Picture two round, sweaty, shirtless men, partly bald with smug (if not evil) grins plastered onto their cartoonish faces. Excuse me, stupid, cartoonish faces. They’ve come to roll down their car window, smile at us and savor in our frustration. Still wearing a sundress and flip flops I scream at them and charge their van, not yet sure what my takedown strategy will be.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Boris and I are in Sardinia. It’s day five on our eight-day road trip. The island is everything we hoped it would be: dry, dramatic terrain enveloped in a hundred shades of blue; warm nights that only end with the last drop of wine; lunches on vine-draped piazzas. We’d been happy to discover that authentic, brightly colored villages outnumber the St. Tropez-style resort towns a hundred to one.
We’d flown into Alghero and made our way down to Oristano, stopping in coastal towns along the way like beautiful Bosa. At Oristano we cut inland and explored the mountainous villages of Barbagia, including Gavoi.
Everything had gone perfectly. We’d avoided the car rental line at the airport, found campsites easily and loved the hillside bed and breakfast we’d treated ourselves to one night.
Today is day five and we’re back on the coast, this time on the eastern side of the island. We will spend our last couple of days working our way back to Alghero along the northern coast through magical Santa Teresa Gallura, Stintino, Grotta de Nettuno and everything in between.
It’s late afternoon so we park on the side of the road and jump into the ocean. This has become our daily ritual and it never gets old. There are other cars parked alongside the road at this particular beach so we pull in behind them.
“Could you grab that bag?” Boris points to an empty plastic snorkel bag on the ground. It had fallen out of the trunk so I put it back in the car and remind myself to throw it away later. I stuff our wallets and cameras into my purse and we follow a narrow trail down to the water.
A naked Dutch family has claimed the left side of the beach and a very much in love Italian couple have the right. We settle in the middle and enjoy another day in paradise. We eventually head back to the car hungrier, more refreshed and a little tanner than an hour before.
When we emerge from the path onto the road a large, plastic snorkel bag is lying in the dirt by our car exactly where we had not left it. “Shit.” We know what this means. There’s noise or movement further down the road, but we are focused on opening our car to officially confirm our fears. Yup, everything is gone: our backpacks, our tent, even the spare tire. We later learn that the spare tire is what they were after. That’s their business model, everything else was just a bonus. A van pulls up slowly next to us out of nowhere.
Enter evil thugs.
“Give me back my stuff!” I’m not sure if it is because they look like criminals out of a bad Home Alone remake or because they’re loitering suspiciously on an empty roadside, but I know instantly that they have our bags. I run up to their van. They smile and chuckle while I fume, wishing I had a valuable superpower like fireball throwing. How great would that have been? I debate throwing a rock instead.
Boris tries to summarize the situation for them logically, explaining that the passport and the tent are specifically important.
They shake their heads. “No have.”
“Yes have! Open your trunk!” I add diplomatically.
“It’s full of cheese,” is their reply. I’m pissed but I almost laugh.
“OK, then show us the cheese.” I can’t believe I just said that. The driver laughs, shrugs and raises his eyebrows in an attempt at mock innocence. The passenger does the same. If they were doing a parody of a crime flick, they would be fired for overacting.
“That’s bullshit.” Boris is behind me, his anger setting in more slowly. At that, they grow stone faced and the driver comes out of the car towards Boris.
“Bullshit? Yea? Bullshit?” Now that he’s out of the car I can see that he’s even bigger than I’d thought. Everything about him is oversized, except for his unfortunately tiny shorts. As he lumbers over aggressively I run out into the middle of the street, hoping to stop traffic and bring awareness to our cause. A car grinds to a halt. I let him pass when I see that this has encouraged the unconvincing villain to climb back behind the wheel.
“I have your license plate number.” They ignore me. They know they have nothing to worry about. We get in our car and trail them to their next spot, another parking lot a mile down. We watch them. They watch us. Then we leave to file a police report. The police decline our offer to lead them to where the robbers are posted up stealing from other unsuspecting tourists at this very moment. What the police do manage to do is get all of our information.
For the next year they will use this information to send us bizarre traffic tickets, each with an additional €50 mailing fee. They inform us that the car rental company gave them our credit card info so this will all be automatically charged. Luckily the card expired two days after we got home. When we return the car on the last day our good old rental company tells us that the car insurance we bought through them actually doesn’t cover picked locks or spare tires, so we are forced to pay up.
It’s a beautiful system. The thieves, police and rental company all benefit and nobody steps on anyone’s toes.
We spent a couple hours grumbling over our losses – my passport with stamps from a year in Asia, jewellery with sentimental value, new shoes, etc. – and then went on to enjoy our last couple of days in Sardinia. At least now we had a foolproof excuse to justify treating ourselves to bed and breakfasts.
The blurred lines came in handy later when I was able to beg my way onto the plane home without any form of ID.
It’s all frustrating and absurd, but this is part of what I love about travelling. The moments when you feel like a complete idiot or like you are trapped in the twilight zone. We were €1,000 poorer but richer in experience…at least that’s what we tell ourselves every time we’re robbed and there’s no emotional scarring involved.
In hindsight it was comical:
Boris ready and willing to take on a man double his weight. Robbers insisting “it’s just cheese” through crap-eaten grins. The beauty of Sardinia’s corrupt, but efficient tourist recycling system. And me standing in the road, fist to the sky screaming “stupid pigs!” as a van full of my things grows smaller and smaller.
Sardinia was terrific, so great that even being swindled didn’t dampen our trip. Visit! But bring along some insurance: an extra credit card and a good sense of humor.