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Travel Safety: Scary Encounters Abroad And What I’ve Learned From Them

dogTraveling isn’t always a picnic. Sometimes, we encounter situations that threaten our safety and make us second guess our security. The important thing when something like this happens to you is not let it scare you into not traveling, but to learn a lesson from the experience. Here are some of my personal scary encounter experiences abroad, and what I’ve learned from them and about travel safety.

1. Threatened In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Two Reais and seventy-five cents. That should cover the bus ride back to my hostel in Gloria. It wasn’t a lot of money — about $1.25 USD; however, it was enough for one man in particular to notice me.

But someone did. He looked about 53, a weathered face and dark hair. While I don’t remember his clothing or details about his features, I can clearly picture the menacing scowl that took over his face as he stopped dead in his tracks and glared at my exposed wallet. His stance reminded me of a cheetah ready to pounce as he bent his knees and angled his body toward me, his arms raised slightly. One false move and I was a goner. But, would he really jump me in broad daylight?

My skin felt prickly, my heart racing with fear. I was frozen in a moment that seemed to last forever, although it was probably only a minute or so.

Suddenly, my solo female travel instincts kicked in and I took action. Spying a group a local women chatting nearby, I quickly ran over to their group, never turning my back to the man. While I didn’t speak Portuguese, I smiled at them and waved, gesturing slightly with my eyes at the man. They understood, and made a small space for me in the group, where I nodded along pretending to be an old time friend. The man glared a moment longer before moving on his way.

While I was lucky the situation didn’t escalate further than a scare, it did teach me a lesson: Never make assumptions. If someone tells you an area is dangerous and that pick pocketing is likely, take all necessary precautions to prevent this from happening — whether it’s daytime, nighttime, $2 or $200. A better idea would have been to have my money organized in my wallet so that I could quickly pull it out when on the bus, or discreetly grabbing the money without showing my wallet.

2. Dog Attack In Banos, Ecuador

threatenedIt was a steep ascent, but the view of Banos, Ecuador, from the top of Bellavista was worth it. It had taken me much quicker than I’d assumed it would — less than an hour — so I decided to continue on and follow the signs reading “Runtun”.

As I was trekking solo, it was up to me to navigate myself, which felt somewhat disconcerting. It’s no that I didn’t have hiking experience — I’m an avid trekker; however, the narrow trails were thick with mud and so dense it made day feel like night. Something felt off to me. I knew I was following the trail markers correctly, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was heading toward a place I would want to go, especially while traveling solo.

As I continued on, trudging through ankle-deep muck and climbing over giant rocks and thick branches, I came to a village. While it comforted me to know there were people around in case I needed help, this relaxed feeling was quickly erased as I heard the angry barking of a dog.

I saw the snarling animal racing up the trail, as my mind dove into its subconscious and pulled out the only relevant source I had on file: “The Simpsons.” I remembered an episode where Lisa, acting as Sacajawea, is approached by a cougar. To scare it off, she extends her arms to try to make herself look at big as possible. Sure, it was a ridiculous cartoon, but it was all I had.

Quickly, I grabbed the largest rock I could and held it over my head in an attempt to appear larger than my 5’2” self really was. At least if my cartoon-inspired tactic didn’t work I’d have a weapon of some sort. The dog — which was clearly strong enough to kill me — stopped about four feet away from me, barking like mad and glaring its teeth. While it wasn’t moving closer, it also didn’t seem to be leaving. Finally, just when I thought this staring contest would go on all night, the dog backed away slowly then ran away.

While at that moment I wanted to head back to my hostel immediately, the dog had ran in that direction and I didn’t want to cross paths with him again, so I continued on. It didn’t take long for another even larger dog to find me, chasing me and barking menacingly, no doubt telling me to get the hell out of his village. Luckily, I was near to some homes at this point, and still holding the rock.

“Ayudame! Ayudame!” I screamed, shouting for help in Spanish. “Por favor, ayudame!”

Suddenly, a young boy not older than 10 appeared. He looked confused as he looked on at this foreign girl almost in tears holding a rock over her head and a dog the size of a small horse ready to pounce on her.

“Ayudame!!” I begged.

He turned to the dog, shouted something in Spanish, and the dog ran off.

What was I doing here? There were absolutely no hikers on this trail — which I wasn’t even sure was a legitimate trail — and in a matter of 20 minutes I’d almost been attacked by two different very large dogs. It was time to get a cab.

After some wrong turns I finally found a paved road away from the village. I toyed with the idea of hitch hiking — especially when it started to rain and there were no taxis in sight — but with the luck I was having that day I figured robbery and kidnapping were probable. Finally, soaked to the bone, I came to a hotel and was able to have them call a taxi for me. At that moment, I would have paid $1, 000 just to be in my hostel with the door locked, away from dogs, scary trails and strangers. A hostel bed never looked as good as it did that day.

Looking back on the situation, the biggest error I made was not trusting my gut. I had a weird feeling about the trail, but continued on anyway. Not only that, but I went hiking alone on some desolate path with nobody on it, despite the fact I didn’t know the area well and hadn’t told anyone where I was going. Especially when traveling solo, it’s important to take necessary precautions. While I’m not saying to never hike alone — sometimes it can be very therapeutic — try to choose trails where other people will be in case you need help. And at the very least ask your accommodation for safety information and let someone know your plans.

It can also be a good idea to carry a safety whistle, big rock and first aid kit, as you never know what you might encounter.

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