This guest post, was written by Lorraine Bendall, a very special lady from Melbourne. Her story is so honest, and completely free of self-pity. I confess it made me cry when I first read it. Nevertheless, it displays great spirit and courage. What happened to Lorraine is all too common. If even one person is spared a similar disaster, I know she will feel that sharing her experience has been worthwhile.
Earlier this year, Lorraine and her teenage granddaughter Shelbui went on their first overseas trip. Lorraine’s son Peter had generously paid his niece’s fare, so that his mother would not have to travel alone. The pair flew to Barcelona, from where they were to embark on a Mediterranean cruise a few days later.
Here is what happened the day before they were due to join the ship;
I decided to cash up for the cruise. We went to a bank, where I asked to withdraw 500 euros. I thought Shelbui and I could have a decent little spend up in France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. The teller handed me the cash and I went to put it in my wallet. He said, ‘Here, put it in this white envelope’, which I did, then placed it inside my wallet. As I was doing so, a woman entered the bank and stood behind me, watching what I was doing. I looked back at her and she had a huge smile on her face. I thought little of all this and we left the bank , heading back to our hotel.
As we walked along Las Ramblas , I said to Shelbui, ‘I really need a coffee’, and spotted a McDonalds . We went to the computer screens and ordered. As we were doing so I sensed someone looking, and turned to see the same woman from the bank right behind us. I thought it was a just a coincidence….. here she is again. I then moved to the counter to pay. I unzipped my slash proof shoulder bag to take out my wallet. However, the shop assistant said, ‘4 euros’, and I remembered I had loose change in my pocket. Without thinking of my unzipped bag, I found the change and paid. We left, and I waited until then to get Shelby to hold my coffee while I zipped the bag up. Too late!
I looked down to check that the wallet was still inside, but it had gone. My wallet was gone; the 500 euros I’d just withdrawn along with $160 of euros I had prior to that, my passport, my bank cards……. absolutely cleaned out. I immediately thought of the woman in the bank and the coffee shop and practically ran back into the shop, falling flat on my face and spilling my coffee across the floor. Of course the woman was gone. This confirmed to me that she was the thief. If she had been in the shop for a purchase she would have still been there, considering she was behind us.
By now, the staff were fussing about and offering us free hamburgers . Of course, as I got up from the floor trying to maintain a bit of dignity, I was in no state to want bloody hamburgers!
I asked the directions for the police station, wondering and worrying how I’d get there if it was too far away. Luckily it was just a couple of blocks up the street. I was taken into an office of The Crime Squad. When they realized I couldn’t speak Spanish they brought in an interpreter. I poured out my story, managing not to cry. They helped me cancel my bank cards and showed me a file full of photos of known criminals to see if I could identify one of them. One had similarities, but looked more untidy and skinnier than the woman we saw. They wrote up a police report and told me that the street called Las Ramblas was raging with pick pockets and bag snatchers, and that they work both alone and in groups. The police also told me that the cruise ship would possibly still accept the Police Report, considering my passport had been stolen.
We then returned to the hotel, very flat and saddened. Shelbui actually asked how I could possibly still be presenting as calm. She said ‘ ….because I am just dying inside’. I was so internally broken …more for my young granddaughter than myself, but I couldn’t break, I had to stay strong for her. I started to worry about how I was going to cope without money or bank cards, and whether the thief may have already used my cards. I got onto the internet and thankfully found they hadn’t been used. I transferred every cent from my savings account into Shelbui’s account. We were so lucky she had a bank card, and had it with her. Now at least we had some money.
The next morning we headed off on foot to the Australian Embassy, arriving as the doors opened. The Australian Consulate ‘John’ was the nicest man; so appropriate for the job. Again he mentioned the raging theft problems in Barcelona. He said La Ramblas was the worst area, but there were many others as well. He reassured me that I was not alone; that it was happening to a lot of people. I could see by the piles of new passport application forms that this was certainly the case. John organized an emergency passport, but I had to pay 105 euros. I was amazed that even in an emergency such as this, our government did not cover the fee. I had to wait 5 days for the passport, and John told me he doubted the cruise would accept me without one. He advised me to offer them the Police Report, and to tell them I’d be happy to stay on board when the ship reached Turkey. He thought that would be the country I’d have the biggest issue entering without a passport.
I did what he advised in the hope of being allowed to board , but without success. Shelbui and I sat on the pier and I was fighting back tears when the captain of the ship came down. He told me that if there was anything he could do he would, but the company would not allow me on without a passport. I looked at Shelbui, who had tears streaming down her face. God knows how, but I still managed to hold back. My stomach felt as if it was being eaten inside.
I felt I had to move on as quickly as possible, both to diffuse the current situation and to find a taxi while some were still around. I had awful visions of being stranded on the pier with our suitcases; and no hotel to go to. I hugged Shelbui to encourage her, and we moved on. We came to a couple of taxis parked side by side and luckily one of them understood a reasonable amount of English. I told him of the dilemma and asked if he could take us to any hotel near the Australian Consulate. He advised it would be difficult to get one, due to a Cold Play concert.
Juan became our saviour . For the next hour or so, he and his mate called every hotel they could think of in Barcelona. But no, they were all booked out. They ended up finding one outside of Barcelona, about a half hour drive. OMG, by now the cost was beginning to rise; having to take a taxi that distance as well as book unexpected hotel accommodation. Fortunately we had been to the bank in the morning and withdrawn more money through Shelbui’s account in hope of boarding the cruise. Juan drove us along Ave. Diagnol and through Santa Marti to a small place called Poblenou. It was quite a remote area, but did at least have a small shopping centre right across from the hotel. Juan was amusing us at least. He was annoyed about what had happened to us and started saying “I hater Barcelona, I hater da people, always trouble in Barcelona, I wanta to go to Perth, Malborne, Brisabane,’ At least it took our minds off the cruise, if only for a short while. I found it really hard booking in to the hotel, and although I paid cash in advance for the four days, it hurt to have to get Shelbui to book in with her passport and bank card. It was just so not right.
We slept restlessly. In the dark I struggled to hold tears back and I guess Shelbui would have been much the same.
Next morning we purchased food for making breakfasts and lunches. We bought a little kettle that we hid each day, because they don’t have tea or coffee making facilities in any hotels in Barcelona.
We then went to a pharmacy to buy cream for my legs, I’d broken out in a rash, probably from either sliding across the floor when I fell, or just a nervous reaction. The lady in the pharmacy could speak quite good English and was very nice. Unfortunately, she started telling Shelbui that she should get out and about and be going on long walks to the beach front etc. I was churning inside with anxiety listening to her. It was so hard seeing the interest Shelbui was showing, but at 18 of course she would! Suddenly I started feeling nauseous and my right hand began numbing. Oh no, this just cannot happen. I realized I’d have to do something quickly. I told the lady how I was feeling and she gave me the address for a (non English speaking) doctor. I explained my situation as best I could, and was diagnosed as suffering from severe shock.
TRAVEL INSURANCE- After the insurance claim was completed I discovered that all my hard work saving for the cruise was in vain. The documents showed in the fine print that theft was not covered. The cost of our additional accommodation in Barcelona while I waited for my replacement passport added to my financial loss.
Travel information on Barcelona.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Lorraine’s terrible experience is proof that a slash-proof handbag is no defence against professional thieves. We can all be distracted for those few seconds it takes to lose everything. I guess the most important piece of advice is that if you need to carry your passport, keep it in an inner pocket, or in a body belt. Yes, it might be tricky to retrieve it, but the alternative is so much worse!
COULD ANYTHING BE SALVAGED FROM THIS TRULY AWFUL SITUATION? LORRAINE’S STORY WILL BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.