I went to sleep in a medical centre and woke up in a police station

I have so many friends and relatives to stay with in Buenos Aires that there’s no need to sleep outside. But sometimes all that socialising is a bit too much for me, especially coming from my more relaxed lifestyle in England where I have plenty of time and space to myself. My relatives warned me that Buenos Aires is very dangerous by night so I shouldn’t sleep outside.

One day I went to an area called Bernal, where my grandfather grew up, to use the library there. Since the 90’s the government stopped funding it but it has continued as a charity, only just scraping by each year. It has a spacious reading room with free wireless internet.

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When it closed I discovered that they leave the wireless router on all night and I could sit in the square opposite and still get a good signal. Later I continued working in a gelaterie that also has wifi. Such was my concentration that I didn’t watch the time and discovered that gelateries in Buenos Aires don’t seem to have any closing time on a Saturday night. It was now 01:00, far too late to turn up at my elderly granny’s house, and nobody else was expecting me.

No worries, I thought, I’ve got my bivvy bag with me, I’ll have a scout around for a place to sleep; it would be great to see if I can get away with it in Buenos Aires.

The area seemed quite civilised, with lots of people sitting at tables outside bars and cafés enjoying the warm summer evening, and well-groomed couples strolling by. I was nervous after all the warnings from the locals but I was further reassured by a police station, so I found a good place to make my bed opposite.

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I climbed over the railings and lifted my bike over to lock it inside. It was a medical centre which I assumed would be closed on a Sunday morning, so I rolled out my bivvy bag and mat behind a bush. It was dark, a few people strolled past but no one noticed me. It was warm enough to do without the bivvy bag but I got inside because of the mosquitoes, and covered my face completely with my black shirt, through which I was able to breathe without difficulty.

I slept extremely well and nobody disturbed me. Nobody that is, until 09:00 when I received a smart kick in the stomach. In a flash I pulled the shirt off my face and looked at the heavy boot, then looked up at it’s owner, one of two very stern looking police officers.

“Wake up!” he said. “Come on!”

“Oh, good morning…” I rubbed my eyes.

“I said get up! Put your hands on the wall.”

“Whah… what did I do?” I asked, as he patted my pockets for weapons.

“You’re trespassing. Put your hands behind your back.” He handcuffed me.

“I’m… I’m sorry officer… I was only sleeping…”

“Sleeping eh? Come with us, you’ll get plenty of sleep where we’re going…”

He pushed me around like a criminal towards the police station across the road. I felt a bit of adrenaline, because I knew that the police can get up to all sorts in Argentina, and as I walked away from my bike, bed and the rest of my stuff I accepted that I might not see them again. But I wasn’t really scared, I didn’t think the police would have any reason to hurt a rough sleeper.

At the police station I was ordered to take my belt and laces off, I think this is mandatory in case a prisoner decides to hang himself. But my belt was part of the trousers I bought it with, so I said “it doesn’t come off.” “Yes it does,” said the stern policeman, as he cut it in half with a knife and threw it on the floor.

A young policewoman came in with some note paper . She asked:

“What was he doing there? Has he stolen anything?”

“Not as far as we’re aware,” replied the officer who had arrested me, emptying the contents of my backpack onto the table. My vitamin pills fell out. “Are you taking drugs?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “They’re multivitamin pills.

“Hmmm…” said the policewoman, and proceeded to interview me. “Name. Date of Birth. Address… tell me your address?!”

I explained that I was a piano tuner from London but that I was visiting my granny in Argentina and I had only climbed over the railings to get a good night’s sleep.

“What? Then why on Earth did you decide to trespass opposite a police station?”

“Well,” I replied, “I felt more secure there. You know, with all the crime in the area, I felt reassured that you guys were just opposite.”

“More secure, eh? Come with us, now you’re going to feel really secure.” They pushed me out to a yard and into a big cage, locking it with a key and two padlocks. “See you in a couple of hours,” they said, and disappeared back into their offices.

This’ll be one for the blog, I thought, as I was finally able to grin and chuckle away to myself. Oh well, I’ve lost the few possessions I have in this world, but when I get out I’ll just walk to a friend’s house and start over. At least I had had the sense to stash my passport and some cash at my granny’s house.

I can appreciate that my story must have been difficult to believe for the Argentine police. A piano tuner from England, who speaks perfect Spanish with a Buenos Aires accent, and is visiting his granny who lives down the road, but has climbed into a private property to get some sleep! I can also appreciate the rough treatment, with so many armed criminals running riot and breaking into properties left right and centre, they need to show every suspect who’s boss.

While I was locked in the cage the police had found my smartphone and were browsing through the photographs I had taken, both in England and Argentina. They also had my Argentine national ID which shows that I was born in the UK. This was enough to convince them. The station chief and the policewoman came out to smoke, and practise English with me.

They came out several times for a break and some casual conversation, and soon upgraded my prison status by giving me a chair to sit on. Apart from that it was just a concrete floor outdoors, enclosed by one of two green cages, and a wall on one side with a door to the indoors cells that looked like dungeons. I was glad they had kept me outdoors. There was a drain in between the two cages so that one could pee out the side of the cage. There were no other prisoners. When they left me alone I took advantage of all the different angles of the iron bars to do some exercise and I got a full body workout.

“Are you bored?” asked the young policewoman when she came back.

“No,” I said, “I’ve never been bored in my life. I’ve got plenty to think about.”

“Never been bored eh? Well then, young trespassing piano tuner, tell me more about your interesting life…”

I did my best to charm her. After several hours of intermittent conversation, the sun grew hot and she let me out.

“We’re not going to record any crime,” she said. Check all your stuff, nothing’s missing, it’s all there. You just need to sign here, and here.”

I checked, and not one peso was missing. Everything was just as I had left it, including my bike, because they had found the key in my wallet and bought it to the station.

“Thank you,” I said, “I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

“No, it’s nothing,” she replied with a shy smile, “can I… can I have your number?”

She took my details, and we arranged to meet for a hot date.

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All in all I’m pleased with the experience. I’ve learned that trespassing is taken more seriously in this country, but that not all police are as bad as they’re made out to be. My mistake was to oversleep – somebody unlocked the gate at 09:00 and got a shock when they saw my big black figure lying on the ground, so naturally they went across the road to the police station. In England the chill usually wakes me up early, but it’s so warm here that I carried on sleeping as if I was snug in a big bed with loads of thick blankets. Had I set an alarm for 08:00 I would have left without a trace and none of this would have happened.

50 thoughts on “I went to sleep in a medical centre and woke up in a police station

  1. I hope u’ll try to travel to hochiminh city vietnam once. It’s a beautifull country. Then, i would like to be your host

    • We fixed a date for that Saturday night, but on Thursday she wrote me saying that she had been involved in a motoring accident, ironically with a car driven by another police officer, and she was now in hospital recovering from whiplash.

      It was not too serious, but she was not in a condition to enjoy the kind of date she wanted, she said, and unfortunately by the time she had recovered I was cycling around another province =(

  2. Nicely written story, too bad about your date. March is a good time to go up to Valizas ( and maybe stop for a murga show in MVD on the way ) if Argentina is getting too exciting. Don’t touch the caterpillars (lonomia obliqua), they can be deadly.

  3. I’ve lived in bsas for one year and I know a lot of their culture and daily habits and none of what you’ve written sound real to me. Can it be the way you’ve wrote, but wouldn’t say these words. Anyway, great things may come from your desiring living! Hope you enjoy your times 😉

  4. I just found out about your blog and I have to say I’m surprised. I’ve always admire people like you, who are not afraid of fulfilling their dreams. I really wish you all the good luck in the world, God bless you, from Brazil.

  5. hi, i´m portuguese and i read the magazine Sabado(writen above), your life makes my thoughts fly way from where i´m sitting now.
    alone in the computer, programming software(very boring) here to have a work is a bless.
    enjoy it good lucks i wish i had the same strength to take the step…

  6. I like the way you write. It’s like listening to someone tell a story in person. Very easy to read (: I saw your story on greenrenaissance.com
    You and your story are very intriguing.

  7. What a great story! Thanks for sharing. I think you should come to Brasil. Here Florianópolis in the south, near from BsAs are good places to know, and stay close to nature. You gonna be plenty welcome!

  8. Saludos Richard…my name is Courtney (or “Nina” as I’m called in Brazil, where I have been for the last 5 years) and a friend of mine just passed me your blog because I too live a nomadic, rent-free lifestyle. The first 1-2 years I traveled hitch-hiking, then last year I traded a slackline for a bike and have since biked across most of Brazil (camping, picking fruits off trees for food, no computer, cell phone, etc). I do not tune pianos (that would just be a way too freaky coincidence), but rather I practice extreme sports (skydiving, highlining…) Being a woman, I often receive harsh criticisms for my chosen lifestyle – and often find myself in some sketchy situations – but I like to think I am somehow making a difference in the world and inspiring others to do the same.

    Are you still in South America? Should you come to Brazil, please let me know 🙂

    Your blog is fantastic and your “lifestyle experiments” are inspirational and uplifting. Parabéns.

    • Wow you’re so cool! And nuts! If anyone tells my that my lifestyle is crazy, I’ll point them straight to your blog!

      I am very interested, I will read more… Please take care out there x

    • Oh I’m not in SA anymore, I came back to London on 1st March. I don’t want to fly anymore so it will be a few years before I can leave everything here in England and bike/sail to Brazil, but I will get there eventually…

  9. Haha! Just saw you ride past in London and decided to chek out your website. Great story and thanks for the update, don’t think I could ever be that confident or relaxed in that situation!

  10. Richard, you haven’t posted an update for a while. Have really enjoyed reading your journals here. Where have you gone – have you given up the homeless lifestyle? Hope not!

    • Not at all! It has just been so full on exciting that I haven’t gotten round to updating the blog… I have so much to blog about, will get round to it eventually.

      I’m currently cycling through Wales from Conwy to Pembrokeshire.

  11. how well you handled yourself.

    anyone else may have been quite peeved to be treated like a criminal. but you understood there reaction, remained clam, explained the truth.

    And made use of your time and was not bored. To even chuckle to yourself, realising how funny this story would be.

    what an experience !

  12. I’ve checked out your blog like I said. I must say, it was just as intriguing as suspected! But what else could I expect? Just a quick thank you for probably the most interesting bus journey to date. Good luck with whatever you do, and stay safe (even if that means not wearing your helmet!! Haha).
    All the best, Hannah.

    • Thanks Hannah! It was lovely meeting you, I wish you all the best with the next year of choices and changes…

      If you have time Google ‘The Five Regrets’, I found that helpful.

      I’m cycling around Devon and Cornwall at the moment. Will let you know if I’m ever in your neck of the woods!

    • Hi Dave, Sorry about that, life has been a little too exciting but I have every intention to keep up the blogging. Have been snowboarding in France, cycling around Wales, roughing it some more in London, now I’m in Falmouth on a tour of the South-West. Hope you’re well.

  13. Hi richard.
    Really enjoyed your blog, its good to know there are people like you out there living the good life.
    I hope your adventures are going well and look forward to hearing about them in any blogs you manage to get out.

  14. Reading your blog is really rewarding. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and interesting life. Hope to read more from you.

  15. Must have been a busy year for you, Richard. You haven’t updated your blog for 12 months. Looking forward to reading your latest stories when you find time to post. All the best.

  16. Hello there,
    I’ve just come across your blog. Your life seems really interesting, so much that I’m considering going kinda hermit sometime in the future, just to see how it goes.
    But that’s not why I’m typing. I’m a little concerned your last blog entry was two years ago and the lastest post of yours I’ve come across throughout the site was like 9 months ago… Just wondering if you’re doing okay. 🙂
    Saludos desde Chile!

    • Hola Alex! No te preocupes que está todo bien, tuve tanta aventura que no tuve tiempo de actualizar el blog. Si querés conectamos en Facebook donde aveces sigo poniendo fotos Facebook.com/RichardthePianoTuner

      • Hola! Me alegro que estes bien y viviendo aventuras 🙂
        Por fin encontre tu blog otra vez xD perdi el link poco despues de escribir mi comentario por lo que recien me entere que habias respondido, y con prontitud xD
        Creo que estare viendo Facebook entonces, y me asegurare de no perderme otra vez.
        Saludos!
        pd. No uso tildes porque de momento me veo forzado a escribir con un teclado estadounidense

  17. Hi Richard,
    I really miss your blog posts and would be really happy if you could start blogging again! This blog was once my favourite blog, just very inspiring, thanks for what you did. Unfortunately I don’t have facebook, so I can’t follow you there.
    Regards and good luck with your adventures
    Jochen

    • Thank you Jochen! Sorry for the long pause I plan to blog some more this Winter. Too much to write about, don’t know where to start! Life has been immensely exciting and the blog will continue about many other different subjects including lifestyle experiments.

      Best wishes

  18. i started my journey with you after seeing ”richard” on vimeo which led me to the blog. hope you continue to write your tales! ever tuned a Bosendorfer? 😉 12-3-2015 Happy New Year of Adventures!

  19. This is heroic work. My longest on foot with no fixed abode was 9 months, with a pal. Our trade was two-part traditional British song, our home the woods. It is a wonderful free and open life, ancient and powerful and simple. So glad to find your bicycling piano-tuning stories here.

    I’m not sure the extent to which may interest you, but after a few very long walks I decided that the only way to properly share this lifestyle and its many great benefits was to make such journeys less personal exhibition and more wider participation. I believe your blog shares the germ of this motivation – it is important to bring people along, such is the power of what you are learning it cannot be kept to yourself. For me, this meant setting out to renew Pilgrimage in Britain. I do not mean by just doing it, but renovating the very dream of it, theoretically and practically, through the establishment of a British pilgrimage architecture, and the renewal of the very idea. Banned by Henry VIII 500 years ago, the dream is in major need of overhaul. But it is unclaimed, and free for the dream, for no-one has a handle on it in Britain. We are currently working toward manifesting our first ‘flagship’ 3 week route from Salisbury to Canterbury, via the South Downs. It aims to rival the Spanish Camino, in all senses. Its wildness is its great asset – we have churchyards and fields rather than bunk houses. Pilgrims are to carry their own shelter, much as you do.

    I’m not entirely sure why I’m telling you – only that you are clearly a far-seer, a pioneer, and I feel a rare admiration for your deeds. “By their fruits you shall know them” – and as much as I can, I know you a hero amongst men. Such admiration as I feel is rare, and I thank you for causing it.

    So I wonder – do you perhaps today seek a way to share what you have discovered more widely? Perhaps the hope of turning the whole land toward such journey-making has caught you…and you are looking toward possibilities of sharing this living outside, this perfectly natural comfortable and radically free way of life, with more people. Pilgrimage offers a path there – an ancient historic precedent, and an established motivation in the form of a distant destination and a search for holy places en route. Holy, of course, in the widest word in the world, from the Old English ‘Halig’ which means ‘healthy/wholesome/holistic’. In other words, anywhere offering a sense of completion, which summons you to find wholeness. It’s wide open, and I’m sure you know the feeling of such a place – it is everywhere, in all encounters, and when you’re flowing you carry it with you.

    We are not talking about religious evangelism. ilgriamge is a spiritual pursuit, but in the way that all life is obviously spiritual. It is not however religious, unless you bring that with you. Pilg (in Britain at least) belongs to no particular denomination of faith, but is aimed equally at all faiths and none. Nor is is blandly secular, but I repeat, it is a journey on foot for seekers after something greater than themselves. The encounters with nature and others are a path to something like a better relationship with Everything.

    Anyway, if there is any way you should like to know more about this movement, please do get in touch. Your example is golden – but it also risks distancing people from sharing such joys who cannot muster such courage as you. It is an ‘all-or-nothing’ example, but there is a chance that through pilgrimage we could chip away, and offer ‘some’ to many more people. Such tasters of a home-free (not home-less) existence could do marvellous works for Britain, humanity and nature.

    See prelim website here: http://www.britishpilgrimage.org/

    Meanwhile, the very best yours,

    and thank you,

    Will Parsons
    The British Pilgrimage Trust

  20. Hi Richard, from a piano tuner in Australia.

    How come you didn’t cycle home to your Gran’s place after leaving the cafe?

    • Hi Steve! It was 1 am so I didn’t want to wake her up (she was 96 years old), besides which it was lovely and warm outside and I had my bed with me. Sadly she passed away a month ago aged 99.5, but she had a good long life.

      How is the piano situation in Australia? Not enough piano tuners was the last I heard…

  21. Can you do a blog on eating homeless? I’m planning to do this but need to find a way that doesn’t involve eating out and a lot and thus spend a lot of money!

    • Hi Quinn I will be updating the blog and writing on this subject later this year. You rightly point out that I have been highly dependant on the high street for food and drink and daytime shelter.

      As an urban nomad I will continue this dependence for shelter (at work, at the gym, library, social life etc) but I hope to become much more independent for cooking to save costs and for more control over the environmental and ethical impacts of the food I buy.

      In rural areas I could be more self sufficient because I could put up my own shelter including cooking space, then all I have to do is move on before/when I get turfed off. I could keep a few days’ food in store and it would be easier without much money. But at the moment I have plenty of enjoyable work in the city so the trade-off pays off.

      My current stove is a wood gas one called the Bushbuddy but it still takes me ages to cook anything so I need to experiment more with it. For ease and convenience I would go with a little gas burner, used efficiently that would still be a massive reduction in fossil fuel use when compared to the average kitchen in a house. But I’m reluctant to give up on my lovely little wood burner…

      I spent most of this Winter in a rented studio flat but I hit the road again next week with an exciting Summer ahead which I’ll blog about eventually. In the meantime for inspiration I recommend a visit to Grow Heathrow where you can see what sort of temporary structures can be put up to live off-grid. You can even stay there for a while if you use the password “I want to volunteer!” Many people there live almost without money. http://www.transitionheathrow.com/grow-heathrow

      • Thanks for the note. I will set an alert for your blog – as I do find it inspiring to save money with a lifestyle that isn’t necessarily what society dictates I should do in regards to renting an overpriced room.

        I am actually in southern California and it’s a bit of a different ballgame for this kind of thing. I’ve contacted a few farms here actually but no leads, yet! It should be interesting to see how it goes. Thinking about doing a casual blog on it to track how much I really do save and document how easy it is to do in this part of the world.

        • Oh cool! A bit warmer and drier there I hope… have you tried going through the Transition Towns Network https://www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives/map or WWOOF USA https://wwoofusa.org to find off-grid/money-free communities near you? Even though I value my independence and alone time I found that staying a while with like-minded people taught me an incredible amount. There are a range of communities on those websites and I doubt they’re all up to date but hopefully some of them are inspiring.

          • Cool, I had never heard of transition network! Community is definitely preferable for sure. And yeah, it’s definitely warmer and drier – but the main issues here are the law and the police who are a little less forgiving here it seems haha. Thanks for the inspiration dude. Keep it up.

          • Thanks. The cops can be cold here too if you act annoyed that they’ve woken you up. But enthusiastic smiley greetings and cheerful compliance can go a long way. Private security guards are worse but I can usually talk them round to smiling by the time I’ve finished packing to move my bed elsewhere, I usually get wished good luck.

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