Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Near Death Part II

Alrighty folks the time has come to tell you easily the craziest story of my adventure abroad.  First, let me apologize for being down and out on this site.  As most of you know though, the end of the semester is always a crazy time and doing group projects, presentations, and tests in Portuguese only added to the intensity.  Add in some traveling here and there, and you can see why the blog had to take a back seat until now.

So....nevertheless, the tell all tale of my near death experience Part II!

I say Part II because most of you know that three years ago, I was involved in a very tragic car accident that left me seriously injured and unable to walk for a good 6 months.  So, I consider that Part I.  Let's just hope that Part III doesn't come anytime soon!

First things first, I will admit that just nothing seemed to be going right my first time off Brazilian land since July.  A friend and I decided that a weekend getaway to the highly regarded Buenos Aires, Argentina would be the perfect way to get away from the madness in Sao Paulo...and boy were we wrong!  MADNESS is quite frankly the only way to describe the trip.

You could say that our first "loss" occurred before we even got into Argentina.  We were held on Brazilian land because we didn't have the proper Argentinian documentation.  We were one of the few people that purchased our tickets to ARG before the country decided to institute a new $160USD visa fee to enter the country...so we had to run around the airport and find a computer and printer to pay the visa fee before we could board the plane.

We arrived timely, but were very unimpressed with Buenos Aires at the time.  Argentina has been experiencing a boatload of unrest in the public sector and the tension between the government and citizenry has been high.  This meant we were welcomed by a city that's garbage services had been on strike for a bit...which made for a very smelly welcoming and lots and lots of trash in the street.  The government also put a block on the US dollar so there were tons of people in the streets trying to schmooze us over to change our dollars to pesos.  The normal rate was about 4.7:1 but if you paid in cash or exchanged your dollars...you could find anything from 6-6.5:1.  This would have been a great advantage for my shopping, but yours truly has been in Brazil too long to have had dollars on him.  Nevertheless, we managed to overlook the filth and headed down the streets to do some shopping and stopped often for brilliant Argentinian wine and lots of steak before hitting up a live Tango show with some awesome Canadians we met.  It was quite simply, a man's dream!

During our strolls on the overwhelmingly European style streets (impressive architecture, super wide avenues), we ventured across a few advertisements promoting the soccer game between Argentina and Brazil that would be played the next day.  This was an absolute MUST for us.  Argentina x Brazil is easily one of the most storied rivalries between countries around the world.  In fact, Argentina and Brazil themselves are almost synonymous with the word "futebol" and thus, this would be an incredible cultural experience in addition to being a fun one.  The game was at night in the world famous "La Boca" stadium in the heart of an Argentinian slum just west of the main city.  We spent the afternoon in the upscale water port called "Puerto Madero" and followed that up with the very colorful "Caminito" area close to the stadium for some outdoor tango and empanadas before heading to the stadium.  Game time set at 9 PM.  Pictures of BA, ARG here!

We made our way to the game to sit with our fellow Brazilians.  We attempted to learn some of the chants but didn't really succeed.  The visitors sat in this caged in area so that opposing fan bases are separated. The section was lined with SWAT style police officers...which was only a foreshadowing of what would ensue later on in the night.

The game itself was brilliant.  This was the second game of a two game series between Brazil and Argentina.  Brazil won the first game 2x1 in Brazil but the champion would be based on goals, not wins.  This explained our confusion when this game ended, as Argentina pulled out a nail biter 2x1 with all three goals coming in the last few minutes of the game.  Despite the celebration, it went into penalty kicks to decide the series winner and that's where Brazil locked up the overall victory as we watched Neymar kick the winning penalty kick and cheered like crazy with our Brazilian comrades!

That was really the last joyous moment we had in Buenos Aires.  We stayed caged up in the stadium for about 45 minutes after the game until all the Argentina fans left and only then, we began our descent down the stadium steps onto the street.  We were only trying to make it a few blocks to the main avenue so that we could grab a taxi.  The street was lined with vendors and police officers and lots of people leaving the game, so we felt pretty safe although it was in a rough area...but we learned our lesson...at no time are you 100% safe.

We were making good progress when ahead of our group we could see a man rushing over to one of the police officers.  He was trying to get their attention to something ahead in the street (we couldn't really tell what it was at that point), but the officer was escorting one of the team buses so he didn't stop.  There didn't seem to be any commotion so we kept ahead until we got to the intersection where we took a left.  It was at that point in time, when a sudden feeling of panic set out over the hundreds of people walking.  People started hurrying left, lightly shoving each other to get a clear path to run and that's when I heard the first blood curdling scream.  I looked immediately across my right shoulder and my eyes affixed themselves to a gleaming 10 inch pointed military style shankers knife held up above some crazy man's head, ready to pierce the skin of his nearest target.

No sooner do I finally comprehend what I'm witnessing, he comes behind a bystander and thrashes the knife up through his gut, under his chest plate, and through his heart.  And at this point in time, the whole situation is sinking in....I'm telling myself....

"Holy shit!" That's a big knife (pardon my french but that's what I said!)
"Holy shit...he's stabbing people with it...!"
"Holy shit...he's looking at me and my friend now!!!"
"Holy shit...I have to run!!!!!!"

As he finished off his first victim, he ripped out the knife and laid his eyes directly on me and my friend (as we were at the back of the group walking).  It was at this point in time, that I knew I was about to run for my life.  He raised the knife and began to chase after us...

I was having trouble seeing as I wore my contacts to the game and they were severely dried out, plus it was dark outside.  I tried to grab my friend's arm to hurry him along but as I did, he was already gone and I realized at this point that it was every man for himself in this chase of life or death.  I began to sprint and soon it dawned on me that I should be expecting gun shots...thinking that surely this man was not operating alone.  I contemplated diving into a dumpster on my right or under a construction truck on the road but before I could think about it lucidly, I ran into a wall on my left on the sidewalk.  I slowed down and expected to feel cold metal tearing my skin apart as I knew I wasn't going fast enough at this point.  I regained my footing only to trip once again on the uneven sidewalk and dove into the street, rolling a few times.  I thought I was a goner.  As I tried to get up, I darted left trying to dodge what I thought was an expected swing when I hit a child who was being shuffled into his home by his brother and mother.  They looked at me trying to shut their door quickly as I gasped in Spanish, "LET ME IN!!!"  The mother and brother grabbed my two arms and pulled me into their wood paneled home and slammed the door behind me.  A sudden and modest sense of relief came over me as I knew that they may have saved my life.  They told me to duck and stay on the floor with the grandfather and baby as they waited to see if the police had arrived.  I hugged the dirt floor, breathing in dust as I tried to gain my thoughts.  They asked me if I was alone, which is when a sudden panic yet again hit me...realizing that I was now split up from my friend (who doesn't speak Spanish) in an Argentinian slum with a knifing murderer chasing after us both.  If I survived, I thought certainly that he didn't.  The family began to ask me questions and I muttered back nervous responses in Spanish, Portuguese, and English and even mixed in some Greek prayers.  My anxiety permeated the home and clear confusion across languages did nothing to help...so they ushered me off to the street to brave it on my own as they no longer wanted me in their home.

Thankfully, police lights illuminated the dark and eerie street and I had nothing to do but wander the few blocks nearby in search of my friend, of whom I thought I might never see again.  But much to God's grace, it only took me a good 10 minutes to cross his path in a fire station shelter just one block from where I was hiding and the reunion shed palpable relief from both of us that we were, indeed, alive.  We hustled over to the officers who were sheltering many others who were tattered and bruised from falls as ambulances took the primary victims to local hospitals.  Buses full of SWOT team police lined the streets and escorted us to the main avenue shortly thereafter.  Hundreds of terrified fans remained with us throughout the night.

Not one police report was taken.  You can read this article and imagine why.

After a rough hour of reliving the tale for each other...complete shock burdened the rest of our trip and our Thanksgiving (no turkey on this side of the world, so we settled for filet mignon).  The mad man actually chased after my friend in the street as he split off right from where I was for a good block.  Just a few steps behind, his adrenaline rush and tied Nike sneakers undoubtedly saved his life.  We are also very lucky that he had a knife instead of a gun, for if he did, I'm certain that I wouldn't be living to tell this tale.

The rest of our time in Buenos Aires was purely spent reliving how close we were to calling our young lives a done story...and the city in return, robbed us of all enjoyment.

When we landed back in Sao Paulo (the alleged "dangerous" city of South America), we had never felt so happy.  Happiness is relative though, because when it comes to crime in South America...it's not a matter of "if" it happens to you...only a matter of "when".


  1. Kyle, that is a terrifying experience ... thank goodness you and your friend were able to escape. Sending all my best to you!

  2. How awful! What presence of mind you had! Thank God you are OK!

  3. This is just madness. I can't believe this happened! See you soon in wonderful (and hopefully safe?) Brazil!