‘Porters, not bandits’

Travel can be dangerous.

No. Seriously?

OK, we all know that. But when we’re on vacation,  we figure the rest of the world is, too. But that’s when some start working overtime.

That was the case with four Americans taken hostage and killed after their yacht was hijacked by pirates off Africa.  Up to that point, they were living their dream of sailing the world.

In no way can what happened to some friends traveling with me in Italy compare to that horrific act. But the Italian incident is an example of what can go wrong even when you’re on guard.

We were starting out in Rome and planned to make our way south to the fabled Amalfi Coast.  The idea of taking  trains as far as we could seemed so European; so Agatha Christie; so not Amtrak.  We were to change trains in Naples, and knew it was a hotbed for pickpockets.

That didn’t phase me. As a native Nu Yawka, I move fast and try not to look too prosperous, especially when riding the subway. I go out of my way to look like a schlub. Hey, safety is paramount to making a fashion statement.

It’s a philosophy that’s worked like Teflon in dozens of cities deemed dangerous, especially for a petite Jewish chick. Places like Rio (where I got skin-cancer tan to blend in), Cairo, the Arab section of Jerusalem, Moscow, to name just a few.

Plus, I’ve always traveled very light because I am small, hate clutter, and don’t like to lug stuff. My shoulder purse is slightly bigger than a postage stamp.

Anyway, I warned everyone not to get bogged down with too much baggage and bling;  and made sure we were booked in first class on the bullet train from Rome to Naples for extra security. There we were,  enjoying the scenery and a civilized, first-class snack. So far so good.

When the train pulled into Naples, everyone cleared out quickly; including apparently, the conductors. When one friend with a bad back was struggling to lift her heavy luggage from the overhead rack, some scruffy guys who’d come aboard did it for her. We only feebly protested, because we were secretly glad for the help.

“We are porters, not bandits,” declared one, who was sporting  a button-down shirt with a “Traveline” logo sewn onto the front. Looked official. The friend opened her big designer purse to tip them.  After we left the train, another started dogging my partner, trying to chat him up.  He tried to get away but wasn’t fast enough. The wallet pocket of his jeans was within easy reach.

When we boarded the next train, a smaller suburban line, the two discovered their wallets had vanished. I felt awful for them, but somewhat relieved: I had my purse hidden under my zipped-up coat the whole time. Sure, I looked like a gnome. But it worked.

They spent the 45-minute train ride on their cellphones, working frantically to contain potential financial damage. In that time, the bandits-not-porters had charged about $9,000 on the stolen credit cards, buying, among other things, baby furniture.  “I’m so glad I was able to provide baby furniture for little Giuseppe,” hissed my partner through clenched teeth.

The next stop wasn’t on the itinerary: the police station in Sorrento, Italy. We were trying to explain what happened to a cop who had what looked like an NYPD paperweight on his desk and looked just as harried as New York’s Finest. In fairly decent English — and with a sigh –  he explained that we were the latest victims of professionals operating in Naples — a notorious band who were known to resort to robbing at gunpoint if necessary. So notorious, he had mug shots. They didn’t help. Neither did the Italian transit system, nor the Italian Embassy in DC.

The lesson:  If someone makes it a point to tell you he’s a “porter, not a bandit”, it means he’s getting ready to take you for everything. So try to plan ahead (do your online research) and avoid being a really easy target.

This entry was posted in Beware pickpockets, Europe, General Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to ‘Porters, not bandits’

  1. Muriel Campbell says:

    This is scary stuff, Laura. When a person travels in a foreign country, they are really at the mercy of thieves. Bob & I went to Morocco for my birthday, on a ferry from Marbella, Spain. When we went to exit the ferry, they wouldn’t let us off unless we surrendered our passports. I didn’t want to do this, but Bob and the tour guide said it would be fine. Later, at a rug factory, the guy I bought the rug from called me a dirty Jew. Then later, Bob and I went back on the ferry and were handed two passports of people who were definitely not us. I told the man this was not our passports. He insisted they were, as did our tour guide. A movie script flashed through my brain. Int: Jail – Day

    A woman, face pressed against the icy cold steel bars that she holds, is falsely imprisoned for being an illegal immigrant, who has no passport from any country. Who is she……

    Okay, I have a great imagination. So what did I do? I gave the guy who wouldn’t give me my passport my best New Yawka yell….I yelled so loud, repeating “Gimme my paaaasport!” (how do I type this with a Brooklyn accent?) I think I hurt the guys ears, because suddenly another box containing a whole bunch of other passports miraculously appeared and there were our passports. Anyone want to know how terrorists can enter our country so easily, I’d start with the guy on the tour boat….he’s got a whole lot of U.S. passports to sell or give away.

    All kidding aside, I’m glad you are okay and hope your friend recovered his money, if not his wallet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s