[This is a continuation of Part 1.]
I stared blankly out of the window for a few moments, feeling like I’d made a really bad decision, but trying to convince myself otherwise, because at that point, I wasn’t quite sure what else I would do. Lenny must have seen the expression on my face because he struck up a conversation, filling the silence with easy chatter. As we sped on, I let my guard down a little, eager for a relaxing day by the river.
We soon arrived at a small picnic area by a river after a short drive, where I got off with all my stuff. Lenny arranged with the driver to pick us up again at about 3pm, giving us a good 4 hours to chill out in the delightful shade and bask in the glittering river. The picnic area was sparsely populated with picnicking families and couples, so we settled ourselves under a huge tree some distance along the river. There wasn’t anyone around, and there was a clear view of the river from where we set our stuff down. I still wasn’t too pleased about having all my stuff by a river bank, but there was little to be done, so I decided to have a good time anyway.
Changing into our swimwear, we headed to the river. The fresh water was a welcome relief from the sweltering sun, but I couldn’t fully relax and kept glancing back toward my backpack on the riverbank. A while later, another couple arrived on a motorbike and settled themselves near us, chilling in the river a short distance away. It was an idyllic time – children splashing about in the river, and cannon-balling in from a high wall nearby, the cool waters washing away the stresses of recent days, the warm sun bathing everything in a wonderful light. I felt myself start to relax, while still keeping an eye on my bags and checking back every two minutes or so.
Lenny decided he wanted to do a cannon-ball too, and climbed up the high wall, while I watched from the river, having just ensured that my backpack was still safely where I’d left it. Just then, I heard a shout from the motorcycle-couple guy.
“Oye chica! Es tu mochilla!” – Hey girl! It’s your backpack!
With a sinking feeling, I turned toward my backpack just in time to see a burly man running off with my backpack clutched in his pudgy arms. I gave a shout and took off toward him, but impeded by a lack of shoes on the rocky ground, I was much slower and before I had made much headway, he disappeared around a bend. I kept running, and just as I got to the path, I heard the sound of a motorcycle engine starting up. I kept yelling and running, but the sound soon faded into the distance. Lenny had caught up with me by then, and left me to go back to the rest of our belongings while he gave chase.
Running back to the river bank, I saw that the thief had only grabbed my giant backpack, leaving my totebag with my iPad, camera, phone and wallet behind. I was about to heave a sigh of relief that he’d only made off with a bag full of dirty clothes before I realized that that morning, I’d specifically packed my passport, credit card and most of my cash into my backpack, thinking that if someone wanted to rob me, they’d be more likely to grab my tote bag and run, rather than a hulking giant backpack. My heart dropped to my stomach when I realized that I was now (almost) penniless, and definitely passport-less in a foreign country.
Lenny came back panting at that point, having had no luck in catching the thieves. The motorcycle-couple had also come over to see if they could help. Frantically, I explained (yelled, more like) that my passport, credit cards and a lot of money were in my backpack,, and that I needed to get them back. The man and Lenny quickly decided to see if they could catch up to the thieves on his motorbike, so as they sped off, the lady tried to contact the police for me. I, meanwhile, was busy contacting my friends and family back in Singapore via Whatsapp for help.
Obviously, we weren’t able to get a hold of the police (There’s no emergency number for the police and the local number isn’t working…maybe the office is closed, is what the lady told me – my response was are you fricking kidding me how can the police office be closed? What if somebody died???), and obviously, the guys returned empty-handed. My friends back in Singapore (and some in other parts of the world) were extremely helpful with looking up useful information like where the nearest embassy was (Mexico City or Miami), and what I should do in this situation (contact MFA immediately, which one of my friends helped me to do, only to be asked by the MFA guy on duty The Dominican Republic is in which country? Oh, you mean it’s a country, ah? It is near which country, ah?), while generally reassuring me and calming me down.
While I was dealing with the administrative disaster of not having any form of documentation in a foreign country without an embassy or consulate, Lenny tried repeatedly to call the police, and the taxi driver who had dropped us off, to get him to come pick us up and take us to the nearest police station to lodge a complaint. After about an hour or so, he finally managed to contact the taxi driver who promised to be there asap. Thankfully, my hiking boots and the clothes I had worn earlier were still there, so I didn’t have to go in my bathing suit, but it was still with frightfully few belongings and only about 20USD, that I got into the taxi when he finally arrived, about 45 minutes later.
He took us to the nearest police station, a small, dingy building with a single desk and two chairs in the main area. The policeman on duty wasn’t even there when we arrived, and a young boy was sent to fetch him. When he arrived some time later, he did not seem too concerned with the fact that I had been robbed, and didn’t even appear to be motivated enough to take my statement. I gave it a while, before asking him about it, to which he responded with a rather sinister grin, that the power was out and that he couldn’t take my statement (not that I had seen any computers or anything that would warrant the need for electricity in the police station).
Eventually, the power came back on (we knew the power was back on because an ancient fan on the wall started creaking slowly in a half-hearted attempt to produce some wind) and finally, the police officer sat me down to take my statement. On paper. Because the laptop he had wasn’t working.
The statement he took was on a piece of what looked like scrap paper, and he basically wrote down both my and Lenny’s name, and the address of the police station, and gave us the piece of paper. Slightly taken aback and incredulous that this was all the information he had taken down, I gaped at him.
“Señorita, eso no es mi area. Tienes que ir a Santiago, para hacer la denuncia.” – Miss, that’s not my area. You have to go to Santiago to lodge a police report.
I could have yelled. I could have cried. I could have punched his smug face. I didn’t. I thanked him, and Lenny and I headed back to Santiago to lodge the real police report. My problems had just begun.
—–Stay tuned for Part 3!—–