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…
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.
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.
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.
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).
- 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?