I recently stumbled across my friends blog post about a terrifying experience she had in Brazil, in which herself and her two female friends were robbed by a group of young men (with machetes!) while walking along a beach at night in Rio. Reading her experience, I could empathize with the terror she must’ve felt, and it reminded me of a *few of my own scary travel stories…
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Barcelona. My friend and travel companion, Emma, and I were walking along a fairy busy street while making our way back to our hostel after a long day of wandering around the city. Barcelona is a gorgeous place. It has this great laid-back, artsy, bohemian, Spanish vibe happening everywhere. It’s a very cultured city, with the historical area of town being everything typical of what you would expect Spain to be – small, narrow streets with mopeds speeding down them, apartments with Spanish-style balconies, and vines, flowers, and other vegetation growing down the sides of the architecturally-detailed buildings. There are tons of little vintage shops, jewellery stores, art galleries, antiques, and alternative clothing stores. There’s also a large food market with hundreds of little booths dedicated to fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, poultry and red meat, pastries, chocolate, candy, ice cream and everything else worth living for. My heart felt so full and happy the whole time I was there.
The night before the incident, Emma and I had enjoyed a delicious Spanish dinner at a cafe near the boardwalk on the beach. We ordered a seafood paella – a Valencian rice dish that originated from the east coast of Spain. It had prawns, mussels, scallops and octopus tentacles in it. Not something either of us would normally eat, but it was delicious. We also indulged in some calamari (the best calamari I’ve ever had to this day) and gespatcho soup, as well as two large pitchers of red sangria and some ice wine. We walked home tipsy and alone that night from the cafe to our hostel (only a short 10 minute walk), and we felt safe, happy, and secure the whole time. That’s why it came as a surprise when the next day, walking home along a fairly busy street in the middle of the day, that Emma and I found ourselves being followed by a homeless man.
At first I just thought it was coincidence that the man was walking a few feet behind us (it was a busy street, after all), but about a block later, it become apparent that he was intentionally following us. He had started to “bump” into us, cutting through us in what seemed like an attempt to separate us from each other. Every time he would bump into us he would hit a little harder.
This behaviour continued for several blocks, with our anger escalating the whole time. We weren’t really afraid of him, we intuitively sensed he wasn’t likely to hurt us. It rather seemed as though he thought it was funny, like we were a game to him. Trying to get our attention and provoke a reaction from us seemed to be his sick form of entertainment.
At first we ignored his behaviour, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to be enough. When we tried to lose him, by crossing the street, changing direction or stopping altogether, he continued to do so as well. He crossed when we could cross, turned when we turned and stopped when we stopped.
After a while, the disturbing nature of a strange, obviously homeless man, stalking and touching us had finally started to fully set in. Our frustration and anger continued to increase with every passing moment that we were being harassed. After several blocks of this, I’d hit my breaking point, the man “bumped” into me again and I stopped, turned towards him, looked him in the eyes, and screamed, “GO AWAY! FUCK OFF!”
He chuckled to himself and muttered something in Spanish, clearly finding our frustration entertaining. But he still didn’t go away. A minute later, after he bumped into Emma for what must’ve been the tenth time, she elbowed him in the stomach, and yelled, “FUCK OFF! LEAVE US ALONE!” But again, he followed us.
At this point we didn’t know what else to do – ignoring him didn’t work, running away from him didn’t work, and confronting him didn’t work either. Both of us were fuming. It was one of the most frustrating and personally violating situations I’ve ever experienced.
In my anger, I thought about physically attacking him in self-defence. He was a short man, smaller than both Emma and I, and I didn’t doubt that the two of us could take him. But I didn’t know if he had any weapons on him, and my mind flashed to several different scenarios. None of which ended well for us.
A few moments later we came across a supermarket which we quickly ducked into. We were sceptical that he’d follow us inside, as staff would be likely to throw him out. Thankfully, he didn’t.
Emma and I just looked at each other, both of us violently shaking from adrenaline and anger. Words didn’t come until a few moments later. “Let’s just grab some things for dinner, and if he’s waiting ouside for us when we leave then we’ll call the police,” Emma said.
Luckily, when we emerged from the shop ten minutes later, he had gone.
In the grand scheme of life, what happened to us wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Thankfully, neither of us were physically hurt. The guy was just some asshole who thought he was being funny. But I will never forget the frustration, vulnerability and helplessness I felt. It was a profound violation of my personal space. The language barrier didn’t help either, as we had no way to verbally communicate what was happening to us to anyone else. I think the most exasperating part though, was not the man who was following us, but the fact that no one else stopped to help us. This event took place in the middle of the day on a fairly busy street. Many people walked by who could have obviously seen that we were in distress. Yet not one single person stepped in to ask us if we were okay or if we needed help. Not one person confronted the homeless man on our behalf. Even when we were screaming in the middle of the street, many heads turned in our direction, but no one helped us.
It unfortunately put a damper on what was otherwise a beautiful, cultured city. A city that, despite our misfortune, still felt like it could be home to me.
A city that I still love.
*This post ended up being much longer than I’d initially thought, so I will write a Part 2 about my other scary travel story at a later date.