The Minuses of Travel
How do you get under the skin of a city? Some would suggest spending time with locals, or perhaps drinking your way around the bars. Me? I go to football matches.

In Buenos Aires there are two decent choices; River Plate, based in middle class suburbia, or Boca Juniors, Maradona’s alma mater, down by the docks. The district of La Boca is what guidebooks call a ‘tough’ neighbourhood. It has one camera friendly tourist street full of brightly painted buildings and smartly dressed tango dancers. Behind the fa’ade lies a down at heel district, paint peeling from the shutters, an area where Lonely Planet advises ‘vigilance’.

The football ground sits in urban wasteland, an area of rusty cranes and abandoned cars. I walked around the stadium to the ticket office with two female friends. We passed a teenage boy sitting on a bike, otherwise the streets were empty. He rode away as we passed, his squeaky wheels in need of oil. Besides the ticket booth we stopped to sort out cash. Argentine football is incredibly cheap, about ‘4 a ticket. We pooled our pesos and I turned towards the ticket window. A hand written sign said ‘Cerrado’ (closed).

A familiar squeaky noise came from behind and I felt my arm pushed up into a half-nelson. I looked down to see a large kitchen knife held against my throat. A voice close to my ear hissed “Dinero! Dinero!” (“Money! Money!”), and flexed the knife threateningly. My wallet was in my hand, so I pulled the money out and threw the wallet to the ground. The girls did the same. The kid was screaming, “Todo! Todo!” (“All! All!”) adding pressure to the blade. We emptied our pockets of change. In one movement he withdrew the knife, snatched the cash from my hand and pushed me hard. He must have pocketed about ’30 from us. Not peanuts, but below the value of my neck. He pedalled hard on his squeaky bike, looked back once and accelerated away.

My limbs were a little wobbly and I clumsily stabbed a cigarette into my mouth, lighting it at the fourth attempt. We sat down on a wall. The knife had cut through my St Christopher chain. Patron Saint of Travellers, my arse. Back at the hostel, backpackers crowded round to hear our tale. We tried to add a philosophical spin, the kids are desperate / he needed the money more than us. At the same time we considered plenty of what ifs. Why didn’t I try some Matrix moves? What if one of the girls had kicked him in the bollocks? All these theories were academic and most would likely have left me in two bits.

Three years later on I can still picture the boy’s bike (a Grifter no less!). I still have nightmares (the latest – last night), always in the same form; I’m walking down a street and someone jumps me from behind. I think part of the problem lies in never seeing the boy’s face. In my dreams the attacker is always cloaked in shadows. I try to shout and the only person who hears is my girlfriend. She reminds me I’m home, in bed, and the baddies can’t get me.