Brainless in Barcelona
or How I Got Scammed out of my Travel Bag

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Barcelona is a wonderful city -- full of life, exciting, great weather, neat old streets.

But all the guide books in Barcelona warn you about security on the streets. You even see notices in the hotel lobbies, in Spanish and in English. There are pickpockets all over the place in tourist areas, they say. Don't carry large amounts of cash. Watch out for purses and bags. Don't let people invade your personal space. Don't walk alone. If someone offers you a flower, they are just trying to get close enough to you to pickpocket you.

Our hotel is located on a popular tourist street just off the "Ramblas," the main tourist thoroughfare, and at least once every night, we hear screams from somebody (usually female) who has just been mugged; I had even seen one lady robbed as I was walking down the street myself. The guy took off running with her purse, and her middle-aged husband briefly gave chase, then stopped.

I was forewarned. I started leaving my wallet in the hotel room and putting what cash I needed plus one credit card in my shirt pocket. I only took my day-pack when I really needed it, when the stuff I wanted to carry would not fit in my jacket pockets. This day-pack was kind of like a purse -- black, with a strap, outer compartments and a larger inner compartment.

Today I decided to take it because I wanted to carry the heavy Barcelona guide book. Then I also stuffed a water bottle in there. Then I took off for the Montjuic section of Barcelona, the place above the city where the Olympic stadium and swimming pool were located, left over from the Summer Olympics held here in 1992.

On the way to the funicular leading up the hill I stopped at a hole-in-the-wall grocery store and picked up some supplies. I took the funicular up the hill, then grabbed the télepherique (gondolas) which went the rest of the way up the hill. The view was spectacular of Barcelona; the sun was out, no clouds; the sun was even behind me for a change, perfect for photos. What else could a tourist want?

At the top of the hill was the ancient fortress called "Miramar." Lots of cannon pointing out to the sea, and tanks left over from World War II; they were all covered with graffiti. I walked around the outside of the fort, admiring the view out over the port of Barcelona. Way down below you could see the docks and all the containers stacked up, ready to be shipped out.

Then I walked around the eastern side of the fort, with its views back down over the city. We overlooked a large grassy area which may have been a moat at one time, but now held an archery range where two men were shooting long bows. It was cool to watch.

I noticed a man walk by me. Then he came back, passed me again, and said something to me. I turned around and he was pointing to the back of my pants. I looked down and there was some brown gooey stuff on the back of my pants. It looked like, well, like somebody had barfed on me; it was really gross.

Luckily the man had a pack of Kleenex, and was willing to wipe it off. Then he pointed to the back of my jacket and there was even more brown gunk.

All my thoughts were focused on: What had I sat in or leaned against? Had a bunch of pigeons attacked me and taken a huge dump on me? But pigeon poop was usually white, this was brown. I'd had a sandwich which was a bit greasy, maybe some of that could have spilled on me. But not to this extent.

Then there were thoughts of doing laundry: the black jeans I was wearing took a long time to dry, and we were leaving in two days; if I hand-washed them, would they dry in time before we left Monday morning? Would there be any Laundromats open on Sunday?

I remembered a bottle of water in my bag; that would help get the junk off. I set down the bag and took out the bottle of water. I even took off my jacket. The guy had his Kleenex out and I poured water on it so he could help me get the stuff off. He took the Kleenex, got more water from me and cleaned me up. We were working well as a team together.

This went on for about two minutes. I couldn't believe how helpful he was. When he left, I thanked him gratefully, and started thinking more about handwashing. Was there enough detergent soap left over?

I put my jacket back on, went to reach for the black bag, and, of course, it was gone.

An immense Homer Simpson "DOH!" came out as I realized immediately what had happened. I had not sat in anything or spilled anything on myself. Clearly he had been the one spilling the brown gunk all over me, probably in the right hand while he wiped me off with the left hand.

I looked around for the man but he was nowhere to be seen. I briefly considered sprinting after him but then stopped and thought about what was missing.

He didn't get the expensive guidebook; I had been reading it when he came by. He didn't get the digital camera or the cell phone, which were in zippered pockets of the jacket. He didn't get the cash and the one credit card which were still in my shirt pocket (I'm sure if I'd had a wallet in my back pocket, it would have been gone).

The good news was when this jerk opened my bag, here's all he would have found:

That all gave me a little consolation, that all his effort was for naught. I could envision him going through everything, then throwing it down in disgust. But I HAD lost one good travel bag, that I had searched a long time for. And of course, I felt really stupid. Plus angry at myself, ashamed, and mostly, well, violated.

I went around looking in trash cans to see if he'd tossed my bag anywhere. Nothing. Of course I knew he'd be long gone.

I didn't feel like sight-seeing any more that day -- more like holing up in the hotel, finding a good book and taking a long hot bath. But, alas, no tub with the room, only a shower, and no unread books. I went back and played solitaire on the computer until Eric came in. Winning four straight games did not improve my mood.

Barcelona wasn't such a beautiful place anymore.

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