Friday, October 17, 2008

“On the way to Cordoba, Elizabeth got into some trouble” (Wed15 Oct– Day 21)

A post I wrote a couple of days ago...

(Where am I now: In seat number 11 on the top floor of a double bus from Andesmar company, on my way to Cordoba)

(What is the time now: 22:48 pm on Wed 15th Oct, What am I listening to: The Engine of the bus)

It can happen to everybody I guess. I told you my brother said to me the last time I saw him in Spetember “I will be really surprised if nothing happens to you along the way during this trip.” So far so good.

Meet Elizabeth from the US, a young lawyer working in Hawaii (of all places) for a non-profit organization, on her 3rd week of her trip into Latin America. Justlike me she’s been travelling alone around Argentina and also has plans to move north to Bolivia. How do I know all this?
Let’s step back 45 minutes. Sitting at the Hostel Independencia’s common area, all packed and ready to go, my bus for Cordoba leaving at 22:30, I hear this girl asking from the hostel guys to get her a taxi to the Bus station because she has a bus to take at 22:00. “Do you mind if I join you?” I asked. No problem. (Let’s share the incredibly expensive fare of 2 USD)

We arrived at the bus terminal, sat on a bench and started talking. Elizabeth was typically equipped for travelling in South America – light clothing, backpack and a waist bag (the one you put everything important in, he one you shower with, go to the bathroom, eat, sleep on etc) I noticed it was pretty big. Talking about travel plans she shared that she was also planning on going to Bolivia and some other cities in Argentina, mostly by bus. I suggested she uses a really good website where they have all the destinations & timetables for bus travel. She took out her Argentina Lonely Planet guide out of her waist bag (thus my observation that it was pretty big) and scribbled the address on the back cover while thanking me for it. Then she asked if I could watch her stuff while she went to the bathroom. No problem, I said and though how necessary this is when you are travelling alone. She came back 5 minutes later holding a water bottle (smart move for an 8hour bus trip – I also always do it), bag around her waist and sat on the bench next to me.

“Is that the new Argentina Lonely planet guide you have?” I asked. “Yes”, she said as she untied the bag from her waist. She unzipped the topside and took it out of the bag to show it to me. We were leaning over the book, I was explaining the route I had taken, for not longer than 90 seconds. As she turned to her right to put the book back into the bag, no bag. No bag. Gone. It was incredible. For the first 2 minutes she was just looking around, thought it was at her feet or on the backpack. This was a sleight of hand I had never seen before. The bag was gone and we hadn’t even noticed it. We were the only people on the bench. When I think of it I still can’t believe it. I have absolutely no image of anyone passing by not even near us at that time.

I am still not sure if it is worse to get robbed by force/threat or simply “pickpocketed” but Elizabeth just got the worst out of her Argentina adventure. She lost everything. Her passport, credit cards, $500 camera (and the photos damn it) and ALL her cash, about 300USD.
“I have nothing!” she cried out, almost ready to cry. I could not believe this happened right under our noses. It was the most improbable thing ever but I guess pretty usual in Latin America. Informng the Police did nothing of course - at least she had her cell phone in her backpack – this allowed her to call the US and block her cards.

“You need to get some money transferred to you and head back to Buenos Aires to get a new passport” I said.
“I have absolutely nothing” she repeated, desperation evident all over her face.

I took all the cash I had out of my pocket and gave it to her. “This should be enough to get you 2 nights in a hostel and some phone calls to the US embassy and your banks for a wire transfer”
"What would I have done if I wasn't with you?", she asked.

We hugged, I wished her good luck and I got on my 22:30 bus to Cordoba…


Chris W said...

Not quite as shocking as this - but can happen also when you fall asleep in the TGV and suddenly your laptop is missing...
But shit man - I don't want to feel ever how she must have felt !

Kostas Around The World said...

I tell you it was really bad - I would have really cried...

Anyway, I cried in the TGV so I knw what it is like... So far away from it all now :-)