Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Argentina, Robbed in Mendoza and other stories from the road..

(The police report)

Good news and bad news are often intertwined, and so it was for us.

The bike was finally finished. Now the only thing left was to take it for a test ride to make sure that everything was functioning ok. Some last minute washing and a few last e-mails and we would be leaving the following day.

(Uspallata pass)

The test ride took me up to Uspallata along a river which apparently is very popular for rafting. Upsalla, is right at the foot of the Andes and the pass going to Chile. The way back to Mendoza took me over a 3000 meter pass and a great dirt road which made it's way back down the mountain along many switchbacks which to my surprise were snow covered whenever they were in the shadow side of the the mountain. At the bottom there is a thermal spa and from there the road goes straight across the plains back to Mendoza. Back in Mendoza, Carlos and I did some last minute adjustments on the bike before I went and picked up Katheryna and a pizza, and we headed back to the campground. Now, what had been a great day, looking forward to leaving in the morning and getting back on the road was rudely interrupted by the reality of finding our tent open and for the most part empty!

(A student protest coming out of the front gate of St. Martin Park)

We had been robbed! The reputation which we had been reading and hearing about had finally caught up with us. The following hours flew by with the police and the owners of the camping. There was of course nothing anyone could really do at this point, the stuff was gone, and Kathy and I spent a while to sort out exactly what had disappeared. It is amazing how much stuff we actually have. All the police in the vicinity showed up and did a quick search around the area, unsurprisingly they found nothing.

(Around Mendoza)

The thieves had taken all our cooking gear, the pots and pans, a bunch of clothes, two backpacks, a small camera, an I-pod and speakers, two pairs of tennis shoes, all our electrical cables and charging gear, some books and lots of odds' and ends which they could easily carry. Basically they had taken their time and made off with everything. They even took out stuff out of my backpack which they didn't want. What they left was the sleeping bags and mats and the two ortlieb bags which we carry on the back of the bike.

(Bicycling in the park)

The following morning in the light of day, after a sleepless night we had a look around ourselves. We found that the thieves, and there had to be more than one considering how much stuff they carried away, had dropped a belt on their way to the back fence. On the other side of the fence I found my shorts and a bit further on some papers which they also apparently dropped on their way to the road a 100 meters further on. Unfortunately here the trail went cold, I found nothing more. So depressed and tired we slowly broke camp and for the first time in nearly 3 months we were back on the road. The weather mirrored our mood, cold, damp and dark, and this is unfortunately the image that we will take with us of Mendoza.

(Plaza de Italia, Mendoza)

After a few days reflection, we think that the thieves were helped if not directly at least indirectly by someone at the campground. We had asked them specifically at least three times to keep a closer eye on our tent (we were for the most part the only campers there over the last 4 weeks or so..), as we had had some problems with a stray dog which had started to get into our tent whenever we were away. Something which they had definitely neglected to do. The thieves had plenty of time and didn't seem to be in a hurry, they had not damaged the tent, and had looked at what they took. For example, the took the South American guidebook we had, but left a history book. In addition, I am not a great believer in coincidence, they were the only ones who knew that this was our last day!

(St. Martin park)

All in all we were of course lucky, we had not been robbed at gun point, we had not lost anything really important. For example we had all our money and papers on us. A large part of our clothes were with us as we had just taken them to the laundry, and on the test ride I had also taken my tank bag which contained my big camera and lenses. This had been sitting in the tent for two and half months!! Nevertheless, once we got to Montevideo we did a complete inventory and found to our surprise that the replacement value of all the goods they had taken, amount to 10,000$!! This is not the worst part, the worst part for us is the fact that most of the stuff has little or no value to these people, and we have spent a long time collecting the stuff we used. In the end I see them just throwing away most of the stuff which I doubt they can sell or would use.

(Bicycling in Mendoza)

And to put everything into perspective, three days after we got robbed I got a mail from Robbie, a friend who we met in El Chalten. Robbie is also on a bike and after we left him in Argentina he headed into Chile, back into Argentina and over to Uruguay and then up along the coast of Brazil. The mail informed us of his run-in with some pretty bad people north of Rio. Apparently, he was stopped along an empty stretch of road by a car sporting police lights but otherwise un-marked. Four people then forced him into the car at gunpoint. With one of the guys riding his bike, they took him and the bike to a nearby field. There they tied him up on the ground, waved a gun around and proceeded to go through all his stuff, putting what they wanted into the trunk of their car. They took all afternoon to do this, and even sent one of the guys to bring some food. Once they had gone through all his stuff, they asked him if there was anything he wanted from the stuff they had discarded, and even let him keep a backpack to put the clothes he salvaged in. In the end they drove him back to Rio and dropped him off at the bus station giving him 20 Reales (12$). He is back in the states now, and has understandably lost his appetite for traveling, at least for a while.

(A handicrafts market, Mendoza)

We will continue, replacing some of the more important stuff, but the trip will certainly not be the same, and much shorter to boot. The cost of the repairs on the bike and the replacement costs of our equipment have all taken a heavy toll on our travel budget.

(Tango, Buenos Aires)

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