Argentina Buenos Aires Canada Morocco

Getting Ripped Off

If you travel, you should be prepared to be robbed. No matter what precautions you take—the criminals have strong incentive, are smarter than you, and they’re looking for you. You’re on holidays, your defenses are low; they’re poor, savvy, make a career out of trickery and/or violence and they’re good at it.

The first time I was robbed was in Fez, Morocco, 1979. It was the middle of the night, Hallowe’en, and Sylia and I were asleep in our 2-person tent in a walled, “secure” campground with our Contiki group. I awoke to see our tent’s zipper up and, too sleepy to think that was strange, asked Sylvia, whose head was on that end, to close it and we went back to sleep. In the morning we realized our tent had been invaded. Our first thought was that someone on our tour was playing a Hallowe’en joke on us. No. Had we been somehow drugged so as to not have woken up? How strange that someone could enter our tent all the way to the end where my valuables were without either of us waking up. Perhaps it was a good thing, bound up in a sleeping bag, that we hadn’t…. We determined the perpetrators to be young boys; they took anything that could easily be dispensed with: cash, my camera, all the silver charms we’d purchased to mark our journey, Sylvia’s carton of cigarettes, our “unisex” clothing and chocolate bars. They’d left our passports and travelers cheques. They’d left my engagement ring … and the finger it was on…. Whew! We filed a police report with the help of a translator and missed the tour to the dye pots. I didn’t really believe it would amount to anything but it did satisfy my insurance company. What I miss the most, so many years later, are the photographs that were still in the camera.

I was robbed twice while living in Buenos Aires. Both times in broad daylight—once on the crowded Calle Florida—a pedestrian street. The first day my daughters arrived for their two-week visit, we walked through the tourist area on a Sunday afternoon looking like tourists. Unbeknownst to me (until later), my camera was stolen from my backpack. The second time I was robbed was on Calle Bolivar in San Telmo at 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon. I was tricked by an incredibly kind and helpful couple who graciously assisted me by cleaning off the mud that they had secretly squirted on me and my backpack. What they got away with was less consequential to me than it was to them. They were able to purchase groceries for their next meal. I was left with my laptop and replacement camera and relieved of a 30-year-old purse, a plastic money card and some paper money. Both times I was emotionally shaken up but, other than my pride, I was unhurt. This time I didn’t think there was any point in filing a police report; Visa covered the $30 charge without it.

I continued to walk both of those streets almost daily and sometimes at night alone while I lived in Buenos Aires. I even defied all odds and walked several blocks through the dark deserted streets of San Telmo at midnight and remained unscathed. Stupid? Maybe. I’ve heard many extranjeros voice concern, or at least question the safety of San Telmo. People get robbed in Recoleta and Palermo too. It’s just a notch up: better neighborhood, more sophisticated criminals, bigger crimes.

And, I’ve been robbed at home. Thinking my purse would be secure in a locked glovebox in a locked car while I hiked the Weaslehead trails in Calgary, I left my valuables behind. Both locks were jimmied and my purse was stolen. The purse was probably worth more than what was taken from inside it. I immediately canceled my credit card and later found my purse in a trash can.

Things can be replaced, including money. The worst part about being robbed is feeling violated and powerless. These feelings heal with time. I was fortunate to not have been physically hurt. Some aren’t so lucky. Be careful out there.