On the 2nd of April I took a night bus on my way north from La Serena to San Pedro de Atacama. The place in South America I was looking most forward to. Unfortunately, this event took a whole other turn as I got robbed… With this post I hope to address people who are travelling (in this region) to be aware of their belongings.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon I was preparing myself for a 17 hour bus ride up north to the Atacama desert. After being seated in the back of the bus for about 10 minutes, the driver came by and warned us to keep our belongings close. I did take it serious as I was putting my bag under my chair (like most people did).

Looking back on it, on my right there was a guy who acted a little unrested. He didn’t bought a fixed seat on the bus and so had to switch a couple of times. We had a small stop in Copiapo. I took my bag with me and seated after 20 minutes again in my chair. At this point there was somebody else sitting on his place. Once again I placed my bag under my chair. At this time it was already 21:00 and I was starting to feel sleepy.

When I woke up around 4 in the morning. I wanted to take my e-reader to read further on the book that grabbed my attention; Open Veins of Latin America (in my opinion a must-read if you are travelling through South America or want to know more in-depth information about this continent). But when I was feeling under my chair I couldn’t find anything. Still quite sleepy, I started to look around. But still no signs of my bag. Now I was fully awake and it started to scare me. At first I wouldn’t believe it, but realisation soon got the overhand. At this point I didn’t only lost my laptop, camera and e-reader, but also my passport and, probably most important to me, my diary. Going to the bus driver wouldn’t help much either as I got a remark back that he warned me.

After arriving in San Pedro de Atacama I went to the police to file my losses. Bureaucracy started… luckily I soon got a paper containing the items I’ve lost. Still a little confused about the situation I forgot to file smaller/ less valuable stuff such as my bag and the 30.000 Chilean pesos (about €40) which were with my passport in my money-belt. I was told that I needed an extra stamp to valid this paper if I wanted to return by plane to Santiago. So that is where I placed my bets on. But for that stamp I needed to go to Calama, a town 1,5 hours bus ride from San Pedro. I never got that stamp, but police officials in Calama told me that I should be fine. Hearing different stories if you can fly or not is not most comforting, because meanwhile, I was also in contact with the Dutch Embassy to get a new passport. The fastest possibility was to make an appointment on Monday 9 April. For almost €200 in total I could get a new one within a week. Luckily I was able to fly and had made it to the appointment on Monday.

Things started quickly when I was at the Embassy. The woman behind the counter told me that there are lately some ‘gangs’ active in north of Chile and more Dutch tourist had been robbed in this area. A week later, on Monday the 16th, I could collect my passport at the Embassy and I’m able to travel further again (jeeeh)!

This whole event took about two weeks and this means I’m forced to reduce my lost time on other places. Being in a different country it is also hard to replace my electronics. Via Facebook marketplace, I could luckily find my new camera. This is a Sony RX100 M4, a newer model than the previous one I had.

My advice to fellow travellers is:

  1. Always keep your passport separated from your other belongings. If you are about to travel, keep it attached on your body (by a money belt for example). I know it doesn’t look or feel to well al the time, but it might safe you a lot of trouble.
  2. Place your legs through the ‘sleeves’ of your bag if you are planning to sleep on the bus. It might also be a good idea if you sit somewhere you might feel unsafe/uncomfortable.
  3. Keep an eye out. If you are taking a night bus where thefts might happen, you might not want to put on an eye mask and/or ear plugs (like I did). You might be able to detect things more quickly.
  4. If you choose to use an eye mask or ear plugs, you might want to attach your bag to a piece of clothing (your pants for example). This is what I did on my last night bus back to San Pedro de Atacama. And this surely made me feel more safe.

Do you have any more tips concerning safety tips during travel? Please share them bellow in the comment section:)


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