Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Peruvians, World Travelers

ALTERNATE TITLE: A Foiled Pickpocket Attempt—Sort Of

Among the myriad items now in the possession of some very lucky crook—or in a gutter somewhere—is an Arca Swiss quick release plate. Specifically an Acratech 2158. That's the gizmo that attaches to the bottom of the camera so that the camera can quickly be connected to—or disconnected from—the tripod. So, now I have no way to connect my backup camera to my tripod. This is great timing, now that I'm approaching the phase of my trip where I'll probably use the tripod far more than during any other portion—Patagonia.

I strolled to a market today in search of a replacement. No luck. While at this indoor/outdoor market, I also went inside what looked like a mall of sorts. The center of this multi-story building is open with a ramp around the perimeter of the inside. You can walk the ramp from the bottom level up to the top, a half-dozen floors higher. Along the way, I saw the highest density of barber shops I've ever seen in my life. Between barber shops and beauty salons, I'm guessing there were over twenty—maybe thirty. I got a haircut while there.

Parque Arauco shopping mall After this futile attempt, I hopped the subway to a monster mall—Parque Arauco. All five of the photography stores there were pretty rinky-dink. Not only did they not have any quick release plates, they didn't even sell separate tripod heads, which is now my goal—find a new tripod head. It will act as a temporary replacement until I can replace some of my equipment. When my care package arrives—hopefully in a month or so, after Patagonia—I'll have my new quick release plate.

As a side note, the subways here in Santiago are pretty sweet—modern, fast, frequent, and clean. Although they're more expensive to ride than those in Buenos Aires and Rio, they're nicer. The bus system is also very modern, with loads of articulated buses and very nice bus stops—again, much nicer than in BA or Rio.

I boarded the crowded subway back to the neighborhood where I'm staying and found a spot to stand amongst the other commuters, pretty close to the door. I wasn't that close to a handle which is just as well, because I was happy just keeping my hands in my pockets. Pickpockets enjoy subways—or any crowded place—and with my hands in my pockets, my cash and pocket knife are more secure. Nowadays, I don't keep much cash in my pocket, though. I have, however, been carrying my temporary passport, my VISA card, and larger quantities of cash in the zippered pocket on the thigh of my REI convertible pants, just below my regular left pocket.

I thought it was a bit strange when the fellow to my left began pressing pretty firmly against my body. It wasn't that crowded, so I took note. I looked over at him. I looked down at his bag. He was toting a shoulder bag with a large flap covering the main compartment. The bag was resting on his front, right side, on top of his right thigh. His hand appeared to be going into his bag, as though he was fishing for something. I could see it protruding out the bottom of the bag, however. He was trying to unzip the pocket on my leg.

At about this time, the subway stopped at the next station and a few people got off, including the wanabe pickpocket. At this instant, a woman behind me told the guy standing in front of me that he had just been robbed. The guy that had failed at getting into my pocket had snagged this other guy's cell phone on the way out the door—scooped it right out of the leather pouch on his belt. The poor sap headed out the door in pursuit of the scumbag with the new phone.

As we headed on to the next stop, I told the folks around me that he had just been trying to get into my pocket and showed them how he had tried it, using my own new temporary shoulder bag to demonstrate. As I sat down in a spare seat, the woman next to me told me that that thief was Peruvian, not Chilean.

Back in BA, at the U.S. Embassy, another victim who was also there replacing his stolen passport told me the story of how two women using a typical technique—outlined in my Travel Tips post—had stolen his bag. When he went to the police, they told him that they knew the women. They were from Peru and they make the trip to Buenos Aires monthly to rip of unsuspecting people. I would have used the word "tourist," but I'm pretty sure that lots of locals get ripped off in their own cities—like the guy in the subway today.

Anyhoo, maybe I'm getting a little bit smarter on the street. At least I came out of this one unscathed. I'm sure I'll get more chances, so wish me luck.

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