A week and a half ago, I visited the Algarve and Atlantic Alentejo in Portugal. I left my rental car parked in Portimão for a few hours. I thought that the car was locked, but I cannot be one hundred percent certain of that. In any event, a few hours later, I returned to the car, unlocked it from a distance and got in the car. Shortly after this, I realised that a rucksack I had left in the car had been stolen. In it was my passport, a couple of lenses for my digital SLR, a pair of prescription spectacles, a (printed) copy of the latest Vernor Vinge novel, all my spare underwear, various printed travel information, and my Kindle. Things I did not lose included my wallet, my mobile phone, my camera, my favourite lens, and my iPad (all on my person), and my laptop, various cables and chargers, and all my other remaining clothes (in the boot of the car or in my hotel room).
This was highly annoying, and to have things stolen is always a personal violation, but one learns to be philosophical about things like this. If you travel as much as I do, things go wrong occasionally (as they do at home). Much worse would have been a car accident or (worst possible case) anything causing personal injury to me or anybody else. So, I made a visit to the police and the consulate, got replacement documents, and did my best to resume enjoying my trip. Nothing was lost that could not be replaced by spending some money. Annoying, but compared to the total amount of money I spend on rent, or food, or even on travel, a small inconvenience. (Getting to the stage where I can put such things behind me like this has taken some effort, and has not been quite as successful as I am pretending now.)
Places I have visited where I have had things stolen: Cannes; Prague; the Algarve. Places where people have attempted (unsuccessfully) to steal things from me: Buenos Aires; Prague (again); Belgrade.
Places I have visited without the slightest trouble: Moldova; Albania; Ukraine; Kosovo; Transnistria; Bulgaria; Romania; Laos; Vietnam; Kenya; Indonesia; China; Turkey; Mozambique; Most of these multiple times. In a couple of these places I have been overcharged by taxi drivers, but no direct theft has ever looked like happening.
What one learns from this is that tourism related crime goes where tourists go. Places that sound grim and dangerous are often quite safe (at least with respect to petty theft) when you get there. Places that are close and familiar can often be quite dangerous. Tourist resorts are much more of a problem than big cities. I was robbed on the Algarve, but I have never had the slightest problem in Lisbon or Porto. I was robbed in Cannes, but I have never had the slightest problem in Marseilles, even in neighbourhoods that physically look poor and dangerous. Take care in Malaga, but you are probably fine in Seville or Madrid.
One discovery is that rich and poor have nothing to do with it. I have been to places full of rich people in which one can barely walk out on the street without getting into trouble. I have been to extremely poor countries in the third world where one can walk down the road in the middle of the night with $2000 worth of expensive camera gear in plain sight without the slightest danger.
Of course, even when you are robbed, even in tourist resorts, good things sometimes happened. In Buenos Aires, I fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book: paint or some other liquid was thrown at me from behind. I had no idea what it came from, and someone then approached me to offer me aid. This is of course an opportunity for someone connected with whoever threw the paint to get close to you, offer you aid, and then steal your possessions when your guard is down. However much you know this and however experienced you are, it is still possible to fall for these tricks when you are tired and in unfamiliar surroundings.
In this instance, I fell for it completely. I was in one of the fancier parts of Recoleta, the most expensive district of Buenos Aires. Such a thing would never happen in Belgravia, which is perhaps why I was off my guard. However, I fell for it. I would shortly have had my bag stolen (which contained almost everything of value to me that I had with me in South America) except for the fact that a local couple saw what was going on from across the street, told the potential thieves to get lost, told me to be more careful, and went on their way. They were gone practically before I knew what was happening. I wish I had later been able to buy them a drink or otherwise thank them properly, but I had no such chance.
Last week, after I had my bag stolen in the Algarve, I got replacement documents from the consulate and came home.
Three days later, a comment apparently from me appeared on my Facebook account, consisting of “contact me please hi have your kindle email@example.com”.
My Kindle is always connected to the internet. And the Kindle is synchronised with my Facebook account. Pedro presumably worked through the menus, figured this out, and then used this synchronisation to update my Facebook status. I sent an e-mail to Pedro at the given internet address. He sent me an e-mail the next day stating that his father had been walking his dog, and had found the Kindle in the middle of a road 16km from Portimão. He had given it to his son, presumably on the basis that the son had better tech skills and/or English language skills than he had. I sent Pedro my address, and he promised to post the Kindle to me as soon as possible.
I am struck by a couple of things here. Firstly, the kindness of strangers. There are a few people who will take advantage of you and steal from you, but a great deal more who will go out of their way to help you, even when they have no interest in doing so. I don’t actually believe in good karma, but one almost sometimes can. I am also struck by the fact that we are approaching the point where modern technology is almost a menace for the thief. A Kindle is locked to a particular Amazon account and is essentially useless to anyone without access to that account. It is easy to change the account from that account and so sell the Kindle legitimately, but not from the Kindle itself. (This becomes problematic if the manufacturer of the device wishes to use such a power to prevent the legitimate buyer from transferring that right to another subsequent user, but hopefully the market can deal with this.) More and more items that we own are connected to the internet, and more and more can be tracked remotely. Thieves apparently know this, which is presumably why the Kindle was thrown out a car window. (My camera lenses are lost, alas.)
There are privacy implications in this, but there are also good, keeping track of your property implications too. Individuals are often more helpful than large organisations. If you lose your phone, the mobile phone company will disable it to prevent the thief from being able to use it, but they care not at all whether the legitimate owner gets it back. Nor, generally, do the police. (A mobile phone that belongs to me was temporarily lost a year or so back. The mobile phone company immediately blacklisted it, the phone, even though I only asked them to cancel the SIM. The phone was subsequently returned to me, but I have still been unable to get them to unblock the phone despite multiple attempts. Thus I have a nice paperweight.)
However, if a kind individual finds it, they often do have the ability to return it to you. And very often they will. Three cheers for Pedro and his father.