Punched in the Crotch by a 4 1/2 Foot Tall Woman

Or the Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi

Cerro Rico and the Virgin Mary / La Moneda Museum, Potosi

I was punched in the crotch yesterday by a four and a half foot tall woman here in Potosí. I’m assuming that it wasn’t some sort of Good Friday ritual unique to this south central Bolivian city of 130,000, which is at 4,090m (13,418ft) above sea level, one of the highest cities in the world. Maybe it had to do with the thin air.

Here’s the scene:

Just an innocent snap of Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolivia.
Just an innocent snap of Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolivia.

I was walking southbound on Calle Sucre, attracted by the late afternoon light reflecting off of Cerro Rico, the legendary mountain whose bellyful of silver made Potosí one of largest and richest cities in the world in the mid 17th century.

Its vast riches funded much of the Spanish conquest of the 1600s, but at a barbarically high human cost. Historians estimate that the mountain has claimed the lives of some eight million miners over the years; local lore claims that the souls swallowed by the mountain and trapped in some of the twenty thousand tunnels carved into it continue to rumble and cry.

Despite the numerous mining scars that have bludgeoned the mountain over the past five centuries, it doesn’t require too much imagination to envision its former majesty. That’s what I was attempting to do after I snapped the photo at top when I saw a woman walking in my direction. She carried her short but thick frame with a deliberate pace, her head bent low. As she was about to pass, I smiled.

“Hola,” I said politely.

Her terse reply was as shocking and determined as it was brutal and quick.

The Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi, Bolivia from Piran Cafe
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First came a swift series of short phrases delivered with a raised angry voice in a language I could neither understand nor identify. Then, without breaking stride, she connected with a stiff and furious left jab. The woman, perhaps 65 or 70, was strong.

As you might expect, I was caught entirely off guard. I don’t recall being punched in the crotch since high school, and I had no idea how to react. Do I punch her back? Call the police?

Instead, I just stood there doubled over as she walked away, trying to ignore the spreading spasms of pain, but mostly just hoping that nobody witnessed this smack down at the hand of a great-grandmother wrapped in brightly colored clothes.

The only explanation that makes any sense is that she saw me taking photos, and assumed I had taken one of her. (Now, I wish I had.) Many indigenous in the South American antiplano don’t like their picture snapped without permission. Doing so captures their soul and traps it in places like Cerro Rico’s bottomless belly. I’ve heard stories of people kicked, being yelled at, or having bottles or rocks flung at them.

Add a left jab to the crotch to that list.



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  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

    Wow. what a story! you were surely dumbfounded when that happened. (i had just read your post about the salt flats when this one came through!)

    We will all learn from your lesson!
    May the rest of your time in Bolivia go better!

    1. BobR says

      Thanks – I haven’t let my guard down since. 🙂

  2. travelingaround50 says

    Thank you for warning. Until now I’ve heard only warnings about robbery of cameras that may happen there. May your trip proceeds without any other mishaps!

    1. BobR says

      Thanks, I hope it does too. 🙂

  3. restlessjo says

    You do know how to live, Bob! Never mind- it was worth it for this phenomenal photo.

    1. BobR says

      🙂 Thanks, I’m over it now, but I was keeping a much closer eye on anyone who walked by me yesterday. 🙂

  4. jcalberta says

    Maybe she had just watched a recent episode of “24” (they’re a little behind down there) and figured you wuz a ‘CIA Operative’.
    You aren’t are you?

    1. BobR says

      🙂 Depends who’s asking. 🙂

      1. jcalberta says

        it’s the sunglasses Bob … everybody knows operatives wear those sunglasses.
        guaranteed for a punch in the crotch.
        go for Gilligan look – no one will suspect you.

    2. BobR says

      Depends who’s asking. 🙂

  5. chinamatt says

    This reminds me that I should just stick with photographing nature and architecture and just avoid people.

  6. ilargia64 says

    Yes it is true…Some people believe if you take a pic of them, you take at the same time part of their soul…And therefore, they can die…
    Anyway, the lady was a bit savage, I would say!
    Take care!

    1. BobR says

      Now I just wish that I actually had taken a photo. 🙂

      1. ilargia64 says

        True!!! 🙂 🙂

  7. 1cruzdelsur says

    Bob, I’m glad to see your travel stories. I can tell you that some Aboriginal people have a belief and think that by capturing a photograph of them can happen something with your soul. Do not forget that in this land there as people making in ancient rituals, sometimes kill a chicken and put corn and other things to do evil or good. What things we can not understand, but they do happen. There are also traditional healers and others as in antiquity.
    Be careful and take care friend.

  8. […] the Good Friday assault I decided to spend Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday shooting some of Potosi’s less animate […]

  9. […] Punched in the Crotch by a 4 1/2 Foot Tall Woman, or the Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi (30…. Fairly self-explanatory from the headline. Lesson learned? People like it when I get punched in […]

  10. […] unlike this four-and-a-half foot tall woman in Potosi, Bolivia, none of these people punched me in the crotch, although a few probably wanted […]

  11. […] ft) one of the highest cities in the world, in a previous post. Mercifully I didn’t suffer an assault at the hand of of four-and-a-half foot tall grandmother on this particular […]

  12. […] 6. Punched in the Crotch by a 4 1/2 Foot Tall Woman, or the Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi […]

  13. Hannah says

    Reading that killed me; what a hilarious story! Just goes to show you never know what will happen on the road!

  14. Jennifer says

    That’s so crazy! I’m somewhat put off about going to South America because of all the violence that I keep hearing happens there. I wonder what possessed her to punch you like that?

    1. Bob R says

      Like I said, the only thing that makes any sense is that she thought I had taken a picture of her. After being punched, I wish I had. 🙂

  15. noelmorata says

    Um, well that was a unique experience, but the write up was excellent and you grab me right away with your headline so that was fun to read through and you delivered a wonderful story!

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks – I’m over it now but it did take me a few days to gather up the courage to point a camera towards a human being. 🙂

  16. Maria Falvey says

    Glad to read you came away from the smack down at the hand of a great-grandmother relatively unscathed… your pride might still sting but what an amazing story you ended up with and a unique travel tip.

    1. Bob R says

      I’m pretty much over it. The funniest thing is that even though I didn’t actually take a photo of her, I can still vividly see her angry face.

  17. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs says

    That is for being in a wrong place in a wrong time…. and even I know that many people do not like and do not wish to have pictures taken of them, still find it quiet brutal reaction….

    1. Bob R says

      I did too. 🙂

  18. antonette says

    sorry can’t help but laughing a bit eventhough I am sure it was really painful. I understand why people don’t want their picture taken but this seems a bit of a dramatic action…

    1. Bob R says

      Maybe she was just mad because I said hello. 🙂

  19. tammyonthemove says

    Ha ha, you poor thing. I better be careful when I go to Potosi soon, as I like taking photos too. 😉

    1. Bob R says

      Make sure you check out the Moneda museum. That city has an amazing history.

  20. Mary Calculated Traveller says

    Hilarious story and definitely something you will not ever forget!

    1. Bob R says

      Probably not. 🙂

  21. Sam @Travelling King says

    “art” is pain right – although whoever said that probabaly wasnt thinking about being hit in the crouch by a granny!!
    Great photo though!

  22. Mary @ Green Global Travel says

    Ouch! This is a very amusing story. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  23. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey says

    Baaahahahahahaaa – sorry is it bad that I am laughing? If so sorry, if not….bahahahahahaha. You poor thing – the things you do for art hey!

    1. Bob R says

      Laughter is never something to feel sorry for. 🙂

  24. Frank says

    Great pic though and you’ll always have that memory!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Bob R says

      Definitely not one I’ll soon forget. 🙂

  25. […] given a second life by StumbleUpon and Twitter to become the fifth most read post from last month: Punched in the Crotch by a 4 1/2 Foot Tall Woman, or the Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi. Again, no further explanation […]

  26. […] Previous posts and pics from Potosi are here. If you can only check out one, pick this one: Punched in the Crotch by a 4 1/2 Foot Tall Woman, or the Dangers of Street Photography in Potosi. […]

  27. Surya Bhattacharya says

    Haha 😀 I’m sorry, but that was hilarious 😛 Particularly your confusion on how to respond. I would have been the same. How can I hit back an old grandma?? Must have been worse in your case, cause along with age, you’d also be hitting a little old lady XD

  28. Mindi @ 2foodtrippers says

    We had a different but similar experience in Lyon France, though no crotch punch was involved. Some people do NOT like having their photo taken or even the possibility of it.

  29. […] that range from world-class sporting events to the dangers of street photography.   SURVIVING A STREET ASSAULT IN POTOSI or THE DANGERS OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY  The posts are great, but the stories in person are even better!  (Thanks, […]

  30. Adrian Krucker says

    Hi Bob! And also @Mindi … Sometimes things happen out of nowhere … Once I was taking a picture of an old house that was going to be torn down. I was actually finished, when I notice a man starting to throw rocks at me. It was clear that he was a inhabitant of a nearby camp for people seeking asylum in Switzerland. I was quite surprised because he wasn’t in the picture and I was packing up … still it was enough for him to throw rocks. He probably had some bad issues being photographed in his country of origin, I guess.

    1. Bob R says

      Asylum seekers and migrants generally don’t like their photos taken for a host of reasons, so could be what was happening in this case. I hope he didn’t connect on too many throws. 🙂

  31. Judy says

    That is a hilarious story. A new take on the war against photographers. But I understand that thinking your picture has been taken without permission is not always a happy thing. Her feisty determination is kinda cute tho!

  32. Anon says

    Hey wow how to live up to the image of an insensitive photographer! Kudos on that. I include most of the comments in that assessment as well. Talk about a bunch of people with massively insensitive and self-centered concepts of the world. How about trying to act with some sense of respect for the people you photograph?

    1. Bob R says

      Hi and hey wow, I can appreciate your view towards insensitivity and self-centeredness but I’m not sure how it applies here. If you read the post you’d have read that I was NOT taking a photo of the woman who punched me.

      Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

  33. thehutownerblog says

    that was a great piece of information! a permission is a passport to safe picture taking…!

  34. thehutownerblog says

    even if she was not the subject, a permission to photograph the scene was still a respectful job of a foreigner like you! there’s always a next time! LOL! 🙂

  35. CoachMelanie_ says

    I probably shouldn’t have laughed at this but….I couldn’t help myself! This is hilarious! Not your pain, obviously, just the surprise at such an odd reaction from a little old lady. You weren’t taking a picture of her but even if you were, her response was totally out of line, HOWEVER….how ballsy was that?? lol No pun intended…but, to just give a surprise crotch shot to a complete stranger, that takes quite a bit of moxie. It’s odd, I feel like she should be admonished yet also given a high five. Ah, well…at least you hobbled away with a good story to tell 🙂

    1. Bob R says

      No worries, glad it put a smile on your face. Indeed, a story I’ll never forget. 🙂

  36. Photobooth Journal says

    Hi Bob
    Funny story and I can just imagine that happening. I spent a few days in Potosi in 1989. My travelling companion and I went down a silver mine, as tourists do.

    Whilst there, we were accosted (verbally) by a young man who made to approach us, when out of nowhere came an old woman with a broom raised over her head. She proceeded to belt the living daylights out of him, while yelling in what we presumed to be a native indian language. We were so shocked we didn’t even stop to thank her, if thanks were indeed what she meritted!

    I love your blog but don’t often get past the WordPress reader in order to comment. I envy your travelling and hope it is as much a joy to you as my adventures were to me.

    Very best wishes

    1. Bob R says

      Hi Kate – That is a great story. It appeared to me quite vividly as I read it –and I pictured the woman who punched me waving the broom around. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by, it’s VERY much appreciated.

  37. Jess says


    Love your writing style!

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