I should have known that the bottle breaking was an omen for the day that lay ahead. The 200 peso bottle of DiamAndes Malbec, the most expensive bottle of wine that we had bought so far on the trip, the bottle that I had just removed from my Ospray backpack as a precaution against breaking in the mess of bags under the bus, lay sideways split in half on the bus station floor. Various rivers of red liquid seeped in all directions as the man who knocked it over quickly mumbled an apology and ran to catch his bus. The cleaning staff had appeared quickly after being notified and a minute later it was as though the incident had never happened. I looked at the clean floor and almost wished I had a piece of chalk to draw an outline of the bottle so that others passing would know that a crime against wine had occurred at that very spot.
At that point in the day we just wanted to get on the bus. We had been at the bus station since 9:30am despite our bus not being scheduled until 12:30. We decided to arrive early to meet with Karina, a former travel buddy of Stephanie’s who was arriving in Mendoza just hours before we were leaving for San Rafael, a wine region around 3 hours to the south. The visit went well and by 12pm we were eager to move on.
The next part of the day is a long story that is too complicated to explain, but we ended up missing the bus we had arrived 3 hours early to catch. At that point we were down 200 pesos for the wine and 200 pesos for the tickets (about $40 all together). The day was becoming expensive.
I left to re-book our bus while Steph stayed back to guard our bags. After visiting various agencies, trying to get the soonest available departure, I returned with tickets for 2:30pm. Exhausted with an hour and a half to kill I went to grab my cell phone out of my carry on backpack, but it was no longer nestled next to my large bag. I looked everywhere around us in a state of disbelief. Steph had been standing within a foot of the bags keeping a watchful eye, but somehow in the chaos of a bus unloading passengers someone had managed to get my small backpack. To be fair even if Steph had seen the person who took it, she could not have run after him or her since she still had over 35 kilos of luggage to protect.
Panic set in as I ran to every location I had previously visited in the station, but it was pointless as I had vividly remembered wedging the small bag between the wall and my big backpack an hour earlier. I went to tourist information and asked for a security guard to report a theft. The woman behind the counter asked me what I had lost and I quickly spat out a description of my blue bag with its contents: Passport, laptop, cameras, hard drives, Argentinian money, American money, debit cards, credit cards…the list goes on. Before someone judges me for having all those things in one space, travel insurance does not cover items lost on motorized vehicles, so on transport days those things have to stay in my travel bag.
To my relief (and disbelief) I was informed that my bag had been found on the other side of the station (where Steph and I had never been) and brought to security by a good Samaritan. I was escorted to security, crying uncontrollably by this point, and ripped through the bag to verify the contents. I expected it to be more or less empty. Indeed my sac of Argentinian money was gone, some electronics were gone, but my laptop, cell phone and Go Pro remained and an additional pouch of American money (worth more than the substantial amount of Argentinian taken) remained. Steph would sometimes make fun of how many pockets my backpack had, but this time it had come in handy as the robber wanted to drop my bag as soon as possible and could not be bothered to thoroughly check it. As an extra piece of luck, the quick dry towel I had shoved in the backpack earlier that day had hidden the American Money that he would have likely spotted otherwise. Then it hit me that only 2 hours earlier I had slipped my passport into the Argentinian money sac in an attempt to flatten out a page that had bent that morning.
Given that our bus was in 20 minutes we were encouraged to continue to San Rafael and report the theft there. After the three hour bus ride Steph googled the location of our hostel, which to her surprise was 12 blocks from the bus station (the hostel website had said 100 meters). Could this day get any worse? We couldn’t figure out the bus so we started walking with our bags. After 3 blocks we asked someone where the police station was. He said to walk 6 more blocks in the direction of our hostel. 6 blocks later we found ourselves standing in front of the Poli-clinic (not a police station, but a hospital). Exhausted we put our bags down, but by a turn of luck a police car pulled up to drop off a police officer at the hospital. I asked for directions to the police station, but the officer did us one better and stopped his colleague from leaving with the car and told us to get in the back.
This would be the first time either Steph or I had ever been in the back of a police car (seriously). Our report is that the back of police cars are extremely uncomfortable with little leg room and very hard plastic seats. We also had to endure the looks of drivers who pulled up next to us at intersections clearly wondering what we had done to get ourselves there. We didn’t dare take a picture but I would be lying if I said we weren’t tempted. Naturally, the police station was close to the area of the bus stop where we had started so the walking was for nothing. As one officer helped pull my bags from the vehicle he asked us where we were from. When we answered Canada he lit up and asked if we knew Justin Beiber. I said I was sorry on behalf of my country, completely unaware that he had just released a fairly decent song called Sorry, so he gave me a thumbs up.
The next officer acted much more formal and professional. He was also unaware that his fly was down the entire time he explain to us what we needed to do. I had to keep depressing myself with the fact that I had just been robbed in order to keep a straight face while he spoke. After filing a police report completely in Spanish, the kind officers (they were wonderful and made the entire situation as uncomplicated as possible for me) said goodbye to us and we went next door for ice cream to make ourselves feel better. While eating and reviewing my documents I realized that they had given me a report for my missing passport but not for the other items that were taken.
I went back to request it and they greeted me with great excitement since their HP Printer was not working and the instructions to fix it were only printing in English. After helping them fix it they printed off my report and we started our long walk to the hostel. After 30 minutes of walking it had gotten dark. We arrived at the corner marked on google maps where the hostel was located, but it was a suburban area with nothing there. It turns out that the hostel had miss marked their google location and they were in fact 100 meters from the bus station (also rather close to the police station). We finally decided to hail one of the dozens of taxis that had been passing us on the main street, but true to form, the minute we wanted one there were none to be seen for 20 minutes. While waiting I ran to the store across the street to buy 2 bottles of wine. Despite being tired we stayed up until midnight so we could toast the end of the worst day ever. Little did we know we were also toasting the beginning of a much nicer day to follow…