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Oldest trick in the book

Paul 2007-01-21
We've read about the scams, been warned again and again about the theft here, and were as vigilant as we thought we could be. But, unsurprisingly, it just happened to us.

Unfortunately, our camera was stolen from us while at our favorite Internet café the day before we left Quito for Otavalo... Buggers! We should have known better than to leave a camera worth a few hundred dollars (several months pay here) out for the pilfering. A guy tapped me on the shoulder, pointed at a key on the floor and asked if it was mine. I said no and went to keep typing, but in that second, an accomplice stole the camera while I had turned to look down.

Less than two seconds after the camera was stolen, I realized it, jumped up and gave chase. Unfortunately, he was gone. GONE!

I ran around like an idiot for a half hour looking for him, until I found a guy who looked the part and confronted him. When he acted really guilty, I tried to flag down a passing police car. When I realized they weren't going to stop, I jumped into the road in front of them and made them stop - or run me over, thankfully that didn't happen, and I am still here to continue the story... I explained what had happened, and told them that this might be the guy, but I wanted to head back to the café to get the other witnesses' opinions, since I wasn't 100%.

We hoped into the police car, went to the police station, where he got thrown into a cell while I re-explained the deal to the other cops and again insisted that we go back to the café. They seemed to think this was unnecessary, but ultimately agreed to escort him in custody to the café for a positive id. Turns out nobody recognized him and I had the wrong guy. I apologized, shook the poor fella's hand and he was free to go.

I feel really horrible about this. Here's some guy walking down the street, and a stranger comes up to him, accuses him of something random and he gets an hour-long police work over. I can't help but flip the roles around and wonder how easily the same could have happened to me. And maybe by someone who wasn't all gung-ho about being sure they had the right guy. The police sure weren't too concerned about it and would have gladly jailed him just on my accusation.

In the end after the adrenaline level subsided, I wished I had done more for the guy once I realized it wasn't him. Dinner, drinks, something!

Oddly, I mean confoundingly odd to me, is that the guy never objected to any of it. He'd just say he didn't have the camera, but never said he wasn't involved. He just went along with it all, in the kind of way a broken man who doesn't feel like he has a say in his destiny would. I've heard our hosts explain how the people are so used to being screwed by their corrupt politicians, police, etc..., that they don't feel like anything they do matters. That's just the way it is, they would say. Acceptance to such an extreme, I've never seen before, especially not first hand. Think about it. If you were in his shoes, would you have just gone along hopelessly, not even bothering to object or defend yourself? This is a fundamental cultural difference here. People feel powerless.

But I digress, live and learn, don't leave your stuff out, and if you're going to accuse someone of something here, better be sure, because a foreigner's word is enough to put someone in jail. (Shouldn't it be the other way around?)


Permalink by Jess   |  January 22, 2007 10:23 AM

One for the books, and consider yourself initiated to travel theft! Gutsy to chase after the guy, not knowing what kind of person he is - you're courageous dear brother (and foolish to jump in front of a moving car!!!).

Permalink by Gug   |  January 22, 2007 01:25 PM

Actually this is a bit chilling - not the stolen camera so much, as the "powerlessness" of the average person there. I was glad you insisted on 100% correct ID of the guy.

Permalink by Sange   |  January 26, 2007 01:38 PM

I am proud of you that you acted so fairly in the end, we were brought up well!

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