Salvador, Brasil — Apparently Ongoing
Last week I was talking about the hostel business with a friend and decided to pull up the online reviews of the place I worked at in Brasil to show her. I wanted to show her what right looked like. The hostel always had amazing reviews and the owner was constantly upgrading facilities and making small tweaks, chasing the perfect rating. It still had very high ratings, but there was a dip in April. When I read the reviews I found out why.
Two people had come in through the balcony in the middle of the night, threatened the workers at gunpoint, locked all guests in the bathrooms, and stole everyone’s money & electronics. The police never caught them and the stolen property was never recovered.
This sounds terrifying. To the reader, it probably sounds negligent on behalf of the owner as well. We actually had a robust security system. The door on the street could only be opened with a code or after being buzzed in by an employee. A camera and microphone overlooked it. There were also security cameras that recorded the door, balcony, and all common areas. The balcony was open, although it was on the third floor and the neighboring roofs were tiled in a way that made a 40 foot fall very easy. Just in case, a barrier surrounded the balcony and there was a motion sensor on the barrier that was often set off by cats walking too closely.
The robbery shocked me, but it really shouldn’t have. Salvador is pretty well-known as a dangerous place. I initially ignored this, then quickly realized why the Pelourinho neighborhood turns into a ghost town at night.
First off, we were warned Mufasa-to-Simba style to never walk on a certain street near the hostel, as the street was known as a den of drug dealers and thieves. We were also told to never get brave with muggers or thieves, as shootings are quite common with even cooperating muggees. “They’ll shoot you over small things, they have nothing to live for and know that they won’t go to prison,” we were told by many locals.
Next came the old man. I was threatened one night by a guy with a knife and apparently AIDS, but he was old and wobbly so I gave him one real (roughly 50 cents) out of pity, which he angrily threw back at me.
Then came the kid who spit on me. I refused to give him money so he spit on my feet. I was wearing sandals. He was roughly twelve years old so what could I do? I just laughed, which made him angrier. He also threw a rock at the head of another traveller who refused to give him money. He was fairly well-known around the area.
Around a week later I was working the graveyard shift when the manager/owner/coolest guy in the world came up to check on something. We hung out for around 15 minutes when another worker looked at the computer monitor and yelled He’s robbing us! We looked at the security cameras and saw a kid walking on the bottom floor with something big in his hands. It was the same kid who had spit at me and thrown a rock at a friend! The owner sprinted down the three flights of stairs to catch the kid and I ran to the balcony to see where the kid would go if he made it outside. He didn’t, and instead I saw the owner nearly dragging him by his arm up the road to the police checkpoint.
While he was talking to the police, we went back over the security footage and searched the unlocked doors to see what he made out with. Mirrors. The two bathroom mirrors. He found that a guest left the front door cracked open and stole our bathroom mirrors to trade for drug money. He had come once two hours prior and left with a mirror, then came back after a while for the other. We only recovered the one mirror.
The owner came back fifteen minutes later, infuriated. The police told the child to go home because he was too young to charge with a crime. The police said that they have talked to the child many times before but were only allowed to contact his parents because of his age.
I had seen the kid in town before, but now I noticed him more often. At night, he went throughout the area dressed like a teenager dresses, looking for unlocked doors and opportunities to steal. During the day, he wears ripped and tattered clothing while begging for money in a weak voice that magically disappears at night. Once I saw him and yelled to all the people in the area that he was a thief and had robbed us the night before, plus throws rocks and spits on people. Yelling at a seemingly homeless kid. Classy. I got enough dirty stares in that intersection to last a lifetime. After that we left each other alone and instead exchanged eye daggers.
So why do I write this now? Well, because it’s noteworthy and didn’t fit into yesterday’s post about exploring Salvador. And because I’m realizing that I dodged bullets while antagonizing criminals and wandering around Salvador alone at night. And to say I’ll be back in Salvador ASAP.