Two simple words, said in a fraction of a second. Two words that caused me so much pain.
Okay, possibly not the words themselves, but the emotion with which they were said. Hearing my wife, who I love and would do anything for, so upset, and knowing that there was really nothing I could do to make it better made me feel completely and utterly useless. Right, I’ve done the emotional stuff, now it’s back to the story.
We’d just been ‘robbed’. I guess it was bound to happen at some point – we’ve spent years travelling together and have never had any ‘real’ issues to deal with.
We were in Tenerife, and had hired a car to explore the island. It was our first day so we’d headed straight to Teide National Park, and been up the volcano in a cable car, before taking a leisurely drive via all the viewpoints, stopping to take photos along the way. Then we made the fateful decision to stop at Montaña Blanca, where we parked the car beside several other tourist vehicles, and popped out for 5 minutes to admire the enormous caldera close up. It was spectacular, and there were lots of people around having picnics and just taking in the view. It felt really safe and we would’ve stayed longer had it not been rather chilly out there without our jackets on. Which we’d left out of sight in the boot of the locked car, along with our rucksacks containing clothes, money, cameras and passports.
We returned to the car and got ready to leave, when I noticed glass all over the back seat. The rear quarter light window had been smashed and my immediate thought was our bags. Her Ladyship jumped out to check the boot, and after a few moments of silence announced in disbelief that our rucksacks were gone. I swiftly double-checked, just in case the effects of altitude were still playing their cruel games on her (we’d just descended from 3555m on the cable car), but the boot was indeed empty.
Some lowlife scum of the earth had stolen our belongings, and along with them a sizeable chunk of our sanity, and inevitably the remainder of our holiday.
This was something we’d never experienced before so (retrospectively) it was interesting to see how we both reacted, very differently, to the situation.
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On reacting differently
For me, it all sank in pretty quickly, as I tend to be an immediate reactor. I was fuming. My favourite rucksack was gone, as well as the camera that is the ‘bread and butter’ of our blog work, and several little bits of plastic with 16 digits that might actually only cost pence to produce but potentially represent a vast amount of money. We also lost clothes and outdoor gear, prescription glasses (which meant Heather could no longer drive), and all our cash. However I’m quite a practical guy, and quickly realised these were all just possessions that could easily be replaced. No, what really pissed me off was the potential impact on our future plans. We were supposed to flying out to Kenya the following week, but how on earth were we going to do that without our passports? I know, we were stupid to be carrying them around with us, but we’d been advised that we had to since we were renting a car, and we’d need to produce them if we were ever stopped by police. Going against my gut instincts we complied. Idiots.
In this moment of despair I let forth a string of frustrated curses. Her Ladyship on the other hand was a lot calmer. She’s a thinker, and likes to fully digest situations before allowing herself to react. Unlike me. I like to get it out of my system. There will be a minute of upset, followed by a minute of rage, and then with all the emotion done and dusted, with a completely clear head I flick a metaphorical switch and it’s immediately down to business, and dealing with the task in hand. It’s only when I start being practical that Her Ladyship crumbles and allows the floodgates to open. And there’s nothing that will plug that dam other than time, and my feeble attempts at jokes (she’ll wish she’d never given me access to the blog when she reads this!).
Thankfully we had our phones on us at the time, and were able to make several rather emotional phone calls to start dealing with the immediate issues. But we didn’t even have a pen to write down information that was being relayed to us (the bastards had stolen that too) so Heather had a tearful conversation in Spanish with a lovely elderly couple in the next car (who’d seen nothing) and came away with their only biro. Seeing her distress they gave it as a ‘regalo’ (a gift). This simple but generous gesture set her off again, and even now, a month later, just seeing the pen brings tears to her eyes. They’re happy tears though, knowing that whilst there are scumbags in the world, there’s kindness too.
So what do you do when you’re in the middle of a remote national park, with few other people around, and all your stuff gets stolen?
What to do after discovering a theft
- DON’T PANIC! You need a clear head to think about everything that you need to do. If you panic, you’re only going to get yourself in a worse state and won’t be able to handle the situation. Remember, possessions can be replaced. As long as you are okay, that’s what is important.
- Do an area search of your immediate surroundings for anything that may have been ditched. You never know, you may be able to recover some of your items.
- Don’t be afraid to approach other people in the area and ask them if they saw anything, they may even be able to offer further assistance.
- Get on the phone – for all those people who go on about “digital detox” and think phones are a curse, I say “BOLLOCKS”, the problem isn’t with the technology. If it weren’t for the phones our situation would have been trickier to deal with and we wouldn’t have been able to:
- Call the police. Depending on the situation they may want to attend the crime scene, speak to witnesses, take statements. They may just advise you to go to the nearest police station as soon as possible. As there were no witnesses to our incident, we called the police with help from superb concierge Julien at our hotel, Gran Tacande in Costa Adeje, where Heather spent an hour speaking to a very patient officer in Spain, listing in detail everything that had been stolen.
- Call the car rental company. Apart from the fact that you’re obliged to inform them of such an issue they may be able to help in contacting the police on your behalf, organising recovery for the vehicle (if it’s not driveable), or arranging a replacement vehicle.
- Call banks and credit card providers to get those cards cancelled before the thieves have a chance to use them.
- Call the hotel. We did this because our room key was in one of the bags, and whilst we were fairly sure there was no way to identify our room, we weren’t taking any chances. It also meant that when we got back, the hotel staff were ready to help us in any way they could.
Filing a police report
Only after we had done all the above we headed back to the hotel – thankfully the damage was minimal and the car still drivable. On arrival back in town we:
- Made a comprehensive list of everything that had been in our rucksacks. You want to have this ready prior to filing the police report. Don’t be tempted to add anything to the report, it just isn’t worth the risk.
- Located the nearest police station to file a police report and get a reference number. This was essential for us because of the passports, but also for insurance purposes (check your travel insurance T&C’s – some policies clearly state that the police report needs to be filed within 24 hours of the incident). The police were really friendly which helped enormously with dealing with the whole process.
- Contacted the British Consulate in Santa Cruz with regards to our stolen passports. First we went online to report our passports as stolen, before applying (also online) for emergency travel documents to get us home. These are usually processed within 2 working days, but thankfully the staff at the Consulate did it in just a day (which was great, as we would have missed our return flight otherwise).
- Started the process of applying for new passports (you may not need to worry about this whilst you are still on your trip, but as we were supposed to be heading to Kenya in just a week’s time, we had to get that started, and luckily could do so whilst still abroad).
After all of that we finally had chance to sit down and take a moment to reflect. We’ve been in far worse situations and survived. Like the time we were stranded in the middle of the night in the Guatemala wilderness after our bus broke down and our driver had run off. Or when we got caught up in a shoot out between border guards and drug smugglers in Lesotho. And then there was that time when I was charged by a leopard in the Kenyan bush. So having to deal with stolen passports is just a walk in the park, relatively speaking.
We refused to let the incident ruin our entire holiday, and although most of the trip was spent running around to the consulate, police stations, and various toilets all over the island (yeah, we were both ill as well to top it all off) we actually saw some incredible places. We hired another car and headed out to Masca and Garachico, and finally went back to Teide, maybe for a bit of closure, but also because it’s just so damn beautiful. Ironically this is where we were when we got the call to say our emergency travel documents were ready to collect. Which meant we’d be going home on time. Happiest moment of the trip!
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As soon as we landed back in the UK we headed straight for an appointment with the Passport Office up in Glasgow, and after waiting a few tense days, we had brand new passports. The mug shots are dire…we stopped at a supermarket photo booth at about 2 AM on the way back from the airport to have them taken…but they do the job. We probably look tired and ill at most airport immigration checkpoints anyway, so they are probably a truer likeness.
We also put in our insurance claim, which rather disappointing didn’t even cover half of our losses. We calculated that we’d lost, or had to spend, £2,500 over this incident, yet were only compensated with £1,000. The most disappointing part was that the insurance company wouldn’t cover the cost of our emergency travel documents or new passports (which together cost us over £500), because they are classed as ‘money’, which apparently is only insured if it was stolen from a locked safe, or directly off your person. This is apparently standard in most travel insurance policies. Nothing like kicking a man when he’s down.
However, most importantly, we made it to Kenya. And in the end, that was all that really mattered.