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.
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.
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.
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