The story of how I saved money, quit my job, sold my possessions,
and set off to endlessly travel by bike around the world.
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March 2002 to April 2003
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Equipment Pages Index
How Much to Bring and Weight
Advice About Advice
A Note to Perspective Sponsors and Gear Suppliers
more about Sponsorship)
HERE for Touring Bikes and Commuting Bicycles
Custom Touring Bicycles and Bike Upgrade Buyers Guide
Bicycle Touring Frames
Steel Repair Myth.
and Aluminum Derailleur Hanger Repair.
Bicycle Touring Wheels
Phil Wood: The Best Bicycle Hubs
Panniers / Bike Bags
Cargo Trailers Vs Panniers
Tires for Bike Tours..
Bicycle Touring Saddles.
Women's Specific Bike Touring Saddles
Brooks Leather Touring Bicycle Saddle Care and Conditioning
Touring Handlebars, Bar Ends, Adjustable Stems, and Padded Grips.
Sealed Cartridge Headsets
How to prevent flat tires
Bike Route Trails and Maps
Buying Camping Equipment
Tent and Ground
Pots and Pans
Solar Power for Camp
Bike Touring Shorts
Bicycle touring lights
Pictures of Equipment Failures
all 3 book)
Into the Eyes of a Thief: pickpocket crime against tourist in
the Mexico City Metro (subway)
(Sept. 21, 2002)
|Mexico City is quite a place. According to our guide books it is
Latin Americas only megalopolis. We spent over a week there and experienced a
crowded place of extremes. We saw business tycoons in expensive Italian suites
closing the big deal on their cell phones. while waiting for a plush limousine to crawl
through dense traffic and pick them up. On the same block we saw homeless mothers
pointing out trash cans to their children to pick through for something to eat.
City also has a well earned reputation as being one of the most polluted places on earth.
It made our eyes water and gave us both a sore throat that lasted days after we
left the brown cloud behind. The smog was worse than anything that I had ever seen
in Los Angeles or Phoenix before. About the only place that I can think of as being
similar in air quality is breathing directly into a tailpipe of a semi truck needing a
Mexico City also had a wonderful side. Despite being a large city people were
very kind and friendly. It had museums and art galleries that draw tourist from all
over the world. We visited the large and ultra modern city zoo that we were told is
comparable to any of the best zoos in the world. It even had Giant Panda Bears which
is an impressive feat considering that China is very picky about where they allow their
precious bears to relocate. This place of extremes is truly the mover and shaker of
Mexico and the entire Spanish speaking world.
Mexico City also suffers from a serious level of crime. Before we arrived we had
been reading in Mexican news papers about the terrible crimes being committed specifically
against foreign tourists. A reoccurring theme in the papers was how a taxi would
pick up foreign tourists, drive them somewhere out of sight, beat the daylights out of
them, and steal everything they have. Many are never heard from again. Our
guide book even warned us not to carry our ATM cards with us because tourists were also
getting kidnapped and forced to visit cash machines throughout the city to make
withdraws. We were not interested in riding in a cab after reading all that.
Luckily one of the most impressive things in Mexico City was the subway system locally
called "El Metro." In a city of 22 million it moves 4.7 million people a
day. It costs a fraction of a cab ride at less than US$0.20 per person to go just
about anywhere in the city including major tourist attractions, national bus stations, and
even the international airport. Our guide books warned about pick pockets that roam
the Metro and specifically target foreign tourists. This type of crime is seemingly
very preventable and at least better than getting beat up or worse. If you do not
have anything in your pockets, especially a wallet or passports, there is nothing to grab.
We use a money belt worn under our clothes and I kept our camera completely under
my jacket and my arm firmly over it. The Metro was always too hot for a jacket but I
wore it anyway. When we were on extended outings we would carry daypacks with food,
water, sunscreen, and rain gear. None of this is very valuable but still a headache
to replace if stolen. We would wear our daypacks backwards so everything was in
front of us. At first we thought this looked weird and paranoid but after seeing the
locals on the Metro do exactly the same thing we knew it was a good idea.
I do not want to sound like a country bumpkin but I had never ridden a subway much
before and never experienced pickpockets with their hands in my pockets in my life.
All that has changed after my recent visit to Mexico City. We rode the Metro almost
every day for twelve days as we explored the sights. I was impressed with its
efficiency and speed. We heard that it was modeled after the one in Paris. I
can not imagine how this monster of a city survived without it. We tried to avoid
rush hours on the Metro because our books said that these were the worst times for
pickpockets. Occasionally, the train cars were very full and people pushed and
shoved to cram on the crowded cars. I do not believe that we have ever heard a
Mexican complain about anything the entire five months we were in the country and the
crowded Metro was no different. The locals are masters at "going with the
flow" and smiling the whole time. We did the same and squeezed on when
It was during these crowded times that the pickpockets tried to grab our stuff.
We experienced three separate attempts during our twelve days there. You can feel
their grubby little hands going into your pockets but they are quick and it is hard to
figure out exactly who is responsible. The usual scenario, as I experienced it, goes
like this. The thieves work in groups of five or so. It was impossible to get
an exact count and I believe that they use innocent passengers in their scheme.
They start by standing around the more crowded stations, waiting for targets. They
do not stand together and they all act like they do not know each other. When they
see you about to board they all rush up to the platform to predetermined positions and act
like they are trying to get on at the last minute. The last one in line pushes
everyone obnoxiously hard and everyone is pressed up against each other. At this
moment your body is completely in contact with someone else's body and it makes it hard to
tell who is innocently pressing against you and who is probing for your wallet. By
the time you feel a suspicious hand in your pocket it is gone.
After the first time I was furious. Although they never got anything from me the
(act) thought of being violated like this made me mad. What nerve these people have.
I dreamed up all kinds of things I could do. I thought of putting glue, ink,
and even a mouse trap in my pocket for them to find. I even thought of fake props
that would appear like things too vile to mention on a family web site but looking real
enough to really gross the thieves out. I never did any of these things but I still
(felt) had the need to get back at them somehow. I knew that we still had to ride
the Metro several more times and that they would strike again. I wanted to catch
someone's hand in my pocked the next time. Big men are too cumbersome to make good
pickpockets in such tight areas. This profession attracts small quick men.
They would be easily over powered in a direct physical battle. I was eager for the
chance to give them what they deserve.
The next day we had to switch trains in a crowded station that our guide book
specifically pointed out as notoriously bad. The platform did not seem overly
crowded and I looked around for people scooting us out. I thought I saw
nothing. Our visiting friend, Patti, said that she was pretty sure a few guys were
checking us out. I told her that they were just staring at her because she has
naturally blond hair which is rare in Mexico and considered the pinnacle of beauty by
Mexican men. I would soon eat these words because looking back she was exactly
right. As we were getting on the train it got crowded quickly. I got on last
thinking that I could protect Cindie and Patti this way. Several people wiggled
in-between me and the girls that I was trying to protect. As I was stepping on the
train a big push came from several people behind me. It all happened so fast.
I felt someone's open hands press firmly against both of my rear pockets. I was not
convinced at the time but now I am pretty sure that they were checking for a wallet.
I asked the girls if they were OK and if anyone had tried anything. Cindie looked
frightened and Patti told me indirectly in a combination of sign language and cryptic
English (you never know who speaks English) that someone had tried to rob her and they
were standing behind her. I already had enough because my back pockets had been
checked but to violate and frighten my wife and her friend made me boil over. I
scanned the crowd and saw several young men looking down and seeming frustrated that they
had come up with nothing.
I said openly and firmly in Spanish, "No me gusto Rataros" translated to
English "I do not like thieves (derogatory)" to the close quartered crowd.
One of the suspected thieves immediately looked up and straight into my eyes in
defiance. I knew he was guilty. He said nothing but we stared at each other
long enough to have a complete non verbal conversation. This conversation
transcended language barriers and cultural differences. He said silently "Hey
Gringo I do not like being called a Rataro". I felt strong and confident from
months of riding and a 100 pound weight advantage. I glared back and the pure
unmistakable rage on my face let him know that once I get my hands on him he was in for
some vigilante justice. Neither of us looked away for several seconds and I
fruitlessly tried to inch my way closer in the over crowded train car. He saw this
and his looked changed to fear and he quickly looked down. I knew at that moment
that I had won. I still wanted to get my hands on him but I saw that the train was
coming to a stop and that he was going to get out before me. I said aloud to him and
his suspected accomplices "no mas" or in English "no more." No one
looked up which empowered me even more. The train stopped and the doors flew open
and they quickly disappeared into the crowded station.
In some strange way I am glad that this all happened. Nothing was taken from us
and I took from these experiences knowledge of how pickpockets work. I realize that
every scam is different and pickpockets on the beach will have a different maneuver than
the ones we dealt with on the Metro but some elements must be similar. Thieves like
to look for areas where tourist are abundant and use some form of diversion to distract
you and get your valuables.
I still prefer the little traveled back roads where a diversion is watching the sun set
and the only thing of real value is a mans honesty and that can never be stolen.
The metro at rush hour, a friendly gesture is always welcome.
Some of Mexico Cities skyline.
The Zocalo at rush hour.
North and Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03
(July 18 - Aug 22, 2002)
The State of
Guanajuato to Toluca, Mexico
Other essays by Tim
Into the Mist State
of Michoacan, Mexico
Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Michoacan,
Full size Picture
- Guanajuato to
Penjamillo to Patzcuaro, Mexico
Patzcuaro to Cuidad Hidalgo, Michoacan,
Into the Mist Mexican highway 15
Cuidad Hidalgo, Michoacan, to Toluca, Mexico
The Velodrome in Toluca, Mexico
(Oct. 12 - Nov. 8, 2002)
The States of Tabasco and Chiapas,
Villahermosa, Tabasco to Cuauhtemoc Chiapas, Mexico
Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Tabasco and
Chiapas, Mexico Pictures
Full size Picture
- Museum La Venta and the
Olmec Heads Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico
Villahermosa, Tabasco to Ocosingo,
Palenque #1 Photo Picture Page
Palenque #2 Photo Picture Page
Misol-Ha Waterfall Chiapas, Mexico
Agua Azul Chiapas, Mexico
Tonina Mayan Ruins Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico
Mexico's Day of the Dead Ocosingo, Chiapas,
Ocosingo to Cuauhtemoc Chiapas, Mexico
(March 15 - April 10, 2003)
Costa Rica #2
Manual Antonio to Monteverde
Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
Tim's Emailed Newsletters
Costa Rica #2 (incomplete)
Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail Page of Costa Rica #2 Pictures
Full size Picture
Parque National Manuel Antonio, #2
City of Santa Elena
Santa Elena, Monteverde
Frog Pond (Ranario), Santa
Santa Elena, Cloud
Forest, National Park
Sky Walk, Suspension
Bridge, Canopy Tour
Sky Trek Zip Line,
Tips & Advice
Tools and Spares
Pots and Pans
Preventing Flat Tires
Bike Touring Shorts
Have Learned On The Road
Injustice of Poverty
Much MORE Gear Here!
Cycle Touring Racks
Tents and ground