“Ohhh shit”. Mr V was ahead of me and saw it first: I followed his gaze through the window, and could see that the patio door stood open. For a moment I wondered if a monkey had got in. After all, we’d chased one out of Wesam and Jessica’s cottage only a few days previously. But while some monkeys might have learned to deal with sliding doors I knew we had locked ours, and they weren’t that clever. By this time we’d climbed the verandah steps and could see that the cupboard doors were open too – they’d been secured with a bicycle cable lock through the ring handles. The white metal shelving unit had been pulled out and lay on the floor, twisted and broken into several pieces, with our clothes scattered around it. Our travel safe, which had been padlocked to it, was gone – we’d lost our laptops, tablets and money belts.
With no way to contact anybody, I hurried down the path to Bali Bohemia where, thankfully, Jessica was at the reception desk. She phoned Tomek, the guy who managed the cottages, and laid down the law when he seemed reluctant to come. Before returning to the cottage I used Jessica’s laptop to quickly log on to Facebook and my webmail accounts to change my passwords, knowing that I hadn’t logged out on my tablets. Tomek arrived, quickly followed by Made (who was related to Tomek somehow), Wesam, and Nyoman, Wesam’s Balinese business partner.
I was expecting one of them to phone the police, but that’s not how things are done in Bali. From what I understood of the rapid discussion in Indonesian, notifying the village council seemed to be the preferred course of action – they might have been just as effective as the police in identifying the thief, but we needed a police report for the insurance. While this was going on I borrowed Wesam’s phone to call Sentinel to stop the cards we had lost – luckily I had their contact card in my wallet. We get Sentinel free as a perk with one of our accounts, but I’d consider paying for it in future if necessary – we only needed to make one call to get eight cards stopped and re-issued. Mr V had taken his camera out with him, so was able to photograph the scene for the insurance claim. By sheer luck he’d photographed everything we had only a few days previously – partly in case of loss and partly just as a reminder of what we had with us.
Having convinced Tomek, Nyoman and Made that we needed the police, Tomek went off to fetch two motorcycle helmets – the law requiring their use is very frequently flouted, but not when you’re going to a police station, and in Bali you have to go to them. Since I’ve never ridden a motorbike in my life and can’t even ride a bicycle, that task fell to Mr V. I couldn’t start to clear up in case the police did attend, but I did just check the drawer where I’d left my phone and found it still there. Initially we both assumed we’d lost our passports which would have meant the end of the trip, before remembering that they were in Mr V’s bum bag. Hurrah! Then we realised that our driving licences had been in the money belts, and without them our Australia plans were toast.
It didn’t seem long before Mr V returned and reported that the police were on their way. They had apparently been rather offhand at first, asking him whether he was wanting to ‘report a crime or get an insurance report’. Clearly they are very aware that many travellers make fraudulent claims. However when he showed them the pictures on his camera they became a lot more interested, and in due course half a dozen men were on our verandah, asking questions, taking photographs, and writing our statements. Their English wasn’t very good, so Made translated when necessary. But it was really difficult to list what we’d lost – what traveller’s cheques did we have? How many US dollars and Thai baht? The answers were all on a spreadsheet, but even though it was backed up to the cloud, we had no computer to read it on – Wesam came to the rescue and loaned us his laptop.
The light was fading by the time the police left, having promised to return at 9:00am on Monday with the typed up report, and we could clear up. It was only then that we realised that Mr V’s GoPro camera had been in a box on one of the shelves – luckily they’d missed it among the clothes. We had lost a hard disk with all our books, films and podcasts on it, but thanks to Mr V’s caution we had a back up disk that they’d overlooked. We’d intended to stay in, but Wesam persuaded us that we should get out for a while and spend the evening at Bali Bohemia. Although we’d looked at the menu a couple of times we’d never eaten there because the beer was more expensive than elsewhere, but having just lost so much we didn’t really care – Tomek had mended the lock (not that there was much left to steal), so off we went.
I was really glad we did – it was good to get away from the house. Wesam plied us with drink, and even a plate of the most amazing French cheese (excellent even by French standards, a complete miracle for SE Asia) and would accept no payment, and we used his laptop to research the cost of re-booking the Australia flights and hotels. We’d quickly decided that we weren’t going to end the trip on such a bad note.
Made was very understanding when we cancelled lunch the next day in favour of spending the time online at Bali Bohemia, whose wifi was so much better than at the cottage. I’d emailed the travellers cheque numbers to myself before we left the UK so I was able to get those refunded, after having to answer tricky questions about where and when I’d bought them (my bank back home…maybe? For a trip to Cuba?…erm…about 5 years ago?). We rebooked the flights to Australia and some of the internal flights – most cost around £100 in change fees and fare differences, but it was cheaper than going on the original dates and trying to use organised excursions instead of hiring a car. In any case, most excursions seemed to be aimed at twenty-somethings, were very hectic, and involved an unhealthy amount of hiking to the tops of things. Most of the hotel bookings could be moved – fortunately we were moving from peak into shoulder season, not the other way round. Ordering new driving licences was quite easy – the system is a rare example of government departments actually working together, and the photo on file from your passport application can be used for your licence.
The police didn’t show up at 09:00 on Monday. Or 10:00. Tomek rang them, and the excuse was that it was Independence Day – perhaps they were short staffed. Eventually someone showed up around 11:00 with the report, but it was missing many of the items that we’d originally listed, and we’d realised that we’d missed specifying some things, such as the fact that there were 5 large SD cards in the computers, and there’d been a multitool in the travel safe. While packing it also dawned on us that other things had been taken – a plastic box containing medical syringes, sutures etc, and a nylon bag holding a random assortment of things like a spare phone battery and Mr V’s new glasses that he got in Bangkok and hadn’t even worn yet. We were also missing a black zipped folder that held receipts and spare passport photos. It was arranged that Tomek would take Mr V to the police station at 2:00pm to pick up the amended report. Meanwhile we took our bags down to Bali Bohemia for a last session on Wesam’s laptop – Made was due to meet us there at 3:00pm with the driver who would take us to Sanur.
When Mr V returned, the police report was still wrong – they’d added the things that had been missed, but had now left off the cash. But we didn’t have the time, or the remaining will, to get it changed again – we just wanted to get to Sanur and carry on trying to put everything back together.
Given what had happened I expected to be happy to see the back of Ubud, but as we drove through the countryside it still looked idyllic to me – outside the overcrowded and urbanised south west, Bali is a hard place to hate. The burglary was the kind of thing that could happen anywhere, and after the event we’d received far more kindness and generosity from people we had only just met than we probably would have elsewhere. Of course, everyone we spoke to said that the thief couldn’t have been Balinese, or at least not someone from Nyuh Kuning – just as Thais always blame Burmese migrants, they blamed Javanese labourers. They could be right – we did suspect that someone must have been watching the house in order to pick one of the few occasions when we were out and Wesam and Jessica’s childminder wasn’t there. A villager living in a family compound would find it hard to explain a sudden windfall, and the belief in the law of karma is strong in Bali. There were construction workers at a house between U’Maya, the restaurant where we’d had lunch, and Bali Bohemia – apart from the woodcarver on the corner, they we probably the only people who had a good view of our cottage. But since the police didn’t even take fingerprints, we’ll probably never know!