Well, we’ve finally had the quintessential South American experience. We’ve been robbed.
More accurately, we’ve been robbed twice. The first time was in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Foolishly thinking we were isolated from societal ills, we left one of our money belts buried deep in one of our bags in our room. After returning from dinner one evening, Allison asked me why I had taken out the passports. As soon as she finished that sentence, I knew. We were out 400 soles (about $160 CAD). Fortunately, the culprit did leave our passports (if you’re reading this, thanks!). Curiously, despite the fact that our door lacked a lock, he slashed one of our screens, perhaps trying to make it seem as though the perpetrator had come out of or fled into the jungle. I removed my sunglasses, hunched over slightly, and said ‘If the snakes don’t get him… I will’. Then the theme to CSI Miami kicked in.
Or, rather, we went to tell our guide what happened. Considering there were fewer than 10 staff at our camp, one of whom was a youth conveniently leaving for home that evening, the mystery wasn’t difficult to solve and we ended up getting our money back.
The second time we weren’t so lucky. We had used up our free pass.
We booked onto a Soyuz bus taking the Panamerican from Lima down to the dirty, theft-laden city of Ica (the only redeeming feature being the small oasis of Huacachina on its outskirts). Suspicious of theft, Allison and I lodged our two small bags into the corner by our feet. About 2 hours into the trip, a man on the seat next to us jumped up and pointed out the flood of water now coming across the floor. He was rather concerned our bags may get wet and we got caught up in his willingness to help us move our bags to the overhead bin. Now my bag was directly above my head. An hour later we reached Ica. As I took my bag down I noticed it was a little lighter than before. When I opened up the top zipper I asked Allison where my sunglasses were. As soon as I finished that sentence, she knew. In a blind panic, I tore open the front pocket where my camera was stored, was being the operative word. Somehow the man with the clever water scam had cleaned out my bag, right on top of my head, without attracting my or anyone else’s attention (or rather anyone else who cared), and escaped.
He was a pro. And the scary thing is he took the time to carefully go through the contents of the bag. He took everything of value, with one exception, and left my journal, pens, a scratch pad, and my recently purchased sensor wipes for my digital SLR (thanks). Thankfully, the only irreplaceable thing he took were my hundreds of billions of Zimbabwean dollars. All three Canadian cents worth. He also didn’t have a chance to grab the ‘absolutely required’ stuff. I still have my passport, ticket home, bank cards, money, and youth discount card (thank God, because that saved me $3 today).
He did steal my Canon 30D Digital SLR, two expensive camera lenses, glasses (why?), prescription sunglasses (yeah buddy, enjoy those), Nintendo DS (hey, it was great for those long bus rides), and other electronic goodies (headphones, flashlight, plug adapters, etc). But he missed my laptop and he didn’t get our Canon point-and-shoot… but he did get the power cord for the computer and the battery charger for the point-and-shoot, so both are essentially out of service. It’s as though we no longer have any electronics. And for those who know me, that’s not an experience I’m going to relish.
In the end, it looks like insurance will cover the theft, minus a hefty deductible, and we will be able to continue our journey as planned. The real loss in this situation is trust. Sure, a healthy dose of skepticism is prudent, and necessary, while travelling, but it’s lonely going when you fall off the other end. Doubt can save you from disaster, but it also closes doors. It’s a hard line to walk.
If you know of someone traveling in South America, please warn them of this scam. We’re both seasoned travelers, and I still can’t believe what a spilled bottle of water was able to achieve.