Lost in BoaVista

by Patrick Carpen

Based on a true story…

The Brazilian city of Boa Vista is located about 2 hours’ drive from the Guyanese border city of Lethem in Region 9 of Guyana, South America. To get to Boa Vista from Lethem, one simply has to cross the Takutu River Bridge and enter the border town of Bonfim, Brazil. From there, it’s a straight drive. If you’re not driving your own vehicle, you have the option of taking a taxi or bus.

In my case, I was taking the big bus – which was a very comfortable, laid back ride. And what’s more, I could recline the seat backward and sleep all the way to Boa Vista. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Not so fast. Let me first admire those beautiful landscapes, mountains and cloud formations that eternally offer up a glorious spectacle when one travels the road from Bonfim to Boa Vista. After that, I can take a nap and wake up at my destination – which was the bus station in Boa Vista, Brazil.

It was the year 2017, and I was living in the border town of Lethem in Region 9 of Guyana, South America. I was traveling to Boa Vista on a business trip. What exactly was this business? Well, let’s just summarize it by saying to that I was going to purchase a large quantity of Brazilian colognes for exportation to Georgetown, Guyana. I was going to purchase it from one of Brazil’s biggest perfume companies – Hinode. You must have heard of it. If not, no problem.

Traveling with the equivalent of 4000 USD from Lethem to Boa Vista was no ordinary task. You risked getting robbed along the way. But of course, I kept the money in my backpack and acted so casually that no one would have imagined that I had it.

Upon arriving at Boa Vista, I took a taxi from the bus station to a hotel in the center of the city. Yes, this time I wasn’t content to simply stay at the “Three Nations” hotel near to the bus station; I wanted to see something new – something better.

The taxi dropped me off at the five star hotel called “Hotel Ferari” in the center of Boa Vista and it was a new feeling altogether. It was more expensive but definitely worth it. I checked in to a luxury room. Then, I took out all the money from my backpack and stuffed it under the mattress. It was then 7 PM. It was time to go for a walk.

I wanted to go to the beautiful water park which I had had a few glimpses of and longed to return to. Oh, the beautiful water park with its beautifully hued fountains and flashing light – alive with the footsteps and laugher of peope. But as I closed the door, a thought crossed my mind: is it really safe to leave the money under the bed? What if, for some strange reason, the hotel staff needed to enter my room? And what if, by some unlikelihood, they happened to lift up the mattress and see all that money. Would they leave it there out of good policy and act as if they saw nothing? Whatever the outcome may be, it wasn’t worth the risk. So I bundled the money neatly, stuffed in into my left pocket and walked out of room. I closed the door and headed to the water park.

It was a usually beautiful night at the water park. I took photos and had dinner at the restaurant nearby. By ten o clock, I headed back to the hotel. I followed the same road and walked for about 15 minutes. But wait a minute! Where was I? I could not find the hotel. I had taken a wrong turn!

I looked around. The nigh was pitch black except from the artificial street lamps which cast dark shadows in spooky corners. I looked around. I saw gangs of Venezuelan refugees on every corner. At that time, the Venezuelan crisis was at its boiling point and thousands of Venezuelan refugees had fled to Boav Vista – taking up residence in the streets and along the side walks.

Just then, memories of the media reporting murders and robberies in Boa Vista flashed through my mind. I had heard so many stories of robberies and murders committed by Venezuelan vagrants in Boa Vista that a sudden fear gripped me. Aside from these refugees, there was no one else on the road. All gates were shut. I tried calling at one but no one answered. I walked into the nearby street and tried stopping a passing car to ask for help, but it didn’t budge.

Why were people so selfish? Three more cars passed and I tried to wave them down, but no luck. Can’t these people see that my life is in imminent danger an I’m trying to get help? I considered standing in the middle of the road and commanding the next vehicle to stop, but I feared it might run me over. Perhaps they feared that I might robb them. Or if they stopped, a gang might come out of hiding and attack the car. Or worse, the driver may think I’m a ghost and drive straight through me. The fear was very real – and it was building up in me.

It was only a matter a time until these Venezuelan refugee “gangs” noticed that I’m stranded. Then they would approach me. And noticing that I’m a foreigner, they would likely attack me. Yes, they would probably search me for money…and then…who knows what…! With no weapon, could I really singelhandedly defend myself against an armed gang of 15 thugs? And if I did, the results would be catastrophic nevertheless. Even if I gave up the money and escaped with my life – it would have been a terrible financial disaster – and one I simply couldn’t afford.

I looked around. I couldn’t recognize the street I was in. All I could remember was that my hotel was opposite the Assembly of God church in Boa Vista.

Now at my wits’ end, my mind hatched a plan. I limped over to a group of men at the side of the road. “Tem comida?”* I said softly and faintly?

“Nao,” they responded.

“Por favor. Me dar comida! Estou com fome. Nao comer en 2 dias!”*

They men looked at each other. They seemed to feel sorry for me. They tried to explain that they had no food until the next morning.

I sat down and pretended to be crying. Then I got up, walked over to one of of the youths and said, “cade e a igreja Assemblei de Deus?”

He pointed in the direction of the Assembly of God church, but I couldn’t see it.

“Por favor, me diricione!” I exclaimed in anguish and desperration..

The man then took me around the corner and pointed me to the Assembly of God Church. It was actually right around the corner, but being new to the city, I was disoriented and took the wrong turn.

“Gracias,” I said, as I parted company with the Venezuelan Refugee as he walked away. As he disappeared around the corner, I walked into my hotel.

*tem comida – do you have food?

**”Por favor. Me dar comida! Estou com fome. Nao comer en 2 dias!” = Please give me food! I didn’t eat in two days!

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