This story happened a long time ago, (November, in Colombia) and we debated a lot about whether or not to tell it. We don’t want anyone to worry about us (we learn from our mistakes!) but we do want to prevent other travelers from going through the same thing. Without further hype, here’s the infamous bird poop scam – how we got robbed in Colombia and how to avoid it!
It was a beautiful afternoon in Zipaquira, a small town outside Bogota, and Zach and I were meandering through town after our visit to the famous Salt Cathedral. We decided to sit down on a nice park bench and people-watch. I took out my iPhone to check if there was WiFi (there wasn’t) and then put it back in my hip pocket. We were just sitting on the bench, when a minute or two later we both felt something wet hit us on the back. “What was that?” we sat up straight and looked around. The next thing you know, a bunch of young Colombian women run up pointing at the sky and telling us that a bird just pooped on us. “Oh great!” I thought, “Of all the luck!”
Zach and I started exclaiming and laughing about the situation as these women started thrusting napkins at us to help us clean ourselves off. “Wow,” we thought, “How nice of them.” I stood up, wiping my shoulder off (the place where I had felt myself get hit) and then one lady pointed out that I had some on a pant-leg also. I went to wipe that off and another lady frantically showed me that there was more on my other pant-leg. The same thing was happening to Zach simultaneously. With my Spanish in it’s infancy, I just kept saying “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias” and trying to get the nasty liquid off my clothes. After a quick minute of this, the women pointed us to a bathroom we could go to to clean off more, then ran off across the street. We were still in shock about how great of a target some bird had made out of us, but we managed to laugh about our dumb luck. We were impressed with how helpful Colombians always proved to be.
It wasn’t until an hour later, on the bus back to Bogota, that I realized my iPhone was gone. It became clear almost immediately what had happened. The whole thing was a stupid scam! There was no bird, only some loser with a spray bottle of something and a bunch of good actors! These women must have seen me take out my phone and then put it back in my pocket and realized that it was a perfect opportunity for their little trick. All of a sudden it was so obvious–how they pulled us in different directions so Zach wouldn’t notice, how they kept pointing at different places on my clothes all at once to keep me distracted while they pick-pocketed me. Argh! We felt so stupid! Then, gradually, we started to feel less stupid. What an elaborate yet so-incredibly-silly plot! Despite the reading-up we had done on things to watch out for in Colombia, we had never heard of this bird poop scam ! We were still at the beginning of our trip, having experienced nothing but genuine hospitality from Colombians, and we naively gave these women the benefit of the doubt. We have since seen written warnings of similar “wet liquid” scams like this becoming more and more common in Ecuador and Bolivia, so they must be on the rise everywhere.
WHAT WE DID WRONG:
Why did I even have my iPhone with me? I don’t know…I brought it on the trip to use in places with WiFi and as a backup in case one of our iPods died (which has since happened…but no more iPhone). On that day though, I really didn’t need it with me. I definitely didn’t need to be carrying it in a baggy front pocket with no zipper or button closure. Don’t be as stupid as I was.
The biggest lesson we learned is this: WHEN ANYTHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENS, WATCH YOUR STUFF!!! The biggest advantage thieves have in situations like this is the element of surprise. They got us this time, but we now know that the first thing we have to do in any surprising situation is to keep track of each other and our belongings!
In the end, it’s not that big a deal. What would I probably have done anyway immediately on my return to the states? Buy the newest iPhone. Of course we wish it wouldn’t have happened and we do get angry at ourselves for falling for such a stupid scheme. I mean, bird poop????? COME ON!!!! But the only thing we can really do in this situation is learn from it and pass on that knowledge to others. We’re hoping that this was our one-and-only brush with crime on this trip and at least it’s over with minimal harm done!
What do you think of this crazy story? Has anyone else fallen victim to “ the bird poop scam ” or other ways they were robbed in Colombia?
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