La Paz, Bolivia | Stolen Camera + Passports

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Coming back to La Paz wasn't as bright and happy as the first time, when Zhanna and I had a dance party in the taxi while driving into the city, falling in love with it before we ever stepped out of the the car. 

The second time we drove into La Paz, after our Southwestern Bolivian expedition in Uyuni, we were on the worst bus ride of our lives.  Twelve hours through the night in an old bus on the bumpiest road you can imagine, where for the first few hours, I would fly into the air so high that landing back in my seat felt like getting punched in the stomach. So bumpy that I needed to pee for hours, but didn't think I could walk down the aisle and make it downstairs to the restroom without splitting my head open. So bumpy that things in the overhead compartment would tumble out, like a water bottle that landed in my lap while my eyes were closed, startling me so bad that I jumped up. 

When I finally got some shut eye, I held onto it with all I had. I wanted nothing more than to sleep through the rest of the miserable bus ride and wake up in La Paz. And we did eventually sleep, probably because the roads got better closer to the capitol city. When I woke up, everyone on the bus was standing and shuffling around, packing up their belongings and getting ready to get off the bus. We had a small backpack in the overhead compartment, and when we didn't see it right away, I figured it had just slid forward during that crazy ride. The bus slowly emptied out, along with everyone's belongings, and Yuriy and I were the last ones on the empty bus, looking underneath seats, panic growing. After I realized the backpack wasn't on the bus, I was sure that someone took it by mistake and would bring it back. Eventually reality set in, and I realized that someone most likely intentionally took our backpack, along with our professional camera, a coupe of lenses, a full 32gb card of photos we took during a week in Bolivia, and our passports. I sat down on the curb between buses and cried so hard. 

The worst bus ride ever led to the worst day ever. We circled around the bus terminal, looking for the backpack in people's arms, checking trash cans (in cases someone took the camera and threw everything else away), looking at faces, and wondering what person could do such a horrible thing. If we left the bus terminal, it felt like we were accepting the loss and never seeing it again, so we went around and around. 

We couldn't spend all day mourning our lost camera and photos, because we were planning to leave the country shortly, and had no passports. I always wondered what would happen if you lost a passport in a foreign country, and now we got to find out. On a day when I wanted nothing more than to shower, sleep, and take it easy after roughing it in the wilderness of Bolivia, we got none of those things. 

The following was our series of events to replace our passports: 
- bus terminal police
- bus terminal tourist police 
- La Paz tourist police - must get new passports before we can file a report
- U.S. embassy 
- go take passport photos
- check into a hotel to drop off our bags
- U.S. embassy to get new passports
- immigration
- go take Bolivian passport photos
- La Paz tourist police - file report
- immigration 
- go take more Bolivian passport photos because they were the wrong size
- go to a bank to pay for a visa
- immigration - wait for hours, even after closing, because they ran out of stickers for the passport

This mad dash from one place to another lasted from 7am until about 5 or 6pm, and most of the time we were taking a taxi between locations because the city is massive. Getting the new passport at the U.S. embassy was actually the easy part. Getting a new visa from the Bolivian immigration office was the real hassle. We had already paid $140 for a visa when we entered the country, but we had to buy a new one when we lost our passports. We were in the immigration office after all the workers went home for the day. It was Friday, so if we couldn't get our new passports/visas that day, we couldn't leave the country on Sunday and would have to wait until Monday. Lucky for us, there was another American there who had his passport stolen on the same bus ride from hell (though probably a different bus), and he was a loud and demanding New Yorker, which helped us find one employee at the immigration office who spoke some English and tried hard to help us. Everyone else didn't give a hoot about us. After everything was paid and filled out and ready to go, the office ran out of stickers to put in the passport. Someone had to travel to another office during rush hour traffic to pick up a sticker for us. I felt like I was on a reality show or some sick scavenger hunt. 

Having to spend the day desperately trying to get new passports and visas actually took our minds off of losing all our photos. We ended up getting a nice hotel for a couple nights and bought a plane ticket to Lima instead of taking a bus and traveling a little longer, like we originally planned. We were just done with traveling and ready to be home. 

After the ticket was purchased and the passports replaced, we spent a couple days exploring La Paz again, and documenting it with our Fuji X100s (a much smaller camera which wasn't stolen, but was hardly used throughout the trip).

Biggest lesson learned:
While traveling, take the memory card out of your camera and put it in a safe place. If your gear gets stolen, it's much easier to replace than the photos from your trip.

When we were still traveling, every time I thought of our stolen things, I had to try really hard not to cry. Finally the stuff that happens to other people was catching up to. Once we got home, the pain of losing the photos really melted away. I realized how lucky we were to be happy, healthy, together, and completely spoiled in America. We have everything we need. The camera was easily replaced, the passport was somewhat easily replaced, and the memories associated with the photos are still safely in our minds.

Hope you enjoy these photos of La Paz, the city of endless markets. All images were taken on a Fuji X100s. 

- Julia


Finally, a lovely hotel, after roughing it on the road in the Bolivian desert.
Peace out, Bolivia. Hope you like our camera and passports and cute backpack.

33 comments :

  1. Oh goodness, the worst! I'm glad you made it through, safe and sound! (though minus a camera and photos, sad face)

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  2. Oh my goodness - what a terrible day! You poor things! Sometimes traveling sucks - but I love that you shared the story, it will hopefully act as a good warning for other travellers in the future. I don't know how many photos I've lost from doing the same thing as you (not removing the memory card). I know people say you should put the camera down and just enjoy the experience - but my memory isn't that good! I need to photograph things haha. The above photos are gorgeous though! I can't believe how big some of the foods are like the pineapples and sweet potatoes. Crazy!

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  3. That is terrible!! I'm so paranoid with my belongings (mainly because I grew up in South America) that on my last bus trip in Guatemala, I literally hugged my backpack and slept on my side facing the window lol. But at the end the important thing is that the good memories are safe with you,the hole reason why we travel! anything else is replaceable. Love the pictures! Fuji X100S is a great camera and the only one I take when I travel.

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    1. I hate feeling paranoid, but I guess it's beneficial, isn't it? Cool to hear you shoot with a Fuji x100s while traveling as well. It really is a nice little camera. Occasionally it's the only camera we bring on a trip.

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  4. This is so heartbreaking and makes me so angry for you. What a nightmare. I'm so sorry this happened. I'm glad you were able to move on and try to enjoy the rest of your time there.

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  5. This made me sad, but I love love love your perspective at the end. You're right-- the gear is expensive, but the photos are even more precious, along with the memories we take with us when we arrive safely home.

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  6. So sorry to hear of your troubles - but I'm pleased you managed to plough on and still have a great time. La Paz looks like a really colourful and interesting place!


    Suitcase and Sandals Blog
    XX

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  7. That's lucky that you managed to get your passports sorted out pretty quickly, but so horrible that someone would steal your bag! I can't even imagine having to go through all of that - especially loosing so many photos! At least you made the most out of a bad situation and still came away with some great photos while you were there!
    xo April
    April | April Everyday

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  8. I'm so sorry - that's such an utterly shit experience. I'm glad to see you didn't lose all the photos from your trip, though!

    belle + compass

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  9. That's so horrible! If I have been you, I would probably have been crying no stop and throwing a tantrum like a little 6 years old and blaming everyone around. I am so happy that I haven't experience anything stolen from me while traveling. Even more a passport, it was such a hassle for you. Again, I am sorry to hear about this. Sad, there are such bad people who do these things.

    Anyways, photos look amazing, I hope you will have a good rest after the flight :)

    -Leta | The Nerdy Me

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    1. Thanks so much, Leta. I may or may not have been crying like a 6 year old. ;)

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  10. Sorry to hear about your camera being stolen after such a difficult journey - I can imagine how utterly rubbish that must've been. Your photos taken with the Fuji are still brilliant though!

    http://shootingfromaclick.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

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  11. I'm so sorry that happened to you -- that sounds absolutely awful. There truly are some terrible people in the world...

    On the bright side, the photos you do have are BEAUTIFUL, and like you said, at least you're all safe and healthy! I hope your future travels go much better than this one. :)

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  12. Traveling days aren't always the easiest. My heart was crying for you reading about your things stolen (especially the loss of your pictures) and having to hustle through a day to get everything back in order. BUT the way you ended this post was beautiful. Its about the memories—something no one can steal.

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  13. That is so terrible! A similar thing happened to my friend when she was travelling on a bus in Kenya, although I don't think she lost her passport in the process, just her new camera and her photos from the past month.

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    1. Oh no!! The past month? That's painful! :(

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  14. I've had a camera stolen on a trip once, it was so awful!! I'm so sorry this happened to you guys, sounds like an insane few days. I'm glad you guys got it all sorted out & these photos were great.
    xx www.nuunablog.com

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  15. Oh gosh, what a horrible experience for you both. Sounds like a nightmare! Glad you both survived and managed to sort it all out xx

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  16. Oh no, that is so so horrible! I am so sorry you had such a horrible experience, and that it lasted so long as well!
    Theft of bags is super common in South America, so when my partner and I were travelling we always made sure to keep our bags on us, either by out feet or on our lap, because you no matter how much you say you'll keep an eye on it overhead, it just creates more stress. And whenever we had baggage in the downstairs, we always made sure to sit on the window view of the correct side, so we could look down and make sure no one was taking ours.

    Good idea though about keeping the memory card safe. That is what would've broken my heart the most! X

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    1. Good tips. You guys are smart to be cautious. We met a guy who was in the same boat as us at the US embassy (stolen passport on the same kind of bus) and he had tied his bag to his shoes, but it was stolen anyway. Sometimes I feel like it just can't be avoided. There's no way you can not sleep on a 12 hour bus ride through the night, and anything can happen at that time.

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  17. What an experience you guys have. But lesson learn nonetheless..
    Beautiful photos and great post you guys <3

    xx
    Best, Albert | Palming Pebbles
    Palming Pebbles FB Page

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  18. Oh my gosh what a gutwrenching story. I can only imagine. When my husband and I were just dating we had a storage unit full of things for our new life together since we both had nothing. One day, someone broke the lock and took everything. From the very nice couch to the ziploc containers. I remember feeling so violated. At least you had someone to lean on in such a tough time and are able to see the better side of such a negative experience.

    Your photos are amazing.

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    1. That is heartbreaking. I'm so sorry someone did that to you, and they'll never know how much that stuff meant to you. I'm glad these things feel better with time.

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  19. I'm sorry but this was very naive of you to on a bus like this in South America keep your backpack with the most important items elsewhere than on your lap, holding on tight to it. I've heard many stories like this before and I'm surprised that people as experienced in traveling as you are have let it happen.

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    1. You're right, we should have known better. If we were always 100% on guard though, I don't think we would enjoy our travels as much. Next time we'll be more cautious.

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  20. That sound so stressful! But all's well that ends well, right? Haha. These pictures make me long to return to South America though. So, so gorgeous.

    xx Deanna
    Follow the Rules

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  21. What a whirlwind!

    On my very first international trip when I was 19 years old I went through a similar experience, except without the stolen passports. We were in a poor port town in Costa Rica and I just didn't have my guard up -- same story that happens to hundreds of other naive travelers every single day. I cried my butt off on our ferry ride to the peninsula that day, but was shown such kindness from locals and other tourists, and eventually like you mentioned, realized how lucky I am in the big picture. Whoever took those things from us, I hope they needed them.

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    1. "Whoever took those things from us, I hope they needed them." ...good way to look at it. Not a bad thing that it happened to you early on, because you've probably been more aware of your surroundings/belongings since then.

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  22. Sorry about happened to you. Did you have a photocopy of your passport somewhere or an identity card? It helps. I always keep them in a different place.

    I guess if someone from Bolivia lose a passport in your country they probably will spend much more days trying to have them...and a Visa? they probably spend the night in prison. So yes, you may be safer and spoiled in your country if you live there.

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    1. We had photos of our passports on our phones, but it wasn't very helpful. Still had to get a new passport. Yuriy had his ID card, I didn't, but the process was the same for both of us.

      We felt very lucky to be able to get new passports and visas on the same day. I have heard horrible stories.

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  23. OH NO! We just got back from NYC and lost our 5DMarkIII too. As sick as we were about losing such a valuable camera, the worst feeling is definitely losing all those photos!

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  24. Im new to following your blog, but you have been to some really great places. I noticed however that you have not been to Ecuador. This is where we live. We have been here for 5 years now, and i have to say there are many amazing places to see here. On one of your next adventures you should put this in the agenda. http://4000miles.com/

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