Sunday, 4 September 2011

Robbed in Ajijic, Mexico!

                                                                                                                
                                                                 By Nancy Snipper

{also posted on: http://mattersofpersonalinterests.blogspot.com/2011/09/robbed-in-ajijic-mexico.html}

It’s become the most popular retirement spot for Canadians and Americans. More than 7000 non-Mexicans live mainly on the northern side of Lake Chapala; the largest lake in Mexico (about 80 km in length and 12.5km in width) takes the spotlight around here with its boardwalks, markets, charming shops, restaurants and music that resonate around its vast shallow waters (with a mean depth of 4.5m). The most popular towns where all the gringos go are Ajijic and Chapala that have been built on a good stretch of the lake. It’s Jalisco State’s pride and joy.

The most popular towns where all the gringos go are Ajijic and Chapala that have been built on a good stretch of the lake. Everything looks fun, colourful and inviting, it is, but watch out! All the gringos live behind gated wrought iron fences, and all the gated communities have 24 hour guards. Clearly there is a reason for this. It’s about a dirty secret that some of us know about having experienced it first-hand. I made the mistake of renting a casita in the village of Ajijic on September 16th Street from a rental agency whose owner immediately began bad mouthing me the minute I arrived to get the key. She told me she didn’t need to go over with me nor show me the ropes. I insisted she did and I was concerned about locking the door etc.










Immediately arriving, the TV was not working. The nasty Casita owner (originally from Switzerland came over and wanted me to leave right away and go to a B & B. “I want her out.” He said in the worst manner. The rental agency had told me he was mean and she didn’t want any trouble from me. There they stood, trying to kick me out after a 6 hour bus ride from San Miguel de Allende toting suitcase and bags.
I convinced them I was no trouble, but if the TV could be fixed that would be nice. I also had pre-paid. I stayed but for 4 nights I had to endure the worst sound of the water pump motor. It was not functioning properly. It got fixed days later, but another disturbing fact was that by day 5 already four people had entered the casita, the gardener, the plumber and the TV cable man. I was present at all times, but the gardener had access to the house and peeking his head through the garage door into the house’s bottom stairwell inside asking if anyone was there.
Six nights later I was robbed at about 2 am right in my bedroom! Thank God I didn’t wake up.
The first thing I noticed upon going into the bathroom on Saturday morning was my nail scissors were missing, then my jewellery pouch, and my two bags I had placed on my large bed before going to sleep at 1 am.Those robbers had seen me sleeping. I was lucky to have come out of it alive.
But everything was gone, 2000$, my jewellery including irreplaceable hand-made pieces from Crete, Greece, my passport, my plane ticket which was to get me back to Montreal in two days. I had no phone as the rental agent gave me two hours to get out and the phone was cut off. During those two hours I phoned Continental Real Estate Company in Ajijic, out of desperation. The lovely secretary La Donna, whom I had never met, was the first native English-speaking voice I heard that day. She told me to come over right away to use all the phones I would need. At one time, I was on two phones at the same time:  a Vonage phone speaking French to the embassy in Ottawa, the other a cell phone, trying to get hold of MasterCard and shortly after the airline.
La Donna Farrar
Secretary Continental Realty
Michael Kavanaugh
Owner Continental Realty
MasterCard told me they would actually deliver money directly to my door by 2:00. The owner of the agency Michael Kavanaugh became a saviour. He kept his own agency open for me, waiting patiently, even getting on the phone himself to try to get the ball rolling with the Airline Company and MasterCard, but MasterCard never arrived! The promise of having money was simply false hope.
The entire day was a waste. The police had showed up 6 hours after being called about the robbery and the rental agency had immediately changed the lock of the casita door, so they couldn’t get in to “inspect”. I was told to go to Chapala to file an official report; the Ajijic police didn’t write a single word. It was too late, as the police office there was already closed. I had no place to sleep, no money and no passport. Michael had tried to get me to Chapala in time along with my friend Nacho who helped me so much through this. We were driving quickly, but we arrived to watch the police gate close. Dear Michael announced I would be staying in a house he had that remained unoccupied. It was for sale. Without asking for any money, he stopped on the way to buy me booze and handed me 500 pesos (about $43 dollars). This man did not know me, knew nothing about my job nor asked any questions. What a lifesaver.
I had to wait another day Sunday to contact the embassy. It was only open in Guadalajara on Monday.
And here is where another angel entered my life. I opened the door of my new house to see what street I was on, and just then a sweet lady appeared exactly as I was approaching the street sign. I asked her if she had a phone I could use. I told her what had happened. Without a second’s pause, she took me into her home around the corner. Her name was Lucille, a fighter for animal rights, a dog rescuer, and obviously a special person. Originally from South Africa, we found out we had so much in common. She has lived in Chania, Crete and so we both started speaking Greek, as we love the place. She’s lived in so many countries, and even lived in Montreal! She had a Canadian passport. Not only that, she was willing to have money wired down from my MasterCard (I got hold of them finally and told them I needed money and how they had failed me), and so I was told it would arrive on Monday. Darling Lucille, who was actually waiting for her furniture to arrive from Turkey, was supposed to be at home waiting for it after months of paying needless fees in Veracruz for storage. They had failed to deliver it when promised. Nonetheless, she put that on hold, and went into Chapala with me and her friend Cynthia who happened to be a translator and we filed the police report, went to the bank, to get my wired money. We had to make another call as some was not delivered; Lucille called without me even asking. I called the Canadian consulate from the bank using Lucille’s phone, and was told what I would need to get out of the country and return to Canada. By now I had missed the flight, so I would have to purchase another ticket. Lucille arranged for a meeting with me at a travel agent to do that. I got photos taken for the document I would need, but the document requested so much information including references. It was a mad scramble that Monday.
On Wednesday, darling Nacho took me to Guadalajara by bus to deliver the papers and photos needed to begin the process of being issued an emergency one-day exit pass, stamped by the Canadian consulate. It’s a temporary emergency document. I was ushered into a private booth to begin the interview and hand over the papers.
On Friday I was to pick up the document if everything had been approved. I had a new airline ticket; that cost me 379$ more (I had to pay a $150 penalty for the change of date – no compassion there from Continental Airlines. But I had made two amazing Buddhist friends Lucille and Cynthia, the Mexican translator whose looks and personality could charm anyone.
I speak Spanish, enjoy Mexican culture, but my dream to retire there went up in smoke with that robbery.

The story worsens. In Houston, I was escorted into an immigration room; nothing was explained to me. After waiting 20 minutes, a horrid lady called me up and proceeded to intimidate me with her tone and comments: “You are all over the place; this is serious business. “ She asked me so many questions and every time I went to answer she gave me a stare down. In fact, I counted 10 seconds of pursed lips and angry eyes of complete silence before she asked me yet another question. She then said, “I have to make a phone call.” She didn’t want to stamp that emergency paper, nor accept that I had no ID as I had been robbed as the emergency paper stated: passport reported stolen. At one point after she kept asking me for ID I gingerly removed my own CD from the borrowed purse Lucille had given me for my trip home. (I’m a singer/songwriter - it had my name and two photos of me. That really got her angry. I was just trying to assist the situation. I was stressed and tired, having left for the Guadalajara airport at 5 am.
I still had another flight to take from Houston to Cleveland and then back to Montreal. Would I make the connection?
I did but upon arriving in Montreal, I had to go through 3 different customs areas, but they were all super nice to me. The last one was a suitcase opening part. But the young woman took one look at me (I must have looked 101 years old), and she smiled and said, with great pity in her yes for me “Bienvenue, Nancy”. I broke down and cried!