We have been Servas travelers and hosts since 1994, and we figure we are fairly savvy to come-ons and shakedowns. I mean really, we can handle beggars in India, touts in Bali, cabbies in Mexico, so yeah, we’re hip. That was until we were robbed while driving on a toll road in Spain, and we didn’t even know we’d been had.
Recently we did a three-month wandering through southwestern Europe, visiting fabulous Servas hosts along the way! Near the end of our trip, we stayed in Figures, home to the wonderful Dali Museum. The next day we drove to Barcelona. We were on a six-lane toll-road about halfway between the two cities when a sedan pulled up beside us, honking the horn. The passenger had his window rolled down and was shouting something and pointing to the rear of our car.
We thought, do we have a flat? Are we leaking something? Hmm, so we pulled over to the shoulder. The sedan pulled over in front of us. We got out and the passenger hustled back to us and pointed to the right-rear tire. “Señor, señor, look!”, he said. We squatted down; I felt around the tire looking for a bubble or leaking oil. We looked at the rear of the car to see if something was hanging down. -Nada. After a few minutes the passenger shrugged and said, “I go.”
Marie and I shrugged … what was that all about? We got back into the car and continued driving. A mile or two later I looked at the console where I had put my wallet (I needed the credit card regularly for tolls) and didn’t see it. I asked Marie, “Do you see my wallet?” “No.”, she said, “Do you see my purse?” We pulled over to look. It turns out that while we were inspecting our tire, the driver of the other car snuck back, opened the driver-side door, stole my wallet, Marie’s purse, and a daypack holding our computer, iPad, chargers, etc. Poof! All our money and credit cards were gone. Fortunately, our passports were still in our luggage in the trunk.
We got back onto the highway figuring we would get off two exits ahead where Google showed a police station. We pulled off and approached the tollbooths … Oh, crap, we don’t have any money for the toll, so we pulled over. It must have been our lucky unlucky day, for in a few minutes a Spanish highway patrol car pulled into the toll booth ahead. We both jumped out of the car, shouting and waving our arms.
Gratefully, the patrol car turned around and helped us. They got us through the tolls and took us to their headquarters. We filed reports, contacted our credit card company, and began the process of recovery. It turns out we were the 5th such incident that day. It turns out there are several versions of this trick, one where the perps put a small hole in your tire at a rest stop.
Our suggestions: if you stop on a highway, make sure you lock your car. Keep your wallet on your person. If you need quick access to cash or your credit card, put it in a small compartment or the glove box. Finally, make sure your credit card company can and will quickly provide you with a chip-enabled replacement. Ours could not, so we had to shorten our trip. Well, at least we got a good story out of our experience.