Crime exists everywhere in the world. It does not matter where we live we still have to be careful, watchful and vigilant. We have to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and family against theft and other crimes. We become targets of crime by flaunting what we have, sharing information about our finances, and not taking necessary precautions to protect our home and valuables—many people are just too trusting. We also become victims of crime by hanging out with the wrong crowd or in the wrong places. Bars and night clubs are frequently targeted for crimes of all kinds because people are more unaware and vulnerable.
To stay personally safe and prevent our things from being stolen we need to be aware of our surroundings, and be due diligent about a few things, especially in the city we live in. Every city has its areas that may not be that great. We have heard that here in Cuenca around the rivers at night and in some of the parks are the areas that the locals say you should be more careful, especially at night.
So far, we have not had any problems of petty crime. We have had a few minor incidences occur though. Once when we were walking down the street by Feira Libre market our oldest son was suddenly grabbed by a drunk. Brandon simply pushed him gently away from him and we continued walking. It bothered me a little but Brandon simply shrugged it off.
And another time we were sitting on a bench in the main square downtown with our backpacks beside us and three suspicious looking young guys were eyeing our packs. We noticed they were eyeing our packs and we just held onto the straps and kept them close to us, just like we always do. After the three dudes walked passed, an Ecuadorian family walked by and the wife looked right at us and said with her lips “watch your bags” and pointed at our backpacks. She must have heard the three guys talking about us and our backpacks. After awhile the three guys left the park.
(BTW, none of us ever carry anything valuable in our packs but an old, cheapy looking cell phone. The backpacks are for when we go grocery shopping, it’s much easier to carry the groceries on your back than in your arms, especially when you’re walking.)
We think it is quite safe downtown Cuenca during the day. There are small children and young women walking alone, there are families out and about and it is very safe feeling. But beware, there are drunks. The best way to not have interaction with them is to not look at them when they walk by. Often times they will beg for money so they can buy more booze. Drunkenness is apparently not illegal in public here. Just ignore them and look away when you see a drunk person. You will be able to tell because they are always staggering. There are AA meetings here. We have seen two locations so far in Ceunca. It seems that alcoholism may be a problem here.
We think that if the Cuecanos seem to feel safe walking downtown with their families then you know it is pretty safe. Still, just like anywhere you need to be aware of what’s going on around you—be alert. This way you will notice if a group of thugs are eyeing out your stuff. FYI, I’ve also read that the thieves work in groups. One will divert you while the other(s) will steal your stuff while you’re busy being distracted by the diverter.
How to Stay Safe and Keep Your Valuables from Being Stolen
Nine times out of ten we cause our valuables to get taken by making it easy for thieves to take our things. When carrying a backpack on your back you wouldn’t put your cell phone in an outside pouch for would-be thieves to simply nab from you, just like you wouldn’t keep your purse hanging from a chair in a restaurant when you go out to eat, right?
Actually some people do these things and then they get their stuff taken all the time, even in the United States. Many of us simply believe it won’t happen to us. Ironically crime happens to the people who think it won’t happen to them…they do not take the necessary precautions.
Blending In Makes it Harder to be a Target
Another reason why you hear stories about gringos having their things taken is because they flaunt their gringoness. They stick out of a crowd like a sore thumb. In other words they talk different, they dress different, they eat in different places, and some of them drink too much and become vulnerable to being a victim to petty crime here in Cuenca. Some of us, no matter how hard we try are always going to look like a gringo, but we can learn to blend in better by integrating with the culture, learning Spanish, and not wearing clothes that make us stand out, and making friends with local Ecuadorians.
We have wonderful Ecuadorian neighbors who let us know if something doesn’t seem right going on in our neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago our Ecuadorian neighbors two German Sheppard’s got loose, and for some reason they thought they were taken and poisoned. Anyway, they came over to let us know what was going on and to make sure we were taking necessary precautions to stay safe since their dogs were not there to bark at would-be prowlers.
You see their dogs also protect our home. Funny thing is, several hours later the dogs came back and the neighbors came back over and let us know they made a mistake. We couldn’t thank them enough for taking the time to let us know what was going on. This tells us we have good neighbors that watch out for each other, and many times that is the best protection against thievery. BTW, we are the only gringos in this neighborhood and we feel pretty safe where we live.
Tourists and Foreign Residents are the Targets of Crime
According to Cuenca police, tourists and foreign residents are the targets of most petty crime that happens in Cuenca. Retired criminology professor and part-time Cuenca resident Martin Simmons says, “I'm hearing about more and more crime against foreigners and my friends in law enforcement say much of it is because they don't protect themselves."
For the record, says Simmons, Cuenca is safer than almost any city its size in the U.S. if you are considering serious crime and crime involving violence. “If you look at crime statistics, Ecuador has about 30% as many cases, per capita, of murder and aggravated assault. The rate is even lower in Cuenca. So you are statistically safer here from serious harm than in other places.”
Here is our Don’ts for Staying Safe in Cuenca
•Don’t go out alone at night (we have made it a rule to use the buddy system)
•Don’t ride the bus after 6pm (we ALWAYS take a taxi if we are out after 6pm)
•Don’t flaunt your jewelry and valuables
•Don’t drink too much
•Don’t flash your money
•Don’t let your gringo wife walk anywhere by herself
•Don’t expose all of the things in your bags in public view
•Don’t carry your passport with you. (we all carry notarized copies of our passports)
•Don’t act like a bumbling lost gringo; you make yourself vulnerable when you do
•Don’t use ATM’s on the streets, especially at night. Use the ATM’s inside the banks or shopping malls
•Don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket
•Don’t carry a purse around the city with you
Here is our Do’s for Staying Safe in Cuenca
•Do try and blend in with the culture as much as possible (they don’t wear short-shorts or Hawaiian shirts here. You can dress like that if you want, but you will look REALLY touristy and gringoish)
•Do watch your bags and backpacks closely; when in a restaurant or Internet café keep the strap tied around your wrist or leg. Never leave your bags unattended
•Do set the alarm in your home when you leave and make sure gate is locked
•Do keep your gate shut and locked at all times, even when you’re home. Most homes have a buzzer and when people need to speak with you they buzz you and it rings a phone in your home. This way you can actually talk to them and look out the window and see if it is someone you should open the gate to
•Do make friends with your Ecuadorian neighbors because they will report anything suspicious in your neighborhood
•Do go to Feira Libra with a buddy during the day even if other gringos tell you it is not safe (we go to Feira Libre once a week, sometimes twice a week and never ever had a problem or noticed anything shifty)
•Do try and learn Spanish
•Do take the bus once in awhile (if we do not walk we usually take the bus, maybe we’ll see you on there) It’s an experience that you will not want to miss, sometimes there is free entertainment. The bus can get crowded at times and that’s when to watch your wallet and packs.
•Do watch for an up-coming video on us taking the bus in Cuenca
These do’s and don’ts are certainly not exhaustive. We will probably add to the list as circumstances permit. The bottom line is although you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times; it certainly does not mean you can’t enjoy your stay, visit, or life in Cuenca. Don’t let some of the petty crime publicity make you fearful to take the bus, or to walk outside of your gated community, or make friends with the local people because then you’re not really enjoying all that Cuenca has to offer. Remember the buddy system, be cautious and enjoy your time here.
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