Forks and Jets

The true story of a couple or amateur foodie travelogues going around the world


Pirates of the Algarve

June 26, 2009 Portugal


A view of the lighthouse at the southwestern-most point of Europe, from the Fortaleza in Sagres.

While stopping for a hour and a half stoll along the cliffs of the Fortaleza in Sagres, Portugal, our car was hit by professional thieves. The car was parked in a large, lit parking lot patrolled by many security guards and police. We took the camera out of the camera bag, and locked the car. We must have been watched, and we blindly left the bag behind the driver’s seat. The passenger side door lock was punched in. Since the thieves had likely only a few minutes to get in and out of the car, they thankfully left the trunk alone, which was filled with everything we own.

At the Fortaleza

Maine or Portugal?

We didn’t even notice that the camera bag was missing until arriving in nearby Lagos and went to get our belongings together to take to the hotel. We racked our minds for where we might have left the bag, overlooking the broken door lock and completely not believing we had been robbed. After a long day of driving, we spent insane amount of time backtracking our route, and second-guessing whether we had or hadn’t seen the bag at the Fortaleza. The camera bag, our beloved Domke, contained a 50mm lens, a wide angle lens, copies of our passports, and notes on our daily budget for the past 10 days. Finally noticing the mutilated door lock was a relief; we could go to the police, file a report, and start in on our insurance options.

We may have not lost much, but we did lose some of our most expensive gear (upwards of $850 for this stuff during our gear/outfitting preparations). Aside from our laptop, these are also our most important items. Photographs and journals are all we can keep from our experiences around the world, so it’s heartbreaking to hinder our resources.

Insane winds at the southwestern-most point

The good news is that we had our camera on us, as well as a the very versatile 18-270mm lens we use as a walkaround. The camera geek in Eva groans it’s the slowest, heaviest lens we have, but it does have the broadest usage. Being stuck with the wide angle only would make our “reportage” look like an MTV music video.

Chances are we’ll replace the 50mm as soon as we find a camera shop stocking it. At about $75, it’s one of the cheapest lenses on the market, especially from Canon. Eva loves it for it’s speed and crispness, most of our food shots up until now come courtesy of the 50mm. The 11-16mm wide angle was pricey, and it’s not typically kept on the shelf at camera shops. Photo fiends always tout Asia for it’s wide availability and good prices, so that’s likely the first place we’ll be able to consider a replacement — but that is almost half a year from now.

We ordered a new Domke bag since it’s totally one of a kind, and absolutely the best bag we’ve ever used. It’s discreet, durable and compact. We won’t get that delivery until we visit Eva’s family in Poland near the end of the summer, so we started in on finding a temporary replacement right away. As part of a t-shirt and travel pants replacement shopping spree we stopped at a Spanish mega sporting goods store called Decathon. We found a tiny bag just big enough to fit the camera with lens and promptly turned around and committed the same crime we suffered. Bad karma! Eva put the camera in the bag, and the bag across her shoulder while we cruised the store and fitting rooms. At the checkout, we were preoccupied with the prices the register was ringing up (I think the Spanish have never seen two people on a more penny-pinching shopping budget!) and completely forgot to put the bag on the counter. We got into the car and whooops!

It’s ironic to us that we made it through all of South America without any incident, but encountered it almost immediately in Europe. Before we set off from the States, we concentrated the majority of our concern for robberies and muggings on Mexico and Brazil. Though we parked the Mexican rental car in all manner of faraway dark streets, we never once noticed any tampering. We guarded our bags with fervor on the streets, almost the the point of hilarity — like the time we stood backpack to backpack on the subway, ready to karate-chop any offenders. Eva thinks that she was wallet-checked once, but Jeremy hadn’t ruled out frotteurism that time. We aren’t saying that South America isn’t dangerous, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that we traveled for 3 months without incident, gastrointestinal or otherwise.

We’d heard Spanish cities can be the homes of opportunistic thieves and pickpockets, but perhaps we were just being obtuse after making it through our red flag areas. Whereas in Mexico we made certain to leave everything out of sight in the trunk, in Portugal and Spain we just behaved as though we were in small town USA — backseat strewn with English-language guidebooks and small knickknacks. We should have been more aware and watchful, we just started taking safety for granted once we saw the paved roads and bidets.

In the end, things could have been much worse. We are constantly grateful for each day without violence. We hope this is the worst of it — we learned a good lesson in remaining vigilant.


  1. Nidhi says:
    June 26, 2009

    :( nooo not the lenses! I guess I am glad all the other stuff is ok and you still have the camera. I lovelove your photos and nothing should stop those!


  2. Audrey says:
    June 26, 2009

    I definitely feel your pain in losing your favorite camera bag and some lenses. Sorry to hear about this. Robberies always seem to occur when you go off guard, you feel comfortable with your surroundings. Our only incident in 2.5 years on the road happened going through security at Bangkok Airport.

    Good luck getting your claim to go through and in replacing your stuff.


  3. Gillian says:
    June 26, 2009

    Bummer about the break in. Good job the things that were taken are replacable though. An important lesson in not letting your guard down – travelers are targets everywhere.

    It looks beautiful there in the Algarve though – I hope this doesn’t lessen your experience.

    Also, thanks for the Cusco info – it turned out to be very helpful!!



  4. Matt says:
    June 26, 2009

    Sorry about the loss, there are 2 things i worry about losing on this trip and that would be my laptop and my camera.
    Im in Central America carry around 2 lenses with me, an 18-55 and a 50mm. The 50 was one of the best presents i have received, i use it in portraits more than anything, and you are right it does take the crispest images you have seen, the food pictures are great.

    Portugal and Spain does have its fair share of petty thievery, Barcelona alone shares a high percentage of that rate, i have been to both countries many of times and have experienced no problems, but known quite a few people that have. The Algarve is a lovely part of Europe, and Lagos is a beautiful little town, i hope this experience hasn’t dampened your spirits.

    I hope you manage to replace everything else soon too, but good work on the bag from decathlon!


  5. John says:
    June 27, 2009

    It’s Decathlon, btw guys… And they can afford it!


  6. Shannon OD says:
    June 28, 2009

    Oh man, so sorry to hear about the break-in – that can really be a blow to the spirits – luckily you do still have the camera. Such an important lesson and makes me think a little bit more about how lax I myself have gotten now that I am back Europe and perceive the danger to be lessened. :)


  7. Akila says:
    June 28, 2009

    So sorry to hear that! We do the same thing – we are so vigilant when we travel to third world nations and then, in Europe, we let our guard down. Good luck finding replacements.


  8. Mom Rees says:
    July 4, 2009

    I’m soo glad you two are ok. Hard to believe in a parking lot w/lights,cops and such something this this would happen. Hard lessons to learn. I guess the red flags go back up? When Vicki went to Spain years ago they were warned about gypsies. Eva probably heard already. Love you both, glad you are fine. Grandma always sends her love.


  9. Team Rees says:
    July 10, 2009

    Yeah, it was hard loosing the lenses. Eva still moans when she sees a pretty shot she wishes she could capture with the lost lenses. Hard part is there is not much we could have done about the theft.

    Thanks for all the support, we are happy that the theft was so small in comparison to all the bad things that could happen on a trip like this. Always seems like we have so much to lose but as long as we have our health and a point and click, we can probably still have a great time. (Just might be harder to share with all of you guys without all this great gear we have)

    Hopefully we get somewhere we can find lenses so we can start showing off with the pictures again, please stick with us until then!?


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