Yep, I’m here in beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador. I’m using my son’s computer, as it appears I no longer have my beloved laptop.
There is a fair amount to unpack here; everything from embarrassment, to shock to cost, to the many documents I am not aware as yet that I am missing.
The theft happened on a bus. Similar to many parts of Central America but quite different from other countries in South America, Ecuadorian busses stop almost anytime to pick-up clients. More importantly, busses let vendors onto coaches. During a typical journey (yesterday’s was 6 hours from Riobamba to Cuenca) at most stops people walk up and down the vehicle selling everything from warm corn to desserts.
This is actually quite charming, but does cause a great deal of movement on the bus.
The crime seems to have happened on a journey three days ago, between beautiful Baños (it means ‘pools’ not ‘toilets’) and Riobamaba, much higher in the mountains.
As a ridiculously frequent traveller, I am a creature of habit in my packing. I almost never hang clothes in wardrobes, but rather let everything sit in my open suitcase. My travel purse with money and passport(s) is always in the same place and my computer – i.e. my working life – goes in the computer pouch of my shoulder pack.
The Journey to Riobamaba
The bus ride from Baños to Riobamaba takes less than two hours and is spectacular. We arrived at the coach terminal at 10:55. The next scheduled bus is at 11. Perfect. Tickets are only $2!
Our bus was not full and the seats were not assigned. I sat towards the middle of the bus and I put my backpack (with the laptop) on the seat beside me (inside, by the window).
Then there was a flutter of activity before our typically late departure. A friendly young couple was chasing their one-year-old up and down the aisle. Half a dozen other people boarded and claimed seats.
Several vendors were also selling. While a man took the aisle behind me, the young couple bought a wooden jigsaw for their son (from a wandering vendor). Some puzzle pieces fell on the ground, money was dropped and my leg was bumped several times.
Perhaps someone reached over the seat and took my computer as I helped. Perhaps.
I read during the journey, looked out the window and checked my phone. Who knows. When we arrived, in Riobamaba, people rushed off the bus as usual. I collected bags from underneath the bus and did not notice the absence of my beloved computer until settled in the hotel.
It was gone.
Of course I phoned the previous hotel, but nothing was found. I know my computer was with me, as it is so much part of my routine. It was stolen. I was robbed.
Theft causes such a feeling of disbelief, mixed with violation. I went through a rapid process of denial and shock, to quick problem solving, to almost immediate resignation.
That computer was almost four years old. I was planning on a new one this summer, but I guess that process has now become accelerated. No one was hurt and gleefully, I cannot imagine the device will be much use to the new custodian. The laptop is password locked, English keyboard and older.
Still, I had not sent everything to the cloud and have lost photos, documents and a lot of writing I was working on.
Theft and Travel
This is a reality and particularly of concern in Latin America. I like to travel on public transport and am almost never afraid for my own, personal safety. Nevertheless, it is generally true that anywhere in this region, anything within reach is fair game.
As I fortuitously mentioned in the ‘High, from Quito’ blog, I do feel a slightly higher level of concern in Ecuador, even though the level of economic development and general infrastructure in better than in neighboring countries.
As we all know, theft can happen anywhere. My first encounter with theft was when my bike was stolen at university (University of Calgary) and I once had money taken from my jacket in the Ottawa youth hostel.
Guiding in Europe, every year I had to deal with clients being pick-pocketed everywhere from Denmark to Rome, but I also remember a student leaving her bag – passport, money and all – in Pisa (Leaning Tower) and when we returned it was still there!
In South America we lost a camera and cash in good hotels in Argentina. In Bolivia we caught a driver dipping into peoples’ bags.
Of course I could go on with example, but I also do not think there is any need for fear. We have rented a lovely apartment here in Cuenca and to enter involves three locked doors. This, in my opinion, is overkill.
Travel involves a higher level of personal responsibility and most certainly a higher level of awareness.
On my tours I am so ‘on’ I prevent most potential issues, but in this case, I was a little too relaxed and … well … I have to buy a new computer.
Incidentally, my new Aventura Credit Card from CIBC – which made all sorts of claims about being the best travel card – offered absolutely no help at all.
The day after the theft, we still biked down Chimborazo volcano and enjoyed every minute of our time. On the 6-hour ride to Cuenca, I kept my pack closed and closer to me.
Computers are much less expensive in Canada than Ecuador, so I’ll have to borrow Finn’s the next few weeks.