On the bus from Antigua to Chimaltenango (the closest city on the Pan-Am Highway), a woman sat next to us on the school bus seat. I thought it was a little odd, since there was an empty spot or two still. "Maybe she's fascinated by my hair or something." She was silent through the ride, but as we approached the highway junction she said something I didn't catch. ¿Que? ¿Xela? No, vamos despues. ¿Panajachel? Sí, vamos hoy. She pointed at a bus parked on the highway, so I grabbed my bags and headed for the bus door. I was about to get off, but she and the ayudante (he collects the bus fares and puts people's stuff on top of the bus) indicated I should stay on until our bus turned the corner. I sat in the front seat, the women across the aisle, and Molly was behind me. A guy behind Molly was jostling her, she responded by telling him to have patience. In the span between waiting at a stop sign and pulling in front of the other busses, the woman unvelcroed and unziped my pants pocket and filched the wallet I bought two days ago to replace the one stolen in Poptún
. Meanwhile, the guy had unzipped Molly's backpack and snagged my old camera that she was borrowing since hers broke.
So, to update the casualties list
- My brand new Mayan weave billfold with Q250 (approx US$30), stolen by a middle-aged woman on a bus in Chimaltenango. With the money in the wallet, she can pay for 25 more round trips to Antigua.
- My five-year-old 3.1 MP Pentax Optio 33L with three weeks of Molly's carefully framed photos and visual memoranda, stolen by a middle-aged man on a bus in Chimaltenango.
- A $20 bill and two $10 bills, missing from Molly's small blue bag, departure date and location unknown. Oddly, several other bills remain in the same place.
Clearly, Chimaltenango is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Lonely Planet advised us not to leave our things unattended there on account of bag-slashing, but I didn't think through the scenario of theives robbing me before I got off the bus. We discovered the theft a few minutes into our ride to Lake Atitlan; too far to turn back and wrestle the theives to the ground.
We spent most of the ride making light of the situation:
- Now Molly won't get frustrated that my old camera doesn't do a good job taking the photos she likes to frame
- Now I have an excuse to get a better pocket-sized camera in the next year, saving shoulder stress from carrying an SLR hiking
- Maybe we should buy several decoy wallets, place them in easily-accessible pockets, and fill them with notes like "Aquí está su boleto al infierno. Es de ida, no más. ¡Disfruta el viaje!" (Here is your ticket to hell. It's one way only. Enjoy the trip!)
- The average time I've owned a wallet in my life is about 8.5 years. 17 years on the first one, two days on the second
- With the money from my wallet, the woman can fund 25 more round trips on that route
- Nathan's advice: "Frustration is a magician's misdirection, leading the audience's eyes toward a distraction while in otherwise plain sight the fraid is perpetrated"
- (In a discussion about the black plumes out the back of the '80s-vintage school bus) "It's a problem with the catalytic converter." "The Catholic converter is dirty, so it can't put the holy air into the high confession chamber, thus leading to sinful smoke."
- Things that wouldn't happen in the U.S. #2365: A guy opening the bus's emergency exit to climb on the roof to untie a box while the bus is doing 45 uphill on a curve. #2366: Passengers boarding and departing the bus through the emergency exit while the bus is not at a full stop.
Inventory of valuables still in possession:
- Two sane minds with senses of humor and knowledge of several languages
- Two relatively healthy and intact human bodies
- Two United States passports (with expired visas for China)
- Two Visa bank cards
- Two full camera memory cards
- A camera bag containing a Canon Rebel XT, a 4GB Compact Flash card (over half full and containing fantastic pictures of Molly kissing a horse), and a Garmin hand-held GPS device with the locations of all my photographs
- Two journals containing daily descriptions and observations
- One MP3 player/recorder with a few dozen sound clips to share what cannot be photographed
Everything else could be replaced or let go with a minimum of greiving and frustration.
While it's clearly to the immediate personal benefit of the thieves to steal petty cash and old camera equipment, in the long run it hurts their community, and in turn their chance at true prosperity. While I know that not every Guatemalan is a theif, others who hear stories of theft on busses may conclude that Latinos are untrustworthy. They then don't treat them with respect and pay them a poor wage when they work in the north, lowering the flow of remissions to the south. They may also think twice about traveling in "the third world;" if they do, they may choose to stay in expensive foreign-owned hotels and take direct shuttles run by companies that don't keep their money locally. I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone stay in a hotel or eat at a restaurant in Chimaltenango, a place tarnished by the actions of a few who deny respect to people because of the color of their face and the style of their luggage.