por favor!! Mi passport por favor!!”. I can part with my money, my phone and my camera but without my passport, I don’t even want to imagine the issues I will have in the days to come.
Now the evening steps up to another level of surrealism.
The gunman starts holding up each bag to let me identify mine. After 4, 5 bags, he’s holding up mine. “Si, Si, Si”, that’s all I heard myself saying. He hands the WHOLE bag back to me!!
Then what happens next, I cannot explain to this day.
I slowly open my bag, take out the 600 Brazilian Reals that I had just withdrawn from the ATM machine before boarding the bus. It was to pay for The Cure’s concert ticket or my stay in the hostel. I hold up the cash for the gunman to take. Next I take out my dear Canon SX10is, remove the memory card and hand it over to him as well.Then my lifeline, my cell phone.
After he moved back to the door, I toss my wallet under my seat to “hide” it. I left my purse on my left side, where it was before it was taken away from me. I did not even think to pull out my passport and stuff it down my pants or something. WTF!!
After a few more minutes, he was joined by another gunman who came into the compartment and told the bus driver to take a seat with us. He walked up the aisle to double check if everything was taken. He noticed that I still have my purse with me and yelled at me. I have no real idea what he said but figured it was something to the effect, “Why do you still have your bag???” I proceeded to empty out my bag onto the empty seat next to me which is all that separated me from him and his shotgun. “Papier. Seulement. Papier.” I showed him my pile of papers and my Lonely Planet guidebook. He pulled up my sleeves and noticed my tiny glass “Evil eye” charm that I bought in Istanbul, it’s tied onto my wrist with a piece of red string. There is perhaps a few grams of silver for value. Yet he pointed at it and wanted it. So I simply handed it over, as he did not know that I already handed over my camera, phone and 600 Reals.
All in all, there were 5 men with 4 handguns and 1 shotgun. One of them instructed the bus driver to drive down a small road, away from the main highway. All 48 passengers on board were shaken, ONLY 5 of us were tourists. Me and 4 Japanese tourists, the remainder were all local Brazilians. One of the Japanese tourist lost his passport. The man sitting behind me is a Colonel with the Brazilian Army. He handed over his cell phone and his wallet with all his ID cards and credit cards in it. He did not want to be a hero as his wife was sitting right next to him. Some of the locals only had a few Reals to give them.
The police was contacted and they escorted us to the last town we passed. The thought of having to back track was dreadful. We all pleaded to move forward and not retrace our paths. Our pleads were not heard.
Reports were filed. It took hours. I was assured a copy will be emailed to me as soon as possible. I received it in June.
Luiz, the Brazilian businessman that I spoke to when we first boarded the bus in Brasilia became my translator and offered me comfort. The bus company, Útil, sent representatives to meet us at the next stop. They paid for all of our snacks and meals. However, when we stopped in Belo Horizonte, the bus broke down. In the end it took us close to 29 hours to get to Rio, instead of the expected 18 hours.
Before going to Brazil, friends and strangers have all mentioned about the crimes committed in Brazil. I truly wish that we do not live in a world with such disparity between the rich and the poor. Our actions reflect our circumstances, some are more fortunate than others.
Now, I tell this experience like a surreal story. I don’t live in fear. I do not see myself as a victim. Things happen to us everyday. What matters the most is the perspective you view it from. Don’t identify with the labels. However, we can choose to make the most of what we have and view each event from a positive angle.
Life is full of choices. What did you choose for yourself today?