Rome, December 26th, 2015 - An exhilerating night in the district Testaccio is coming to an end. Between four and five in the morning I try to make my way back to the hostel. The metro is no longer running, and walking back would take at least 45 minutes. So I decide to check out if there is a bus that can take me to the train station Termini.
While doing so, I notice two suspicious individuals on the other side of the street. The two Italians try to keep a low profile in a way that it becomes obvious to me what they are up to. Intuitively I decide to walk on the illuminated road, which often
suffices to scare off thieves. But illuminated roads are useless when the streets are as empty as they are right now. The two men begin to realize that if they want to rob me, they have to do it as long as nobody is watching, so they do not waste any time and walk over to me. As they approach me, I begin to think about all the valuables that I have with me, realizing how much is at stake. At the same time I keep an eye for potential escape routes, while occasionally looking over to the potential threat, trying to figure out what my chances are to fight both of them. I should have done the thinking part before prompting them to walk over to me. Damn you, alcohol.
"Give me your phone", one of Italians says. "I have no phone.", I reply. Sometimes not even some people whom I know believe me that I have no phone, so I guess these two thugs will not believe me either. Even if I am that intoxicated and the odds are against me, for a moment I feel like I could overwhelm both of them, like I could put one guy in a side headlock and simultaneously deliver a devastating spinkick to the other guy, followed by an elbow drop and a submission hold to leave both of them unconscious. But the next moment my thought bubble bursts, as I get punched in the face so hard that I fall down to the concrete. Well, that's not really how I pictured this story unfolding.
Lightning Strikes Twice
The two Italians drag me into a corner. At least I do not have to worry about them posessing any guns like in Venezuela. But this time I also have not prepared any fake wallet. Whatever is going to happen next, I must make sure that they do not find my wallet. In one moment, I see an opportunity to throw it behind me without them noticing it. "What else do you have?", they ask me after I manage to temporarily get rid of my wallet. "Nothing. I told you I have no phone, and I also have no wallet with me tonight. Check my pockets if you do not believe me." I was hoping that they will not notice the camera under my jacket, but at least the wallet is safe. As they run away with my camera, there is just one thought in my head. "Good that I have made copies of all the pictures before I left!"
Sometimes I have almost found it remarkable that for over five years nothing ever happened to me abroad, considering the fact that I have spent so many nights out alone, often carelessly celebrating in all kinds of places on this planet. But now within one year I got robbed twice. Due to the exceptionally futile situation in Venezuela, I knew that there is a good chance of me getting robbed for the first time, if I underestimate the situation in that country in any moment.
In Rome it was different. Although this famous tourist destination does have a reputation for not being safe at night, the situation in this city can absolutely not be compared to Caracas, Maracay or Merida, where I spent several weeks without anything happening to me, simply because I was prepared accordingly. For the few days that I stayed in Rome there was no time to prepare, and being in a much safer place does of course not necessarily mean that you are always safe. All experience in the world will never make you invincible.
Plan B: The Show Must Go On
As I pick up my wallet and get up from the concrete, I remember that I had another object in my jacket that is essential for a traveler. After checking all my pockets, I realize that this time I am confronted with a problem that I have never faced before. My passport is gone. And in appoximately twentyfour hours I am supposed to take a flight to Cyprus, which is of course not possible without a passport. Tomorrow the German embassy is closed, so there is no chance that I can catch the next flight.
But if there is one lesson that I took from the robbery in Venezuela, it was not to panic, to keep cool and stay focused all the more in such undesirable situations. Right now there is just no time left for complaining about what just happened. Missing a flight for the first time in my life is not too much of a loss, especially because I only paid 10€ for the flight. Come to think of it, I can turn this setback into an opportunity to make this trip even greater than I had originally planned. As I enter a cab, I am trying to come up with a plan. For a moment I remember the words of an uncle of mine in New York in 2010. Being an experienced traveler himself, he said something to me that would become my first commandment of traveling: "Whatever you do, always be flexible." One thing is for sure: Even if I have lost my passport, the trip must continue. The Show must go on.
But how? I begin to picture a map in my head, until I euphorically conclude that there is only one region that makes sense for me to spend New Year's Eve, a place that is very familiar to me, albeit I have never been there in winter. One hard punch in the face has entirely changed the direction of this journey. The pain caused by the cut on my lip intensifies as I begin to smile, but the pain cannot be compared to the pleasure that I feel while thinking about returning to a region that I was actually planning to visit only later next year for the sixth time. The punch in the face has redirected my focus on the Balkans, and it is now clear to me that I am supposed to spend New Year's Eve in the former capital of Yugoslavia.
The Road to Serbia
The next day I do some research and check out the contact details of the German embassy in Rome. Although it is sunday, I manage to reach somebody on an emergency number. The man on the other end puts a lot of effort in helping me. After our conversation I head to a nearby police station to get the necessary documents, while he retrieves further information on how I can get a new passport in the fastest way. Thank God that I have a copy of my stolen passport, otherwise it would have taken much longer to get a new one.
Now the only thing that I need are some passport pictures. But there is just one problem, I remember, as I look in the mirror: The punch in the face was so hard that I now have a huge black eye. Never had a black eye in my life before, but therefore this one looks really bad. Luckily, some sweet Italian women at a Sephora outlet in Termini take care of this and manage to cover my black eye within two minutes, refusing to take any money from me. Experiencing the miracle of Make Up temporarily makes me wonder what all the beautiful girls that I spot in the mall could theoretically look like without any Make Up. Then, after getting some passport pictures, I head to the German embassy, where I receive the new passport much faster than expected. Three hours later my journey to the Balkans begins.
The first bus takes me to Trieste. Here I have to wait till the dawn of a new day to take the next bus. An older Bosnian guy has to wait for his bus till the early morning as well. He cannot speak any English, which is great, because I can now refresh my Bosnian vocabulary. Together we flee from the cold by convincing one of the workers at the train station to allow us to have a rest inside of a train for a while. As a new day begins, I bid farewell to the Bosnian man and enter the next bus, looking forward to my return to the Balkans after the undesirable incident in Rome. But soon things would get much much more problematic.
Das Ziel: Die russisch-ukrainische Grenze überqueren. Das Problem: In den Augen der ukrainischen Soldaten, die uns kontrollieren, gibt es hier keine Grenze. Von Simferopol nach Dnipropetrowsk.
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