I never thought that my trip to Chile would end with me waking up in the morning and finding out all my money was gone.
I have already stayed in Chile for three months, and have traveled from the Peru and Chile border all the way to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. Despite many telling me Chile is a dangerous country to visit, those three months taught me to trust people. I slept on multiple night buses with bags under my feet, stayed in countless shared hostel rooms with my laptop on the table, hitchhiked through parts of Patagonia, took the subway in Santiago during the rush hour, and walked in Arica alone at night. It all worked out and nothing bad happened.
I also fell in head over heels with Chile. It is a diverse place with gorgeous landscapes, a European flair, and down-to-earth locals. I had even started to write a post on “N reasons why I love Chile and why you should visit.”
Getting robbed at the hostel on my last day in Chile
When my last night in Arica and Chile came, I told the hostel owner I wanted to stay one more night. I had no plan for Arica except I emotionally did not feel ready to leave. Chile had become my favorite South-American country and I would not hesitate to pay a return visit. Then, it was during this night I was robbed, with my wallet getting pickpocketed.
The irony is that I have slept with my wallet under my pillow on previous nights, and that night I decided to give my paranoid mind a rest. I put my wallet in my purse and went to sleep. The purse was next to me under my bed. I believe that if any noise arose I would wake up, but I did not.
“Pay before you leave”. That is the policy of the hostel. I woke up the next morning. My purse was where it was; the zippers were closed as the night before. I unzipped my purse and opened my wallet, only to find my money, 40,000 CLP to pay the hostel and the taxi to the border were missing. My passport, bank card, and Canadian permanent resident card were still there but all my cash was gone.
I was weirded out and confused. Did I put my money somewhere else? I searched my purse and my suitcase thoroughly, dumping everything on the bed and the floor. I could not find my money. Not even a trace of it. Doubts and annoyance rose in my head. A sure sign my money was taken was when I realized that my $100 Peruvian sols bill inside my wallet was gone too.
I could not believe what happened. You may say $40,000 CLP is not a lot of money but finding all my cash disappeared overnight was just strange and frustrating as hell. I did not have money to pay the hostels and taxi and the only bank that did not charge extra to get cash was a 30-minute walk away. It automatically delayed my time in crossing the border.
How did I get robbed?
As I went to the dining area about to tell the owner what happened, an employee showed up with two guests telling the owner that all of their money was missing. Another guest showed up reporting that his $320,000 CLP was taken as well. The owner wrote down the amount of money we lost and called the police.
The police investigated the scene while we stood there baffled by how this happened. Although our rooms were unlocked, the front gate was secured, and the window was fenced. After few rounds of checking the property, the police and the owner concluded that the thief entered the hostel at midnight through an unlocked window in a vacant room on the first floor.
The police then asked us to describe the appearance of the thief and had anyone seen him. It turned out that the guy was around the hostel the same afternoon pretending to be a traveler and talked to a few of us in broken English. He used this way to get around the hostel and become familiar with where the things were. As this was a hostel, people would feel normal there was a stranger walking around as a new guest. As we brought back more of the scene we went through the previous day, we noticed it was a professional thief.
The hostel did not have a surveillance camera and none of us had a picture of the guy, so he was gone in the wind. The police left us two options: move on or file the case with the prosecutor at the police station. Either way, we wouldn’t get our money back.
That is exactly what we expected. The police had more important cases to deal with. He did not care about a few tourists losing their cash and about to leave town.
The owner decided to reimburse us all the missing amount. I felt even worse than the moment I found my money was taken. It was not his fault that our cash was gone, and part of it was because I did not take enough care of my own possessions.
I sat in the hostel common area and could not think straight. A French traveler asked me to play board games to cheer me up. The owner, another traveler who lost money that morning, and I ended up having a long chat before our departure. We would pay extra attention to our valuables, and the owner decided to upgrade the hostel security system.
Lessons I have learned from this experience
First of all, you have to accept that pickpockets exist everywhere and all you can do is to take care of your valuables. I do not suggest that you get paranoid and avoid hostels, and you still need to trust the kindness of strangers. I have traveled throughout South America for six months, and this was the only time this happened.
Regardless, this experience will not ruin my good impression of Chile and the beautiful memories there. Chile is still my favorite South-American country, and I feel happy and safe here. I also strongly recommend that fellow travelers to South America take time and explore this beautiful nation, where the landscape is diverse and surreal, the history and culture are rich, and the people are humble, funny, and generous.
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