Más o Menos: The Colombian Tax (S1 EP8)

Mustafa Shaikh
5 min read

I’ve never been to a country where I’ve heard more stories of travelers getting robbed than Colombia. For long term travelers, on the whole, they’re not as bothered by it as you might think. They more or less view it as a tax that you’re expected to pay at some point. For your tax, you come out with an amusing story to share.

For the last episode of Más o Menos, I decided to share with you some of the more interesting stories that I came across; with three days left in this country, hopefully there’s not an updated version of this episode hitting your inbox next week.

Without further ado ...


Gone In 60 Seconds

Marvin was on the busy streets of Bogota when he took out his phone to ensure he was heading in the right direction. In the midst of browsing Google Maps, his phone was snatched from him.

For the first few seconds, he was just stunned looking at his empty hands. His phone was right there, and then it wasn't?

He looked down the street to the right, and a motorcyclist was speeding away with the phone in his hand.

There was no point in running after him. He just stood there, watched, and appreciated how swift the transaction was.

Taken

Mika and Nick are a German couple who have been traveling Latin America for a few months. They were on a group hike a few hours outside of Medellin. The hike was led by a guide with a total of 14 hikers following his lead.

After walking for some time, the group entered a clearing and saw roughly 40 other hikers seated. Mika and Nick assumed that this was a large group hike that was taking a lunch break.

As they edged closer to the group, they noticed that there was no food out. In fact, everyone was seated rather quietly. Too quietly. Something was up.

They then realized that standing up amongst the group were three men. Each of the men had a gun. It wasn't lunchtime, it was time to get your stuff jacked.

With how close Mika and Nick's group was, there was no escaping their fate. The robbers more or less were like, great, more people to steal things from.

These robbers had a system. They meticulously went to each person and had them unlock their phone in front of them. They wrote down each person’s code, and in certain cases, even their Apple ID information. Along with their phones, they also took everyone's wallets, jewelry, and watches.

When they first realized they were getting robbed, Mika and Nick's guide told them to pretend to not know Spanish. Let the guide do the talking and communicate with the robbers. They weren't in an area that was normally frequented by foreign tourists. In fact, they were the only non-Colombians amongst this group of 55 people who were getting robbed, and the guide was worried that Mika and Nick might have to pay an extra tax.

Mika and Nick do understand Spanish. While they followed the guide's advice, they were able to listen into what the robbers were discussing.

The robbers were taking their time in deciding what to do with the Germans. They started tossing around the idea of kidnapping them which really put a scare into the couple. As much as robbery is commonplace in Colombia, you don’t hear of any kidnappings.

Fortunately, after an hour, the robbers decided that phones, wallets, and identities were all that needed to be taken today. They weren't quite ready to cross the line into holding a couple of Germans for ransom.

They first let the women go and make their way back into town. After some time, the men were released as well.  

Once the couple got back home, things got more complicated. Mika wasn’t even able to use her MacBook as the robbers had already gone in and changed her Apple ID password. Additionally, she made the fatal mistake of using the same password for everything and having none of her apps log her out after she was finished with them. That meant that all of her banking apps were readily available to the robbers, who went in and took what they could before she was able to change her passwords.

(A good time to give a shout out to my favorite password manager: 1Password. Use unique passwords for every login, folks.)

The Hangover

Charlie is a Canadian, who like many foreign travelers, found himself busy swiping away on Tinder.

He matched with this one woman who he particularly liked. Over the course of a week, she was asking some really interesting questions about the type of person he was and where he wanted to go in life. This was different than the average Colombian he matched with on Tinder.

After getting to know her, Charlie met up with her for lunch on a Saturday. They immediately hit it off. Lunch turned into drinks. Drinks turned into dinner. Dinner turned into more drinks. She was really into him.

Eventually, they decided to go back to his apartment. He had a few bottles of liquor there, and she really wanted to get after it. Well, at least she wanted him to get after it.

At one point she had the bottle of vodka up to his mouth insisting he drink more. She was pouring so much down his throat that he couldn't keep up and the vodka was just spilling out onto his shirt.

The next thing he knows, he wakes up groggily in his apartment. He starts gathering his bearings and realizes, he has been drugged. The bottle of vodka that was clear last night now has a blue tint to it. And of course, his possessions were long gone including his passport, wallet, phone, and $10k worth of photo/video equipment.

He was able to get in contact with the local police. I actually walked in on him talking to police officers as he was working out of the same co-working space as me.

The officers were from a specific division of Medellin's police department: the tourism police. There are so many robberies of foreigners in Medellin that they have a specific force dedicated to helping them out.

I can't remember the number the police said, but it's something around a couple hundred foreigners die in Medellin every year from getting drugged. That changed Charlie's perspective on things. He actually almost became overjoyed that he was simply alive and only two days after being drugged, had a sense of humor about it.

“It’s really her loss when you think about it," he relayed to me.

"In what way," I asked.

"She could have made more than $10,000 off of me.”

“What are you talking about? Are you saying you guys could've gotten married?”

“No no. Not that. I could’ve taught her how to create content and start a YouTube channel. I could’ve taught her about cryptocurrency. There was so much that she could’ve gained from me than my possessions.”


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Do you have a friend who watches "Scam City?" (I got one. Here's looking at you, Henry.) Can you do me a favor and forward this episode to them?

Next week we're starting a new series. Going to be writing about my days in a garage startup.

This essay was edited by Mustafa Shaikh. Blame all grammatical errors on him.

You can catch up on past writings here.