By , March 21, 2012 2:15 pm

Mike and I consider ourselves to be fairly intelligent human beings.  But we’ve recently come to the realization that we’ve got nothing on the average Central American petty thief.

If you recall, back in September our camera was pickpocketed in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  It didn’t matter that we were told not to take anything with us to the fair except for the money we absolutely needed to get through the day.  More specifically, we were told that the money we take should be stuffed into my bra, not left in a pocket.  Being the smart ones that we are, we ignored that bit of advice,  figuring that the camera would be fine in a zippered front pants pocket.  We were wrong.  Some clever fingersmith outsmarted us and got a camera out of the deal.  Lesson learned.  Right?  Well… not quite.

Mike and I were relaxing at the hotel room we shared with my Mom and Terry in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica when there was a knock at the door.  There stood Mom and Terry in only their bathing suits – no shirts, no shoes.  “We were robbed!” my mom explained.    Mom and Terry had left their Merrell sandals, Terry’s shirt, and Mom’s sarong that she purchased in Cozumel earlier this trip sitting on the beach and went for a walk.  A 45 minute walk.  They thought it would be fine.  And, like us with our camera, they were wrong.  You see, every beach we’ve been to in Central America we’ve been given the “watch your stuff” warning.    In fact, at most beaches, we’ve been given the “don’t even take a bag to the beach” warning.  Guess those people giving the advice know what they’re talking about.  Now the lesson should be learned.  But….

A mere four days after the beach incident, we were all on a chicken bus from Monteverde to Puntarenas, en-route to Jaco, Costa Rica.  I’d be lying if I said that we hadn’t been been told on several occasions to never put anything in the overhead compartment of a bus.  Can you guess where this is going?   Since leaving Utila, we were carrying two extra bags that we received as part of our divemaster course.  One was full of food (so wasn’t really an extra bag, as we often carry a food bag with us).  The other was full of divemaster books, slates, and underwater camera enclosure weights that we didn’t really need but figured we should send home with my mom.  We put these bags in the overhead compartment, figuring that they were pretty disposable anyway.  Still, we kept our eyes on them during the crowded trip.  When we got off the bus, the bag with all the divemaster books was gone.  The funny thing is, Mike spent most of the trip trying to figure out how he would say “Hey, that’s my bag.  Give it back!” in Spanish if someone did try to walk off with something of ours.  Once again, we were outsmarted.  Maybe there was something to that advice after all.

So, what have we actually learned from all this?  A few things.

1.  When advice is given to you by locals and other travellers, it is usually warranted.  Listen to it.  Even if it means the inconvenience of carrying your shoes at the beach or holding an extra bag on your lap on the bus.

2.  We felt absolutely no emotion over our dive bag being stolen.  I think that’s a good indication we didn’t need to send it home in the first place.  I guess we are still working on breaking our attachment with stuff.  I would have liked to see the thief’s face when he opened the back to discover that what he probably thought was a laptop was actually a bunch of PADI books.

3. While petty crime is prevalent throughout Central America, it is rampant in Costa Rica.  We were robbed twice in the course of a week.  This kind of took us by surprise, as it’s the wealthiest Central American country.  However, nearly all the travellers that we’ve met that have had problems with crime in Central America have had those problems in Costa Rica… backpacks taken from the storage bins below the bus, bags taken from overhead compartments, thefts on beaches, robberies at gunpoint, etc. etc.  We recently met a local woman in Somoto, Nicaragua that described Costa Rica as a beautiful country, but one that was too dangerous to visit.

Let us know… have you had any problems with crime in Central America?  If so, what happened?

6 Responses to “Why We’re Dumber than the Average Central American Petty Thief”

  1. I lived in Costa Rica for 2 months and never got robbed! Of course, I was fortunate enough while traveling in the country to not have to carry all of my worldly possessions with me, so usually my small backpack/camera bag wasn’t too burdensome to carry on my lap — which I ALWAYS did.

    It’s probably good advice to carry with you wherever you travel. Nothing was ever stolen from me in Costa Rica, but it’s definitely happened once or twice in the U.S. 😉

    • Ashley Lenzen says:

      Hi Katie! Happy to hear you were problem-free in Costa Rica. I imagine it’s that way for the majority of travellers… we just happened to get unlucky. I think either event could have happened just about anywhere.

  2. Natalie says:

    I can’t believe you got your camera stolen from a zippered pocket! That takes a lot of talent.

  3. Talon says:

    They got the camera out of a zippered pocket?! Holy crap!

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