Well this also finally happened… I was robbed. Before you freak out, family and friends, no, I was not held up at gun or knife point and stripped of all my belongings, thank god. It was a more of a ghost robbery, where I was left totally unaware. I hopped on my bus in Banos heading for Guayaquil to meet up with Anthony, a nice cheap $7 ride for 7 hours. I walked towards the back of the bus where my assigned seat was. There was a man at the back of the bus who looked as if he worked on the bus as he was directing patrons to seats. He motioned for me to take my assigned seat, which I did and then said I could store my backpack up top or below my seat. There were bags under the seat in front of me so I slide my back pack back under my own seat and settled in. Mistake number one. Unnoticed, the man took a seat directly behind me. For the first two hours, I listened to my music, and watched the world pass me by outside the window, as people hopped on and off the bus, feeling the usual excitement of being on the road again. After I while I began to feel tired, so I hefted my backpack from under the seat and put it on the seat next to me so I could lay down on it as a pillow, where it remained for the rest of the ride under my watchful eye.
I grabbed all of my things and hopped off in Guayaquil, took a cab to my hostel and got settled into my room while I waited for Anthony to return from his outing. I wanted get on my computer to do some more research for the Galapagos so I grabbed my small backpack to get it out. I noticed that my zipper had separated a little and I cursed the cheap craftsmanship of the bag I had purchased in Quito at the market. My lock was stick intact and had the zippers locked together, but there was a small gap from the separated zipper. I unlocked the bag and reached in for my laptop. My heart skipped a beat when I didn’t see or feel it. I dumped out the whole bag as my heart beat faster and faster, panic creeping in. Okay. I must have packed it in my big bag for some weird reason. I ran over to my big bag and tore it apart looking for my laptop.
Deep down I knew it was gone. But still I searched. I checked my purse. I was hoping I just somehow stupidly put it somewhere unusual and it was just going to show up, but I knew… I knew it was gone. My first thought (hope) was that I left it at the hostel. How could I be so stupid!!!! I went on my phone and sent and email to the hostel asking them if I had left it, but I could recall very vividly packing it into my small backpack so I knew this was a lost hope as well, one reached for out of wild desperation. Slowly but surely the fact that I had been robbed started to sink in. For some reason I thought of wanting my camera and went to grab it from my backpack and realized with a sickening blow that it too, was gone. This solidified it- I was robbed. Everything in my bag was intact except the only two things of value- my laptop and camera.
I felt so sick to my stomach that I thought I might puke. My heart was pounding violently in my chest. My face was flushed red and I thought I might start crying any moment but the truth was I was too angry for tears. I was angry at the bastard that robbed me, I was angry at the world for letting this happen to me and I was damn angry at myself for being so lax with my things. I didn’t know what to do. I called Travis needing comfort from the one person in my life who could always comfort me best. We chatted a while and I vented my anger and frustrations, and nearly cried when I realized I was heading for the Galapagos tomorrow and now didn’t have a camera.
Slowly but surely, as venting always does, I began to feel a little bit better, considering the circumstances. We said goodbye and I went downstairs to wait for Anthony to return which he did in a few minutes. I explained to him what happened and he tried his best to console me. His friend called and suggested we go grab something to eat- the old Brittany wanted to sit there and cry and sulk and feel sorry for herself and make the whole situation worse, so I said no at first. But then I changed my mind last minute and said I wanted to come. We went to a nice bustling little cafe that had incredible quiche and dessert pies and a delicious herbal ginger tea that helped calm my frayed nerves. Afterwards, we went to his friends house where we watched hilarious 80’s music videos, chatted, played with his rambunctious Boston terrier, enjoyed some more herbal remedies and laughed a lot. It was exactly what I needed to take my mind off the awful events of the day.
When we got home I thought everything through and began to accept what happened. Okay, so my laptop and camera were stolen, the two things to my name worth the absolute most money. I need my laptop and camera for my blog which is a huge part of my journey and massively important to me. So the blog will have to be put on hold. There was no sense in being angry and focusing on how shitty the situation was. I had to start thinking of how I could make it better. The laptop was four years old- that’s why I brought the heavy bastard in the first place instead of buying a new, lighter piece of gear- if something happened to it, I wouldn’t be as devastated (though when it actually happened I most definitely was devastated!). The camera was a christmas present from two years ago, so it didn’t cost me money. I had debated buying a DSLR camera for the trip but thankfully decided against it.
These were two material objects that were completely replaceable. At least I still bad my big backpack with the rest of my life inside of it, and more importantly my passport, money and credit cards. I had insurance so I could potentially get some money for my loss. Now I had the excuse to buy a new lighter laptop more suitable for travel blogging. I also had an excuse to finally buy that DLSR camera I had wanted for this trip. I recently had some unexpected money come my way from the passing of my uncle and my pension transfer, so I wouldn’t have to dip into my savings for the trip itself. I had “find my mac” set up, so if the bastard ever tried to go online I would be able to locate exactly where the computer was, but more importantly I set the computer to self destruct (okay “wipe clean”, but self destruct sounds better) so that all of my personal things- pictures, writing, etc. would be gone from the computer and it would be a blank slate. That was the part that upset me the most, knowing some stranger was going to have access to my most personal of things and do god knows what with then. I felt so intimately invaded. The self destruct savings grace gave me complete peace of mind. Thank god for technology these days!
But best of all? The day I was leaving Banos I realized I had not backed up my photos in a really long time – so I set to it and ensured I had all the photos from my camera and my laptop securely backed up on to my external hard drive which was safe and sound in my large backpack. So while the camera was stolen, all of the memories were still intact. After going through all of these factors I realized that I was pretty lucky. I was especially lucky that the theft happened without my knowledge and I wasn’t accosted with a gun or a knife, which would have been a devastatingly traumatic experience and altered my travel experience substantially, and scared the living hell out of family and friends.
I gave myself a little pat on the back. Travel had definitely changed me. If this had happened at home I would have been an angry miserable, vindictive mess for weeks. I would have carried around the weight of the experiene for a long time and let it eat away at me. But in only one night I was able to let myself feel the usual and understandable feelings or rage, frustration, anger, and hurt- and then I was able to assess the situation, realize they were replaceable material things (and that nothing was to be gained by dwelling on the negative, and even found some positives in the situation) and just. let. it. go. It was amazing to see that I had grown so much already in my four months of travel, and I felt proud of how I handled everything.
South America was definitely testing my limits and my character- five weeks of awful illness (read about those awful adventures and tips here), followed by a pricey robbery. But I wasn’t going to let it bring me down anymore. Travel is amazing and I was so grateful to be where I was in my life- seeing the world. I knew I would get sick, I knew there was a good chance I would get robbed, or lose things of importance when I signed up for this. Now it happened. So deal with it and move on. While devastated that I didn’t have my good camera for the Galapagos, a photographers dream, I still had my iPhone camera and my little underwater Nikon, so I would just have to make due. I was already thinking about what computer and camera I would buy to replace them. I was lucky that in about six weeks my friend from Yellowknife was coming down to meet me in Bolivia and I could order the items to his house and have him bring them down to me, otherwise I would have no way to get them to me without sitting tight in one place and paying extra to have them shipped to a country in South America. I couldn’t help but think that while a really shitty thing happened to me, the universe did a damn good job at balancing it out for me.
The reason I was able to be robbed was because I let my guard down. I started my travels in Central America, where several of the countries have the highest murder rate in the world and are known to be among the most dangerous in the world. I was told over and over again that I had to be so careful and that every time I got on a bus I was in risk of being robbed of everything I owned. I would always put my passport and money into a ziplock bag and tuck it into my bra as those were the most important things that I did not want to lose. I would hold on to my backpack and never ever let it out of my sight. I was lucky enough to spend most of my time traveling with Kajsa, so we also had two sets of eyes watching over our things. I was diligent and extra careful. And yet never once did I find myself even close to a situation where I felt myself or my things were in danger. Yet when I arrived in Colombia, I sensed an immediately even safer environment than I did in Central America. Travel around Colombia was easy and safe and when I got into Ecuador I felt even more safe. And so of course I let my guard down. And the second I did, I was robbed. So here are some tips on traveling Latin America so you DON’T get robbed, like me 🙂
1. Never let your guard down. Always be diligent in watching your belongings, whether you’re alone or with a travel friend. You cant expect your travel buddy to be responsible if something of yours is stolen while they are watching over it- you’d be shocked at the cleverness of some of the schemes for theft locals have come up with down here.
2. Never let your bags out of your sight. If you have to go the bathroom, throw you backpack and purse on your back and head to the tiny bathroom with your gear and get it done. Never EVER put you bag under your seat- always put it under the seat in front of you if you can. If you want, hold on to the bag in your lap, or put it at your feet and wrap the strap around your feet so that if someone tries to tug it away quietly it will pull your feet and alert you. Unfortunately you shouldn’t trust anyone to watch your bags. And be wary if someone asks you to watch their bags. Today a lady at the bus station asked me to watch her bags, which I did. Then I thought, what if someone came along and snatched her bag and I stupidly got up to go after them, and they had someone else come in from behind and swipe my bags away? The tricks are endless, trust me! Always be diligent, and trust no one.
3. Always use locks on your bag- while this didn’t stop my bag from being opened through the zipper, it still acts as a great deterrent for thieves, as it’s one more obstacle. I also was using a cheap, locally made Ecuadorean bag from a market, not my high quality Deuter backpack which I normally use on bus travels. It’s made of much stronger materials and perhaps the thief wouldn’t have been able to break through the zipper so easily if I had been using it.
4. Never store you bags above you in the overhead storage. Things can shift during the ride and unless you watch the bag the whole time, someone can easily walk past, push you bag back, take what they want, then slide it back without you noticing.
5. If you’re going to sleep on the bus- which trust me, traveling through South America, you will- I think I’ve taken about six 20+ hour bus rides in the last month- then you have to be extra diligent. Either put your backpack straps around your shoulders and wear it on your chest while you sleep, or ensure you really have the straps wrapped around your legs well. An inside seat is better, as someone from the aisle can’t get easy access to you and your things. Put the zippers on the inside away from the aisle so someone can’t open the zipper while you’re sleeping without you noticing.
6. Be the most diligent on buses that are really cheap. These are the buses that thieves target because it hardly costs them anything to get on board. It’s more unlikely that a thief will pay $100 to get on a bus for a long journey to rob a tourist.
7. Don’t put your bags down even for a second unless you’re not going to take your eyes off it. My friend had the awful mustard/bird poo trick pulled on him in Buenos Aires and had his bag stolen: someone above drops a mustard/ketchup/vinegar mixture on you and locals approach telling you that a bird had pooped on you and they attempt to help you clean it off while someone else slips into your pockets and steals your phone,wallet etc. or while you take your bag off to clean it, off they distract you and run off with your bag. My friend had brushed the people off, knowing about the trick and went into a park, sat on a bench, and took his pack off to clean it off. While someone approached with a kleenex, he looked at them to take it and when he looked back one second later the bag had been lifted. Clever bastards! My other friend’s had their bag stolen after setting it down for one second to look at a map. So, simply never set your bag down, keep in on your person no matter what.
The bottom line is, when traveling with things of value, there is a chance you could be robbed, so do your best to be prepared by being diligent and always keeping a watchful eye on your things. If in the event you do get robbed, don’t let it ruin your travel experience, or let it taint the way you see a country or a people. Guess what? I was Robbed in Ecuador, and guess what my favorite country in South America is? Ecuador! I was happy that I was able to completely remove the act from the country and the people and not associate them together, which the old Brittany definitely could not have done. The truth is, you could get robbed anywhere, including your home town and own country. So if it happens, let yourself be angry and upset- you were a victim and you were wronged after all- but don’t dwell on the negative as it will only make you feel worse. Instead focus on what you can do to improve the situation and move forward.
Wishing you happy and safe travels 🙂