Wednesday, May 26, 2010


My wallet was stolen! I was on an overnight bus from Lewi to Bengkulu. I’d got on at 4.30pm on May 23 and had my wallet then because I paid the bus fare from it. At about 8pm I noticed it missing. It had literally all my money in it and ATM and credit cards. We searched the bus but no luck. The driver stopped at a remote police station and after they searched the bus, they filled out a report and gave me a letter to give to the ‘immigration office’ in Bengkulu. The wallet must have been picked from my pocket by one of the people who got off the bus earlier. I got back on the bus and we set off. I couldn’t sleep of course for worry and it was also a bumpy ride through the remote jungle of western Sumatra.

We arrived in Bengkulu at seven in the morning and the bus stopped at a small terminal. I looked around for a policeman but there wasn’t one. I showed a terminal worker my letter. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, no one spoke English. I just kept saying ‘police, police!’ and eventually Dewa (as I later learnt was his name) gave me a ride on the back of a motorcycle to a small police station. I showed my letter and four policemen had a long discussion, the conclusion of which was that Dewa was to take me to the central police station. I was very shocked at the policemens’ indifference and I really started to worry about what I was going to do. Dewa was hungry so we stopped for food and he bought me breakfast. I then decided the best thing to do was to make some phone calls. We found a phone shop and Dewa paid for me to call the NZ Embassy in Jakarta who said they would contact my parents to see if they could send me some money. I then phoned my credit card companies to cancel my cards. Before I could finish doing this, Dewa ran out of money and so I had to hang up.

I didn’t know what to do next. I needed money. Dewa took me to a bank where he said his sister worked and I tried to ask if they could lend me some. No. All of this was really difficult to communicate because I don’t speak any Indonesian. Eventually I managed to get them to understand that I wanted to transfer money from NZ to here. The bank worker then gave me the account details of someone who she said was her cousin. I couldn’t understand why it had to be an individual account rather than just the bank that the money was sent to and I wasn’t keen on doing that. There was an free internet computer in the bank and I logged in to my ASB account in NZ but there was no way to transfer money internationally. To do that I would have to phone but I didn’t have the money to make a call.

By this time, my parents had phoned me - they had been called by the NZ Embassy - and said that an emergency credit card could be sent to me within a couple of days. So then I thought the best thing was to go to a hotel and convince them to let me stay until the card arrived, and I would eat at the hotel, running up a bill. The first hotel I went to did not accept credit cards and the next two were full up. Dewa was still driving me. At this point I started to despair and said to Dewa to take me to the central police station.

The police there were a lot more helpful than the other police. They sat me down on a sofa and gave me food and water. It was about 2pm. I rested and in the meantime got texts from my parents saying they could send money to Western Union. This made me feel a lot better because during my rides around the city, I had seen a couple of Western Union signs. A policeman called Taslim took me to two branches which were closed and then a third which was about to close. There I managed to find out that some money had been sent and even though I could not pick it up til the morning, it was there. Much relieved, I asked Taslim to take me to a hotel where I convinced them to let me pay the following day. Exhausted, I went to sleep early, without dinner, and slept for ten hours.

The next morning, May 25, Taslim picked me up and took me to Western Union. Finally I had money. My parents had also arranged for a replacement credit card to be sent to the hotel and it is supposed to arrive this afternoon.

So there it is. One of the worst ordeals of my life, twenty-four hours of being in remote Sumatra with no money, not being able to do anything about it, not being able to communicate with anyone, not knowing what to do, and having had no sleep. There were moments when I thought ‘If I get out of this, I’m getting on the first plane home’ but somehow, after I got the money and rested in the hotel I began to feel more optimistic. I’m back to feeling good again now and will continue my journey. I only have five days left on my tourist visa so I will hurry north to Padang, then east to Dumai, where I can get a ferry to Melaka in Malaysia.

What I’ve learnt: not to keep all my money in one place. Unsurprisingly I’ve become a lot more security-conscious, locking everything away, and thinking ‘what if...’ to myself, so that I’m more prepared if anything like this happens again. I'm incredibly grateful to my parents who sorted out everything, my girlfriend Kristen who texted me some phone numbers to call to cancel credit cards, and Dewa who I will try to pay back before I leave.

Endurance Rating for this is 10. If someone told me I had to go through that again or walk through the Saharan desert, I would consider choosing the latter.

The police report listing what was in my wallet when it was stolen.


  1. Cripes. Well done for getting through it. I often wondered about being in such a situation but it never happened. Someone once tried to pick my pocket on the Barcelona underground but failed, and being stuck in Barcelona wouldn't have been a hassle anyway.

    On an extremely more mundane note, your DvDs arrived, which must rate about .005 on the consolation scale ...

    Best thing is to keep credit cards in different places, but I'm kind of guessing you've figured that out already ...

  2. So sorry. I use a money belt for travel in such areas. Keep my passport travel checks and id etc. A little paranoid but safe beneath my clothes. Only some small money in a wallet and I'm with James that credit cards are not kept in one place but a several with a backup in a very safe place. Glad to hear you are back on course. Sorry you had such a bad experience. I suggest you keep a phone card back up somewhere and a list of those numbers for embassy and credit cards on a list in storage. All too late for such advice to be of any use.

    My friend William Johnson says we expect to meet ourselves in the world. If we are honest we expect that others are much like us and honest also. Assuming this can be a problem in some situations.
    Take care.