It was a beautiful day in Palermo, which is a trendy and affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires. I was feeling great, with my head held high and my back straight, as I strode down the street with my Marilyn Monroe shirt, jeans, Bullboxer boots, and my backpack. Though I wasn't thinking about it at the time, my backpack held about $4000 worth of equipment. Not to mention, it contained hours of video footage accumulated over the past few weeks.
I was going to use this day, as gorgeous as it was, to get some work done. I was (and still am) behind on blog entries, musical creation, and videos. The weather was so pristine that I just wanted to be out walking around all day, which is exactly what I’d been doing. Anyway, on with the story.
I was about halfway to my destination when I felt a splattering from above or behind, and when I looked at a bit of the stuff on my shirt I found it to be really foul smelling, like rotten eggs mixed with hot mustard. There was a lady behind me when it occurred, and we began discussing how disgusting it was and how in the hell it had happened.
She was very kind and sympathetic to my plight and pulled out some napkins to help clean me up with. She even had some water that she soaked the napkins in and asked if she could just get some of the foul stuff off me.
Of course, I agreed to this, as I didn't want to walk into some establishment smelling like a rotting dinosaur carcass dipped in wet landfill. She was a sweet old lady, and I was grateful. Thank God for sweet old ladies. During this time I had set my bag down, not even thinking about it and the investment of money and time it contained.
She kindly gave me a few extra napkins to wipe myself off with before she somewhat abruptly took her leave.
I wiped my neck down a bit more, then I decided it was time to go. When I reached down to grab my bag, instead of my raven-black Osprey a battered old bag was in its place.
Immediately I went into I-need-to-find-the-motherfucker-who-did-this-and-get-my-bag-back mode. I was looking around for the old lady and for any sign of my bag for a few seconds when a young girl with a cell phone told me that she had seen the perpetrator go toward a street corner and that I should run there.
I had my doubts. My gut sensed something was wrong, but my mind said, "She's a concerned citizen and owns a cell phone, run and get that piece of shit who stole your bag!" So I ran. Barbarian yelps were going through my mind. About halfway down the block my gut instinct was insistent, so I stopped and ran back, finding nothing and almost no one.
I think there was definitely a 3rd (and possibly a 4th or even more) component to the team. I continued to walk around looking for any sign of the shitheads who did this, to no avail.
There was a guy sitting on a step across the street from where this happened, and when I asked him about it he asked me if my bag was the one across the street. I asked him if he saw what had transpired, and he said no. I walked around some more, then the guy went and picked up the "switch" bag. He asked again if it was mine. I said, “No, it's not mine,” and he walked off with it. (I know, I know, in retrospect I should have kept it, and he was probably in on the whole thing. I'm trying not to let myself go down the self-defeating "if only I would've done this or that" vein of thought.)
I walked around, not panicking, but really just pissed off. I was mad at myself for falling for it, and at the grandma gang who did it. My tile turned out to be of no help at all, so my next investment will be a GPS tracking device. A police officer drove by, and I flagged him down. He told me to go to the local "comiseria," which is basically a police station, if you can call it that.
So I walked over to the police station. There was one lady helping people, and a young man who shuffled papers and set things down with a "pop" to exude some sort of illusion of power. When he spoke it was with the feigned arrogance of someone who had watched way too many cop shows.
I sat down and waited while the lady typed and typed and typed. There was a TV playing shitty pop music videos, making it like a very surreal and bad dream. I looked in the "chief" office and noticed another TV blasting some regurgitated media refuse. In the office (and yes, I'm slightly jaded) there were a few self-important-looking dudes talking as if they were somehow taking down major cartels. Maybe they were, who the fuck knows.
When it was my turn to report the theft by the grandma gang, I had some trouble communicating with the officer. With some people it's more difficult, and the Spanish in Argentina is very different from the various dialects of Spanish in the rest of Latin America. Anyway, a girl offered to translate, and I was grateful for it. She communicated the story, and when the officer went into the chief room for whatever, I asked the girl if everything was all right with her. She said no. There was some creepy asshole at her apartment who kept looking in her windows and standing at her door. He sounded very much like a sociopath. Anyway, lost stuff is not as bad as getting stalked by a creepy slimy asshole. Hell, I'm alive and breathing in the still beautiful Buenos Aires.
I told the officer that I didn't expect the police to find it but that I needed their report. The next person was a kid who’d had his bicycle stolen.
The next day I went back to the same neighborhood to see if I could catch a lucky break and get near the tile. No such luck, but I did get to see how beautiful Palermo was. Despite what happened, I still recommend going.
Because I can't go back in the past and implement James Bond-type cunning, I have to accept this as a learning experience. I paid a lot for this unwanted lesson, but hopefully it helps both you and I in our future travels.
Here are some things I learned:
•Be wary wherever you are. I really thought that I might get robbed at gunpoint in La Boca, which is another neighborhood where a few other travelers reported just that: getting robbed at gunpoint. Instead I was tricked by an old lady.
•If you suddenly get splattered with something that seems like bird shit, bird shit mixed with mustard, or some other concoction on the street, clean yourself up and be super aware of your stuff.
•Don't bring your external drive with you. I have my important things all backed up in the cloud, but I still lost a lot of video.
•Before going out, make sure you have your videos backed up to your hard drive, and again, don't bring it with you.
•Find insurance that will cover stolen things.
•Look into GPS tracking hardware for luggage.
•Lock up your bags when walking.
•When you think things are just great, enjoy it. But don't let your guard down!
•If something like this happens to you, do what you can to rectify the situation, but don't let it consume your mind (I found myself replaying the event, wishing I’d acted differently and getting angry as hell at the perpetrators).
•Remember, it's just stuff. Health, life, and love among friends and family is more important.
There are many things that are very messed up in the world, and my bag incident is incredibly minor compared to real world tragedy, so in the end I gotta be grateful. I have my health, family, friends, and freedom to travel.
Maybe the biggest lesson here is this: Just like my bag was slyly and swiftly taken away, life can be taken in the same way.
"Live right now..." Jimmy Eat World