Sucre, Bolivia 13 Nov 06
Odometer 34,946 m 56,240 km

Three seconds. That’s how long it takes a professional thief to swipe your most valuable belongings. I know. It happened to me.

Finding a safe place to park a German motorcycle festooned with high-tech accessories is not easy in any city, but it’s even tougher in Latin America. Though many more people here ride motorcycles, they tend to be budget models from Asia that draw little attention.

El Viento, on the other hand, sticks out like a BMW at a Harley Davidson rally. Usually this attracts only curiosity seekers who pepper me with questions about where I’ve come from, how long I’ve been on the road, and how fast my rocket ship will go. But occasionally it attracts a seamier sort: those bent on making my rocket their own.

When I arrived back at my small hotel in Sucre, I parked El Viento curbside and went inside to open the double doors. I’d done this before. With permission from the hotelier, I rode my bike up over the curb, across the city sidewalk and into the tiny lobby for safekeeping.

Ensconced inside, I dismounted to lock the doors behind me. Next, I removed my helmet and tank-bag, a carrying case that sits atop the gas tank, and placed them both nearby. The owner’s son then helped me lift the bike onto its center-stand and I turned back to retrieve my things.

Less than 10 feet away my helmet sat on the seat inside the lobby where I’d left it. But my tank bag, which moments ago sat immediately adjacent to the helmet, was gone. Though it took a few moments to register--
I was robbed!
Juan Carlos Chachayma Allcca, the scumbag who stole Jeremiah's tank bag.
The bag contained over 30 items worth over $4000, including my video camera and iPod. But the dollar value alone fails to account for the priceless nature of the film and photographs lost. Nor does it explain that few of the stolen items are available in South America no matter how much you’re willing to pay for replacement.

I needed help, so first I turned to the police. Much of the city’s beautiful colonial architecture is well preserved, but its police station is an antiquated mess. A maze of doorless offices spills into a central courtyard equipped with a single, pay telephone that even the cops must scrounge for a coin to use. When it rings, the closest officer walking by simply picks it up and intones, “POLICIA.”

Few of the rooms have lights, though naked wires often hang from the paint-flaked ceilings. The walls are cracked, the floors uneven, and the two-way mirror in the interrogation room is mostly used for personal grooming.
CSI: Sucre, it isn’t.
In fact, the longer I was there answering the same irrelevant questions, filling out redundant forms and getting kicked from one so-called investigator to another, the surer I was my things were gone for good.

Then came the big break. Having caught a glimpse of a suspicious acting stranger in the lobby when we were moving the bike, the hotel owner’s son positively identified the thief from a book of mug shots: a Peruvian transient named
Juan Carlos Chachayma Allcca.

Now, with a name and a face you’d think the task of hunting the scoundrel down was half over. Think again. The police here are so under-paid, inept, apathetic, corrupt and ill-equipped, they’re lucky to find their solitary telephone in their own station when it rings.

I needed a back-up plan.

So, I contacted a recently befriended Bolivian guy who would like to remain nameless. I convinced him to get in touch with a local Mafioso who will also remain nameless. The Mafioso then contracted a bounty hunter who by all accounts doesn’t even
have a name! We transitively struck a deal for 200 American greenbacks, payable on delivery.

Leaving no stone unturned, I then asked a different friend to find someone willing to comb the back alleys in search of my things for sale on the
mercado negro (black market). With any luck the thief would be dumb enough to fence the booty in his own backyard. If so, I might be able to buy my stuff back for pennies on the dollar.

Though I wasn’t physically injured during the robbery, I cannot overstate how devastating the theft has been. Traveling by motorcycle, I'm restricted to carrying very little to minimize weight and bulk, therefore each and every item has a specific roll to play. Losing anything hurts, but losing mission-critical items like
prescription sunglasses, specialized tools and important documents triples the blow.

Though there’s still a glimmer of hope for a partial recovery, I must not allow my loss to impede forward progress. I’m down, but certainly not out, and will undoubtedly discover ways to mitigate this setback. Senor Allcca may have made off with my things--but one's spirit cannot be stolen.


None of the stolen items were ever recovered.

Copyright © 2006 • No reproduction of any kind without prior written permission