For over two years, I've chosen to highlight the positive, fun side of living in Colombia on my other blog, Medellin Living. However after being robbed a few weeks ago, in broad daylight on a busy street, I'm taking my personal security more serious than ever before.
Being robbed at gunpoint will do that to any man or woman, and to not share what I've learned from the experience would be a waste of the anxiety and fright that resulted.
There are countless strategies the bad guys use in Latin America to separate targets from their wealth. These are a collection of tips from Colombian taxi drivers I've been given since sharing my story with them.
While I still don't think it's practical to adhere to every tip 100% of the time, I will no longer be so lackadaisical when taking taxis in foreign countries.
1. Do not hail taxis from the street, call in advance.
Some taxi drivers may be working in partnership with the thieves who rob you. Upon spotting something of value on your person, be it an expensive phone, jewelry, or camera, they call the thief to report your route.
Because the thieves know the license plate, they can easily identify in which taxi you're traveling, and wait for you to reach a stoplight or turn down a deserted road so they can execute their theft.
Drivers working for taxi services are more trusted by Colombians. If you're living abroad for a few months or more, you should build relationships with a few trusted drivers who work various hours of the day. This allows you to have a trusted driver on demand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you rely on taxis to get around, this makes a lot more sense than taking the risk of riding with a random driver every time (even though 99.99% of the taxis rides I've taken in Colombia have been without incident).
The downside is you have to be more patient then if you hailed the next available taxi driving down the street. Also, sometimes taxis don't show up when scheduled, resulting in time wasted while you wait for another one.
2. Do not sit in the front passenger seat, sit in the back.
I believe the logic with this tip is that you're less visible, and less accessible since you're able to sit in the middle seat, or move to the opposite side should a thief approach you.
The downside is it's harder to have a conversation with the driver, especially if your Spanish is weak. And, the view isn't as nice as what you get from the front seat.
3. Do not ride with the windows rolled down, keep them up or slightly cracked.
Thieves are looking for easy targets. By making little changes to the way you ride in a taxi, you signal it'd be easier for them to target someone else. Keeping the window rolled up may seem like a small thing to do from your perspective, but think of it from the thief's angle for a moment.
He has 30 seconds, 60 seconds max to execute the robbery at a stoplight, therefore every second counts. If he's wasting time waiting for you to roll down your window, it increases the chances that the light will turn green before he's taken everything he wants, or that someone (such as a passing police motorbike) will notice what's happening and intervene.
The obvious downside is the lack of fresh air, which is especially appreciated in a city like Medellin with its constant Spring-like temperatures.
4. Do not show evidence of valuables, keep your expensive phone in your pocket or purse.
This was a piece of advice I read awhile ago, but didn't take seriously. The more taxis I took without incident, the less it seemed to matter. I used my Blackberry for email and messaging, so it'd often be in my lap, not held up to my ear where it could easily be snatched from a passing motorist.
That is until I became a victim of armed robbery. It was the second Blackberry I've had stolen in the city in the last 11 months, and I'm in no rush to buy a new one.
The downside to having a nice phone, or expensive jewelry, in a developing nation is the bigger target it puts on your back. This goes for Colombians as much as it does for foreigners.
I may have been targeted simply because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time (and my skin is white), but it's also possible they saw the Blackberry in my lap and tailed us until we reached a stoplight.
5. If threatened, do not resist.
If you do find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being robbed, whether or not a weapon is clearly visible, do not resist.
Whatever you've got on you is not worth your health and well being. Sadly, life carries less value to many people in this world, and the bad guys may not hesitate to stab or shoot you to get what they want. I repeat, if being robbed, DO NOT RESIST.
To give yourself peace of mind, consider getting travel insurance before leaving your home country. That way if you do lose material possessions of value, you have the opportunity to be compensated.
What are some other tips for safely taking taxis abroad?
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