The Benefits of a Fake Wallet and Some Cough Drops

18 Oct

It’s interesting to note that in the 7 months I’ve been in Peru and parts of Bolivia, I’ve lost perhaps $10 worth of stuff, but in the 3 months that I’ve been in Cochabamba, the monetary value of goods parted from me is perhaps $400.  This is not to say that Cochabambinos are violent thieves (Bolivians do say, though, that Peruvians are thieves). Most of the crime is surreptitious and there is little danger of getting mugged in the street, compared to Colombia or Lima. Well, there might be a chance of getting assaulted by a clefero (sic), a drug addict addicted to….sniffing glue.  I’ve heard in these cases, you can negotiate with them and they are usually satisfied with a few pesos.  In one particular instance, my roommate’s friend was unable to convince a clefero that her few bolivianos were enough and he demanded her cell-phone.  She stalled by demanding that he hold out his hand, put a bunch of cough drops in it, and ran. But in the case that you don’t have cough drops, you can ask, at least, to keep your SIM card and the telephone numbers, and most cleferos, the reputation is, are okay with that.

 Most of the robberies I’ve experienced have been the sly, gradual disappearance of my things.  Once, I left my jacket, hidden beautifully within a pile of jackets, in a bar, and of course, my jacket and the pile were gone afterwards.  Another time, the laundromat returned all of my socks washed, but my jeans were missing.  The most impressive robbery was when I was walking through la Cancha, acclaimed the largest market in South America by the Lonely Planet (though, it is really like all the other large maze markets in South America), with my backpack.  Of course, the vendors in La Cancha tell me to be careful with my backpack, but as I hate putting it front of my chest, pregnant-woman style, I thought I would be extra-vigilant instead. Exactly four things were inside the outermost-pocket of my backpack: a bunch of business cards, tea-bags, a fake wallet (a wallet with an expired credit-card to distract thieves), and a change purse.  When I got home, only the fake wallet and the change purse were gone.  What a considerate thief, leaving my tea-bags!  But scary how I hadn’t felt a thing.

The most unusual robbery was an inside-job, inside my apartment, to be exact. I had put a stack of 770 bolivianos, my rent ($110), inside my dresser and in the span of two hours, 200 bolivianos from that stack was gone.  At this point, the owner of the apartment revealed to me that over the course of the week, 300 bolivianos had been stolen from her and my other roommate.  The thief had to be the fourth roommate, because who else had the keys to the apartment and she had the silly sense to rob all of us individually.  They confronted her during the night and she mounted an impressive defense.  She approached me in the morning, with tears in her eyes, professing her innocence.  She planted doubts in my mind.  When I came back to the apartment that night, she was still there, in the living room, and had gathered a small group of witnesses, including the mother of her boyfriend of 2 months.  The mother attested to her good character, strange considering they didn´t know each other that long, but we were convinced that she was the robber and kicked her out.

Nevertheless, we still have the same locks to the apartment and the owners still leave the doors unlocked from time to time.  I guess they haven´t learned to be super-paranoid like we are in the States.  (When I lost the keys to my hotel room in a forest, the hotel owners simply made me another copy of the same key.) 

The rich in Cochabamba are super-paranoid (desconfianza, there is a word for this in Spanish), though.  As in all countries, their maids steal from them and some won´t hire maids for that risk.  The guards outside their homes, who are only paid 800-1.200 bolivianos, also sometimes plan robberies of the house, because they make more money that way.

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