Fanny Pack Snatch – Santiago, Chile, South America

Fanny Pack Snatch

Santiago, Chile

Travelers in their sixties take seriously the warnings about crime in foreign countries. The decision to travel independently or in a group was based on warnings about local lawlessness. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to see the length of Chile from Santiago south to Punta Arenas on our own.

At the airport in Santiago with no hotel reservations, we got the information we needed from taxi and collectivo drivers, even within the limitations of a serious language barrier. We chose a driver who knew of a modestly priced hotel within the downtown area. For $6.00 U.S., we stuffed ourselves and our bags into a crowded collectivo van, and put our lives in his hands.

We watched people and street scenes fly by as the driver took us to places unknown. Arrival at the hotel an hour later brought an inaudible sigh of relief. After settling into our room, we realized why the price was modest, but we rationalized that it was only for two nights and we would only be sleeping there.

A walk around the neighborhood before dusk provided us with a sense of safety and security. It was primarily a residential street tucked between the busier avenues. Before turning in for the night, we rechecked plans for the remainder of the trip.

During our time in Santiago we took a city tour and then saw Valparaiso, 72 miles northwest of Santiago, the oldest port for ships crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn. Its golden age ended after the opening of the Panama Canal. This allowed us plenty of time for walking and exploring the neighborhoods. A flight south on Lan Chile to Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas would begin the first leg of our adventure in South America.

After a good night’s sleep, a shower and breakfast provided by the hotel (breads, jelly, cheese, ham and coffee), it was time to begin. Hotel staff gave us directions to a tour company, which proved to be invaluable.

It was mid-afternoon when we returned from the tour. Temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit with 90% humidity. In spite of the heat, we wanted to take a walking tour of the central city. The heat and humidity made my backpack seem heavier and heavier. Two film cameras with accessories gained at least 10 pounds.

We crossed the bridge over Rio Mapocho at Pio Nono to explore the artisan’s market at Bellavista. It was a great place to browse, learn about local artists and craftspeople. Walking further west, we found an open fruit and vegetable market. Business was slow. Men were sleeping on the ground under trees and canopies. A few children, those, who weren’t napping, were playing.

The heat and my own perspiration were causing a meltdown. My body went into slouch and shuffle. A little fanny pack dangled from my left hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement. Indelibly emblazoned forever in my mind is a head of black hair and two hands reaching for the fanny pack. In disbelief, I blinked, opened my eyes. The pack was gone.

Watching my black fanny pack and the head of black hair disappear at a run I yelled, “He took my fanny pack!”

The thief ran into four lanes of traffic, zigzagging through slowly moving rush hour traffic. It became obvious that the only person who had understood my yell was my friend, another 60+year-old-woman wearing a black knee brace.

While I comprehended the scene, my friend had already jumped into the traffic in pursuit of the thief. I woke up and thundered after both of them, with the heavy pack thumping against my back. Before I crossed the street, I had already lost both of them in the maze of buses, cars and exhaust fumes. I ran to the cross street, which was even larger and busier. Still no sign of them.

I walked a few steps further and my friend appeared from between two buses. She was smiling broadly, holding the fanny pack out for me to see. In her other hand she was holding a white T-shirt. We found a shaded sidewalk café away from crowds and traffic and ordered water and drinks. She told me the story.

When she first saw the thief from behind, she noticed a small logo on the left, back shoulder of his shirt making it easier to see him in the crowd. She watched him pull the T-shirt over the back of his head and wrap the fanny pack in the shirt. Under the T-shirt he was wearing, he also had a short-sleeved plaid shirt. He had slowed to a fast walk by this time. She closed the distance between them to five feet and made a flying tackle into the backs of his knees. His face reflected the fear of God. He handed over the T-shirt and fanny pack. She regretted that she had not demanded his wallet, knowing he would have handed it over.

We do not regret traveling independently despite this experience. Santiago, Chile offers good food and restaurants, galleries, up scale shops, pleasant neighborhoods, helpful hotel staff and gracious people everywhere. The experience with crime was dangerous given my friend’s impulsive response; however, the purse was retrieved with all contents intact. It was a lesson on how to protect myself.

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