LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- At 7:30 AM I was awoken to a young American girl standing out in front of my hotel room door complaining about being robbed.
“I just want to get out of here, my money belt was stolen,” she spoke with strong emotion.
Her money belt was stolen from the dorm room she was staying in the night before.
“What is your name, man? Weed, can I just call you weed?” the new age hippy spoke with an intentional slur as he took another drag from the swag grass he was smoking openly on the upper street view balcony of the hotel. Apparently, my name was too difficult for this superstar to pronounce.
He seemed typical of a class of overtly hedonistic, depth stripped class of traveler perhaps still referred to as hippies. He had a fire dancing rod in his backpack, baggy clothes, was clad in earth tones, had messy hair that stuck up at odd angles like the business end of a used Q-tip. I call this guy a hippy for lack of a better word — perhaps suburban rich kid on the loose would be more appropriate.
He was traveling with two similarly grass stricken young Guatemala guys that he picked up somewhere along the way, and a couple skinny girls in spaghetti straps — one was from England and had a sleeve and back piece of tattoos. Not one of them was probably over 22.
Q-tip kept telling me how much he liked my tattoos, he kept calling me “man,” he asked me how long I had my daughter for.
“Since she was born,” was the only response I could come up with.
They told me that they were volunteers at an indigenous school in Antigua. I am not sure what they were volunteering for, but if it was to come to Guatemala and get really high, pick up chicks, and party they were doing a real good job at it. The group feigned at playing guitars and bongo drums through the night, one of the girls laid around like a zombie, the English one wanted to go out and party. The group sat in the front balcony of the hotel smoking and drinking, yelling to people in the streets, partying. It was Semana Santa and the rest of the town seemed to be doing the same thing.
At some point during the night I heard voices in the hotel that did not seem to be coming from Q-tip or his squad of hippies. Were they bringing people into the hotel?
I did not care enough to go out to investigate.
I found out later that a guy came into the hotel from the streets and alerted the staff that there was a rasta man in their hotel who was not suppose to be there. He told them that this rasta man was on the run from a group of men to whom he owed money, and he had taken refuge up on their balcony with the hippies. Apparently, the group of men who were after this guy were bad asses, and they wanted their money. The hotel staff was thus warned that trouble could ensue.
Q-tip and clan had dug up a real live rasta man to smoke ganja with them, they brought him into the hotel — perhaps authenticating their position as sub-culturally elite rock heads. “He was a rasta guy, dreads, he looked really f’cking sketchy,” my wife Chaya described the visitor. She then re-emphasized the sketchy part of her description.
There is a certain sort of “rasta man” that can be found in the streets of many beach side places in the world who seem to know that young, white, aspiring hippie tourists from the USA think they are real cool, and will therefore often take whatever bait they throw out.
The American girl, who was not part of Q-tips’s entourage, lost her money. Apparently, she left her money belt unlocked in a dorm room — a dorm room whose door was also not locked. She thought that no one would go for the easy picking, that she was in a safe, secure place — she thought wrong. Or maybe she didn’t think at all?
It is unclear who ganked the money belt. Maybe it was the rasta urchin? Maybe it was Q-tip or his clan? Maybe it was another person in the hotel?
All that is known is that the girl’s money is gone, she is upset, part of her trip to Guatemala had been spoiled.
And it is 90% her own fault.
If you make it easy for someone to rob you, there is a much higher chance that you will be robbed.
That which you leave open to theft stands a much higher chance of being stolen — this is an overly simply play of logic. I once rode through the Amazon on a large river boat with a friend. This is the type of boat that carries passengers on multi day journeys from one end of the Peruvian Amazon to the other — they are packed full of people who sleep in hammocks. She left her expensive looking hiking boots out in the open on this boat. She thought that the people around her were friendly and would not steal from her — that the stories that she had heard about Peruvians being thieves were just stereotypes not based in fact. I told her that if she did not pack her boots away that they would not be there by the end of the trip. She thought that I was disgusting — how could I say such a thing? Maybe so, but I was also correct — her boots were stolen.
It is true that a lock on a bag can be broken, a bag can be sliced open — a lock is not a full preventative against theft — but it will make it more difficult for someone to take what you have. A lock removes the possibility of “opportunity theft” — the sort of crime that seemingly happens almost in passing, easy theft where something that is left unprotected is taken. This sort of theft in passing, where a traveler simply fails to safe guard their possessions, constitutes 80% of the cases that I have heard of in travel.
Before leaving my gear behind in a hotel room, I always lock up my computer bag with a padlock and then lock it to an immovable object with a good bike lock. I do not bother locking up my backpack: if someone wants to lift my dirty underwear they cam be my guest – they probably need them more than me.
It is my strategy that if I stay in a dorm room I make sure that my bag is locked, that the door can be locked, and the only people who have access to the room are the people staying in it. I also make a survey of my fellow guests: if I am not in a good place, I leave.
No matter what you do in travel to prevent it, you may still be robbed, but a few simple precautions is all it takes to ward off most possibilities of hotel theft. 80% of theft in travel is easy theft, if you make it more difficult to steal from you then the chances of it happening proportionally decreases.
Though I also understand that sometimes these lessons need to be learned the hard way.