Ready for a (long) travel story? Then read on…
I should have left to go to the bus when I was planning on doing so. Perhaps my whole mindset would have been different, as opposed to whimpering while I walked on Luis Thayer Ojeda. And if I had been more alert, perhaps a short Latina wouldn’t have ended up with my money belt in her hand.
As of now, my luggage includes:
- My huge suitcase, which is almost overflowing.
- The blue bag (with handles and a shoulder strap) that I bought in Budapest when I was with Catherine and needed a bag to replace the big plastic bag with strings for handles that I had gotten in Italy at an American Express office. As of now, this is filled with food, juice and bags of papers that I need to sort through to see what I do and don’t want to keep.
- My laptop backpack, which also has a lot of stuff.
It was unpleasant bringing all of this around. It was doubly unpleasant because I left later than I wanted to. Before leaving, I had made noodles. Since I didn’t have the chance to eat the noodles, I drained the water, then put said noodles in a plastic shopping bag to eat later (and for the record, this is not the first time that I’ve done this).
I got to the Metro some time around 6:40 PM, give or take. I figured if I only needed to go to Universidad de Catholica, that wasn’t too far. Off I went. The stations went by, starting at Tobalaba, then Los Leones, Pedro de Valdivia. Time was going all right. I had all my stuff. My cargo shorts on, I had my cell phone in my top left pocket, my iPod in my top right, my notebook and camera in my bottom left and my money belt and wallet in my bottom right. The belt of my money belt, frequently trails out when it’s in that pocket, as opposed to when it’s around my waist (infrequent) or in my laptop backpack (more frequent, but usually only in fully 1st world countries)
At Estacion Pedro de Valdivia, a short, squat woman and a man with a cap entered the train. Not long after, they somehow slid to my side. Looking in between the woman and myself, I saw a familiar sight. My money belt was trailing. But it wasn’t coming from my pocket…
In my money belt:
- US and Israel passports.
- Travelers checks. (AKA “remaining money from 4 months of work”)
- My receipts to get reimbursed by my travel health insurance for my bronchitis check-up.
- My yellow fever vaccination certificate. (I dunno options one has if they lose such a thing.)
- $32 USD, including a $2 bill.
- $5 Canadian.
- My France discount youth card (worth 49 Euros).
- Old CA Driver’s license.
- Birth certificate copy.
- Health ins. from home card.
- Discover card.
- AAA card.
- ATM card.
- Original taxi police report.
- Lowest denominations of paper currency from: Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.
- A hostel rewards card from the UK.
I pulled the belt of the money belt, and it was firmly in her hand, which was under her jacket.
I didn’t even say a word to her. I just took my money belt back. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about grabbing her and bringing her to the police, but my main focus was just getting to the bus. She looked at me like I was the jerk. Like “how could you”, with disgust. As if I had stolen her money belt. The woman and man got off at the next stop.
I was in shock. The people around in the rush-hour train had seen it, too. I asked one of them if she could report it, since I didn’t have time. Either she didn’t understand or didn’t want to.
Next plan was to somehow tell someone while on the run. Around rush hour (and sometimes at other times), the Metro has attendants by the trains. At the next stop, Salvador, I asked one (in Spanish) if he could come and ride on the train so I could explain what happened. He said that I needed to talk to the guys in blue. Station after station, no guys in blue right outside the train.
I got off at Universidad d Catolica. I asked a woman where I went for Alameda station, for the buses. She said that it was at Universidad de Santiago and that I should just take a taxi. <sigh> There are three stations with “Universidad” in them: Catolica, Chile, and Santiago. I should have checked before I left, as there is a huge difference in time between the two, and I was going to the furthest university station.
At this point, I was freaked out. If the bus wasn’t 10 minutes late, I was going to miss it. The woman advised me to take a taxi, saying that it’d be 1,500 pesos (less than $3 US). When I went outside, there was a guy there, I made some weak, hopeful question to see if I was perhaps I was in the right place (even though I was sure that I wasn’t). And, of course, I wasn’t.
I flagged down a taxi. That guy started talking to the driver. I cut in, in Spanish, asking how much it was, more or less, to where I needed to go. He said 3,000 pesos. Since that woman said it was half the price, I was pissed, said he wasn’t telling the truth, and let him go on. I asked the guy that wanted to help me if I could take a bus. He said no, take the metro. He said he’d help me. We went back down. For the metro, you have to pay every time, so he walked over to the ticket booth. I walked over to one of the security people and spoke quickly, in Spanish, explaining that I was on the train, I needed to get to Alameda… The Metro employee wanted me to shut up and just waved me in, opening the side gate for me to go through.
When I down the stairs, to the platform, a guy on the stairs yelled down to me. This is something that I have gotten used to. People yelling, because I have inadvertently dropped or left something, or it has broken through a plastic bag or the like (see: Paraguay). This was a breakage. My two orange/soy juices had fallen out of my bag, which obviously had broken through the side pocket that they were in. After some deliberation, I put them in the bag with the noodles. When the noodle bag started breaking, I put one of the liters of SoyOJ in my back pocket. This got strange looks.
I dragged all my stuff up to the bus station, looked for the bus on the screen, no luck, asked a guy, no luck, went to the counter. It had left…
(Change to present tense.)
I have to go to a special counter to deal with it. At the special counter, the guy tells me that the ticket can only be used for 50% of its value. I tell him what happened with the attempted theft. Now, it’s hard to say whether or not that was the actual problem. I was running late, yes, but I also was thrown off by everything, and potentially I would have just gotten right back on the metro after talking to the woman that said to take the taxi, which could have gotten me there on time. Hard to say, because I don’t know exactly when the bus left. I ask the guy if there’s anyone else I can talk to. He points across to a plexiglass walled room with specialized employees. I go and wait. My shirt is soaked with sweat. This, along with the air-conditioning, is making me shiver.
I pathetically tell my story. With no argument, I get to change my ticket for free. After going and waiting on a long line and talking to the first guy again to get my new ticket, I go off to try to report the attempted theft.
The first guy I talk to is a Metro employee. Basically, we go in circles, in which he says that there’s nothing they can do if she wasn’t successful in stealing anything. I keep saying that it’s a criminal act to try to do so, but this doesn’t seem to persuade him into any action. I ask him who I should talk to. He points me up to the police van that is permanently stationed upstairs, outside.
I talk to the Caribineros and they seem willing to do something. One of them asks for a description, then calls over to the other station. In the meantime, I show another cop my case files from the taxi story. While we’re standing, one guy asks the cops for directions, then another couple comes to report that their backpack was stolen. The cops go off and say to wait. While I’m waiting, I figure that I should deal with where I’m staying. I call my (as of moving out) old roommate, who is out of town, but who’s boyfriend is staying at her place. I ask her if Luis will be around tonight and she says what I imagine to be yes, because my phone cuts out due to lack of minutes. I realize that I also need to call Gustavo, the reporter that is reporting on things like this, who I have done the taxi investigations with. I ask a guy standing on the street if I can use his phone for 2 seconds to call a friend. The guy lets me, I get Gustavo, who is surprised to hear from me, but calls me back (can always receive calls, even with no minutes). Gustavo offers to let me stay at his place, which I take up, considering he says that he has a bed, which is more than I’ll have at the old place.
After waiting a while for the police to come back, I check with the remaining police officer in the van. He says that I don’t need to wait, that they have all they need. I get some info from him to find out how to contact them regarding their “internal investigation”, leave my info, then leave.
I try to find somewhere to get some more minutes for my phone. I get some, then when I’m walking away, I get yelled at, as I’ve left my noodle bag. I take it, thank the 3 people that yelled to me, then go down to the Metro.
I go to buy a Metro ticket, since I’m out of money on my Bip! card and it doesn’t behoove me to add money. I go to get let in on the side, then realize that I’ve left my breaking noodle/juice bag, again. I run back over to the ticket counter. It’s gone. I sink inside, again. I tell the woman that’s manning the entrance. She asks the ticket woman. The ticket woman says someone took it. The side entrance woman says that I’ll just have to buy a new one. At first, I agree. Then I say no, if someone stole it, then I (or someone) should be able to look at the cameras, since this is theft, since it wasn’t theirs. (I halfway believe this, as “Finders Keepers” certainly is something that I have used on occasion.) She then explains that no, no one stole it, someone threw it out. (I’m not clear on if it was an employee or not.) I think that it should then be in a garbage can nearby. And magically, I see a bag sticking out of a garbage can not far off (and the ticket woman notices it at the same time). It’s, indeed, my noodle bag. I explain my earlier story to the side entrance woman and say that “now, everyone is a thief to me.” I apologize for all of it, she is very kind, and I head off.
(In retrospect, I guess it makes sense that someone would think that a bag of noodles stuck to a bottle of juice might be garbage.)
But… I end up going the wrong direction for a few stops.
I get off and change directions, ending at Gustavo’s station, which is one station away from the one for my old apartment, but on a different line. I am totally turned around. I ask some people which way Providencia (the neighborhood that I need to go to) is, because if I have that information, I’ll know which side of the street I’m on. They ask if I speak English, then proceed to call someone who has no idea where I need to go. I wait a bit, then ask them which way Apoquindo (a street) is, which gets me my bearings. I already know which way to go, but I keep waiting, then they tell me exactly where I already knew.
I get to Gustavo’s apartment. The guy in the lobby calls up to Gustavo for me. Gustavo isn’t there, so I sit on a plush couch and eat more of my noodles-in-a-breaking-bag that I’ve been eating.
Call Gustavo. He says 15 minutes, then shows up in literally 2 minutes.
We go up, he cooks, I do some dishes, we eat what’s basically Chilean rizotto (Gustavo is Spanish/Italian).
Gustavo tells two cool stories:
1) He went to Mendoza, Argentina today. While going there, he heard a story about how yesterday, someone tried to smuggle in 6 rare Amazonian parrots by tying them up and putting them in shoe boxes. The dog went nuts when searching the bus. Apparently, the dogs are specialized, so that dog was an animal dog. According to Gustavo, if it was a drug or food dog, it wouldn’t have done anything.
2) Gustavo lived in India for a few years. In India, he lost 15 kg in a month because he can’t eat spicy food. He was so skinny and so tan that his friends back home called him “Mr. Gandhi.” (“…because I was so skinny and so dark!”)
I am supremely lucky. I still have all my possessions. Also, they didn’t charge me more to take the bus tomorrow, which they well could have done, as it’s printed right on the ticket.
I have somewhere to stay. Actually, I have a bunch of places I could’ve stayed, which is cool.
All in all, another experience with minimal fallout. Lucky, lucky Roni.
Update: I am now laying in a bed for the first time in weeks. It’s a glorious feeling. Ahhh, Gustavo’s bunk bed. For the record, it’s a guest room. No Gustavo (or anyone else) on the bottom bunk.