Not a defecator, you guys. A defalcator. In a sad turn of events today, my phone was stolen from our hostel lobby. This morning Josh and I were planning to ride from Boquete, Panama, to Santiago. Around 10:30am, we finished up our coffee and bananas and decided we better pack up as check out was 11:00am.
Most of the rooms don’t have outlets, so the main lobby has a large outlet port for travelers to plug in all their electronic goodies. As we had a three hour ride planned, I wanted to have full juice in my phone so I could listen to music (ok, who are we kidding, I download episodes of the O.C. on Netflix and listen to them like they’re podcasts).
While I plugged my phone in, Josh listened to the plight of a man who had come into the hostel asking for money. He was probably in his mid-50s, with a bad leg and intense bandaging around his neck. He had a wooden box of random junk he was selling. He said he needed help as he was diabetic. Josh generously gave him a five dollar bill (USD is the currency in Panama), and we went to our room to pack. Twenty minutes later, we had lugged all of our packed belongings to the lobby. While Josh went outside to pull the bike around, I went to retrieve my phone from the outlet port. All that was there was my charger, still plugged in to the port. But no phone. Maybe Josh grabbed it? I ran outside where he was starting up the bike and shouted, “Josh, did you take my phone off the plug?” “No, why?” “Shit. Someone stole it!”
Frantically we looked around the outlet spot with no luck. We quickly notified the hostel, and through many language barriers, they eventually understood what was happening. The younger girl who had been working the front desk that AM looked mortified. I could tell she thought we might blame her or get angry. While she tried to locate Gina, a senior employee who spoke some English, we tried to locate the phone on my laptop using the “Find my iPhone” feature.
I logged into iCloud.com, where theoretically if the “Find my iPhone” feature is turned on, I should be able to locate the position of the device. While I knew I had the feature turned on, I couldn’t locate my phone. I stared at my computer screen, where iCloud.com was showing my phone as offline. Shit. I had my phone in Airplane mode this morning. This meant Find my Phone’s features, such as pinging the phone with “play sound”, going into “lost mode” which allows a message to pop up on the phone screen, and showing it’s location, are completely unusable.
I kept refreshing the page. Maybe the person who took it would walk by a spot with WiFi, or they would somehow turn it off airplane mode. Sadly, as Google and Reddit kept informing me, thieves tend to put the phone into airplane mode as soon as they take it, as they know this immediately estranges the owner from its wherabaouts. So I basically did the thief’s job for him. Whoops.
Twenty minutes later, Gina arrived. When we asked her if we could review the security tapes, she said she had to go to the bank first because they closed at noon. Somewhat baffled by her priorities, Josh and I kindly nodded our heads. We would hold down the fort at the hostel, frantically refreshing iCloud. com to see if my phone came online.
We decided to think outside the box. Get creative. There must be a way to track it still. GPS? Google Maps? Find my Friends? We tried anything we could think of. I tried connecting to the phone using bluetooth at the suggestion of my brother, but no go. I e-mailed several friends who track me using Google Maps and Find My Friends, asking them to try and see my location in their apps. Sadly, the last known location they could see was the hostel, and my icon showed as “offline” on their apps. Hundreds of google searches, and everything pointed to, “you’re SOL.”
Josh looked at me and said, “we should get on the road. It’s three hours to Santiago.” I looked outside and it was raining. I looked at Josh, who looked angry and defeated. I looked at the girl behind the front desk, who looked apologetic and forlorn. “Josh, I don’t think we should ride today. It’s raining, we’re both upset, and it feels irresponsible to ride right now.”
We booked another night at the hostel, hoping that maybe in the next 24 hours we would either be calm and prepared to ride, or my phone would turn up.
When Gina returned from the bank forty-five minutes later, she called the hostel manager to try and get the security footage from the two cameras in the lobby. Apparently the manager had forgotten his password to the security login, and was unable to login for twenty minutes. “No hemos tenido ningún problema durante tres años.” They hadn’t had any crime in three years, and hence he just forgot his password. He was going to keep trying.
Finally, Gina returned to the lobby, asking if she could speak to me in Spanish. “Si.” She sat down next to me, and in her clearest and simplest Spanish told me she believed the man who Josh had given $5 to was the person who took my phone. She informed me she had called the police, who were on their way. Her face told me so much. She felt guilty. Scared. I realized how much power Josh and I had in that moment. A theft had occurred on her property. In an instant, with a bad review, we could impact the future of their livelihood. I kindly thanked her, hoping my face expressed forgiveness and appreciation as fervently.
An hour later the police arrived. One officer stayed outside, while the other came in to get a statement. His uniform was a black and white camo print, which seemed more for style than function. Through some translation and broken Spanish, the police informed us the man lived in a neighboring town. They could file a complaint to that police office, but since it was Saturday, it would take three days for them to be notified. “Es muy difícil recuperar un iPhone.” We couldn’t quite understand why they couldn’t just call the neighboring town’s police officers and have them be on the lookout for this man, who apparently they knew, but at that point we had concluded it was a lost cause. In three days we would be in Panama City, and the larcenist (I plan to try on different words for “thief” for the remainder of this post, you know, to keep it interesting) would probably have sold it. We resolved to let it go and file a claim with Apple Care.
Having no phones to our name now (Josh lost his in Costa Rica), we decided we needed to buy a burner. We went to the only mobile store in town to buy a cheap phone and sim card. There was a couple behind the desk eating lunch. We told them we needed a new phone because my phone was stolen this morning. The man immediately perked up and said, “What kind of phone?” “Iphone—” “A guy come in this morning and try to sell me an iPhone. Pink!” I pointed to myself. “That’s mine!” “With a small crack in here?” He pointed to the bottom left of his own phone. “Yes!” “We did not buy. If you come in here earlier, we could have taken it or call you. Sometimes when they take phone they come here and try to sell, but we don’t buy. So if someone gets the phone taken, they come tell us. He was asking us for unlock it and then buy for parts. He say he find it two weeks ago on the ground.” Dang swindler! “What did he look like?” “Big, dark skin. He had big here.” He pointed to his belly. “Did he have something here?” We pointed to our necks, where the man from the hostel had a very visible bandage. “No. Backpack and hat. I did not see his face.”
This was a different man. The cat burglar must have passed it off to a more agile smuggler. At first we were excited by this clue. Maybe we could get the phone back after all! Slowly though, we realized that if the peddler had come in at three hours ago like this guy was telling us, he was probably long gone by now. David City, the closest major spot to Boquete, had dozens of cell phone stores. He was probably already trying to sell my phone to cell shops there. Even if he was in town, what would we do? Hassle every dark skinned fella with a backpack? Yeah right.
We bought our burner and returned to the hostel, defeated and tired. We e-mailed our folks to let them know what happened, and to give them our burner digits. And then, we went on with our day. We exercised and showered. We hugged eachother, alot. We messaged our friends and checked our e-mails. I don’t know why, but I think this happened for a reason. Maybe we weren’t supposed to ride today. Maybe the rain would have come down as we were mid-way through our ride, and the roads would have been slippery. Maybe we weren’t supposed to get to Santiago until tomorrow, helping us fend off something there that might have happened today, something worse than a missing cell phone.
No matter the reason, we both know it’s just a phone. We are both ok. No one is hurt. And it will just be another story for our travel files. And it doesn’t make Boquete or Panama dangerous. The purloiner was about as harmless as he could be. He could hardly walk. He wasn’t threatening. There was simply opportunity. That’s all theft usually is: desperation and opportunity. Not malice or evil. Our views of Panama haven’t changed. Nor of our hostel or the people running it. We’re simply down a device, and we are lucky to even have the means to replace it at all. And hey, look at this great story I got to write. Tomorrow is another day. So, onward.