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“Be careful lads, it’s not safe to walk around here on your own at night.” “Yea, yea, we hear you. Don’t worry, though, we’re well used to perceived ‘dodgy’ areas, we’ll be fine.”
After over five years living in Colombia socialising, usually without problems, in places that some more well-to-do locals see as dangerous, we tend not to take too much heed of the oft-given advice such as that above. We generally find that the locals security fears are, thankfully, unfounded.
This is usually even more so the case when we’re talking about Colombia’s smaller towns, however popular or not they may be.
So on a recent trip to one such small town, Tocaima, a short three-hour spin outside Bogotá, when the locals told my travel companion and I that it wasn’t safe at night, we were quite blasé about it.
What we hadn’t factored in, however, were over a dozen pumped up young lads (is there any other kind?) looking to lay down a marker to the only foreigners in the village. Luckily for us the older townsfolk of a far friendlier disposition (not hard to be in this case) spotted the danger and ensured we avoided the planned assault.
Unlike the fair-weather, indifferent — nay incompetent — police officers on duty, these young men weren’t going to let a long-lasting, torrential downpour wash out their plans to get their ‘lucrative’ prize.
On the contrary, they split up and occupied strategic positions along what was a three-minute walk back to our hotel. Indeed the police here could do worse than to take note and learn from these young thugs, if they weren’t so damn lazy that is. (OK, eventually, although reluctantly, one officer escorted us back to the hotel, which incidentally was located directly opposite the police station, after being pressurised into doing so by the owner of the bar we were in and some other concerned bystanders.)
So while it all passed off without incident in the end, save for a few aggressive staredowns from our wannabe attackers while we took refuge in the bar, it did sour somewhat our time in Tocaima.
It’s not a bad town and could be seen as a quieter alternative to the more popular Girardot and Melgar in terms of warmer-weather, short escapes from Bogotá. Yet, if young lads such as the ones we almost got robbed by are allowed to run amok, with what seemed like the connivance of the police, the chances of the place growing in terms of tourism are slim to none.
With Colombia being ‘open to the world’ as a recent tourism expo put it, places such as Tocaima could do with, at the very least, having a police force that seems willing to prevent crime — all the other social inequality problems the country has to deal with notwithstanding.
As it is, these delinquents, what we can describe as the bad or better said toxic apples are rotting the place as a whole. It doesn’t have to be that way guys.
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