As I mentioned, I didn’t feel terribly comfortable in Cebu and the Philippines in general. Almost upon arrival I felt unsafe.
Maybe I reaped what I sowed, but on my last Jeepney ride in Cebu I was pickpocketed for the first time in my life.
This is the third time someone has tried to rob me. There was the robbery in Guatemala when I didn’t know I was being robbed due to my bad Spanish and the hit and run semi-violent robbery in Colombia. There was also the purse-slicing in Ecuador, but that happened to a friend with me. But now, for the first time, the thieves have succeeded.
In preparation for the jeepney and the close quarters, I took my camera and phone and put them in my backpack. Very good move.
I got on the jeepney on the main avenue in Cebu. I asked a nurse also on the Jeepney if this went by the cathedral or pier since ultimately I was heading to the pier to leave the city.
Somehow, it ended up being the topic of discussion for the next 10 minutes.
During those ten minutes two middle-aged men got on. When they got on, one never sat next to me, we’ll call him Asshole 2. The other one sat down right next to me on my right side. We’ll call him Asshole 1.
He sat down on my right side very, very close. It seemed closer than was necessary, but the jeepneys fill up fast so I thought maybe it was a pre-emptive move to be comfortable when it’s full. On the other hand, to my left there no one sitting at all, which could easily accommodate 3 people without them needing to touch each other. So I found it weird they chose to sit there.
After a minute or two, Asshole 1 and 2 moved to my left side. Again, Asshole 1 was right next to me unnecessarily. I have, unfortunately, been gifted with the ability to notice small details and this gift was telling me that this man was mentally challenged in some way. He seemed to have a nervous tick, he acted weird, and he kept coughing but it didn’t sound like he needed to cough.
In the end, this gift of mine was probably my weakness – as I surreptitiously observed this man, his weirdness was distracting me from the fact that he was in the process of stealing my wallet.
To minimize risk, I keep my wallet in a Velcro pocket on my left side. So now the guy was sitting on the side of me containing my wallet. But he was angled to the left, that is, he was close to me but he was angled toward the left side of the jeepney, toward the driver.
Everything went fine until the nurse got off. She invited me to get off with her so she could, in typical nice Filipino fashion, help me catch another jeepney to the pier. Such a helpful people.
And it almost seemed like this helpfulness extended to to Assholes 1 and 2. As I got up, Asshole 1 got my attention by tapping me on the elbow and I saw my wallet sitting on the bench.
I instantly grabbed it and opened it up because I knew it was impossible that my wallet could have fallen out. Not surprisingly, I opened it to find almost all of my money missing.
I don’t think that’s what Asshole 1 and 2 expected, but maybe it was all planned. I don’t know.
So when I noticed my money was missing, at first I smiled. It just seemed so weird that they’d be so nice to give me back my wallet, yet so obviously steal my money. Either they expected me to be thankful and leave without inspection, later recognizing they stole from me. Or it was part of their plan.
So, I calmly, but firmly, raised my voice and demanded they give me back my money. No one else on the Jeepney helped me in this situation, much to my surprise. I yelled that they stole my money. This being the Philippines, everyone speaks English and understood what was going on.
So, Asshole 2, the one farther from me, very obviously threw down a wad of cash behind the bench, where the blue fabric you sit on touches the wall of the jeepney. I think he wanted to indicate that somehow, magically, my wallet fell out of my pocket and my wads of cash somehow fell down.
So I reached down and pulled up a wad of cash. I should mention that this is my decoy wallet. I have a credit card in there from 10 years ago, another from five years ago, an old student ID, an old insurance card.. nothing important. However, by chance my real Danish ATM/credit card was in there. It’s because I had a hard time getting money out of an ATM here in The Philippines and had just succeeded two days earlier. I had forgotten to put my ATM/credit card back in my real wallet.
That said, when I went to the ATM I took out 30,000 Pesos or $710. It is way more money than I need for my five weeks in The Philippines, but when I leave here I’ll go to Myanmar. There, I’ll need fresh, crisp, brand new US Dollars. So my excess Filipino Pesos will be exchanged for US Dollars for my time in Myanmar.
I may have forgotten to take my ATM/credit card out of my fake wallet, but luckily I moved almost all of my Pesos to my real wallet.
So even if they had stolen all the money in my fake wallet, it wouldn’t have been catastrophic.
This fake wallet has two folds. The first fold was where I was keeping all the foreign bills I had collected throughout Southeast Asia since my dad collects foreign currency. So, the sum total of all that foreign currency was $5 at most.
When asshole 2 threw down the wad of cash, it was the money from this fold he threw down.
As I quickly inspected this wad of money, I said “where are my Pesos?”
Then, Asshole 2 threw down another wad. This time it was the Filipino money. As I bent down to get it, Asshole 1 left the jeepney.
In the chaos, I went blank on how much money I actually had in my wallet before this all happened. But I knew it wasn’t much. So when I saw two 500 Peso notes, I knew I had recovered more money than had been stolen.
So this is why I don’t know if it was part of the plan. I left the jeepney with my important stuff, and Asshole 1 left with a 1000 Peso note ($24). Asshole 2 stayed on the jeepney.
The situation could have been much worse had I not put most of my cash in the other wallet.
In thinking how it was possible he could have gotten my wallet without me realizing, the only thing I can think of is the fact that I had my suitcase with me. My legs were spread open with the suitcase between them. Where my wallet would normally rest underneath my left leg while sitting, making it impossible to grab without me noticing, the way I was sitting probably forced it up so it wasn’t underneath my leg.
He never did anything to distract me, apart from presumably acting mentally challenged. What I mean is that he never bumped me or otherwise did something to take my attention away from my left side.. that is, except for when he sat down next to me.
Presumably they were angled to the left so they could go through my wallet without me noticing.
I’ve talked about listening to your gut before. I honestly could feel something like this was going to happen upon arrival to The Philippines. I take precautions to keep things safe. Sometimes they work, in this case limiting the financial damage, but otherwise I totally lost this game!
I still don’t know why they put my wallet on the bench though. They could have stolen everything. Maybe Asshole 1 and 2 are secretly nice guys and Asshole 2 throwing the wads of cash down on the ground is proof of that? The wallet also had about 200 Pesos in it when I first picked it up, enough to eat something and get transport somewhere, plus my ferry ticket and some other receipt were nicely tucked in there.
Thieves with a conscious?
It could be and that’s why I picked the word Asshole instead of the other names I had in mind for these guys.
So, lesson learned. It’s back to Latin America mode where I don’t even carry a wallet anymore – just the cash I need for the day.
Luckily, the place where I’ll volunteer and spend most of my time in The Philippines, Davao City, is the safest city in The Philippines.
But I’m writing this on the ferry a few hours after the incident and I just saw two dolphins in the ocean and a spectacular sunset. Somehow I feel ok again.