The first moment of consciousness. Early-morning sun in the Siberian countryside. Staggering and falling on a gravel road.
Staggering, stumbling amid a second moment of consciousness: Fuck, where am I? Ahhh shit man. I’VE BEEN ROBBED!
YEAH, yesterday was surreal, and unnerving.
And today, I remain in Irkutsk, analyzing what little I remember.
I recall going to a street kiosk to eat Shishlick (grilled meat on a skewer). There I had a beer while awaiting my meal, intending to return to the hostel for a quiet movie night.
It was around 10pm, still light in Summer. Busy streets. From the table beside me, a group of students, 4 guys and 3 girls talked to me. Then came their offer of vodka shots.
FLASHBACK to trees and fields, walking – stumbling. “Where the f*ck am I ???%!!!”
And, f*ck, how’d my boots get so wet?
How far have I walked?
Am I dreaming?
Scratched hands and bruises from falling, I realize … I have no memory of waking up.
The first recall is staggering somewhere amid the Siberian countryside. Feeling feeble, unable to walk.
Above my eye, it’s a little banged up.
Checking my internal money-belt – yeah, damn, my cash’s gone.
Feeling bombed. Not that hangover joy.
Euphoric – yes, yet a swirling dizziness and a dull headache blankets my head. But no searing pain. No vomit; so I guess I didn’t drink too much.
Was I drugged ???
Later, a doctor confirmed this back at the hostel.
He said there’s this drug for lowering blood pressure – when mixed with vodka, that knocks you out within 20 minutes. And it wipes the memory.
I was showing these signs as he checked my pulse, suggesting that I drink a lot of coffee – to get back on the planet.
I stagger, stumble, fall. I try hitching. No one stops. There’s too few cars.
I urge myself: “Keep-going”.
Somehow, I’ve walked in the right direction – towards an asphalt road and then a cottage appears. Over a hill, and into concrete block suburbs of what must be Irkutsk.
“Made it! “Elated, I grin.
I must have looked like a madmen. Zoned-out and lost, like never before in my life.
And I frighten the few people I see. Some shout at me, others hurry away when I ask the way to the city.
I walk on.
At a bus stop, a young guy asks me – “What happened?”
Yes, someone speaks English!
Kindly, he pays 100 rubles ($3) for a taxi to take me to the city center. But when I get to the ATM, for more cash to pay the fare, the driver abandons me.
Having walked around Irkutsk a day earlier, I manage to find my way back to the hostel.
The female manager is horrified by my story.
I then crash out.
Later the hostel owner came, along with a doctor, who said this is the kind of thing police know, and do. That two police cadets had been caught robbing a taxi driver the other day.
I’d had a flashback. Big building with wide corridors and uniforms. But I can’t be sure if this was a dream from when I slept before the doctor checked me over. Was I taken from the streets by cops? Searched in a station and dumped out of town? Only my cash and ATM receipts gone.
Losses of $372 US and $300 in rubles stolen. My most expensive travel loss, ever.
But, nothing else.
No organs extracted. No indications of rape.
No, I was *only* drugged, abducted and robbed.
Luckily, they didn’t find my extra hidden stash – another $600.
Surely, street thieves would’ve taken everything – including passport and credit cards?
Travel Tip: To minimize losses, when I go out drinking my money belt remains in a locked backpack in my locked room. And, I only take $30 for an evening (this buys plenty of alcohol in the Developing World). But last night on a quick errand for food, I lost sight of caution.
And so I “woke up”, stumbling in a frenzy realizing that I’d been drugged and robbed and dumped in the countryside of God-knows-f*ckin’-where!
But the damage could have been worse …
ADVICE ON TRAVEL SCAMS: Avoiding drugged drinks + being robbed while traveling
When drinking with strangers, even the seemingly innocent, always follow your gut instinct. Heed the warning. It’s always right.
I turned against that feeling and my assumption of how they drugged me is this: When I went for a pee, one of the guys came with me as we pissed into the bushes behind the food cart (no toilet available). Then we returned – say about 10 meters away but out of sight – to a new round of vodka lined up and ready to go.
Stupidly, I overrode my intuition at this next crucial moment.
For a split-second, I saw a few tiny bubbles – slight fizz from the bottom of my glass. Yet, dismissed it as nothing and tossed it back. That warning must have been the remnants of a dissolving pill.
Had I been aware of drug drinks scams at the time, there would be no story.
Since this experience (back in 2005), I always finish my drink before I go to the toilet. And also, I never accept an opened bottle or fresh drink without seeing the entire process.
Lastly , A NOT-SO CRAZY IDEA: If you return from the toilet and there’s a fresh drink awaiting you with people insisting to down it and you’re feeling happy, not paranoid – otherwise leave, then, switch your drink with the person next to you. Dismissing your actions with a crazy laugh as you take a large gulp. ]
And remember friends: Watch who you drink with – and have one on me!