Women crowded round me saying "tranquilla, tranquilla" (relax) as I muttered something about all of my dinero, passaporte, debit cards, "todo" (everything). As usual, I couldn´t make out the replies, but then heard someone speaking to me in English through all the other voices. A woman put her arm around me saying "I can help you, I´ll take you to the police and the embassy and give you whatever you need". Apparently I´d turned into a toddler, and latched onto her as she led me through the park to some police standing on the corner. As we waited to get taken to the police station, she handed me a phone to cancel my cards, saying it would be quicker to get someone in England to do it. I called my Mum, and managed to keep my best calm and composed tone for the duration of the conversation, before proceeding to sob like a child, giving the policemen a treat.
On the way to the police station, Friendly Lady put me on the phone to the British embassy, who told me that I needed to go to the office in Santiago, but it was closed for another three days because of
Valparaiso Police (stolen from google images)
the long weekend. Friendly Lady said that I should stay with them at their holiday house nearby, and then they would drive me back to the capital where they live. The policemen told me that this is a popular crime, and a lot of people get a punch in the face as they wrestle with their bag, so I´m lucky that my left arm is far too feeble to put up a fight! It was all very organised, and apparently the men who chased after the robber for me got beaten up by protectors.
Despite living in less than nice areas of London, and travelling to places like India and South Africa on my own, I´ve never been mugged before. I always thought that as long as you didn´t get hurt, it wasn´t really a big deal. At the time, I just concentrated on how lucky I was to get help, and that it was quick and there was no violence, but I still felt shaken up and a bit violated somehow. In hindsight, it´s clear that some part of my brain knew that I could have ended up totally stuck, sleeping in a ditch with no way back
to Santiago... and who knows what.
Thank god for Friendly Lady and Man, who introduced themselves as Pamela and Rudolpho! As we arrived at the house Pamela said "the whole family are here, and you´re part of the family now so this is your house too." I thanked them for the millionth time, feeling a bit awkward about imposing on their weekend, but knowing that I had no choice but to accept their amazing kindness. Inside the house, I met about twenty of their offspring, neices, nephews and their partners; was sat at a big table and served a huge delicious lunch by... a maid, which seemed very strange at the time (although I´ve since found out that it´s a normal part of Chilean society). After a nap, I met yet more friends who came to join the party. Most people were in their late twenties and early thirties, and daugher "Pamelita" (an affectionate term meaning little Pamela) is 28 and speaks perfect English. I was given Pisco
and coke for the first time, and enjoyed the chance to relax and chat to people. Everyone was in good spirits, and it was exactly what I needed.
Chilean society is
renowned for revolving around the family, and this strong, secure atmosphere was the perfect antidote to being alone and helpless. Although the combination of these two extremes seemed to trigger some kind of mild existential crisis in me... I knew I really didn´t want to have to go home, but started to obsessively think "what am I doing here?!" I knew that I hadn´t come to South America to get pissed in a hostel (as fun as that is, I can do it at home with real friends) and that I wanted to assist post-recession job hunting by learning Spanish and trying to do something to boost the old CV. The typically South American affection between the couples also affected me, as did the three year old grandson, who I felt far too drawn towards! I was scaring myself!
Back in Santiago with Pamela, Rudolpho and Pamelita, I was given my own room, and woke up in the morning to the maid bringing me breakfast in bed! The family went back to work, and it took me several days to recover everything, but they insisted that I didn´t go back to a hostel unless I really wanted to.
I didn´t! I felt so at home, and enjoyed several days of trips into the city to get sorted, followed by learning some Spanish on the internet and playing with the eight year old son of one of the maids (one of the few people who I dared to speak awful Spanish to)! Cousins, aunts and uncles were constantly visiting, I went to a mid-week party with young Pamela and her boyfriend Tomas, shopping and ice cream eating at the nearby mall, and on my last night went to see (yet another) cousin dance in a Flamenco show with about 20 other family members. The show was incredible, with live music and amazing dancing. We went out drinking afterwards, and a funny cousin toasted to the entire extended family arriving at my doorstep in London one day, wanting rooms and dinner! I told them that I hoped they would! I´ll at least see the immediate family again, as their eldest son lives in London. Rudolpho found out all the bus companies, times and hostels that I needed by phoning friends who worked in tourism, and despite Mum Pamela´s attempts to set me up with a cousin, it was time to
leave my lovely safe nest.
Back in a hostel, I spent 10 hours not being able to leave a room while waiting for my debit-card to arrive, distracted only by playing pool with a Brazillian guy and a Dutch guy. When the courier finally got there, I celebrated my newfound freedom and independence by going to the cinema to see yet another terrible film with the Brazillian (this time it was Conan the Barbarian... need I say more).
There was one more thing to do before I could leave. The Bolivian border control insist that everyone from the UK has a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate. I was told that the photocopy I´d paid my doctor to send me just needed a stamp from the embassy, but the embassy told me otherwise. Hoping for the best and desperate to get on with my trip; I went back to the hostel, got my bags, grabbed a taxi to the bus station and booked the next bus to San Pedro; in the Atacama Desert in the very north of Chile.
I was sad as the bus pulled out of pretty Santiago. Apparently when I was mugged, Pamela said "I feel like she´s my daughter", before running up to help me. I have no real way to repay my Chilean family, but really they just wanted me accept their big South American hearts. Pamela hopes that if Pamelita was ever mugged in England, someone would do the same thing. I guess sometimes you´re totally reliant on the kindness of others, and just have to hope that they´re willing to offer it.
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