Monday, July 30, 2012

Losing our valuable belongings - Part 2

Getting the Police Report

We were resigned to the fact that our things were lost and had to figure out what to do next. We were stuck in Calama for the time being and had to wait at least until we got the copy of the police report. And as luck would have it, it was a Saturday. Who will give us a police report on Sunday? I thought we'd get the same day - all I knew thought the police report was that it is a document that will probably be signed by the officer who answered the call. Apparently that is not the case. The police report is not issued by the police, but by the Fiscalia which is housed in the building next door. The Fiscalia is like the district attorney's office and we were told by the smiling police officer who said with a shrug that we cant get the report that day and that we can only get it the next day. The next day was Sunday! He insisted the fiscalia is open on Sunday, but I had my doubts. We now had no choice but to spend the night in Calama. There isnt much to do there either. Even if there were, we were simply not in the mood to do anything. Using our smart phone, we checked emails, called the insurance company, informed our families and bunked down to spend the day and the night.

Newspaper ad for stolen Green Card

We read online that in order to replace a stolen green card, we'll need a copy and the receipt of a newspaper ad that we place in the local daily where the green card is lost. We couldn't get a confirmation about this from the US embassy, so we decided to give it our best shot and get an ad placed anyway, as we didn't want to return to Calama for this alone. Unfortunately, the ads desk was already closed. While we didnt place an ad, we managed to get the story published in the local newspaper! (details soon...)

Getting the police report at the Fiscalia in Calama

The following morning after day 0, our main goal was to get our police report so that we could be on our way to Santiago to apply for a replacement passport. When we reached the fiscalia, we were told that we would not get our reports today (it being sunday) and that we would have to come again on Monday. We were incredibly frustrated, but were determined not to give up. We walked back and forth between the police station and the fiscalia (there was only a rather stubborn front desk person there) and they were only pointing fingers at each other. At our wits end, we decided to beg, demand and do whatever works. This involved me at one building, swami at the other building, both trying our best persuasive hats. This was compounded by our inability to communicate all this in Spanish. All I ever learnt was "where can I get vegetarian food?" and now I was struggling to say "nosotros robado mochilla, por favor necessito denuncia - es muy importante, no pasaporte". Just when I was close to tears, the front desk person placed a call and a guy in crisp formal wear showed up from inside the building a few minutes later and asked us in flawless english "Hello, What seems to be the problem?". We were so relieved to speak English that we quickly poured out our story to him. He confirmed that he couldn't give us a report just then, but can scan it and mail it to us the next day. We were not sure if this would happen, but we did get a printout of our police report from the police station just in case its needed (without any signatures or stamps). It turned out that in 2 days, we would get a signed and scanned copy of the police report emailed to us. We are trained to expect bureaucracy while traveling in some countries, and instances like this really make the day. :)

Knocking at the doors of the Indian Embassy in Santiago after business hours

We took the long 22 hour journey back to Santiago to reapply for our passports. We checked out the Indian embassy's website and found that it closes for visitors at 4.30 PM. Knowing how things work in India, we didnt expect to get anything accomplished that day since it was already 4.30 PM. Imagine our surprise when we showed up at the embassy when we were warmly welcomed, served Indian chai and biscuits and the officials chatted with us, getting to know our story and helping us figure out the quickest way to get our passports. They also offered us the services of their printers and copiers in case we needed to print anything for the passport application. And the best part, we got introduced to a fellow tamilian who works at the embassy, who invited us home and along with us wife, shared their wonderful hospitality with us for two days. We got our passports the very next day - which is quite amazing no matter which country you belong to. We had lost our Bolivian visa along with our old passport, so we had to reapply for that too.

Swami and I would play the "lets count our blessings" game. Every time something cool happened on the aftermath of our robbery or we realized we did not lose something, we'd say "at least we didnt lose this or that" or "we would never meet such nice people if we didnt lose our stuff" or "when would we get to ride in a Chilean police jeep?". Such incidents can happen to the most seasoned travelers and we learned our lessons the hard way. Its best to take travel insurance, pack light, make sure you dont carry anything invaluable.  Keep your passport, debit card, credit card and other important travel documents close to your body and hope for the best.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Losing all our belongings - Part 1

The blog posts are not in chronological order of events. We have completed our four month journey and I am now catching up on posts and updates. Please review the tags and categories for location specific information. Thanks!

It was Swami's birthday and we just got off a 22 hour bus journey from Santiago to Calama, Chile. We were really tired from the long journey and our day pack was incredibly heavy (mistake #1). People were trickling out of the bus and getting ready to get on with their day, having reached their destination. We placed all our packs (our big packs and day packs) on the ground and stood right next to it (mistake #2) and took turns guarding our packs, while we used the facilities and made enquiries about our next bus to San Pedro de Atacama.

At some point we realized that we were missing one of our day packs - with our most important day pack. Panic ensued and after about 30 minutes of frenzied activity trying to locate the pack, we had to conclude that the pack was lost to us. Along with it went our laptop, SLR, passports, green cards and a bunch of other belongings. We called the police and they arrived in 30 minutes and gave us a ride to the police station in their pickup. We kept thinking how riding on the caged back of a police pick up truck was one experience we could do without on our travels. Upon reaching the police station, what did we find? Another backpacking couple sitting rather forlorn, having lost the same stuff we lost.

We ended up spending a few hours in the police station, observing life in a Chilean police station. We shared Swami's birthday cake with the cops for which one happily quipped "you got some mean birthday present!". The cops were really friendly, trying to get us comfortable, offered us some juice to drink. One cop even got his computer so that we could use the internet on it to communicate using google translate. Google translate was invaluable in helping us overcome language barriers when dealing with the Police.

Luckily, we had travel insurance (we'll shortly be able to tell you about how good it is and if we can recommend it, as I am sure we're in a position to pass that judgement). Losing our things was a big blow to us. One thing we were fortunate about was that we had a smart phone and we had our wallets. So debit cards, credit cards, access to cash and Driver's license to prove identification.