When it comes to van life disaster stories, it doesn’t get much worse than van life break ins!
When everything you own is in your home and your home is your car then you stand to lose a lot. Especially if you are traveling in a foreign country far from home. But there is one thing that can turn van life break ins from a disaster story into a true horror story. Being inside the van asleep when an intruder breaks in. Waking up to find a stranger in the van with you has to be up there with one of the worst van life moments during our travels. It happened to us in the dead of night while traveling through Mexico.
Palenque is the closest town to the famous Mayan ruins of the Palenque archeological site and to the waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul. But beyond its proximity to some of Chiapas’ stunning historical and natural attractions the town itself doesn’t have much to recommend it.
A city yet to capitalize on the tourism market that flocks here to explore Chiapas, Palenque has a reputation as a dingy and somewhat dangerous town. In our limited experience, the reputation is warranted.
Arriving in the afternoon, we elected to explore the city on foot to discover the charm we were sure others must have missed. After a couple of laps of downtown, we had to concede there wasn’t much here to attract tourists.
We felt a bit uneasy about camping in the car right in the middle of town and decided to park nearby to the tourist district at the eastern end of the town center.
On a Dark, Dark Street
After an expensive beer in a depressing tourist bar we decided to turn in for the night, excited to leave for the Palenque ruins first thing in the morning.
In a moment of madness, we decided to park and camp in an unlit section of a dark street, around the corner from the small tourist district. When looking for safe places to camp in cities the general rule is the more lighting and visibility, the better. At the time, already feeling uneasy about the city we thought if we were out of sight we might be less likely to attract unwanted attention.
Around midnight, as we were falling asleep to the sound of the rain outside, someone came past the car and tried to open the locked doors. I yelled loudly and jumped out of bed, pulling back the window covers but couldn’t see anyone on the darkened street.
That event should have set off alarm bells and provided the motivation for us to seek out a safer place to camp for the night. But, tired and sleepy, we reasoned that it was just an opportunistic local who had tried and failed to make an easy score. They would have no doubt heard my yells, realized someone was in the car, and wouldn’t return. With that, we fell into an uneasy sleep.
In the pitch-black I awoke to a sound I had never heard before and hope to never hear again. Kelli’s piercing, blood-curdling scream seemed to go on and on.
“What’s happening?”, I mumbled foggily.
“There’s someone… in the car ” Kelli cried, shaking me violently.
“There’s whaaat…” I murmmered rubbing my eyes.
“…and now he’s getting away!” Kelli shreiked.
Drowsy and struggling to find my bearings in the pitch-black, I swung myself out of bed, fumbled for the door handle, wrenched open the door, and jumped out of the car. By the time I found myself on the dark wet street there was no one to be seen.
I clambered back into the car.
“What just happened?” I asked, now fully alert.
“I woke up thinking you were rustling about and asked what you were doing.” Kelli recounted, “But then I realized that you were fast asleep and the rustling was coming from the front seat. I looked up and I could just see the beady eyes of a man looking back at me! He must have only just realised we were in the car at that moment too, because he paused for a minute. That’s when I started screaming and he took off.”
“Poor Kelli”, I whispered to myself stroking her fevered forehead, “she’s had a terrible dream.”
“No I haven’t you fucking idiot! Check the front!”
Sure enough, the lock barrel on our passenger door had been removed and a handful of items the thief had managed to grab in their panic missing.
Thankfully they had only grabbed an old raincoat and a camera lens. We were able to replace the lock barrel some days later in Mérida.
It would be a bit longer before we slept through the night.
Looking for more tales of woe from the van? Check out our other van life horror stories!
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