One of the worst feelings when travelling is realizing your precious money that you have been pinching and stretching to prolong the travels, has vanished. Gone to some scumbag, drop kick that found a way to grab your loot while you were looking the other way. Other than a hooker stealing my iPod in Paris, I was robbed only one other time in all my travels. Fortunately my story of theft ends differently than most.
It starts differently too.
Carl, Johnny and myself where in Yerevan, Armenia with the plan to visit the self-declared country of Nagorno-Karabakh. It’s technically in Azerbaijan but uses Armenian language and currency. As of now there is no way to fly there and buses are a nightmare. The best option was to rent a car and drive 5 hours through the caucus mountains to the capital city of Stepanakert.
The trip started with the hiccup of Johnny and Carl not being able to drive cars at the tender ages of 30 and myself being a capable driver, only I had lost my license a few months earlier in Malaysia. So with some mild deception we rented a Kia Rio (possibly the worlds smallest 4 seater car) and headed off to Karabakh.
Johnny was our nav unit as we ripped out of the city center and headed for the highway. All was going great in the first 10 minutes of driving. I had missed the turn off for the highway and blown a red light. Not to worry though, Johnny had mapped out a secondary road that would get us back to the main highway. We veered right and followed on through. 100m in and we pass a dead dog. Not a reassuring start. After a km or so the road had heavily deteriorated and it looked more like a dirt bike track then a highway. We realized that we where driving on a road that had been shelled by the Russians 20 years prior. There were gaps of road completely missing and huge dips in the pavement. At one point I had to take a running start and 3 attempts to get up a steep incline. This road was ridiculous, it looked as though it had been bombed earlier that day.
The road was getting more and more severe. Then crack, something on the car made a loud noise. We got out to inspect. I had snapped the bummer in half. If we knew the roads were going to be this treacherous we would have opted to get the insurance. We managed to eventually putt the little disfigured Kia out and onto the main highway.
The drive to Nagorno-Karabakh was enchanting once we left Yerevan. The landscape changed every 30km or so. It made it one of the best drives I’ve ever done in my life. Hard to describe how stunning all the scenery was. The Rio drove a charm as well.
We arrived late at night and scouted hotels. We choose a mid class one. One that was comfortable, affordable and safe. We didn’t choose well.
The next day we headed out early to try to see the entire country in one day. The sites were limited but there was one very unique attraction. Agdam, a city of what was once 150 000 people in the yearly 90’s was bombed and left deserted. What was so amazing about this place was that there were no tourists. Imagine wandering around a city, completely abandoned. It’s fantastically eerie. There are a few people still living there but we didn’t see them. There is no running water, no electricity, no anything. The only people we did see were two photographers from national geographic.
The next morning I awoke and started my ritual of getting the lads out of bed and into the shower. While the last was showering I reached in my bag to restock my wallet with cash for the day. I zipped it open. I zipped it closed. Then I zipped it open again. Gone. €100 and another $200 worth in Armenian currency gone.
I began to panic a little.
“Yo I’ve been robbed”.
Johnny walks outta the shower.
“What do you mean”.
“My money, it’s gone”.
At that point Carl walks in. “Dude, my money’s gone. Check yours”. I told him.
Carl nervously breaks into his bag and feels around. You could literally feel the disappointment come over Carl. All of his €500 where gone.
They had been kind enough to leave Carl a few of my smaller notes in Carl’s bag thinking we might just see that we had cash in our bags and not notice until later.
This was at 11 or so in the morning and we had a big day of driving ahead of us with a deadline of having the car back on time.
We went to the front desk and approached the teenager who had been there most of the weekend
. We have been robbed we told him. He didn’t understand. English wasn’t very common in Karabakh.
Our money it’s been taken we explained with hand gestures. Still blanks stares.
“We are calling the police, our money has been stolen.”
That sentence he understood. He quickly went and ushered in the owner of the hotel. His english was even worse. After an intense game of charades he looked pretty concerned. He calls someone.
5 mins later there is a translator. The 3 of us explain our situation. Money was there yesterday morning and gone this morning. He relays it back to the boss. He calls more of his friends.
15 minutes later there are 10 people all staring at us as we explain our situation. They decide to check the single camera that points on the lobby. We are offered tea and told to wait. After 10 minutes I get restless and walk into the office. It’s like a mob squad meeting. They are all chain-smoking crammed in a small office trying to figure out the video system.
We didn’t want to get the police involved. We asked the owner several times to pay us back, and we would be on our way. They didn’t seem to think that was an option. After roughly 90 minutes of going nowhere one police man wearing ordinary clothes did show up. He listened briefly to our version through the translator and then got on the phone.
We were really getting short on time. The translator told us they would find who did this and punish them. We thought, yea cool but we really just want out money back. He explained if we stayed there for a few weeks we could get it then or they could send it to us. Both sounded like we wouldn’t really see the money again.
A few minutes later the officer walks in with the manager. He tells us they had found out it was the boys working reception who had taken our money. He then laid out a stack of cash equivalent to what was taken from us. I’m very sorry this has happened he said. The theifs will be punished. We do not want people to think of our country like this. He was very ashamed.
We were very shocked. We thought we wouldn’t ever see the money again. We thanked him and his posse of helpers. Picked the money awkwardly off the table and where in the car and out of there in less then a minute.
We floored the Kia back to Yerevan, just getting back on time. With some sneaky moves Johnny and I returned the beat and broken car without him noticing the damage. Saving ourselves from loosing money twice that day.