Robbed in Buenos Aires: My Phone Was Snatched From My Hands in Broad Daylight

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Being Robbed in Buenos Aires

It’s really hard to write this because it’s not something I ever wanted to write. As I write this, I’m still very sad. Of course things could have been worse. Things can always be worse. I wasn’t threatened with a knife. I wasn’t threatened with my life. But having your personal space invaded and your belongings taken from you in such a sudden manner is a mini trauma. Last night I couldn’t sleep and it may take me a couple days to start to feel like myself again. The adrenaline is still slowly wearing off, as I come to peace with what happened.

The Scenario

In this blog, I am creating neighborhood guides for all of the main neighborhoods of the city. One of those, of course, is La Boca. La Boca is famous for its brightly painted buildings, tango in the streets, and of course La Bombonera- where the Boca Jr’s futbol stadium is located. On this particular day, a Thursday, I decided to do some more research on La Boca. This is actually one of my least favorite neighborhoods in the city and there is really no reason to go unless you’re a tourist seeing it for the first time. Nonetheless, I wanted to discover something new. Take some photos and videos for future blog posts and videos.

The irony of it all, is that as I walked around the less touristy areas, I kept asking myself- do I feel safe? And the answer was yes. La Boca neighborhood is of a lower socio-economic status, made obvious by the corrugated walls of the buildings, and the broken streets and sidewalks. But one thing I dislike is when lower socio-economic areas are associated with danger, as happens so often in travel. For that reason, I kept asking myself- is it safe? Do I feel safe? And I did. I really did.

I walked around El Caminito and the main tourist center before heading over to La Bombonera. My plan was to stop for lunch on the way back to the tourist center before visiting a couple museums. Just two blocks from El Caminito, I stopped for lunch. There were several tables on the sidewalk of a corner restaurant. I ordered, and while I waited, I decided to upload some photos to Instagram stories.

The Robbery in Buenos Aires

I was served my pomelo saborizado, and as I sat waiting for my main dish to arrive, I pulled out my phone. As you do while you wait. I even looked at my bag sitting on the table and thought to myself, I should really wrap the strap around my arm just in case. I did that.

Moments later, I felt pressure on my left hand. I looked up, thinking the waitress had accidentally hit my phone as she delivered the food. Instead I saw a man running away. My immediate thought was “I can’t believe this is actually happening right now.”

I stood up and ran after him, screaming. I used to run cross country, so I was ready for this. But as he turned the corner, I saw another guy on a scooter was waiting for him. I kept running as the thief jumped on the back. I wanted to push the motorcycle over, grab his shirt, anything. It was at that moment I realized I still had the glass in my hand. I raised the glass to throw it at the young boy and we locked eyes. I even felt a fear in him. He spit on me. I threw the glass and missed. They took off.

I was too in shock, and they were too far away to read the numbers on the ‘patente,’ license plate. I ran back to the restaurant, realizing I had left my bag on the table. For a moment I thought they may have had a friend who robbed my bag while I ran chasing after them. Luckily it was still there when I returned to my table.

The two women working at the restaurant came out, brought me water, called the police. I struggled to breathe. I couldn’t think straight. I struggled to speak Spanish or comprehend it.

The Police After Being Robbed in Buenos Aires

What felt like an eternity, but was probably 5 minutes later, the police arrived. About 6 of them. The restaurant women told them I wasn’t okay, and they asked if I needed an ambulance. No, I am only upset, I told them. Physically I was fine. Thankfully. I explained what happened, that I was robbed in Buenos Aires, and pointed to the street camera up above in the corner. Please check the cameras, I begged them. They said they had already ordered that. Highly unlikely.

I asked them to take me to my apartment in San Telmo, because there I could use my computer to find the current location of my phone. They refused, stating they can’t leave La Boca. Fine.

I climbed into the back of their police truck and drove to the station. There, they told me to sit down and wait. Then nothing. The two policemen I shared a truck with then rushed out and said they would create the ‘denuncia’ when they came back. The women officer outside of the building told me they went after someone they thought might be a suspect. I paced around the front of the building. This was not a time I could sit down in the lobby tranquilly, like they had asked me to do. The women officer then informed me they had found nothing. I asked when they were coming back and she didn’t know. They were working.

I was worried because the more time that passed, the less chance I would have to locate my phone. I went back inside the station, and asked someone else when the men were coming back. Again they told me that the guys were working but would come back eventually to create the ‘denuncia.’ After expressing several times that we were wasting time, they finally had another woman create the report.

I left the station before the policemen ever came back.

The Nerves After Being Robbed in Buenos Aires

I walked a block to the main street and grabbed a taxi. During the next ten minutes of traffic, my leg shook. Hurry up!

I got dropped off in front of my apartment building, and was grateful that someone was exiting the elevator right as I entered the lobby. My mind was blank as I waited for it to rise seven floors. When I opened the door, I could hear my boyfriend on a work call. He looked at me funny as I threw all my things on the ground and rushed past him to my computer.

‘Find my iPhone’ I wrote into the search bar, not knowing where to start with a mind half gone. Nothing.

“How to use ‘find my iphone’ I googled. In my iCloud account. Okay. I opened it. iPhone currently offline. A pop-up message to open the app. Okay. There is a map in front of me. I see my iphone. It’s on Avenida Constitución. I see the words “mark as lost.” Okay, I mark it as lost. It tells me to add a number if lost. Skip. It tells me to add a message for the next person who turns it on. “FUCK YOU, TE ESTOY MIRANDO,” I write. I’m watching you.

The phone moves.

Tip: In your iCloud account, make sure to mark your device as lost. That will lock the phone and not allow anyone to open it even if they have the code. You can even leave a message and a phone number to be contacted at. If you erase your device, it will remove access to Apply Pay and your credit card information.

The Comisária

“Vámonos,” my boyfriend tells me. Put your computer in this backpack, we’re going to the police. I see my computer at 25%. I throw in my charger and we go. Three blocks away is the local police station, the comisária. We enter, and explain what happened. How we can see where the phone is. You have to go back to the original station where you made the report, he tells us. We speed walk back to the apartment, get in the car.

Twelve minutes I’m talking to the same woman officer who watched me pace for several minutes. We found my phone, I told her. What can we do? She tells us that they can do nothing. Since the phone location is now on Constitución, we have to go to that station. We leave. Useless.

The Chase

“It’s on Calle Larrea,” I tell my boyfriend, “now it’s moving again.”

“They’re on Rivadavia.” He changes directions on his phone.

“They’re on Corrientes now.” He changes again.

We reach the corner of Corrientes and Pasteur. The phone location isn’t moving. They’re around here. My computer batter is now at 20%. My boyfriend tells me to stay in the car. There are several electronics shops, and one long hallway, like a dark indoor alley. My boyfriend enters and comes back out.

“I saw your phone. I saw the guys. They’re in a group of 5 or 6. I couldn’t do anything, but I saw them trying to sell it.”

We look around, no police. We call the police.

“Hurry,” my boyfriend tells them, “they’re about to sell it and there are no police around here.”

Then we see the group walk out, four boys and one girl. The main guy is counting a stack of cash. The deal is done. He’s sold the phone. We see the location move in the opposite direction. We drive past them and I roll down my window. I want to see their faces.

“Close the window and DO NOT say anything to them,” my boyfriend warns me, wisely. I wanted to. I wanted to shout at them. FUCK YOU I wanted to say.

We turn around, and follow the phone around the corner several blocks. It’s now at a shopping galeria near the Once station. There are men with signs advertising selling and buying of phones. We tell one we want to buy an iPhone. He takes us inside the gallery and up some stairs.

The upstairs of the galeria is full of boxes, and men, or shall I say boys, standing around. To the right is a platform overlooking the bottom floor of the galeria. About 15-20 teenagers in black T-shirts are gathered in small groups. Our guide leads us through the maze of boys and shops and mannequins asking random people about iPhones. They all say no. iPhones are too complicated to deal with, he explains to us. Nobody sells iPhones here. Even though ‘find my iPhone’ shows it is exactly here.

As Elias and I head down the stairs and back out onto the street, we pass by the boys again. The same boys. Elias is walking in front of me but turns around and tells me not to say anything. He knows I want to. Instead I lock eyes with the shorter one, with the dyed spots in his hair. I stare him straight in the eyes as we pass, but as I get closer I can see his eyes are glazed over. He’s on drugs. He looks back at me but doesn’t see me. I can see it doesn’t register with him that just a few hours before, he spit in my face.

The Second Denuncia

We went to the police station three blocks from the galeria. The third police station of the day, and the second report. The lobby was full. One curly haired woman who got her Motorola stolen. They took it right out of her hands. One older couple who had their black iPhone 13 stolen. The motochorro (motorcycle thief) reached in and took it right out of their car.

I plugged in my computer which was now on 12%. I watched my iphone move around the gallery from the screen of my laptop. Eventually, the police brought me into another room, where I repeated the entire day to them from robbery to galeria. I still hadn’t eaten. I watched as the young policeman, probably half my age, typed up my story, made mistakes, accidentally deleted sections, and rewrote them.

While I waited, I logged into Instragram on my computer. Typed up a note, took a screenshot, and posted. Looking for sympathy, I suppose. I was sad. In shock.

About 90 minutes later, I was signing my second denuncia of the day, knowing it wouldn’t matter anyway. Knowing the police never had any intention of doing anything about it. Since the ‘Find my iPhone’ app only showed an approximate location, rather than an exact one, they could do nothing, they told me.

I had interrupted Elias’ lunch when I suddenly burst into the apartment, and neither of us head eaten for nearly 12 hours. We stopped for ice cream around the corner from the police station. We walked back to the car in the dark, passing by the shops with their closed metal gates, knowing my phone was somewhere behind them.

The First Night

I tried boiling water but couldn’t focus. Elias took over dinner duties, and I sat down on the couch in child’s pose, putting my face into the pillow. I didn’t move until dinner was ready. I kept replaying the scene repeatedly in my head, imagining different scenarios.

  • What if I had caught him?
  • What if the waitress came at the exact second and he backed off?
  • What if I had looked up just one second before?
  • What if I had hit him in the face with the glass?

I don’t remember what I ate for dinner, what we talked about, or if we talked at all. I fell asleep watching reality trash TV. I woke up suddenly, with all those images coming back.

Then, I moved myself to the bed and tried to sleep. The images. The scene. The possible alternative scenarios. I turned on my ipad and kept the trash TV going until Elias finally joined me around 1am. He had lost hours of work earlier in the day when we went on our sudden crime chase, and had to stay up to finish some projects.

The Next Few Days After Being Robbed in Buenos Aires

I kept reaching for my phone. I wanted to know the time, listen to a podcast, to look at Maps. I wanted to check reviews for a movie — I couldn’t. Like a phantom limb, I reached for what was no longer there. Then I remembered I had been robbed in Buenos Aires.

The next day my entire body was sore. From running after the thief. From the stress and tension in my neck and back muscles. I was in a constant state of nervousness. Obsessed with checking my phone’s location. Was it still in the galeria by the Once Station? Yes. I played the sound over and over again, trying to annoy whoever had my phone.

We returned to the galeria twice. We brought cash and were prepared to buy my phone back. I stayed in the car both times while Elias went in search of a white iPhone. Both times, same story. Nobody wants to sell an iPhone. Again and again.

I made my peace. The phone was never coming back. I bought a new phone online for my sister to pick up in store. My family is coming next month and will bring it to me.

Final Thoughts of Being Robbed in Buenos Aires

Getting robbed is a trauma. Having a stranger literally grab something out of your hands and run. It’s a violation of your space and your person and your belongings. I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I haven’t been productive in days.

I haven’t been able to focus on much. I feel sick and all I want to do is lie on the sofa and watch Netflix. This took me out more than Covid.

I’m trying to focus on the silver linings. The positives. At least I wasn’t threatened with a weapon. At least I’m alive. Elias is alive. I will continue on with my life and I will be successful. Unfortunately the thieves will probably spend the rest of their lives in the same situation.

I was grateful to come home to a warm apartment. With a person who cares about me. I can afford to buy a new phone, no matter how inconvenient it is. How sad and upsetting it is.

I still love this city, and this country. It’s just going to take me a little time to feel a bit back to normal.

Tips on What to Do if You Are Robbed in Buenos Aires

If this happens or has happened to you, I am so sorry. Here are some tips and things I learned throughout this experience.

How to Protect Yourself

As you can imagine, I have spent a lot of time imaging how things could have gone differently. If I had done something else. Made different decisions. So this is my advice to you, so that this will never be your story.

Phone Protector

Get yourself an anti-theft phone cover. I have been asking around, and these seem to be the best options:

Crossbody case (a thick string is attached to your phone case, which you put around your neck)
Case with Ring (there is both a strap that connects to the case and goes around your wrist, and a ring that you put your finger through)

As I think back to my situation, I really feel that both of these options would have stopped the robbery.

Apple Care and Theft/Loss

If you have an iPhone, paying $13/mo is worth it for the peace of mind. I didn’t have it, so instead I’m paying a thousand dollars for a new phone. I have Apple Care & Theft Loss now. Now that my new phone is the iPhone 14 pro, I’ll need to get an e-sim as they don’t come with a sim tray. If you need an e-sim too, check out Airalo.

Don’t Use Your Phone in Public

I realize how silly this sounds. You need it for directions and maps, for translations, for checking messages. For the necessities, move yourself into a doorway of a building, or go inside a shop. Then put it away. Quickly take it out, take a photo, and put it back into your pocket. I was engrossed in making Instagram stories when my phone was taken. Save Instagram for home.

Be Constantly Aware of Your Surroundings

This is so obvious, because of course. But I let my guard down for a few minutes, and bam! I felt safe where I was sitting. I got too comfortable. That’s when it happened.

Sit Inside

Sitting outside when the weather is nice, feels better. It just is. If you’re in a neighborhood like Palermo or Belgrano, lots of people are sitting around the patio, it is probably a bit safer. But I was in La Boca, a few blocks from the main tourist area. There were no police. There was only one other table with people sitting outside. I was alone.

When in La Boca

La Boca has a reputation for being a little sketchy. I knew this. Earlier in the day I had walked around other parts of the non-tourist center and felt fine. I really didn’t want to believe La Boca was as bad as they say. I drifted away from the main tourist center for lunch, as I didn’t want to be in the big crowds. This was a big mistake. When you’re in the La Boca neighborhood, even though there are tons of tourists, don’t stray from the center. Stay near El Caminito and the live tango and the shops.