Monday, 1 June 2015

What to do when robbed in Mexico City

This is a story about what I did. Some information here may be useful to others. But you have to work out your own way to do things, with your own skills. We got to a place where it became possible for someone to take my wallet because we allowed ourselves to proceed enjoying situations (getting more crowded, rougher place, moving people at train doors, etc) without thinking guardedly enough. So the first and best thing is don't get into this kind of difficulty!

But be prepared for the contingency. We have walked through Palermo and Naples etc without feeling at risk. Unless you stay home, there is risk. Be prepared.

I had been caught in a scrum of suddenly moving people at the Balderes Metro station at 3pm Saturday. About as busy as possible. The story of getting there is in the previous blog entry.

There is this terrible sensation when you realise there is no comfortable thing sitting against your leg in you cargo pants. Compounded by realising how stupid you were to have so many things in a wallet there. We had been seduced by the wonderful things in the day.

Immediately, or soon after my brain unfroze, I strode to the young policeman at the entry to the platform. The Metro police have red on their caps.

He swiftly and earnestly took details of what had happened, what had been lost. You do need some Spanish. English not available in such places.

He said I should come back the next day and see the jefe [heh-fay] - the chief of the station police, at 8am Sunday. This was incorrect advice, as his colleagues said next day, but it was actually wonderful.... because instead of trying to go some further distance running in the busy afternoon looking for offices, we next set out on our first high altitude power-walk, 2km back to our accommodation and to the laptop and the internet. Easy with Skype to ring the bank at home and stop the credit card—which had not been used. Easy to stop the SIM card in the phone. Replacements being sent to home address. And I wrote an email to our embassy in Mexico City to report the passport loss, having failed to log in online to report a stolen passport because I did not recall who signed the back of my passport photo in 2010. Can you?

And then I knew that as we had planned to leave Monday we would need accommodation for a few more day: I booked that.

Oh and with an Android phone I changed my google password to shut off that access to the phone. Note that I cleverly forgot the new password, being a busy person. (I should know better, when I was 21 I organised a nice home safe for my ambassador and sent him home with the combination on a piece of paper ... which he proceeded to lock safely in the safe... That's another story.)

Be aware that Ms Google, ever sensitive to where you are, begins to write to you in the local language signing off mail thus:
... Si continúan los problemas o tienes más dudas, visita nuestro sitio de ayuda en 
Atentamente,El equipo de Blogger.
Sunday morning we took a taxi to Balderes Metro, $MEX180 from Madero and Bolivar. At Metro Balderes we were taken by police officers to the Jefe in his little room overlooking the station barriers. Our conversation was not easy, because we did not understand his system and we did not understand that he was not telling us what we thought he needed to tell us because we never imagined he was going to go with us to find the place we needed to find. He knew we had to go to a special Agencia to assist tourists. He made a lot of phone calls, eventually to someone who knew approximately where we had to go. Then to our astonishment he led us through the turnstile and to the platform and took us onto the train, two stops to Insurgentes.

We who had been the past weeks busy becoming scurrying natives in the great museum of the Centro Historico were impressed by the lovely streets of Roma... not least at this indolent early hour when Mexico City has a very special feel, when few are out, the air is misty clear.

Rather like Norman Lindsay's sensation in the Second Slice of The Magic Pudding:
The Society of Puddin'-owners were up bright and early next morning, and had the billy on and tea made before six o'clock, which is the best part of the day, because the world has just had his face washed, and the air smells like Pears' soap.
Not many are up early in Mexico City, make the most of it!  :-)

Our magic friend the Jefe continued asking directions till we found the right place. I mention this process lest you think a policeman, a concierge or a taxi or other locals will know the place.

In this Google street view screenshot there are two plaques on the wall.

On the right, the office to which to report sexual offences, delitos sexuales,

on the left this mouthful:


I also challenge you to remember that and say it to a taxi driver...
though if you succeeded in the communication it seems highly unlikely 
that the taxi driver would know the place.

This is at Amberes 54. 
If you need to go there a taxi may find it easier if you ask to go to the Hotel Geneve 
in Calle Londres, Zona Rosa. 
[hotel heh-neh-veh en kai-yeh lon-dress] 
which is just around the corner.

We had learned while travelling that our jefe was from a ministry, not in fact the police. We were deeply impressed and appreciative of his generous and modest support. I discreetly offered a small tip just before we entered our destination, he instantly and warmly said no, not appropriate.

I mention this to encourage you to have warm expectations of public officials and to approach them in such spirit. Put aside the dark stories. Address them with dignity: "Perdon señor/señora/señorita" is a polite beginning.

The jefe introduced us to the gentleman and his assistant on duty in the Agencia, we exchanged abrazos and amigos and said goodbye and the jefe left.

The agencia head spoke reasonable English, it is nice if you can respond in Spanish at least a bit, with the courtesies. They were mortified that they could not record a theft because their system had been down since Friday... but after some discussion we were assured that while they could not put a theft in the system they could type up and print the appropriate document about a loss. It transpired in conversation that the officer in charge and assistant had been on duty for 24 hours and had not had their morning coffee. We brought them coffee from next door when we had done the business. There were no fees for their official services.

I was able to say truthfully that this small problem did not reduce our great affection and appreciation for the city.

I filled out  a page of answers to questions about me and about the event, and a list of what was lost. I was pleased to have with me still my driver's license which was duly photocopied and included in the document. I also had in a document prepared from home all details of passport, and put those in the form, but it was of great value to have the other photo ID. Keep such things in separate places. Lose not all. My .doc file of our many flights, accommodation information, insurance, ESTA, phone contacts etc, was large. I had placed a copy in a cloud, at and had given family at home access to that too. Just in case...

The document was stapled together, red lines drawn across it, signed and stamped, and I was given this practical advice:
  1. Never give away the original.
  2. Get a copy for the embassy for a replacement passport.
  3. Get a copy for Mexican Immigration, to present on leaving the country, in place of the paper given to me by Immigration on entry, which I had been warned not to lose. Whereas various online comment says you need to go to an Immigration office BEFORE YOU LEAVE if you lost that paper, I was assured that armed with this document I did not need to do more than present it on leaving Mexico. .... (BUT NOTE: when we left Mexico, flying out of a small airport Del Bajio International Airport, Guanajuato, our situation was not a routine one for officials there and required me to walk several times between the United check-in counter and Immigration 200 metres away. This soaked up an hour, or it felt like an hour. Get to the airport with plenty of time! Be assured you'll get to do some walking, standing and waiting before the hours of air travel. All will be well if they establish that you are who you claim to be. Do not listen to the cranky Norte Americanos who have no patience nor interest in the experience of these minor hassles and whine at the tiny scratches on their egos as they seek to slide obliviously from a landscape art class in San Miguel Allende and a mansion in Georgia.)
  4. Get a copy for the insurance company.
I was advised that Office Depot might be open around the corner for photocopying on Sunday morning. It was. Five copies of three sheets of paper for $MX60.

This shows Office Depot:

I was told of a place that might do passport photos but it was not open this Sunday morning. We are staying in the Centro Historico so we consulted Miscelaneo, a gobsmackingly beautiful big fat guide to the way streets in the Centro Historico specialise in different trades. There was a copy in our accommodation, we bought one as the ultimate souvenir of the Centro Historico, at the Gandhi bookshop on Madero, between Bolivar and Isabel la Catolica. There it was, what we needed to know, on page 80: Donceles was the street for camera and photo things... down at the eastern end.

In the afternoon I got five entirely professional passport photos done at a shop in an arcade on the corner of Donceles and Palma Nte, near HSBC on map. Five photos, $MX60. There will be more shops open on weekdays. Say clearly you need:
fotos professional por pasaporte

Then go to your embassy with the document and photos and your photo ID if possible. 

Early Monday we set out for the Australian Embassy.
Queremos ir a Chapultepec. Calle Ruben Dario, cincuenta cinco. La embajada de Australia. Bits of address, starting with the largest place. Easy to head off for Chapultepec in a flash, but our excellent taxi driver did not know Ruben Dario, nor did the driver alongside in a traffic jam. We sorted it out with our map which he was able to consult while stopped. Get a big map, a map a taxi driver can easily read, this is a huge city for a taxi driver. They have to pass driving tests, geography tests, psychological tests and drug tests. On your side you can buy a map online before travel or you can get a map really cheaply at a specialist stand at the western side of the pedestrian crossing of Eje Central at the western end of Madero.

We were very happy with service at the Australian embassy, not only with emergency passport application, but also in explaining process for applying for a US visa. Thanks indeed!
I should say here that there is normally a day or so delay in issue of an 'emergency passport', but as the ambassador had known me when I was in the foreign service the passport was done in 40 minutes. Not corrupt, just sensible. But very very handy. 
 I note that there is a scale of fees, the more often you come in for a replacement the more expensive it gets. Pity the poor foolish tourist getting caught in a graph of funds vanishing and passport replacement cost going up!!

I had ESTA for entry to the US covering my identity in the lost passport, but with a new emergency Australian passport issued in Mexico a US visa application and interviews were required even just for transit through the US.  This may apply for other countries too. I was clever enough to leave enough days before our flight home to deal with all this. If you must get your passport stolen, do it early!

The taxi: advice from our airbnb host was to hail a moving taxi which had an A or B number plate.

You can check the identity of the driver: his details are on a rear window. And you can check that the meter is on, in a couple of taxis this did not happen instantly. Several drivers brushed us away when we asked to go to Reforma at Hidalgo so we could walk home via the Alameda. The third driver explained that Reforma was blocked by a 'manifestation' - elections this Sunday. He seized on the word Zocalo and he was happy to head that way. We held further discussions in the car to clarify our destination, getting a remarkably swift run to a block from home on Isabel la Catolica. As in life generally the better you know the geography the other person lives with, the more you get in a relationship. Get a map! :-)

Driver's ID beside you
meter in clear view high in front

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