Daylight robbery in Salvador!

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South America » Brazil » Bahia » Salvador
April 10th 2016
Published: April 10th 2016
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Barra beachBarra beachBarra beach

Three minutes walk away from my lodgings!
If any of you thought some of my blogs were interesting, wait until you read this one which, unfortunately, is interesting for all the wrong reasons!

I phoned the credit card company first thing using Viber to see why my payments were being blocked. The customer services guy I spoke to confirmed that this card had indeed been stopped and that security wanted to talk to me. Before he transferred the call he asked me what I thought of Brazil, fine, I replied I replied, until now. Yes, but what was it really like - he had always wanted to go to Brazil. Did I speak Portuguese and if so how much? I explained that without Portuguese it would be difficult to travel independently, particularly on public transport, and that even the taxi drivers appeared to speak little English, though perhaps more In Rio than elsewhere. At this point I suggested that this call was costing me money and perhaps he would like to transfer me to his colleague! It turned out that there had been an attempt to make a cash withdrawal of £200 using this card, which I never use for cash since it is too expensive, and
View of BarraView of BarraView of Barra

Scene of the crime -around where the buses are parked
if I did I certainly wouldn't be drawing that large an amount out in one withdrawal in Brazil. So it's blocked and they will be sending me a new one but not obviously to Brazil. So that's one card down and three cards to go (two more credit and one debit.). Since the first card, which I used far too much, lasted me a week this should just about be enough!

I then set off to look for the 'hop on hop off' bus which was supposed to stop near here in Barra. Eventually found it and the travel agency which reserved seats, which turned out to be totally unnecessary. Whilst I was standing at the bus stop studying a leaflet about the route this guy appeared from nowhere, pulled open the zip on the outside pocket of my bum bag and made off with my cash! Unfortunately I had just changed a 100 Reais note and omitted to put this in the inside pocket so it was about £ 40 worth in all. This is the most cash I have carried since I arrived. On the other hand my credit card was in the inside pocket and he didn't get Rita's keys either. I shouted out, in English obviously, but certainly wasn't about to give chase and damage my back as well. Really I was just in shock, I couldn't believe how quickly this had been accomplished in broad daylight with plenty of people in the near vicinity. Nobody else gave chase either, but a man in a car and two other bystanders who had all seen the incident suggested I should go to the Police Station which he would give me a lift to. Got in the car and then began to worry who he was - are you a taxi-driver I asked? No, I'm a Brazilian citizen trying to help a foreigner who has been robbed. That made me feel suitably ashamed of my suspicions.

We got to the police station and I was taken into a room to give a statement while my driver went off with another policeman to see if they could spot the robber. The policeman I was with got into a hopeless tangle with my names, not to mention those of my parents as well, which somehow were also relevant! His boss thought that the problem was that I didn't speak Portuguese. Actually the problem was that the naming system is different from the UK in Brazil, as indeed it is in the rest of South America. The boss, who was tall, handsome and rather fetching ( could easily have been a TV detective,) established that I understood Portuguese by firing a few comments at me. He was impressed that I had made the effort to learn Portuguese as very few English people (he meant native English speakers, I guess) bothered to do so. This led to a conversation about flats in Galicia which seemed as incongruous as the one with the credit card company guy.

Taking a piece of paper he set out mine, and my parents', Christian names and surnames but the other policeman was still struggling and his attempt to record the most basic information was taking for ever. I realised why at the end of the interview when I asked him to write down the address of the police station, as I was supposed to come back for an incident report the following day. I watched him spend about two minutes writing 'rua' (for street) before he stopped and said that everybody knew where the police station was - I should just ask. At this point I realised he was more or less illiterate - he couldn't write the street name!

The man who had taken me to the police station reappeared to tell me that they had not been able to find my robber.He shook my hand and said that he had to leave to go to work but was very sorry that I had had this experience in his country. I was quite moved.

I then went looking for an autobank as, of course, I had no money with me, but fortunately still had the credit card, although this was not the ' right one' for drawing cash out - too expensive, I had no idea where the police station was and thought I would have to get a taxi back to the flat or wherever I wanted to go. The first multi- bank I came across informed that they would charge about £5 for the convenience of making this money available and they were also, it appeared, going to convert it into dollars, which meant my own credit card company would hit me with more charges on top. I subsequently worked out that it had cost me about £8 to draw out £30 in Reais so I was robbed again! Wished I had walked away, particularly when I realised that I wasn't that far away from the beach where the incident had taken place.

Decided to retrace my steps and do the bus tour as originally planned - this would be safer than wandering around on my own although there were some stops. This was not very satisfactory - there seemed to be long spells of sitting in the bus driving past nothing worth commenting on, the recorded commentary in English was poor and consequently when we did get off I wasn't quite sure what we were supposed to be looking for. In any case was too anxious about being there , particularly in the historic centre of the Pelourinho, which possibly has more crime than Barra. We were taken to see a sort of memorial to the Brazilian equivalent of Mother Teresa, the Blessed Irmã Dulce, who almost singlehandedly created hospitals and scbools for the poor. I think this was on the itinerary because most of those on the bus were Brazilians. This is a very religious country. There was a waxwork model of her in a glass cage and several people made a point of touching with their fingers the nearest point on the glass to hers.

After about four and a half hours, most of which we seemed to spend sitting in traffic jams, I had just got back to the house when Rita said that there were two men at the door looking for me. They claimed to be two policemen but were in ordinary clothes, one of them was waving a piece of paper about, which I should have asked to look at. They said that they had found the suspected robber and wanted me to come to the station to identify him. Rita was suspicious too so came out with me and the badge that one of them produced seemed to satisfy her, although I did point out to them that the car they were in was not a police car! They were claiming to be the Brazilian equivalent of our CID, I think. Anyway I got in and fortunately they did take me to the police station.

Another plain clothes policeman then appeared with a photograph of a man who he said was the one who had taken my money - obviously they don't go in for identity parades here! I said I was very sorry but I couldn't be sure it was him - in fact I was fairly certain it wasn't but didn't say that. I had only glimpsed his face for a second when he briefly turned around at some distance from me after the event. Could I identify him from the back view? - No way! Could I describe him at all? Well, he seemed younger than the guy in the photo. If I had had my dictionary with me I would have said his hair was straighter. No identikit here to help out but I don't understand why they couldn't ask the other guy who took me to the police station in the first place for a description. I suspect he fell through the gaping chasm between the uniformed police and the detectives.

They then wheeled out their interpreter, whose English wa painful, much worse than my Portuguese, I think! He understood that I had been born in London. I had not been born in London, it was not true, I said, that all English people had been born and lived in London . He took me into another room and started interpreting the questions that were being put to me by the policeman typing the answers. This one was much more on the ball than the one who had interviewed me in the morning. I addressed him directly, explaining in Portuguese that if he spoke slowly I could understand him, interpreter dismissed.

I think I have signed a statement, in Portuguese, obviously, saying that as I couldn't identify the criminal I am authorising the police to drop the case. I did manage to get them to change my nationality from English to British on this form , explaining that the former doesn't exist, but when I got home I discovered that the first illiterate uniformed policeman had put my nationality as Brazilian on the incident report, in spite of seeing a copy of my British passport. I wonder what the insurance company will make of this! Wise to how the system worked, I asked for, and got, a lift back to the flat with one of the policemen.

All in all, an interesting insight into how the Brazilian policing system works but one I would have rather done without!


10th April 2016

What a day!
Sorry to hear about the robbery as well as the attempted fraud using one of your credit cards. At least it wasn't a violent assault and the bank had the sense to stop the cash withdrawal or more probably the perpetrator was unable to supply the correct pin (I assume that the money was not actually withdrawn from what you said). Fancy having a virtually illiterate policeman! I think we're going to be exposed to similar risks in Vietnam but at least there will be 3 of us in Hanoi and 2 in Ho Chi Minh, The online blogs for Vietnam warn about studying maps etc. in the street and if you use your phone they advise standing right up against against a wall so the phone can't be grabbed from behind. Take care and keep safe! Love Carol
10th April 2016

Hola Judy
Hi Judy, I'm following your blog with interest, admiration and anxiety! Interest in your account of the food, people, sights and all that you're discovering about Brazil; admiration at your tenacity and ability to keep your nerve and to make yourself understood in Portuguese; anxiety at the uncertainty of it all, culminating in events in Salvador. I'm so glad all is well and that you're ok. Hope this week goes more smoothly and that you can have some relaxation on one of those beautiful beaches, Clare X
10th April 2016

Hola Judy
Please don't worry About me Clare, I will be fine. Particularly after leaving Salvador. I do have to transit through Salvador once more but apart from that will be staying in smaller places which are always safer.

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