Thursday, November 17, 2011
Vexed in Valparaiso, Chile
After working all day on Saturday I decided to spend my last day in Belize on Caye Caulker, which is one of the small islands that line the barrier reef that is one of the great attractions of this part of the Caribbean. I took two small planes and then a golf cart taxi to the SeaBreeze guesthouse at the end of the sandy main road that runs through the township. It wasn't cheap, but it was sort of funky in a backpacker way; I could handle that. But I couldn't get the promised reliable internet access, and then there was no water. I decided to pull the plug and go straight to Belize City ready for my flight to Chile on Monday. I checked out of the hotel I'd just checked into and took a water taxi to the mainland, where a major chain hotel was the only viable option. I couldn't get reliable internet access there, either, so I was already in a bad mood when I discovered my room was double the rate they had quoted over the phone. If I feel I've been mucked about and ripped off, I can turn into The Guest From Hell, which is what happened at The Radisson Belize City. I'm sure Belize, and especially the islands, can be appealing, but apart from offering the chance to catch up with an old friend the place didn't do much for me.
I flew into Santiago on Tuesday morning after making my connection back in Miami. (Be warned: Getting a connecting international flight after flying into Miami from outside the US is not to be confused with being "in transit".) I'd arranged a car and driver to meet me in Santiago and bring me to Valparaiso, where I had booked a long stay at Hotel da Vinci in the expectation that I'd love Valpo and would be comfortable here while I focused on a heavy workload over the next month or two or three.
Within a few hours, while I was walking around getting my bearings, I was robbed in a nearby street by three young men who suddenly surrounded me. Before I could fully grasp what was happening, one of them grabbed my shoulder bag and yanked it hard, breaking the strap. I screamed and shouted to people further up the street to grab them as they ran past, but they got away and disappeared around a corner. The bag contained a credit card, debit card, cash, my iPhone, camera, keys and a security device for my Hong Kong bank account. I was shaking in shock.
When I got back to my hotel, Enrico the owner was dealing with some new guests one of whom had also been robbed. Enrico, the other staff here (Natalie, Daniel, Luis) and this bunch of nine women from the US were a wonderful support for me. Marsha, Tracy, Barbara (whose stolen bag also contained her passport), Betsy, Edwinna, Dee, Kris, Linda and another Barbara asked me to join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant after I'd given a statement to the police, who came to the hotel. Marsha lives in Northern Chile, and Tracy (a novelist) lives in Peru. The others mainly live in New Mexico and Arizona. They are connected by various networks and were just finishing a trip together through Chile guided by Betsy.
Yesterday morning, Enrico took me to the police station to put my statement in writing. He knows just how it feels: he was robbed just after he arrived in Chile from Italy a few years ago.
The experience has spoiled Valpo for me, and I'm yet to decide where I'll go after I replace my cards. My first choice would be to return to New York, but I need answers to questions about my visa status before I can decide to go that route.