During a lifetime of travelling to a cross-section of fascinating countries around the world, I’ve heard the many warnings about the risk of pickpockets on the prowl in places as diverse as Naples, Cairo, Barcelona and the London Underground. You name it, they seem to be everywhere.
Unfortunately, even though I’d heard the stories, personal and otherwise, about the prevalence of pickpockets in places I was about to visit, I still fell victim to one in Majorca.
This is how it happened:
Having spent a lot of time dealing with builders during the renovation of an old house, plus working to complete the first draft of my latest Timerack book, Vi and I felt we needed to take a short break.
We chose Majorca, a beautiful island we have visited on many occasions. It was a last minute decision, and it seemed there was little choice on where to stay. As a result, we ended up in a three star, self-catering apartment, in Sa Coma, a popular tourist destination on the east coast of the island. Three stars was a generous designation for this establishment, which needed a full-scale refurbishment plan. I won’t go into detail about its shortcomings, but the upshot of staying there was a decision not to trust its security arrangements i.e. the room safe etc.
As required, our passports stayed with hotel reception. Somewhat reluctantly, I carried my wallet, including euros, sterling, credit cards, travel pass, driving licence and a library card in my trouser pocket, with my hand holding onto it at all times. However, as I discovered, this is not a secure safeguard against the professional pickpocket.
My experience started with a day trip for Vi and I to visit the capital, Palma, a beautiful city that we had only seen briefly on a previous visit. We became two of the millions of visitors who come every year to see its stunning architecture, to take street walks and explore the Old City with its fascinating buildings, especially ‘La Seu’, Palma’s magnificent Gothic cathedral.
But, as someone with an interest in sailing, having crewed for friends with yachts, I was particularly interested in seeing Palma’s marina. With thousands of berths for yachts of all sizes, including the super yachts, and facilities for the huge cruise ships, it is one of the major harbours in the Mediterranean. As such, boat cruises are a popular way of seeing the yachts in the harbour, and it’s a great way of seeing the cathedral and the city from the perspective of the sea. A part of our coach tour to Palma included a one hour tour of the harbour and we were both looking forward to it.
When we got to the dockside our group, about twenty of us, waited for our tour boat to come alongside. Meanwhile we were issued with boarding cards, which were tickets to board. As we waited there was a bit of jostling by some members of the group, anxious to secure a good viewing seat on one of the two decks. I lost sight of Vi for a few moments in the crowd, while directly behind me there was someone pushing and shoving me forward towards the gangway. With one hand on the handrail and the other holding the boarding card, I glanced over my shoulder to see a swarthy-looking character. One of the impatient ones in our group, I thought.
Ten minutes out into the harbour we decided on drinks from the small bar on the bottom deck. I reached into my trouser pocket for the wallet to pay for the drinks and – you guessed it – it wasn’t there! I turned to Vi and asked if she had it in her bag. It was unlikely, but she looked and confirmed it wasn’t there.
It hit me like a thunderbolt: my pocket had been picked!
I immediately thought of the swarthy man and looked round the deck. No sign of him. I dashed up to the upper deck, but, again, there was no sign of him. If he had been pushing to get on board, where the devil was he?
Well, of course, if Mr Swarthy (as I now thought of him) was the pickpocket, he wouldn’t be on board. He was somewhere in Palma with my wallet.
I informed our tour guide and the skipper, but there was nothing they could do until we returned to the dockside. That would be the best part of an hour to complete the tour. By then the pickpocket would, no doubt, be long gone.
We eventually returned to Sa Coma where I reported the theft to the police. I filled in a form, but the policeman’s casual reaction confirmed it was one of many he had dealt with, and unlikely to achieve a positive result. However, it’s a necessary step if you’re going to make an insurance claim.
The next step was contacting the banks to report the theft of my bank cards. I confirmed it was 3.10 pm on the boat when I realised the wallet was missing, and they were able to tell me that at 3.40 pm four attempts had been made to access my accounts. However, the good news was that their security systems had spotted irregular activity on the accounts, which were then blocked with no money taken.
An obvious tip here is to memorise your pin numbers, and not keep a note of them along with your cards, in your wallet or purse.
I hate to admit it, but the pickpocket was smart enough to know that the tour boat would be in the harbour for an hour, which gave him plenty of time to escape with my wallet to the nearest ATMs, before I could do anything about it.
Although, I’d felt angry and pretty foolish at being so easily robbed, I have come to appreciate that pickpockets are very good at what they do. So, bearing my experience in mind, I think all of us need to be a lot more alert to the unsavoury fact that some popular destinations are especially prone to this type of activity.