Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Break-In

My second week in Havana started rather emotional as we were awaken fairly early in the morning by the man of the casa, Alex, who asked us if we still had all our belongings... Being newly awaken, and having only gone to bed at around 2.30 am the night before after a great night out discussing politics with a Cuban couchsurfer and one of my fellow UK casa stayers, I had a moment of confusion at first as I could not find my money belt which has usually always been either on me or under my pillow while I sleep.

That morning it was in neither places, and I seemed to recall that I had hung it in the bathroom when I was getting ready for bed and must have left it there. Big panic as the Finish guy who was sleeping by himself in the second bedroom of the casa has had all his valuables stolen during a break-in that night! Poor Salomon.

I ran to the bathroom that was busy, knocked on the door and asked if the person could see a bag in there and she answered that no, the black bag was not there any more. The black bag? How about a beige bag? No, everything was gone...
So both my money belt and my travel bag of toiletries were then stolen? I spend about half an hour in agony, telling myself off for being so stupid. I always keep the money belt on me and had gone to the effort of locking our bedroom door that night, but had left the money belt hanging clearly visible in the bathroom? How could I be so stupid?

Turned out I had not been. I thought I had looked through my handbag thoroughly, but as I was telling one of the other girls how, bizarrely enough, the night before when I came back I had brought my handbag with me into the bathroom while I was getting ready, while usually I leave it on one of the chairs in the living room (and yes, there is a locked door into the apartment as well). And then I started thinking, but if I brought my handbag with me, why on earth did I not put the money belt in there instead of hanging it by itself? So, I looked again through my handbag, and luckily there it was, in the outside pocket where usually I would never put any valuables.

So I learned my lesson, that even if I had been for a week in this casa and was starting to feel more relaxed about things as one undoubtedly does when one starts to feel at home, my money belt belongs either attached to me or at a limit under my pillow in a locked room. And because of the relief of having found my money belt intact, I could suddenly not care less about having had almost all my beauty products stolen. It is a pain because it is fairly difficult and expensive to replace things in Cuba, but luckily they left my shampoo, conditioner and shower gel as these were bigger bottles not in my travel bag. But they took my travel bag with all its belongings, meaning almost all my products including the difficult replaced sun lotion (I have bought a Cuban one in replacement but it's like zinc, covering me in a white paste, so not very useful most of the time), and my big bottle of body lotion. But I was lucky in this situation, and this probably because I locked our bedroom door although I was the same night wondering why I was locking it, who I was protecting us against  - but luckily that I still locked it as the thieves stole things from the other room while the guy was sleeping!!

Poor Salomon, the Finish guy staying by himself in that room, actually saw someone come into the room in the middle of the night and sat up to say hi. The person withdrew from the room, and as he had gotten used to new people arriving in the middle of the night – the disadvantage of staying in a hostel – Salomon went back to sleep. Wakening up the next morning he realised something was wrong as he couldn't find his watch that originally was right next to his bed, at perhaps 20 centimetres. So at some point between 2.30 am and 6 am, someone broke into the apartment but without the doors showing any signs of break-in. And it had been so dark in Salomon's room that he can only say that he saw someone that he thinks was a man.

He lost about 600 EUR in cash as he had just withdrawn cash to pay for the accommodation, his watch, mobile phone, credit card, 2 pairs of trousers, small backpack, a pair of sunglasses. All while he was sleeping at maximum half a meter from all these things and he did not hear a noise at this point. Poor guy. Luckily for him, he had his passport and a debit card elsewhere and managed to, once the chock having passed, to continue travelling around Cuba as planned.

For a while though, it looked like the worst would be for the casa owners. We did not first understand their worry. Ok, they were feeling sorry for the loss of Salomon as they felt responsible for the break-in, although there are 3 doors to get into the apartment, plus that you can lock your bedroom door. And they seemed also to worry about the risk for their rating at hostelbookers as they were at that time the casa rated as number 1 in Havana.

However, only later that same day did I understand their real worry as it was relieved that the woman of the casa, the nice and lovely Ania, had been kept for two hours of interrogation at the police station when she went to report the crime, being threatened with prison. And you should know that stealing from a tourist can give up to 20 years in prison in Cuba! Hence the normally low risk as a tourist in Cuba as you walk the streets without too much worry from that point of view.

So it was a very dramatic start to the week. It seems that Salomon will get most of his things covered by the travel insurance except for part of the money, and the police stopped harassing the casa owners as the only proof they had against them was that they have access to the apartment. Ironically, they never even asked the other people in the apartment at that time. There were 5 of us - Salomon, me, a girl and a guy from the UK, and a South Korean guy – and the police never asked us anything nor wanted to check through our things... And that South Korean guy did take off the same morning.

In reaction to what happened, the security of the casa has now increased even further as they have added a second metal door to the apartment and are asking everyone to make sure to lock all doors when leaving or for the night, and there is always one of them staying up until the last person is back making sure that the doors are locked. The problem with a hostel is, of course, the other travellers, so although I made sure to lock the bedroom door last night as I went to sleep last, this morning when I woke up, not only was it not locked, but wide open as the two UK persons staying here as usual do not seem to care that much about safety. But oh well, my big bag is always locked, my money belt on me, and my handbag with the few valuable things, right next to me. That are all the precautions I can take and at least this way, if another break-in happens at any point anywhere, I might loose my things, but at least I won't have to beat myself up over it.

1 comment:

Anna said...

My darling Helena!
A scarry experience that at least for you just ended as a reminder of staying carefull.
I am very happy that it all ended well for you!
Lol/mamma