Baltra to Guayaquil 9 - 11 Jan 2006

Professional robbery in Sheraton airport shuttle van


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After an early morning walk amongst cactus and sea lions on Islas Plazas, the last of our excursions, Fragata took us back to Puerto Ayora. We said goodbye to our guide CÚsar and the friendly crew including Eric who kept saying “Fuerte como una roca” followed by sea lion noises, and were transferred to the airport. Having been molly-coddled for a week, we were back on our own again. As we had no internet access on the boat, CarolAnn Garratt in Florida had sent us an e-mail to our Iridium phone with the winds aloft and the Guayaquil terminal forecast. It was another smooth 4 and a half hour flight back to Guayaquil and we had only light headwinds at 9000 feet and landed after an ILS approach with 16 US Gallons remaining, which was comfortable. We booked in to the Sheraton because we wanted a fast Internet connection from our room in order to upload all the web pages we’d prepared in our free time on board the Fragata. Also, the Sheraton is conveniently near the airport and supposedly safer than staying downtown.
We enjoyed the direct and fast internet access from the room in the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Guayaquil, and Flemming got up early to upload all the many pages we had finalised while on the Fragata yacht in the Galapagos. We had taken the expensive Canon EOS 20D camera and the new tripod we bought in Panama City with us to the hotel as Flemming wanted to take a photo of the Quito approach plate for the web pages.
We then had an excellent breakfast (8:15 - 09:03) and after breakfast Flemming continued the uploads and other internet duties, while Angela left the room to work on a computer in their business center. So we were only ready for check-out by 11:35 when we left the room with all our baggage.
The check-out was quick with the usual Sheraton efficiency, and by 11:45 we carried our bags to the main entrance 20m away to wait for the free Sheraton airport shuttle bus, which arrived 5 minutes later to take us to the general aviation terminal at Guayaquil airport.
The porters carried the luggage to the luggage compartment in the rear of the sbuttle bus under our supervision, and we entered the bus and took seats in the second row behind the driver. Initially we were the only passengers, but just as the bus was about to leave the hotel, two businessmen like characters came running and said they were in a great hurry and had to go to the national terminal.
One guy (bald) sat at the opposite side of the aisle just behind the entrance door, one row behind us, and soon started to talk loudly in Spanish on his mobile phone. The other (who came with a small business like bag), sat somewhere behind us.
After about 4 minutes we were near the end of the runway and got caught in a small traffic jam before doing a U-turn to get to the other side of the dual carriage way to access the general aviation terminal at the other side of the road. The two ┤businessmen┤ then said they were afraid of missing their plane and did not want to wait to unload us at the general aviation terminal which was before the national airport terminal. So the driver stopped during the U-turn and let them out.
We then arrived at the general aviation terminal, and the driver helped us to unload the luggage. We were the only people in the waiting room except for three armed guards (yes, we are still in South America!). Flemming filed the flight plan and General Declaration there for our flight to Chiclayo, Peru, while Angela guarded the luggage in the waiting room accompanied by the armed guards.
Soon a friendly guy from Civil Aviation came along to drive Flemming around the various offices (airport fees, navigation fees, passport stamps at immigration, fuel office). It was far less efficient than our 30 min stopover 8 days ago, and an hour and a half later Flemming came back and we still had to do the refueling! We then went through the baggage security check, and while carrying the luggage out to the plane Angela noticed that the Pelican case containing the Canon EOS 20D camera and telephoto lenses was unusually light (the case was not opened during the baggage security check).
When we arrived at the plane (time about 13:30 now), Flemming also noticed that the Pelican case was light, and opened it. IT WAS EMPTY!!! The Canon EOS 20D and the two Canon EOS EF telephoto lenses were gone. And all the best Galapagos photos were still in the camera stored on the 2 GB flash card. We could not understand how and where this could had happened. We left the rest of the luggage inside the plane, locked it, and returned to the terminal with the empty case. I was initially very angry with the 3 armed security guards but they assured us that nobody could possibly have accessed the case for the 1 1/2 hour Angela was waiting next to the luggage together with them in the waiting room, and they convinced us that it must have happened at the hotel.
We postponed the flight plan for a couple of hours, called the Sheraton, explained the theft and asked them to send the airport shuttle mini-bus to pick us up. It soon came and we then had a meeting with the front desk manager Mrs. Veronica YAGUAL. The last time we had definitely seen the camera was around 8 am just before breakfast when it was put back into its Pelican case after taking the photo of the Quito approach plate. So we explained to her that somebody might have accessed the room while we were having breakfast in spite of the ┤don┤t disturb┤ sign on the door.
We then had a quick lunch while Mrs. YAGUAL alerted the security service and housekeeping about the theft. After lunch, she showed us some printouts of security videos and the electronic lock records for room 908. It showed only 3 entries that morning: 9:03 entry when we returned from breakfast, another at 10:42 when a lady briefly entered to check the minibar while I was in the room, and a third entry shortly thereafter when Angela returned from the business center. Veronica assured us that NOBODY had entered the room while we were having breakfast.
So it was a big mystery how and when this theft could have taken place. The hotel then sent us by taxi to the Guayaquil police station to make a declaration. We were accompanied by two Sheraton staff members, one of which was from the security service. I brought a printout of the invoice from PriceRite photo in New York where I had purchased the equipment in May 2005. We had to wait in line for 2 1/2 hours before it was our turn, so by the time we were back at the hotel it was too late to fly to Chiclayo in Peru. Veronica explained that she had arranged for a meeting with the Sheraton insurance company the next morning, so we decided to stay another night at the hotel, and were offered a very special rate.
We returned to the airport to get our luggage as well as our laptop computer back to the hotel. By the time we had finished dinner at 21:30 we were too tired and too upset to use the computer.
The next day Flemming got up early to send out an e-mail to family and friends and update the web pages with the bad news - only to discover that the Toshiba laptop WAS GONE!! Even worse than losing the camera equipment. The computer case additionally contains numerous chargers for video camera, mobile phone, iridium phone, the Canon IXUS 700 charger etc. etc. so we had not noticed the change in weight at all. A closer look at the contents of the computer case revealed that also our 40 GB external firewire hard disk with all our photos for our trip so far as well as complete back-up file of the laptop hard disk had disappeared. Also the special charger for the Canon EOS 20D had been removed together with a Logitech mouse.
This strongly indicated that the removal of these 3 items from the computer case had taken place at the SAME time as the theft of the camera, since the thief had carefully picked the computer mouse AND the Canon EOS charger out of the numerous other chargers in the computer case of no value to him.
We immediately informed the hotel management, and the fact that I had used the computer few minutes before check-out confirmed that the theft could not have taken place from the room. Together with Veronica, Monica (another lady from Sheraton management) and the security guy, we went to their security room and spent an hour watching security cameras covering the lobby during the time of our departure from the hotel. It became 100 % evident that NOBODY had opened computer or camera cases between the moment we came out of the elevator and the moment the cases were placed in the back of the Sheraton airport shuttle.
However, we saw on video the two ┤businessmen┤ rapidly entering the mini-bus from inside the hotel lobby just before it was leaving with us already seated inside the bus. One of them was carrying a case, and we could see on the video that he had immediately gone all the way to the back seat of the bus!! So it became clear that those two guys must be the thieves. While one was distracting our attention by talking loudly on his mobile phone the other guy was on the back seat out of our view emptying our camera case and computer case and putting the goodies into his own bag. He had 4 to 5 minutes to do it before they left the bus in a hurry during the U-turn near the general aviation terminal.
So it was back to the Guayaquil police station for another declaration. Again a 2 1/2 hour wait and a second declaration was made on a manual typewriter with many carbon copies. After that it was 3 pm, and we returned to the hotel to check out, and leave our contact information for the insurance claim. The hotel security guys told us that the suspected thieves were not guests and they had their faces captured on security video. So maybe one day the police will catch them.

Islas Plazas: The land iguanas scrape the spikes off the cactus leaves before they eat them

Islas Plazas: Lots of cactus

Islas Plazas: Cactus is an important source of food for the land iguanas

From inside this Sheraton airport shuttle van, our laptop computer, it's back-up disk and our Canon EOS 20D camera with a 2 GB flash card got stolen by two professional thieves.

Sheraton Guayaquil shuttle van. We carefully monitored the loading of our luggage.

Sheraton shuttle van. While we were sitting in the front of the van, one of the thieves had access to our luggage from the rear seat, and in less than 4 minutes he had transferred our laptop and camera equipment into his own bag.

JAlbum 6.2 Copyright: Angela & Flemming PEDERSEN