This is a blog post I have been both dreading and eagerly excited to write. It’s about when I got my camera bag stolen while I was in Banos, Ecuador. Now originally I wanted to write this post right after it happened, since as soon as I posted the news on my social networks there were a million and one questions and I was getting tired of repeating myself. I am however very glad I waited to write this post because I now feel like I am in a more secure and stable emotional state and I can reflect and report in a mature, put together manor.
I have grown emotionally and learned more about myself in these past few months since the “incident” than in the past two years. In the two weeks following the incident I had gone from emotional rock bottom to once again newly optimistic on life. I have only ever had a few other incidents in my life that have plummeted me to such an emotional wreck, and certainly none so quickly.
So let’s start the story from the beginning.
First A Bit About Me:
I am a beyond paranoid over protective freak when it comes to my belongings. I travel A LOT and even in everyday “home” life I always know where all my valuables and even none valuables are. I do not lose things (aside from socks and a few random smaller objects); I do not break things (I get very upset when I wash clothing the wrong way); I have never had ANYTHING stolen from me before in my life. There are multiples ways that I have had this success; one is always being aware of my valuables and electronics, and being proactive and not placing myself into situations where trouble happens. I have travelled to over 30+countries with laptops, external hard drives, cellphones, DSLR cameras, spare cameras and more. I always have an eye out for my bag and where it is. If we are riding public transit, it’s locked or it’s in front of me secured. My bag is always either on me or being watched by someone.
I do this because there are only a few objects in my life that have a lot of sentiment: my laptop, external hard drive (where my video footage is kept), DSLR camera and a few of my favorite pieces of jewelery. I would honestly like to consider myself a very non materialistic person, I try hard to be and I know in some sense I am. I own less clothing than almost all my guys friends and I have literally no furniture aside from a desk and bed. Everything I own can be packed up in 3-4 suitcases. Literally everything. I just don’t like spending money on objects, I would rather spend it on experiences, trips or nights out with friends. So when I do spend money on items, I make a big investment emotionally and financially to purchase and acquire them.
I feel like this is one of those time when everything complies onto each other and bad luck just happens. We were back at the hotel dressing/getting equipment and stuff ready for the night. Now I have a pretty golden rule when it come to taking my DSLR camera out at night: I don’t. Nighttime is statistically when the largest amount of small crime happens, it’s just a fact. I even knew that South America is particularly bad for crime when Stephanie and I were travelling in Brazil and heard all the stories of fellow travellers getting mugged and pick pocketed at night. I also NEVER take my DSLR bag/camera when I go drinking or where there is drinking involved. But alas, for some reason that night I decided that it was okay to take my bag out, we were only going to dinner in a group and then going to a private salsa dancing lesson and then I would head home. Yes, it was a Saturday night, but if I wanted to go out afterwards I would return my big camera back to the hostel and just grab some cash for the rest of the evening.
First breakdown of my system: I got too comfortable. Dinner was great and then it was off to salsa dancing where only our group, plus the staff from Leprechaun Bar , where we were taking lessons at, were dancing; however, there was still people walking in and out of the bar and the bar doors were open. I was filming like I usually do, and my sister was filming as well. The camera was getting place in and out of the bag, which was on the bench near the other bags. It was just after 9:00pm on a Saturday night and in the span of literally 5-10minutes when I was carelessly, soberly salsa dancing away not paying my usual hawk-eye attention to my bag it was snatched. I was too comfortable in my settings and just like that it was gone.
Second breakdown of my system: I failed my redundancy checks. I had two lenses in my bag, for filming different style. (this is normal) But last minute I also placed my secondary camera in and my iPhone 5 (did I REALLY need those for dinner and salsa?). Then, last last minute my sister also placed her phone in the bag. Generally when we travelled together we would split our valuables between our 4 different bags, so if one got stolen or lost we wouldn’t have lost everything. There should never have been two phones and two cameras in that bag.
They know who stole it, a Colombian lady, she wrapped it in a bag and walked out. A few members of my group told me they saw her leave but didn’t think anything of it at the time. They were also caught on camera, her and two male accomplices. I was the only target in our group but not the only one that night, 4 other bags were taken from various bars and a bus station that night all between 9-10:15pm.When I first noticed it gone I went into frenzy, my adrenaline kicked in and I mad dashed around the bar, turning over chairs, bags, everything. Then lead by one of the employees at the bar we ran out onto the street, searching alleys, scanning each and every person. First we hit up the public open buses, basically 4×4 trucks with horizontal benches placed in the trunk, similar to the trains you ride in Disneyland to get from the parkade to the park. They were crowded with people and I jumped up and onto them searching for my bag. I knew what my camera bag looked like but I didn’t know at the time that it was in a plastic bag. After the public buses we searched the coaches at the main bus terminal and zigzagged up and down every alley and street in literally the whole town. The other employees and fellow Contiki travellers joined in the search as well to hit up all the other local bars on the strip. Looking back at this period of time now, I can honesty say I’ve never had such an adrenaline rush. I literally sprinted back and forth through each and every street in Banos in the matter of minutes; frantic, manic, searching since my bag couldn’t possibly be actually gone, until it was. Until reality set in and I realized I was in South America and things are very different here. There are black markets and inefficient policing systems, crime is a very common occurrence.
My camera bag was gone and I was never going to see it again.
Grief and despair then flooded over me like a tidal wave. Literally like in the movies when a person so overcome with emotion collapses onto the ground. That was me, crying, muttering nonsense of how royally fucked I am. I had to literally be pick up off the ground by fellow travellers and the staff from the bar and told to keep looking. Told we had to go back to the bar. Then came the numbness, where I just went emotionally blank. I shut off crying and everything while sitting in the police car continuing to search. Going over how my life was over, everything that defined me was over. I was a video blogger with no camera equipment. Where as just two days previous I was crying and upset over lost footage when my GoPro’s battery died and my sisters camera got waterlogged at the same time. ( I get very upset over missing footage). I kept telling myself, please let this not be real, let it be a dream. (That never works, I don’t even know why we do that) But it was. That camera WAS a part of me, and it felt like someone had ripped it out so quickly and brutally I was left with a physical hole that I wasn’t ready for and could not deal with.
Now I’m sure this sounds somewhat familiar to what a death of a close loved one feels like. I am very lucky and blessed to have never had this reaction to death before, although I have experienced it in my life. I am honesty ashamed to be comparing loosing a camera, a replaceable item, to the death of a loved one. But at those moments that is exactly how I felt. This is why I wanted to wait to write this, because I had to come to grips with a part of my personality that was attached to those items. I had to break that emotional attachment, that camera was metaphorically my “child”. It was with me almost every day of my life for the last year and a half. It was my travel companion and my story telling tool. I tucked it into bed at night and charged, cleaned and took very good care of it. I even had it send into repairs cause I wore out the grip. It was away for a week and I was very scared I wouldn’t see it again. But I did. Friends that travelled with me knew that I brought that camera everywhere. I never expected to get so emotionally attached, or was even aware that a person COULD get so emotionally attached to an item until now. But now two months later, after a bit of time and support from my friends, I am okay without it. It is just a camera, it will be replaced.
Things that were stolen:
- Camera bag
- iPhone 5
- Samsung Galaxy II
- Canon 60D DSLR camera
- Canon 50mm lens
- Tamron 10-24mm lens
- Canon Powershot Elph 110HS camera
- 2 extra 16GB cards, chargers, USB drives, lens cleaners, batteries
- $150 USD cash and my sister’s debit card, luckily our only card stolen.
All the local pawn shops and electronic stores were called, no luck. I tried find my iphone on my computer, little luck that was. The following Monday I painstakingly got a police report filled out, I won’t go into the details of how ridiculous that was and why the police station wasn’t open on the weekend. I had no insurance and neither did my sister, nothing would be covered. I never even knew you could get baggage/theft insurance.
I think also one of the biggest causes of WHY I was so emotionally devastated was that I didn’t know how I was going to replace those items. I am financial screwed. I cannot afford a new camera, or a even a new phone. (since writing this I have actually saved up enough for a older phone, yay) I am lucky I can pay my rent each month. This was and still is one of the leading reasons I am so devastated by this whole ordeal. I know most of you can understand this on some level. I am not a wealthy person, the life and path I have chosen for myself is not one that general ends in riches.
Being a “travel blogger” is not all that glorious. I am broke and have no money most of the time. My cards are maxed out and I have a lot of debt from student loans. I work 4-5 different types of odd jobs to make cash in between my travels when I am at home. So although it seems like I travel most of the time, in reality I don’t. I just space out my videos so it seems that way since my life at home is boring; I work to pay bills. One of the blessings I do have is through my sponsorships, like my largest one with Contiki. Working with them and other companies is how I AM able to take these trips. However, without equipment I am little use as a travel vlogger for the future.
On A Positive Note:
Thanks to the fact that I back up my footage on an external hard drive all my fantastic and incredible Galapagos footage survived and is currently in the process of being edited. I have also rediscovered why I love travelling in a group so much once again. I am eternally grateful to the warm supporting hearts of my fellow travel mates whom lent me their photos, footage and cameras for the final few days on tour. They were so supportive I cannot thank them enough. Least not forget my above and beyond tour leader Maiyra, and the whole Contiki team. If I didn’t have them I would be MUCH more screwed.
And then there is my personal growth and self discovery. Learning that life indeed goes on and that loosing stuff is NOT the end of the world. I have moved on, and in some weird twisted way almost slightly, not heavily, thankful I got this experience, since it has helped me grow as a person and will help future me be WAY more cautious of my belongings. You learn through experience right? Well this is one experience I am sure NOT going to forget.