Learning my lesson at home and abroad

The Dolphin Bay Hotel, near the downtown area of Hilo, Hawai’i, is an oasis unto itself, with abundant ferns, palm trees and tropical plants. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

I have had bad things happen while traveling. And, I’m not counting canceled or delayed flights, long lines at security, lost bags or garden variety airport misery. 

I have been robbed a few times. One was on an overnight bus in southern Mexico in the 1970s. I had my purse hanging off the seat in front of me. I didn’t even know I had been robbed until the next day when I went to buy some mangoes in the market and my wallet was empty. It was not too tragic because, back then, I had travelers’ checks. Also, I make it a habit to carry money in several places – one for immediate use and larger amounts stashed in a safer place. It was really stupid to leave my purse exposed like that. Another time, a very old arthritic woman tried to rob me outside Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia church in a poor part of Barcelona. I’m sure back in her day her hands were more flexible and adept at fingering bills out of a wallet. This incident was sad and I ended up just giving her some money.

Another time I was robbed at a fiesta in the town of Chajul, in the mountains of Guatemala. I had taken my change purse out of my zippered carry-all bag to buy a handmade bracelet. I made the purchase, paid, and put the change purse back in the bag. Then I took the purchase, put it in the bag and zipped it up. In the time between returning my change purse and putting my purchase in the bag, my change purse was stolen. In this case, people had warned me in advance that there would be thieves at this fiesta, which is why I sewed a zipper across the top of my bag. There is no lesson to learn here other than, suffice it to say, that there are experts in their field out there.

One unfortunate story I witnessed was in San Blas, Nayarit, a modest little beach town in the 1970s. It has a small plaza, many beachside seafood restaurants, and nearby mangrove swamps where you can take a tropical jungle boat ride with spectacular bird and animal life. Many surfers stop there on their way to a surfing spot nearby named Santa Cruz.

A Volkswagen van visibly packed to the brim with surfboards, bikes, a canoe, cameras and duffel bags with unknown riches pulled up in town with Massachusette plates. Four young men got out and start unpacking and moving some of their things into a little ground floor apartment they had rented. As they were all inside enjoying a Corona, Negro Modelo or Pacifico, one decided to go out to the van to get something. He noticed that the surfboards were gone. The group stomped down to the local police station to report the stolen boards. After filing a report, they went back to the apartment only to discover that all their belongings had been stolen.

These stories happened during my travels but rip-offs and crimes happen at home too. There are crimes of opportunity like me falling asleep with my purse open to anyone who wanted it. Similarly, the loaded VW left unattended in front of the apartment in San Blas was an open invitation to thievery, the same as leaving your car unlocked in a parking lot in our area with valuables visible on the seat.

Then there are the con artists and the experts. They are everywhere — even at your bank if you are one of the people who were falsely charged fees by Wells Fargo. These people are hard to beat because they’re fast and tricky. For a short time, I worked at a chain bookstore in an underground mall in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. Often during the day, a stack of about ten expensive art books would appear on a low shelf near the front of the store. It turned out that professional book thieves would wander around the store gathering up expensive books. When no one was looking, they would haul the stack out of the store, disappear into the mall, and later resell them for money. Like the thief in Chajul, they take chances, work fast and are prepared to take losses if they have to.

Just remember, while you are watching people, they’re watching you too.

For your future travel plans, I’d like to recommend the Big Island of Hawai’i. Better than Disneyland by a long shot, it’s a fantastic vacation spot with plenty of opportunities to explore, swim and eat. With a relatively short flight and with no passports or visas needed — with or without kids — you can’t go wrong.

Fly into the wet and tropical side of the island, Hilo, or the dry and lava encrusted side in Kona. Rent a car and drive around the island exploring beaches, ranch country and most amazing, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Note the plural volcanoes meaning you can see two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. 

When we went with the two grandchildren over fifteen years ago, we flew into Hilo and stayed for two nights at a modest little motel, the Dolphin Bay Hotel, set in a tropical garden in the downtown area. It is still there and accessible through Hotels.com. Next, we hit the road driving north to ranch country, then looped around heading south through moonscape like lava fields to spend the next few nights in Kona. The beaches were just like travel photos with warm water, tropical fish and sea turtles. Surprisingly, one of the lifeguards at the beach was a former attorney we knew from Santa Cruz. The last two nights we spent at the vast National Park hiking across the ancient caldera of Kilauea then driving down to see the live lava spewing out into the ocean. Those are just the highlights but there is much more.

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Sarah Ringler is a retired Pájaro Valley Unified School District teacher.

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