The Last Time I ever got Robbed

The Last Time I ever got Robbed

When I started travelling on my own when I was 21 years old and I’ll be the first to admit that I was a different person. I was timid if not shy, pulled-back if not scared, and naive if not just down right stupid. I grew up in a tiny town of about 7000 people in rural Canada, and although I had made many incursions out into the real wold, I was very raw to the reality of things. Wide-eyed, I flew down into San Jose, Costa Rica in January of 2005 with plans to visit as much of Central America as I could in the 4 months I had free. I, however, had no idea the type of safety measures I would have to take travelling these countries.  I was used to living in my family house back home which rarely had a locked door. After travelling around for about 3 months I had been ripped off a couple of times, nothing serious 10 dollars here 20

Panama City from the City Park

there, but it definitely started to wear on me as well as on my world perspective that everyone is inherently good. But in Panama City, I decided that never again would I be taken for a fool. This is my story.

I remember the day clear as a bell. I had found out that there was a shopping mall near the Panama Canal and decided that it might be a nice change to go back to the western style world I used to be accustomed to. I went and ate Chinese fast food, then wandered to a subtitled movie (I can’t remember which one, only that it was really bad).  I then meandered the shops looking at over-priced clothing. I stumbled into a cigar shop selling all the best cigars including my favourites “Romeo and Juliets.” As I asked the price of a box of 50 I realized that it was about 5 days worth of my budget and stepped out side to think about the

Lagoon in the Park

purchase. As I started blankly at my over-used visa card a man bumped up to me and asked me if I was looking for Cuban cigars. His English was near flawless, and mostly because of this ability to speak the language I trusted him. Mistake #1.

My new acquaintance told me that in the city’s China Town they sell the same boxes of cigars for 40-50$ because they’re taken (I think he meant stolen) right off of the boats in the port and sold there. To be fair, I had actually heard the same thing, but was always warned that this part of town was very dangerous and should be avoided. He told me that he would take me there to keep me safe and show me where I can buy them, in return I asked? “Hey, I’m just a helpful guy, and besides I live right near there so you’d be saving me on bus fair.” We jumped into a cab, that was way too conveniently placed and waiting for us, and whizzed away. Mistake #2.

My Spanish at this point in my life was still not very good, not nearly good enough to make out every single word that

Panama Canal, Miraflores Locks

was muttered between the two of them, my cab driver and my cigar guide, but I could tell by the way the driver looked at me that something was wrong. At a traffic light the driver said something that I did recognize “estupido gringo.” At this point my instincts were begging me to jump out of the car and make a bolt for it. But, my head kept telling me that I was over-reacting and that everything would be fine. Mistake #3.

As we pulled into China Town my guide muttered something quickly and under his breath to the driver. The driver returned something at normal voice, at which point my guide gave him the shush sign with his finger. The driver then said something else I understood. “Porque? Ese gringo estupido no habla espano! (Why? That stupid gringo doesn’t speak Spanish!)” It was at this point that I realized there was a rip off in place and that I had to do something to ease the loss that I was about to incur; running was not an option, I was in the middle of the most dangerous part of the city.

View of the Ports from the Park

My guide told me that I should stay in the car for safety, and that I should give him 50$ for the cigars. I told him to find out the price and then come back, but he assured me that he’d bring me any change if there was any. I responded by telling him that I wasn’t going to buy any products without seeing them, and that he should bring them to me to see before I buy them. However, he quickly responded that the shop owners wouldn’t leave their shops with the goods. He responded by saying, “look, I have 20$ you give me 30$ and I’ll pay the extra 20 if I need to and you can pay me back when I come back with the goods, ok?” I decided that 30$ was probably worth the price to get out of such a bad situation. Solution #1.

Park Bench with the City behind

As my guide left the card, I heard him say in crystal clear Spanish “espera 5 minutos y vete! (Wait five minutes then go),” and as he did so he slipped the driver 10$. I sat patiently in the car retracing my steps and thinking about all the mistakes I made to get to this point.  The driver looked back at me and said, “I don’t think he’s coming back man, sorry.” But I asked him to wait another minute and that I’d add a dollar to his cab fare if he did. Another minute passed and still nothing. The driver told me to that we should go. I asked him what his hurry was? I then requested that he go out and look for the guy, and if he didn’t find him to come back in 1 minute, and for doing so I’d give him an extra 5 dollars. Upon hearing of the extra 5$ the driver jumped out of the still running car with a huge grin on his face. As he turned around the corner and out of sight I jumped up into the driver’s seat of his rusted out taxi. Solution #2.

As if escaping in a car chase I popped the clutch and raced down the street. In my rear view mirror I saw my cab driver racing after the car, without a hope in the world of catching it. I drove the car, which was nearly out of gas, and settled it down still running on the side of a busy road about a 10 minute walk from my hostel. Before I left, though, I realized that his wallet was in between the seats. I pulled out exactly 30$ from his wallet which had about 100$, and walked proudly back to my hostel. Solution #3.

In the end, I broke even, although things could have ended much worse. I only ended up getting one of the culprits, but if they were friends as I later came to realize they probably were, they both got their share of my retribution. From that day on, I have never been robbed, not even for 50cents.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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46 Comments

  1. That is absolutely crazy! The situation & the fact that you drove off with their cab! Awesome solution to your dilemma. I’m glad you made it out ok without getting physically injured or anything.

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  2. This is an awesome story. You were very lucky to get out of the situation as well as you did!

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  3. Woot! I am impressed! You stole a cab – well, I don’t mean that in a negative way. I know you needed it to get out of there. I think this is one of the coolest travel stories ever. Good for you for not sitting there waiting to see what they’d do to you next. And it’s a good thing you could find your way back almost to your hostel too. So when was the first time you ever got robbed?….

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    • hahaha… thanks for the comment Sabina. To be honest, as I was in the cab driving away I was laughing historically… that was way to much fun! And my hotel was right off of the main drag in Panama City, so I got home pretty easily… maybe the first time I got robbed will be an upcoming post???

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  4. Pardon my language, but YOU DID NOT FUCKING DO THAT. YOU FUCKING DID NOT. Holy crap, dude. You stole a cab!!!!!

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    • Hahaha… in my defense Kate, they tried to rob me first! haha

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  5. Haha! Wicked! That’s an intense story. I bet your heart was pounding… that’s some kinda balls too! Crazy Gringo! 😉

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  6. I love this story Brendan! Awesome ending. I wish I was there to see the ‘stupid’ thieves faces!!

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  7. Great story Brendan! Very good read…you were quite ballsy by taking the cab away! haha…serves them right, you got back at them and then more…perhaps next time they will think twice.

    Federico

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  8. Jesus. Talk about upping the ante. You were pretty bloody lucky, I would say. Would have cost you rather more than $30 to get out if it if either the driver or the cops had caught up with you…

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  9. Wow thats incredible… I have a very similar story about something that happened to me in Venezuela will def have to share it with you sometime

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    • We`re all looking forward to hearing it!

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  10. Dude, this story DID NOT turn out how I expected. Yes, you were an idiot!! 🙂 But way to get even there. Awesome story to tell and I enjoyed reading it!

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    • Hahaha… I was you and naive, if not stupid! hahah

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  11. Eres un gringo loco. Muy muy loco, hombre. You know when you read a passage and get distracted by # and numbers? I got that – was distracted by your ‘Solution #’s’, missed out all the juicy bits, went back to the top of the paragraph, re-read it and felt like getting slapped on the face with a wet trout. Shocking story, some balls of steel you have mate. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. Haha, I enjoyed that and serves them right. As for spending 5 days budget on cigars, I totally approve.

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  13. Wow, you are very lucky it turned out so well, it could have been much worse.

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  14. It’s fun to share and laugh about the wild and crazy things that occurred in our youth. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  15. Wow! The whole driving off in his taxi sounds like something straight out of a movie. How awesome! You definitely got him back. It’s always a bit bad looking back on these things and wishing you had done something different… but you broke even in the end, got back at the bad guys and you have a fantastic story to tell! No regrets necessary 🙂

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  16. Your nice! I would have stolen all of the money for the shit they put you through!!! I LOVE that you stole a cab. You rock!

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  17. WOW. You stole a cab. Brilliant. Scary. Ballsy. I think you may be my new travel idol.

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  18. Awesome story. I was in a similar situation in Cambodia once (locked in a car with 2 guys) and thought about stealing the car, but didn’t have the bottle and just went with them as I had only been in the country an hour and it was 10pm.

    Tips I can add add is take a photo of the licence plate (they don’t like this at all though) and give them a few crappy lies that could scare them. I told my captors I was a boxer and travelling on my fight winnings, the driver was scared to be left alone with me and offered my money back on their series of transparent scams.

    Still, it’s all a learning experience and makes for a good story. Sometimes I like to go along just to see how they intend to get money.

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  19. WOW crazy story but great solution. I would have probably done the same.

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  20. Hahahaha I love that you robbed the guy who was scamming you. Way to go!

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  21. There’s nothing like a creative solution to a problem! Excellent story Brendan. So did you go back to the shopping mall and buy the cigars or give up on them altogether?

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  22. I agree with Jeremy B above—that is NOT how i expected this story to end! props to you though for thinking on your feet and getting back what was yours!

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  23. OMG… can’t believe you stole the cab and took the $30 back! Brazen. Fortunately it worked in this case– you got your money back and got a great story out of it. I bet you never fell for that scam again!

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  24. Dude, that’s an awesome story. I’d love to have heard the conversation between the cab driver and his friend after all of his.

    Jason

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  25. Wow that’s some quick thinking. I’m glad everything worked out okay in the end. I don’t think I’d be able to pull off stealing a cab, then again I don’t know how to drive a standard. I guess that’s an incentive for me to learn. Anyways this is an entertaining story.

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  26. Was the wallet the drivers or the front man’s? How do you know they were in cahoots, and that you haven’t just robbed a poor taxi driver?

    From a story perspective I think it’s great — but if I’m honest, I think you were a little over the top and could have landed yourself in a whole load of shit.

    If the police had caught you, that would have been one thing, but if the taxi had run out of fuel and the cabbie had caught you… well, I shudder to think!

    I think if it were me, I’d have just got out and walked away; $50 down and a story for the trouble (albeit not as good as the one you have!)

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  27. what an adventure!!! i wouldnt have thought of that reimbursing what’s stolen from me from the driver’s wallet… haha at least you’re even!

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  28. Hi, that’s an awesome story. I think this is one of the coolest travel stories ever. Good for you for not sitting there waiting to see what they’d do to you next. Thanks for shearing…..

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  29. This story is pretty badass. I’d have been freaking out. Quick thinking, though!

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    • Thanks Lilly… sometimes I wish people would rob me more often… you know, for the adventure!

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  30. So did you ever get any cigars? :>)

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    • Yup… and they were delicious!

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    • thanks… I’m hoping to get robbed again soon so I have another good story to tell haha

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  31. Funny story, it’s great the way you got out of his situation, not saying I would recommend it, but really quick thinking. Happy you got away with all this, good story.

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  32. Great story…wild. I give you a lot of credit….and I’m so glad all turned out well in the end. I almost think I would have done the same for some reason. Almost…. 🙂

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