Yesterday, I went to the bus station here in Buenos Aires to head off for Santiago, Chile. The station is in Retiro—a neighborhood of BA—and I went there early to wait for departure at 6:00 P.M.
I needed to check the Internet to get the address of the hostel in Santiago so that finding it upon arrival would be quick and easy, but before going into the Cybercafe at the bus station, I figured I would sit down and check my laptop to see if I could tap into some WiFi. I sat down on the right end of a row of chairs with my backpack on the floor to my left and my photo bag and some other random junk in the chair to my left.
I quickly discovered that I wasn't going to get WiFi, so I packed up my laptop and put it in with the pile of things in the chair next to me. Just then, some guy tapped me on my right shoulder and pointed to a few wadded up two-peso bills on the floor directly to my right. I shrugged my shoulders, but then leaned over and picked them up. I looked around to see if I could see their true owner, but no one appeared to have lost any money, so I opened up the bills, carefully folded them up making sure they were all aligned the same, and added them to the small wad of cash in my pocket.
Just then, I heard some guy over my right shoulder saying something. I couldn't understand him, so I stood up and walked over to him. Eventually, I heard something about being careful with my bags. At that instant, a pit materialized out of nowhere in my stomach. I quickly walked over to where I had been seated and looked at the seat next to mine—the one in which I had put various and sundry items, including my camera bag.
My camera bag was gone. I quickly looked under the seat. Maybe it had fallen or I had put it on the floor. Nothing. I asked the man if that other guy had taken my bag. He said yes. I asked where he went. He said he had gone down the stairs. Down the stairs? Yes.
As I ran toward the stairs, I asked the people who were sitting in that area—a mom, her kids, and maybe some other people—to watch my things. I ran down the wide flight of stairs as fast as I could. After getting to the bottom, I looked both directions. Nothing. I ran ahead, out to the curb. There was a couple standing there. I told them a thief had taken my green bag and asked if they had seen him. Nothing.
If I felt panic when I realized my bag was gone, it was really starting to sink in now. A seven-thousand dollar camera that I can't replace, VISA cards, my passport—gone. Hand on forehead, fingers in hair, curse words flowing, head shaking. Utter disbelief. This can't be happening.
Just then I realized that I had left the rest of my stuff upstairs—with a bunch of other thieves for all I knew. I ran back up the stairs, to be met at the top by a police officer. He started asking me questions. I told him a thief took my green bag and that it had a very expensive camera, my passport, my VISA cards, and more. Then I told him I still had things over by the seats. Thankfully, they were still there—including my laptop.
He kept asking me questions. He asked for a description of the thief. I didn't know. I told him there was another guy that saw. If the other guy saw, why didn't he yell out? I'll never know. At this moment, I realized that a description of the thief was irrelevant. I would never see my bag again. Over eight-thousand dollars in equipment and money, gone. Passport, gone. VISA cards, gone.
Hand still on my forehead, curse words still flowing. Feeling sick. Utter disbelief. Oh, shit! My hard drive was in there, too! Over eleven-thousand photos!
After I threw my big pack on my back and picked up my laptop, the police officer calmly walked me down to the police office. There were two other couples who had already been robbed and were filling out police reports.
As I sat there waiting my turn, still cursing, shaking my head, and feeling sick, I looked out the front door, seeing where I could go in case I needed to throw up. I was in shock. I couldn't believe what had just happened.
The couple from Ireland had actually been robbed the day before but refused to file the report until the police brought in a translator. It was good having an English speaker there. After the translator took my information and printed me a copy of the report for insurance and passport purposes, a police officer, the translator, the Irish couple, and I all went upstairs and got in a small police car.
They dropped me off at the intersection of Avenue de Mayo and 9 de Julio, just a block or so from the hostel I had been living in, then pulled away to drop the Irish couple off. Thankfully, the hostel is going to give me my old room back and won't require payment ahead of time.
That was all yesterday.
Today I went to the U.S. Embassy to get a new passport. I arrived around 9:30 and walked out the door at 2:30 with a temporary passport. It's good for one year. The folks at the embassy were great. They were sympathetic and kind.
In the middle of the day, I had to walk across the street to a park where there was a man who would take your passport photos for twenty pesos. He hung a small, white, canvas sheet from a tree and had you sit on an orange, plastic stool. A few minutes later you had your mugs. God bless Polaroid.
The taxi ride to get to the embassy had cost another fourteen pesos. Then, at 1:30, I had walked a few blocks away and bought a ham sandwich and a Fanta for less then six pesos—that's under two bucks. Smokin'.
About forty pesos and $100 later (I had my VISA debit card number memorized and used it to pay for the new passport), I headed out with a new passport. After getting back to the hostel, I called my bank and canceled the debit card.
On the bright side, I will have less weight and bulk to carry. Also, when someone sees a nice photo I've taken, they won't be able to say "Wow! You must have a really good camera!" It's annoying when the camera gets the credit for an excellent photo.
Hopefully, I'll have a new VISA card in a few days—FedEx willing—and I'll be on my way to Santiago. Apparently, the bus company will issue me a new ticket if I show them the police report. That's the word on the street, anyway.
In conclusion, I did cuss a lot, I did cry a little, and I'm still shaking my head, but I've avoided throwing up, although I do still feel sick if I dwell on all this too much. This is one of the worst experiences I've ever been through in my entire life. Hopefully, it makes for good reading.