Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Getting Robbed In Buenos Aires

And so the inevitable happened: My purse got stolen in Buenos Aires.

Ugh. I hate being reduced to a cliche' more than anything. 

I must have received a thousand different types of warnings from different people about how I should be more careful in South America... I did not shrug them off. In fact, I think I was extra vigilant the moment I landed here. But at the same time, at the back of my head, I kept thinking - "I come from The Philippines. I was trained to be alert and vigilant about this stuff all my life. I know what I'm doing."  This did not make me cocky... it only made me reignite my Filipino senses, if anything.

The first 4 days of my trip in Buenos Aires, I stayed in San Telmo, which is the older, dodgier neighborhood. Even though my hostel was pretty classy, the surroundings weren't. I never walked alone at night, and I always carried my daypack in my front, keeping my pepper spray in my pockets. See, San Telmo is the type of neighborhood that sort of makes you feel unsafe, so automatically, your guard is up all the time. Well, nothing happened in San Telmo.

Now, Palermo on the other hand, is a different ballgame all together. Palermo is the nice, more posh area of Buenos Aires. The streets are cleaner, there are trees everywhere, quaint little restaurants and cafés are dotted around the neighborhood… It’s cute! It definitely feels richer, that you forget you’re in a country in a crisis.
I transferred to a hostel in Palermo to experience the other side of Buenos Aires, and I really liked it. My hostel was so much better, more conducive to friendships, my area was cleaner, and there were more options for restaurants and bars.


I had met up with my good friend, Fernando, for lunch. We were seated outside a nice restaurant, enjoying good food and conversation. The biggest mistake I made was taking my purse out of my body and placing it under our table, wedging it between my foot and the wall. For a split second, I thought – “Hey now, make sure you keep an eye out for this thing all the time”… but then it got overruled by, “It’s okay… you’re in a really posh neighborhood. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Still, I remember looking down at my foot every few minutes to make sure my foot was still wedging my bag against the wall. It was such a quiet day, hardly anyone was walking past…

Halfway across our meal, I reached out to my foot to grab my phone to show Fernando a photo --- and my bag was gone. Like magic. I remember jumping up, yelling, “Oh my god, where is my bag?” I instinctively looked around to check if there was anyone around us that could have taken it, but there was no one. Just onlookers who probably freaked out at the decibel levels of my alarmed voice.
HOW could anyone have taken it? How was it even physically possible? Fernando would have seen someone creep up behind me and crawl down underneath our table and grabbed it from my foot! We were the only ones eating outside! But he didn’t see anyone.


I had so much money in my wallet. I had just gone to the money exchange to get some Argentinian Pesos, so it was full to the brim. I had a few hundred US dollars in there too. My driver’s license… My credit card… My debit card. Gone. And my phone! Oh my god, my phone!

All the feelings started to creep up on me. Anger, panic, depression, feeling violated… But I guess the most potent feeling I had was regret. I regretted taking the bag out of my body in the first place… I regretted suggesting we sit outside… I regretted making the rookie mistake of placing it on the ground… I regretted letting my guard down for one second.

“Tell me what to do,” I begged Fernando.
Concerned as he was, he said without blinking, “We report this to the police."
Thank goodness for my friend’s calm nature. Otherwise, my panic probably would have taken over me.

5 minutes later, the cops came to document the incident. My friend obviously took over the situation because none of them spoke English, and my Spanish is practically only as good as asking someone where the bathroom is.

They gave us the address to the police station so we can file a police report. But before we headed over there, we went back to the hostel so I could go online and call my sister to cancel all my credit cards.

We walked to the police station, waited about an hour before we were seen, reported everything, and that was it.

If the justice system in Argentina is anything like The Philippines (which I think it is), then I doubt anything would or could be done to retrieve my lost belongings. Getting a report was just a necessary step to get everything documented, “just in case”.


OK the situation sucks… but in hindsight, thank goodness I still have my passport! And thank goodness I hid some emergency cash inside my backpack. Cash I almost completely forgot about, till I unearthed my passport. Enough cash to last me till I sort everything out. Phew.

I started talking to the people at the hostel about what happened – not for sympathy (I HATE THAT) but to remind them to be vigilant. And true enough, a lot of them admitted to feeling more relaxed and letting their guards down here in Palermo, for the same reasons I had.

I’ve also had people tell me their own stories of being held at gun point, or being harassed, getting their whole backpack stolen, or their cameras with all their photos and memories from their trip… all of which happened in various areas in South America. Holy shit. I still came out lucky, despite of what happened.


So, I’d like to believe… that whoever took my purse has a dying mother in the hospital… who desperately needed my money to save her from a fucking disease. I have to believe this. Because if not, may karma fucking bite you in the ass.


On the other hand… I think this was definitely a wakeup call. I lost a lot of money, but what I really wanted back more than anything was my phone. My phone who owned me, every minute of every day. My phone which has started to take over my life… Obsessing over Whatsapp, Viber, Line, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram constantly! So much so, that I have forgotten the sole purpose of this trip! This year was supposed to be about seeing the world and connecting with the people OF the world… Something I have momentarily forgotten because of my obsession with social media… where my eyes and fingers were glued to my phone instead of what surrounded me.

Last night, I was having dinner with these new friends I made from different walks of the Earth… and all of them had their heads bent down, busy Whatsapping and Facebooking their friends from home. I felt a little ashamed because if I still had my phone, I’d be guilty of doing the same thing. In fact, one of the questions I have learned to ask in perfect Spanish is, “Tienes WIFI?”

Maybe the Universe is just trying to remind me why I’m on this trip in the first place. It sure has a way of sending its message across very effectively… And I know this may sound a little condescending, but in a way, I’m glad it happened. 2 days now without my phone, and I feel more free. I needed to let my obsession go. Even if it happened the way it happened, I’m still grateful for the lesson.


I had posted a message about this incident on Facebook, just in case my thief dabbles with my phone to send messages to my friends. The comments I received varied from – “I’m so sorry that happened” to “Damn that fucker” --- and all of that, I expected. What I didn’t expect, however, were the private messages sent to me by people who aren’t even my closest friends. I got tons of messages saying – “I’m sorry that happened, how can I get some money to you?” or “Just let me know, and I can get you a plane ticket to anywhere” My jaw dropped, and I was in awe of all these people who cared. I was so touched.
I had forgotten it was Valentines day (which I normally often do, because I hate the damn day)… After I had seen all the messages from my friends and family, I had a really nice thought… Although I may not have a “Valentine”, it’s so nice to know that I am loved. <3

SO SUCK IT, You stupid thief! You will never get the best of me. :)