Friday, December 18, 2015

How My Backpack Got Stolen in Sri Lanka -Traveler's Worst Nightmare

On a night bus from Colombo to Arugam Bay the traveler's worst nightmare happened to me. While I was deeply asleep my small backpack with all my valuables got stolen. I lost my passport, credit card, MacBook Air, 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees ( 330 Euros) and a 1.5 TB external hard drive with about 500 GB of movies. But what will probably shock you the most is the way it happened.

The first thing that I did when I got in the bus, around 10 pm, was to put my backpack in the luggage racks just above my seat. I used one of the backpack straps to lock it in place, just in case it might fall. That's not a security of course, you can easily open the straps with your fingers.

Normally I never do that. Instead I would keep my bag between my legs or I'll put my bag on the racks a few seats ahead of me and above the opposite seat rows so it's easier to keep an eye on it. Of course I would keep my passport, credit card and cash with me.

Bus No 98.  The night bus from Colombo to Arugam Bay.

A voice inside my head was talking to me

A voice inside my head was telling me again and again "Marco, keep your bag with you between your legs! It's gonna get stolen!" but for some reason I couldn't move. I was aware that it was a huge risk and I knew very well that I had all my valuables in it like I've never done before. While I was in my sit I even removed my wallet from my pocket and stood up just to put it inside the bag!

The voice in my head was so strong and clear that I knew very well that my intuition was talking to me but somehow I refused to do anything. It felt as if I was under the influence of a spell or perhaps I couldn't think clearly cause I was so tired.

I'd had a long journey

I had arrived to Sri Lanka that same day during the afternoon. The day before, at 11pm, I took a four hours flight from Kathmandu to Dubai. I had a stop over in Dubai for six hours and then I had another four hours flight from Dubai to Colombo.

I arrived to Colombo the 20th of June at 2 pm and I had to wait till 10:30 pm to take the night bus to Arugam Bay. That was a long journey, about 24 hours, and during this time I had managed to sleep only three hours. So by the time that I got in the bus I was completely exhausted.

I ignored the warning

Once more, just before closing my eyes, I looked up at my bag above my head, still hearing that inner voice that kept telling me "it's going to get stolen."

Half an hour later or so I woke up with a jerk, very worried about my bag. I immediately looked up to check my bag and I noticed that it had moved like 20 cm or so. "Somebody moved my bag!" I thought to myself right away. I got up and realised that even the strap was open.

That couldn't had happened just because the bus was moving, it was obvious that somebody most have opened the strap and moved my bag and it probably had happened right before I woke up. I realised that it would be very easy for somebody to steal my bag, specially if I would keep it just above my head. I knew I had no chance cause for sure I was going to fall asleep again right away. But being very aware of this you won't believe what I did next.

I open the bag and put my hand inside to check if everything was still there. I moved the bag to the same place where it was before and then I sat back down on my sit and closed my eyes. I didn't even bother to lock the strap anymore or to look around for any suspects. I knew I had no chance but still I just sat back down on my seat leaving the bag in the same place.

My Karma was manifesting right in front of my eyes

If you would know me you would know how careful I am with my things, specially with my gadgets like my MacBook Air that was inside the bag. This behaviour it's really unlike me, I can't believe it myself. That's why I feel like if I was under the influence of a spell.

I guess this was something that I had to go through no matter what. My karma was manifesting right in front my eyes and I was unable to do a thing to stop it. What are the chances that the same day that I do something so silly somebody would get in the bus to steal something?

This reminded me one of Paramahansa Yogananda's stories from his classic Autobiography of a Yogi, "The Cauliflower Robbery."

Yogananda gave to his master an offering of six cauliflowers that he had grown himself. It was a very special present, but when they left the ashram to have a walk at the beach Yogananda forgot to close the back door. As a punishment for neglecting his duty of safeguarding the ashram his master, Sri Yukteswar, induced the thought to a passing by man to enter the ashram using the back door and steal one of the cauliflowers.

The inevitable happened

A bit later I woke up again very worried about my bag. Just like before I looked up right away but this time I couldn't see my bag anymore. I stood up and now completely awake I searched and searched but it wasn't there. Somebody had switched my bag for another very similar bag.

I walked around the whole bus looking underneath every seat but I couldn't find it. I asked everybody around but nobody had seen anything. The inevitable had already happened. In just about an hour my backpack was gone. It was midnight and needless to say I couldn't sleep anymore till I reached Arugam Bay.

"What am I going to do?" I thought to myself. I had no passport, no cash and no credit card. And all this happened just one day before my birthday!

An angel sent from heaven

Luckily the bus manager, Mr Kumar, and the conductor were very friendly and supportive. I told them that somebody had stolen my bag and without thinking it twice they drove to the nearest police station. We still had one hour drive to reach the police station.

The police was very friendly but they were not very helpful or supportive and instead started asking me the typical questions like "Where are you from?" Not for the police report but just to talk with the foreigner.

But Kumar was like an angel sent from heaven. He helped me explain the situation to the police so they can make the police report. They didn't speak a word of English. They made the report in the local language and they told me that they were going to translate it to English but that I'll have to wait for a couple of days to get it.

Waiting for the police report

The police station was at Ratnapura which was still about eight hours drive with two buses from Arugam Bay. Kumar told me not to worry and that he will bring it to me cause he had to drive to Arugam Bay anyway and Ratnapura was his hometown.

I had to wait several days to get the report and every time I would tell Kumar that I better go to the police station myself he would insist that he would take care of it. He was even taking some days off from his work to help me.

After five days or so I was finally able to receive the police report but when I started reading it I realised that it was all wrong. My name was wrong, my home address was wrong and even my nationality was wrong. I don't know how they messed up Ecuador for United States of America!

I told Kumar that I had to go myself right away to Ratnapura to fix this. He insisted that he would come with me although I told him that it was not necessary. I was very grateful he insisted cause he was again very helpful. I had no idea how to get there and it was very difficult to communicate with the police.

Visiting Kumar's family

After finally getting the police report Kumar asked me to stay at his family house in Ratnapura. He told me that at that hour it would be a very long and difficult journey back to A-Bay but he could instead pick me up at 1 am at his house in his night bus to go directly to A-Bay. He had asked me so many times before to come and visit his family. This was the perfect opportunity to do so.

A bit hesitant I agreed and I got to meet his beautiful family. I met his sister and her husband. Her husband called his best friend, an English teacher, to come meet the foreigner. I also met Kumar's elder brother, his wife and their cool son and daughter.

Having delicious home made Sri Lankan food with Nickz, Hinmaya and their mother.

They received me with open arms. They showed me their photo albums with family pictures and pictures of their weddings. They invited me to eat delicious home made Sri Lankan food and at night they offered me a bed to sleep for a few hours until Kumar would arrive in his night bus.

With Kumar and his brother's wife

I'm very grateful for all the attention and support that Kumar and his family gave me. They made me promise that I would visit them at least once more before leaving Sri Lanka. Almost a month later I fulfilled my promised and pay them another visit.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting

I didn't feel very worried after the incident. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, I just needed to get a new passport, credit cards and that's it, and my family had already showed me their immediate support by sending me some money via WU. But I didn't realise how exhausting all this would be. I had to wait for so long to get everything fixed

I had to wait for the police report so I could apply for a new passport at my embassy in New Delhi, India. I had wait for a form from the embassy to request the passport. I had to wait for the new passport and I had to wait for a new bankcard, a new credit card, for the PIN code of the bankcard and for the PIN code of the credit card.

All this took like two months or so but I had problems with the PIN code of the credit card. My Belgian bank sent four times the new PIN code for the credit card to the wrong address. I couldn't believe how incompetent they were. So many phone calls and emails to different departments and they still couldn't get it right.

I was already exhausted by all the waiting that I had to do in Kathmandu, Nepal. When I decided to write my previous post "Yoga Gift Idea: 10 Hand Made Yoga Mat Bags on Etsy" I didn't realise how long it would take to receive all those bags, specially after the earthquake. Finally after four months I was able to leave Nepal, but then I found myself again waiting and waiting in Sri Lanka.

Everything happens for a reason

But at least there was one very good outcome out of all this, probably one of the reasons why this happened. Since I had a clean new passport I decided to try again and apply for a new Indian visa at the embassy in Colombo. In my previous visa they had written "Next Visa From Country of Origin" so in Nepal they didn't want to give me a new visa. But now with a new clean passport I had not much problems.

Even after receiving the new visa I still had not received the new PIN code so after almost three months in Sri Lanka I couldn't take it anymore. I decided to leave. A dear friend offer me to buy a flight ticket with her credit card so I could finally go back to India.

As soon as I arrived to Chennai, the 21 of September, I took a bus and traveled to Mysore where I've been until today practicing ashtanga yoga. I gave my Belgian bank my new address, and after two more weeks I was finally able to receive the new PIN code. In total almost four months waiting! But I was really happy to be back in India.

Luckily I receive an awesome new backpack from @doughnutbags


  1. Happy to hear you got it all sorted out.

  2. Glad you are safe and sound and that it all worked out in the end. I had a similar experience on a train to Bodhgaya, its not easy.

  3. Our visa norms should be really more open for visitors like you.
    Please accept my apology on behalf of our unreasonable foreign visa policies.
    Love reading your blog.