San Juan Del Sur is a vibrant beach town in southern Nicaragua. Many of the town’s restaurants line the beach and offer spectacular sunsets de jour from their decks. Recently, I was dining al fresco alone-o, eating an ensalada con pollo while working on my Macbook Pro. After a couple of drinks, my only date was with the restroom. Since I was the only diner and there were at least six waiters watching the dining area, I decided it was safe to leave my backpack on the floor and computer on my table. Sure enough, when I came back, my stuff was at my table right where I had left it.
A few minutes later three Americans in their 70’s sat down at the table next to mine. Both of our tables were near the edge of the deck. The two ladies in the group set their bags on the floor as I had done with my backpack. Halfway through my salad, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. One of the ladies’ bags was sliding toward the edge of the deck. Sliding, sliding, and then it completely slipped over the edge of the deck. Gone with the wind or something more sinister?
It took a moment to process what was happening, but within seconds I had abandoned my salad and found myself chasing after two boys who were running up a side street into town. (But first I threw my Mac in my pack, and slung it over my shoulder so any stragglers wouldn’t be tempted. It’s like the oxygen mask rule.) The older Americans weren’t as quick to react, but when they finally realized what had happened, they panicked as the bag contained the woman’s passport, wallet, camera, probably a bunch of meds, and other valuables.
A few of the faster waiters joined the chase after the boys, and remarkably the fastest waiter returned with the old lady’s bag just ten minutes later. The lady checked the contents and confirmed that nothing was missing. Spooked but relieved that the bag was recovered, I finished my dinner with my backpack on my lap. The older Americans moved to a table further from the edge of the deck. That night I was extra vigilant as I walked back to my hostel in the dark.
The next day I did some amateur sleuthing, deducing that what had happened was the boys had crawled under the deck and using the cracks in the floorboards, had shimmied the bag over to the edge of the deck where they could pull it over. Upon further examination, I noticed that a few restaurants down the beach had installed barbed wire barriers under their decks, but probably for aesthetic reasons, this restaurant had not done the same. What they did do was swiftly react and recover the woman’s bag as well as a pair of sunglasses that the thieves had also snatched from someone.
Although I was not the victim in this case, I very easily could have been with my foolish move of leaving my stuff at my table while I went to the restroom. Here’s what I would have lost in monetary value:
- RayBan’s: $100
- Mac bookPro: $2000
- Camera: $200
- Wallet: $200
- iPod: $100
So about $2600 worth of stuff in addition to my passport, credit cards, keys, and journal. My sense of trust was stolen that night, but I think that it was only a matter of time for this traveler. Although this case happened in San Juan Del Sur, I’m well aware that theft can happen anywhere. Even in our hometowns. In fact, years ago my cousin had a ty beanie baby stolen from her here in small town Lewistown, Montana. Would you believe this theft took place at church school? The beanie baby was never recovered, and the thief was never caught (we should have looked downstairs at confession), but my cousin learned that it probably wasn’t a good idea to leave valuables unattended.
So whether you’re in the theft capital of the world or at the holiest place on Earth, I think it’s safe to say that theft happens. While I still don’t pay proper attention to the safety instructions preached by flight attendants (don’t worry, I’m never seated in Exit rows), I do make a point to pay more attention to my belongings.