Guatemala Stories and Tips

An unwanted adventure

Lent Procession Photo, Antigua, Guatemala

Having enjoyed the bustle and the excitement of the Lent Procession we returned to our hotel to enjoy the rest of our time on the open balcony of the second floor. We settled down in to the comfort of the settees to watch nightfall descend. The vista across to the volcano was superb and then the sunset began to set. What a fantastic vision and I made haste up to the roof garden to take a few photographs across the rooftops towards the volcano and the setting sun. It was brilliant and made more spectacular because it was so unexpected.

Darkness descended very quickly and then the lowlight of the holiday. I realised my wallet was missing from the zipped pocket in my shorts. After a frantic search, by torch light of the hotel’s roof terrace, the reception area and our bedroom I came to the realisation that it had gone before I got back to the hotel. Thinking back my zipper pocket was open when I checked the pocket and I could only think back to an incident when I’d been taking photographs at the Lent Procession. A guy was sat on the edge of the high kerbstone (Antigua needs high pavements to help avoid flooding of the houses and shops in the rainy season) and at one point I felt him push against my leg. I thought little about it until I felt another push and then I stepped back and found another spot to stand. I had checked my pocket, by tapping my leg, and had felt something in it (I actually was carrying a purse with our "kitty money" in it as well as my wallet).

Panic was well established now and although I had no bank cards in the wallet it did have my UK driving licence in it. Quite why I hadn’t taken that out back home I can’t recall, but at least the bulk of my cash was in the hotel safe together with my debit and credit cards. I said to my wife that I would call down and check with reception and if nothing had been reported I would head off to report the incident to the Police. This is where the real excitement starts .....

I had been given directions to the Police station which was just round the corner, so I confidently set off in the direction given by the hotel. Within minutes I sensed I was wrong and so stopped some locals (or I presumed that they were). I have no Spanish so just said "Policia" and shrugged. They shrugged back and rattled off a sentence or two in Spanish. A few mimes later and they seemed to have understood and pointed down to the next block.

Off I went with the panic mode beginning to enter a new level and seeing no police station I called in at a hotel. Thankfully there was an English speaking guy there who works alongside American tour companies and he rapidly understood the problem and asked that I go with him. We went back the way I’d come and as he disappeared up a short alleyway I realised that I would never have found this place on my own. He started to explain my predicament and it soon became evident that the Police here were not in a position to help. It turns out that they only deal with crime prevention and the Tourist Police were the ones I needed to contact.

My new "guide" explained that he’d happily take me to the Tourist Police who were only 5 minutes away, but he had to let his wife know what he was doing. To this end we returned to the hotel. After a few minutes he appeared with a crash helmet and told me that we’d go on his motor cycle to save some time. With hindsight I am now clear that the next step was fairly foolish as I got onto the back of his bike and headed off, I knew not where.

The motorbike bumped its way over the cobbled streets and made several turns leaving me disorientated. All I knew was that I was a long way from the hotel and I had no money for a taxi ride back. The driver reassured me that we were only a few blocks away from the hotel but as he weaved through a build up of traffic I was beginning to speculate where he was taking me. Just as panic was reaching a crescendo he pulled into a large courtyard where the Tourist Police were based. Certainly I would have expected them to be closer to the centre of town but, as I later found out, the hotel could have rung them on my behalf and they would have collected me from the hotel room.

Once again my adopted "guide" told the police what had happened and they then explained that they had been busy with the Lent Procession and no-one had had time to eat. They asked if I was happy to return later on that night to report the crime. I hesitated momentarily before giving an answer and in this pause the "guide" continued to say that the Tourist Police would arrange to collect me from the hotel and after my statement would return me. I agreed and my "guide" explained that the police would take me to the hotel now so he would get back to his wife. I thanked this Good Samaritan profusely and he smiled saying that he was happy to havbe been of assistance to me.

On the way back to the hotel the police officer explained that there had been over 6,000 spectators at the procession and to date only three complaints had been received. All of these complaints were of pick-pockets. He went on to say that the Police had had a high profile at the event and offences were significantly lower than in previous years. That, he said, was down to the deterrent of a Police presence and not to the vigilance of tourists. These pick-pockets were said to be highly skilled and when I explained the two "pushes" I’d felt he said that the first would have unzipped the pocket and the second lifted the wallet from my pocket. He did say that they’d been known to take ear-rings from women’s ears, but that felt like one of those apocryphal stories!

We agreed that I’d be collected from the hotel at 9.00 pm to give my statement. That gave me time to have a meal and more importantly allowed the police to eat before resuming their duties. Sure enough at 9.00 pm he was outside of the hotel waiting for me. The car journey to the police station seemed much speedier that the one on the back of the motorcycle and soon I was handing over documents for photocopying and giving my account of events. Very efficiently it was entered in to the computer and having checked the details (it having been read back to me in English) copies were run off for me to sign. Without having to ask a copy was passed to me, for insurance purposes, and within 15 minutes I was heading back to the hotel.

I was given a tip to carry my wallet in a zipped breast pocket and in crowds place my arm across my chest. Nothing of course is foolproof but that seemed like a good idea which I will work on in the future. I guess I felt more foolish than anything – I’ve travelled far in the last decade or so and never had any problems before. I guess I’d got a little over-confident and this was a good wake up call. I don’t think Antigua is any worse than any other town in any other country. I was just in the wrong place &at the wrong time with my wallet placed in an "unsafe" pocket.

I will be more careful in the future but I won’t let it take any enjoyment out of this holiday or future adventures.

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