June 3, 2006

Burglarized
Antigua, Guatemala

WANTED: DIEGO PASTRANO (Italian Passport #AK0669245) and his accomplice for the theft of my iPOD, credit card, several hundred quetzals, a handful of U.S. dollars, and my greatly enjoyed tranquility.

A series of small, unassuming events ultimately culminated in a substantial loss—the planets must aligned just right for this to have happened.

Apparently I forgot to knock on wood when I wrote about the troubles travelers experience when tooling around Guatemala, as my story will undoubtedly be added to the long list of other violated individuals passing through this country. The opportunistic theft wasn't Guatemala's fault though, it could have happened in any country.

I'll get straight to the meat of the story, plenty of specifics to follow…

The Punch-line

A pair of Spanish-looking Italians came to my tiny hotel and picked up a room, which happened to be temporarily storing my belongings while my room was being painted. I left with Diego (to a nearby supermarket) long enough for his companion to liberate my backpack of the afore mentions items. Needless to say I'm extremely displeased at the moment—the man-hunt is on.

Discovery

This all got kicked off when I came home last night and discovered that I couldn't find my iPOD. It wasn't where it should have been (in a waterproof bag inside my backpack, which was cabled to the bed frame with the PacSafe wire mesh that I use in places where I can't put my own padlock on the door). My mind raced as I worked through the events of the day.

Event #1: Temporary Relocation

I had just finished showering when the familiar cleaning lady came knocking on my door. I had been watching the various rooms and walls of the hotel being painted for several days now, and it was finally time to paint the last room in the establishment—mine. I got the gist of what the woman was asking of me (in Spanish, naturally): To move my things into the vacant room next door for a few hours while the room was getting a much need coat of white paint.

I obliged, and quickly began running back and forth between the rooms with loads of my belongings (as few as they are, moving contents of my now completely emptied backpack can be a bit of a task). The painter was waiting, and I was moving quickly.

Packing up the room, I placed my valuables inside the pack, took it into the other room, and locked it to a rod inside of a open concrete closet/alcove. The rest of my gear was placed on one of the three beds in the room.

I surveyed my room; it looked like I gotten everything, but what I didn't realize was that my iPOD (that I've owned for barely a month now), was not inside of my backpack.

The painting commenced.

Event #2: The Arrival

I had spent a couple of hours that morning continuing the creation of some English/Spanish flashcards, and working vocabulary memorization. This I was doing at a table directly outside the open door of the room my gear was in. Sometime after noon a pair of Spanish looking guys showed up. The shorter one—who I later found out was Diego Pastrano—was in his early 20's, while his traveling companion—who was above average in height—looked to be in his mid- to late 30's.

At first I thought they were acquaintances with the owner (as they had no backpacks or luggage with them), but when they started getting shown the place and told the room prices it was pretty clear they were looking for a (new?) place to stay.

I didn't have any problem with the taller fellow checking out my room (still being painted), or with them being shown the only vacant room in the small hotel (as I was sitting outside of it working, watching them and my stuff).

After a slightly confusing conversation with the one of the staff (she was using some words that I hadn't heard before), I figured out that she was basically asking if it would be OK if the two took the room for the night, as mine would be ready in two or three hours time. I told her it wasn't a problem, and worked while the two new guests figured out which bed they wanted.

Event #3: The Market

When the formalities of checking in were complete, Diego took an interest in what I was working on outside of "our" room. He sat down at the table next to me and we exchanged info (in Spanish). He spoke some broken English (and I some broken Spanish), but I learned the usual stuff (like his name, and that he was from Italy).

Eventually Diego asked about taking a stroll to a store or market, and that I should bring a piece of paper and a pen so that we could add some additional vocab to the cards I was working on (pointing out nouns and the such as we walked).

I was hesitant, and quickly assessed the situation: "Our" room was unlocked and open (as I felt I had no right to lock them out of their own room); my expensive valuables were locked inside of my backpack; the hotel is well off the street and gets no foot-traffic; they had registered in the guestbook (a staff member had verified info from Diego's passport); they carried no bags; and I would be gone for 15 minutes or so.

…I decided to accompany him to the store.

I felt we were gone long enough (and I wanted to get back to my cards), so after we had checked out of the small supermarket I left Diego and headed back to hotel.

I glanced into the room. The other guy was gone (perhaps to get the bags, I thought—it's not uncommon to walk around looking for a better hotel), but my backpack was there and the things on the bed didn't look to be disturbed, so I went back to the cards and chatting with the other guests. Two or so hours later I moved my gear back into a room stinking of fresh paint, and got ready for the evening.

Working The Puzzle

I went to sleep upset (after tossing the room), and had euphoric dreams about finding my iPOD, only to have reality slam back down on me a few hours later when I awoke.

I reported the theft to Helen when she woke up (the lovely English speaking Guatemalan that I've gotten to know over the past week). My initial suspect was the painter, but I noticed the room that Diego and his friend were in was empty—red flag.

Since my headphones were gone as well as the iPOD, I assumed that I had inadvertently left it in the sheets of the bed when I went to sleep the night before. This would explain why I missed it in the rush of moving my stuff to the other room. The painter had disturbed both the bed and the sheets during his work, and it was possible he pocketed it.

Alternatively, the painter could have discovered it, left it out in the open, and Diego (or his companion) could have snatched it. …Or I could have intentionally not placed it in my bag (perhaps planning on listening to it while I worked), and it got mixed up with my unprotected gear on the bed in the other room.

I searched the room that should've been occupied by the "Italian's," but all I found was a broken piece of one of my pens at the spot where I had stored my pack.

I was thinking hard in the shower when it hit me—oh shit… I need to take a closer look at my bag, that pen was in a locked pocket!

The Second Discovery

My jaw dropped when I realized what had happened. While I was out, Diego's accomplice had managed to pull the locked zippers apart far enough to pull out a small leather pouch (the size of a business card) that I use to keep extra—but quickly accessible—cash and credit/debit card(s) in.

There was no longer any doubt, a crime had been committed. Helen and I got dressed—we were off to the police with the hotel owner in tow.

Taking Action

Police report

Helen translated as the officer hammered out the incident report with a typewriter. With a copy of the simple report in hand, the three of us then proceeded next door to the tourism office.

We were met by Abraham Martinez (cell: 502 5978-3586), the individual in charge of assisting the needs tourists in Antigua. In the event of a crime, Abraham liaises with local, state, and international agencies and embassies on behalf of the tourist.

Abraham laid out the situation for me, which wasn't good. He had the power to have Diego detained at the border or airport when he tries to exit the country, but without an eye-witness to the crime it would be my word against his—not enough by the standards of the Guatemalan law to restrict his transit.

I was convinced that the best chance I had of resolving the issue was to try and track them down if they were still in the city. If they hadn't moved on, and I somehow found out where they were staying, I could coordinate with local law enforcement to exact the justice they had coming.

Man-Hunt

My strategy was essentially to launch a brute force Q&A of the hotels, hostels, and guest houses in the city. The tourism office had about 150 registered hotels in the area—yeesh.

Assuming that they were actually interested in staying at a hotel in my budget (and the theft was purely opportunistic), I had any location over 2-stars removed from the list. I also deduced that if they were indeed travelers, they could possibly be using a guidebook, so I added every hotel listed in my Lonely Planet to the search.

By the end of the afternoon Abraham and I had called well over 30 locations, and I had walked into every hotel I could find in a multi-block radius around the place I was staying at. None of the efforts resulted in anything of consequence.

My last hope for the day was that it was Saturday night, and perhaps I could find them enjoying my money at one of the bars—assuming again that they were still in town.

I put on my game face, tossed a big knife in my pocket, and I walked into every bar, restaurant, and nightclub I could find in the city. I strong-armed my way past cover charges, lines of people waiting for admittance, and bouncers at the doors. However, it was sadly all for naught.

The only positive thing to come of all this was that by night's end I had seen more of the Antiguan nightlife in just one evening than I had seen in the past week.

It's after 4:00 in the morning as I write this. I'm exhausted from this incident, and I'm tired of being angry.

It could have been a lot worse, but I'm upset about losing my music.

The PacSafe did what it was suppose to do. I never intended it to be used as a primary means of protecting the bag, just something to compliment the lock on my door. But at least it kept that bastard's hands out of the main compartment of my pack, and possibly him from running off with it (and hundreds of dollars in cash, extra credit cards, my passport, vaccination record (yellow book), all my electronics, etc, etc).

Unanswered Questions

  • What exactly happened to my iPOD? Did I leave it in my room with the painter, or in the room with the thieves?
  • Did the painter take the iPOD or did the thieves?
  • Were the painter and the thieves working together?
  • Did the thieves actually come to the hotel looking for a place to stay, and the theft was opportunistic, or did they deliberately come looking to steal?
  • Where did these guys stay last night, and if they were tourists where was their stuff while they were here?
  • Are they still in town, and if so where are they staying now?
  • Is "Diego's" passport real?
  • What's the name of the unknown thief?
  • Do I know about all the items that were stolen? Have I forgotten something?
  • Just how the hell am I going to survive 15-hour bus rides without music?

Some Things You Don't Forget

If it turns out that Diego's passport it real, you can count on one thing for sure: When I visit Italy, I'll be paying Mr. Pastrano a little visit. I can be a very patient man when it comes to such things.

…In the meantime, does anyone know of someone in Italy (with an unpleasant disposition) that I could ask a favor of?

Comments:

Katie

June 5th, 2006

Aww, poor Craig! I'm sorry you were burgled! However Mr-I-Want-Revenge, don't get yourself into more trouble by doing something stupid if you see your Italian friends!! No one wants to see you get hurt!

Guatemala

Craig | travelvice.com

June 5th, 2006

Thanks Katie.

You say "revenge" — I say "justice."

…and I can handle myself in an altercation just fine, thank you. I'd rather stalk them back to their hotel than fight them in the street though. ;)

Matt

June 5th, 2006

"Food on the Run"

Never before was a restraunt so aptly named…

Guatemala

Craig | travelvice.com

June 5th, 2006

Charges on June 2 that were accepted but have now been disallowed:
1. "7th Avenue Shell" gas station (twice) - $42
2. "10 Avenida 15" gas station - $52
3. "Burger King - Guatelmala" - $8

Charges on June 2 that were blocked:
1. "Commercial Bazaar" - $1,971
2. "Household Appliance" - $770
3. "Food on the Run"

These guys bought so much gas, I don't think they're in town anymore…

Anonymous

June 5th, 2006

Tu crees que el pintor conoce lo que es un iPod?
Do you think the painter knows about iPods?

Anonymous

June 5th, 2006

Question: Is 7th avenue that much apart from 10th avenue to have gas three times the same day?

Is 7th avenue too far away from your hotel? Is 10th avenue far away too? The bazaar, tha BK or the Shell station?

??????

Diego

June 6th, 2006

the island is us.

Guatemala

Craig | travelvice.com

June 6th, 2006

Update:

This morning I filled out report with the Ministero Publico, an investigative branch of the Guatemalan government. Abraham also said that he was able to contact the Italian embassy, but they weren't able to confirm the identity. The embassy claims that Italian passports only have one character at the beginning of their identification number.

It seems like a strong possibility that the passport used was false or recorded improperly. If these guys came to the hotel with a false passport, that shows an incredibly high level of premeditation though, which I'm not sure I buy into yet.

Since they filled up for gas I figured the two could be driving a rental, so I had Abraham give the top 10 car rental agencies a call to see if they had the name Diego Pastrano registered in their databases (and possibly his accomplice as a second insured driver, or the other way around) — no luck. Too bad, I was having day dreams about being in the rental office when they returned their car.

The excessive gas charges could have been from them buying gas for someone at the pump — "Hey, I've got this idiot's credit card, want some free gas?" I only have street names for the credit card transactions, no cities.

I could always press and see if I could get surveillance footage from the businesses they visited, but it would probably be wasted effort unless I actually needed evidence for a conviction.

Regarding the painter, I don't know if I'll ever truly find out if he played a role in all this or not, but everyone has cell phones down here, and it doesn't take an educated man to realize what an expensive piece of electronics looks like (especially one with headphones sticking out of them).

I've accepted the fact that these guys will probably go unpunished, but at least I feel better having run down every angle I could think of.

Time for a new city.

Delta Force

June 8th, 2006

Money

Delta Force In Effect!

That's the last thing I wanted to hear about your travels since. I'm not here long after but if I run into one Mr. Diego I will happily introduce him to the brute force of one very unhappy half of Delta Force. I'll leave information here at the hostels in Costa Rica in the event that they make this way.

Sorry to hear about it all Money, but don't let it deter your travels, it's only belongings as hard as it is to accept, and I can always ship you down replacements, just keep the eyes open, the wits about, because you can't spell dive without Delta.

PS: Tried to warn you about Antigua and it's 'vices'

Peace out bro-

Time (Shoel)

Andy HoboTraveler.com

June 14th, 2006

Hello Craig,

Andy of HoboTraveler.com here.

Thank you for the very good and detailed explation of the theft.

I do not recommend or care about the packsafe for this reason.

Craig, the reason I am so careful is because I do not want to learn to hate people.

If I allow a person or country to hurt me, then I hold a resentment.

I know you, you did everything correct. What you did wrong it this, you are American, you expect too much good out of people. Moving your bag or allowing anyone to enter your compartment of life is the problem.

You must be very harsh in how you keep everything in one compartment. Temptation is what they stole.

Americans are soft-targets because we help others, helping to paint was the problem.

I could talk for days on this and have on my site.

Europe has a lot more theft than Guatemala. A dorm room is worst.

Keep up the great information. Normal travelers will hide what they would consider stupid. It says you have great self-esteem to allow the world to learn.

90 percent of travelers deny they was robbed, the other 9 percent will not admit on a webpage.

I have now lost 60 dollars cash in Koh Samui Thailand and a passport on the train in Madrid Spain.

Guatemala

Craig | travelvice.com

June 14th, 2006

Thanks Andy.

For those interested, a link to the post Andy wrote on this one:
http://www.hobotraveler.com/2006/06/travel-theft-post.html

fred

June 21st, 2006

I guess you probably won't be too happy to hear what I'm about to say, since it sounds like "I told you so", but… As a long-term traveler myself (7 months hiking in Europe each summer, alternating between hotels and wild camping), my rule is (a) keep valuables on my person at all times (b) make sure that the non-valuables are unattractive looking to potential thieves. I doubt anyone, even the poorest immigrant cleaning woman, is likely to want to steal my battered backpack or tarp or groundsheet or battered sleeping quilt or trusty hiking staff or floppy sun hat or my dental floss and small bottle of shampoo and the other junk I leave in my room. All of my cash, credit cards, passports and other small valuables are keep in a neck purse which I keep tucked into the side of my pants (I can also pull in the strap hang it from my neck per se, but then it makes an unsightly bulge on my stomach), or a coin purse which I also hang from my neck. I also carry a shoulder purse with things like books, a spoon and pocket knife so I can eat yogurt and other stuff from the grocery, a small water bottle and other odds and ends. If I had an ipod, this is where I would keep it, at all time. The shoulder bag is hand made of goretex and thus waterproof, but you could also get a waterproof liner (or just a plastic bag would work) for a commercial shoulder bag. I don't travel with a computer, but if I did, then I would make sure it was small and also carry that with me at all times, regardless of how inconvenient this might be. I've never been robbed, though I have now and then lost items (such as my spoon which I managed to throw out once, and my bottle of shampoo which I left in the bathroom). I'm getting better about not losing things, though. I've also traveled in the third world, including Antigua and the rest of Guatemala and Mexico and the only thing I ever had stolen was a PackTowel® that I hung out to dry in Pananchel, Guatemala and which someone snagged. KEEP YOUR VALUABLES ON YOUR PERSON AT ALL TIMES! If you are going swimming, then buy a waterproof case for your passport and credit cards, etc that you can take with you into the water. Take your valuables with you into the shower, again in a waterproof case if necessary (as noted, my shoulder bag is waterproof and so that is what I use when in a communal bathroom).

Nicaragua

Craig | travelvice.com

July 1st, 2006

Thanks for your thoughts Fred! No, it didn't read like an "I told you so."

I think a lot has to do with the assessment of the environment you're in. For example, I can't imagine carrying around a bag full of valuables some place notorious for crime, like the capital of Mexico or Guatemala.

The United States

a

March 25th, 2010

Hobo: "Americans are soft-targets because we help others, helping to paint was the problem."

That's just plain stupid.

I was robbed in the US. There are many Americans who are pure evil. There are criminals everywhere in the world.

There is no easy fix on this. When you live out of a bag and you travel to places you don't know it's easy to be a target.

The United States

nicholas

May 9th, 2010

hello i hate to say learn spanish im american i speak perfect spanish i say craig u got what u needed to learn i have been all trough all cities in colombia and i speak the words clean not the just street. but i learned with upper class first than the street u learn the life quick im street smart i seen poor and the rich . it helps to learn to speak colombian spanish its the best for any country with a spanish based idiom. know that im self tought sought out books dictionarys etc.
any one needs my help reply to my email ill call you in that country .
remember your country code and let me know it is cell or house it matters .and the nature of your problemo…

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