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Diner at gunpoint
Antigua (Guatemala), January 27th 1997
It is a Saturday evening and I am in Panajachel, situated along the lake of Atitlán in the heart of Guatemala. A couple of days ago I arrived in Guatemala City for a 3 months journey to Caracas in Venezuela. I left the hectic of the capital city to seek some rest in this small village along the beautiful lake. Earlier that day, I made a nice walk to some of the small and traditional villages further along the lake. At the end of the day, it was time for a nice dinner.

I was looking for a small restaurant close to the lake to be sure to see the beautiful sunset over the lake. The food is delicious. This is the perfect beginning of the journey through Central America. It is almost nine o’clock in the evening. It’s time to go back to the hotel for a good sleep. At that moment somebody is entering the patio of the restaurants and joins my table, on the opposite site of me. Strange, because all other tables at the patio are available. The man starts telling me that he originally comes from Jamaica, but that he escaped that country. I ask him why. He tells me that he worked for a drug baron and that he made the mistake to steal drugs from him. For that reason, he is placed on the death list of this drug baron. The talk with him starts given me an uncomfortable feeling.

Waiting for a bus to Panajachel on the bus station of Antigua
He continues by telling me that for this reason he fled to Guatemala. He wanted to start a new life and earn an honest income. However, it seems to be impossible because he is discriminated by the local people, is his story. For that reason he has to rob tourists. At that moment he takes a big and silver coloured gun from his lap and points it for approximately 5 seconds on my forehead. I have the feeling that my hart stops beating. Subsequently he puts the gun back on his lap to prevent that a possible passer-by or employee of the restaurant sees the gun. At that moment I realise that since the start of the talking with this guy, none of the restaurant servants entered the patio. They probably wait till this incident passes by.

I am surprised to see that the conversation proceeds like the way before the gun appeared. Both he and I stay calm. He tells calmly that he wants my money and photo camera. I hand over my wallet. He takes a look in it and tells me that he want more. I tell him that my other money and passport is in a safe of the hotel. Than he orders me to show him the camera, probably to judge the value of the catch. He is satisfied and asks me to hand over also the camera. Before handing it over, I ask him if I can take out the film because it has no value to him. He agrees, so I start quietly rewinding the film.

The conversation finally comes to an end. I am amazed to see that he takes some money from my own wallet and puts it on the table. To pay your bill for the restaurant, he says. He impresses on my mind not to go to the police to report the robbery. He tells me that he has connections at the police. If he hears that I reported the robbery, he will find me to finish ‘the job’. He gets out of his chair and wants to shake my hands. Of course, I reject. He apologises once again for the robbery and disappears in the darkness.

The beautiful setting of Lago de Atitlan
I pay my bill of the restaurant and start walking back to the hotel. The first question in my head is: ‘was it possible to prevent this robbery?’. You hear often that people are robbed, but you seldom take into account that it can happen to yourself. But I did not undertake any irresponsible actions by going to that restaurant, so I assume that it is just bad luck. The other question I ask myself is if I have to go to the police to report the robbery. Objectively seen, I have to report it to get these criminals in jail as soon as possible. On the other side, I know that a complete circus is started when I report the robbery. To protect the image of the village, the police will arrest as soon as possible a couple of suspects, resulting in a line-up to point out the robber. And in contrast to the western world, there will be no mirror between the suspects and me. Also his threaten about ‘finishing the job’ makes me nervous.

To avoid this unpredictable circus, I decide not to go to the police to report the robbery. Instead of this, I will travel to the city of Antigua. In Antigua I will report at the police that my stuff is stolen from the bus between Panajachel to Antigua. I know that it is not the real story, but I need the police report to hand over to the insurance company. The next couple of days I am dubious if I have to proceed with my journey through Central Americas. But a couple of days and cold beers later, I decide to proceed. The chance of being robbed to times in three months is almost zero. Because I already got ‘my’ robbery, I can calmly continue my travel through this beautiful and interesting part of our planet.

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