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Our Worst Travel Moments — Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

We’ve had so many fantastic moments traveling the world continuously for the past five years. In spite of all the “regular” living, there have been challenging moments when things have gone wrong. To be fair, things go wrong even if you live in one place for five years.

We’re just thankful that it hasn’t been one of us waking up and asking the other “Who are you?” And we won’t write about the tsunami alert in Indonesia that turned out to be a huge wave of … wait for it … 2½ inches.

This is one of a series of accounts of our worst moments. In spite of these few misadventures, we are still loving the life of continuous travel!

Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

Cape Town, South Africa

How did it happen?

We like to think of ourselves as savvy travelers when it comes to making cash withdrawals at ATM’s around the world, but damn, we were outnumbered by slick thieves and there really was no recourse. We used an ATM in a sort of empty mall on a Sunday, which was our first mistake; and it’s the last time we’ll do that!

Cape Town panorama from our front balcony.

After we made our withdrawal, received our money and began to leave the area, the problem began. Someone called out to us that he was unable to use the machine because we had not completed the transaction and signed out correctly. He adamantly argued that whenever a foreigner uses the machine, there is always a problem afterward. He loudly beckoned us to return and while we hesitated, the queue of customers grew. They were all dressed like prosperous businessmen. Each of them complained that the machine would not allow them to use it now. Against our better judgement, we reluctantly returned and put our card back in.

The penguins of Boulders Beach near Cape Town

As soon as Ivan put the card back in, he had a sinking feeling. He knew this was wrong, but not quite sure why. Meanwhile, I let him know that there were many now queued and complaining about us ‘breaking the machine’. This prompted Ivan to take a cursive glance behind to see the mob of guys. That’s when the guy in front must have grabbed the card from the slot but neither of us noticed anything. While Ivan was trying to find his card, everyone quietly and suddenly disappeared. We now realized for sure that they probably had our card and the PIN.

We were getting money to buy a SIM card for our phone. So not having a working phone, we had to run back to our place to call the bank. By the time we could check our bank account, they had already taken out $400.

Resolution

Our stolen money was replaced by the bank after explaining the circumstances.

Lesson Learned
Cape Town, standing on Table Mountain

We are even more vigilant near ATM’s and use only the ones situated inside banks with security officers during daytime hours. Even so, we inspect the card reader to make sure a skimmer hasn’t been installed. You can read about this scam by searching for “ATM skimmer scams.”

In spite of our best precautions, we still became the subject of credit card number theft in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It happened twice and we never figured out how because the card never left our sight. Our bank caught it each time, blocked our card and sent us an email. After talking to us, they had to overnight a new card.

Modus Transportandi

Due to a certain confluence of destinies, we have decided to remain in North America for a year or more before continuing our adventures in strange lands. But of course, considering who is President of the USA, perhaps it’s the strangest land of all!

When we were in New Zealand, we saw for the first time a Mercedes Sprinter camper conversion. It left an indelible impression. So when we landed in South Florida last January, we started scouring the ads.

We now own the perfect conversion van for two people. It has a good size refrigerator/freezer, two-burner stove, big hanging locker (closet), bathroom, heat, air conditioning, microwave, hot and cold running water and tons of cabinet space. We have so much more room than we had in our two suitcases and backpacks that we must have almost doubled our possessions!!

After South Florida, we spent four months in Toronto with Deena’s new granddaughter. Then we hurried off to Missouri to visit friends that just happened to live in the path of total eclipse. I didn’t have much faith that summer plains-weather would be cooperative and I was right. But for us, its always about the people anyway. We had a great tailgate party under the clouds. It got dark. It got light. We weren’t chased out of town by torch-carrying crowds blaming Yankee white liberals for their crop loss or something. It was a great visit.

We then took Horace Greeley’s advice and headed west for Burning Man.

The Sea of Galilee

Tiberias as seen from the Switzerland Forest Road.
Tiberias as seen from the Switzerland Forest Road.

Today, the waterfront of Tiberias is a little tacky in spite of the new construction of expensive high rises. We ignored all those little stands selling “authentic” Chinese merchandise and the overpriced tourist restaurants.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus did most of his teaching near the Sea of Galilee. In 135 CE, the Jews moved their cultural center to Tiberias because they were banished from Jerusalem as punishment for rebelling. The Sea of Galilee was a thriving and vibrant hub of civilization, activity and trade until the Byzantines lost control to an Arab Caliphate in the seventh century.

Looking north from the Arbel Cliffs National Park
Looking north from the Arbel Cliffs National Park

We stayed in a very nice one bedroom apartment called Lakeside Kinneret View Apartment that we found on booking.com. Kinneret is another name for the Sea of Galilee. We spent our time climbing the mountains, hiking the trails and fording the streams in the wonderful national parks all around the lake.

The shaded trail of the Betiha Nature Reserve.
The shaded trail of the Betiha Nature Reserve.

One of the secrets of using booking.com is to search for a place with your login, but not book it. After an hour or two, they email you with better deals.

We bought jumbo Medjool dates, fresh figs, whole wheat pita, goat cheese, olives and Tishbi merlot wine and found great spots to picnic.

Enjoying the salads and pita at Tanureen Restaurant in Migdal
Enjoying the salads and pita at Tanureen Restaurant in Migdal

There is an excellent Arab restaurant, Tanureen, by the village Migdal a few kilometers north of Tiberias. We spent a long evening there, speaking Hebrew, Italian and English to many of the restaurant guests who we met. We needed many hours to even make a dent in the number of salad dishes served. In Israel, a lot of petrol stations on major roads have restaurants on their property and this was just another fine dining experience behind the gas pumps.

Arbel National Park

View from the Arbel Cliffs National Park with the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee on the right.
View from the Arbel Cliffs National Park with the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee on the right.

The cliffs of Arbel offer the most incredible views of the Sea of Galilee. For a little extreme adventure, you can descend the cliffs by a path that coincides with both the Jesus Trail and the Israel National Trail (the trail that traverses the entire length of the country). The descent passes by 17th century cliff dwellings of the Druze. We decided to forego the extreme hike in the 100°F/38°C Israeli summer and save our aging knees for other parks.

Justin reading scriptures on the Jesus Trail.
We met Justin reading scriptures on the Jesus Trail.

The Majrase
Betiha (Bet Tsayda Valley) Nature Reserve

DSC08950Rather than climbing down cliffs in the hot sun, how about a nice walk in a cool stream in the shade? That’s what we did in the Bet Tseida Forest. This National nature reserve has a trail through the Daliyot stream of cool, refreshing water up to your calves, or maybe thighs in some places depending on how tall you are. It’s a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Switzerland Forest Scenic Road

Relaxing in the Daliyot Stream.
Relaxing in the Daliyot Stream.

We drove clockwise around the lake and returned to Tiberias via the Switzerland Forest Scenic Road which, about half way, merges with the Israel National Trail. It has fantastic views of the southern part of the Sea of Galilee. The driver, however, has to keep his eye on the winding road. Same in life, right?

Gan HaShlosha (Sahne) National Park

About an hour drive south from Tiberias as we were on our way to Jerusalem, is another incredible place to spend a hot afternoon in the water. The Amal Stream is a warm water spring that keeps the swimming holes in this national park at a constant temperature. The developed park is a great place to spend the day if you bring your shade structure (or get there before anyone else to claim the shady spots!).

There’s a foot cleaning station on each set of stairs leading into the water. It’s provided free by countless little fish. There is also an old water mill on site, a preferred location for those bathers who arrive early; and The Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology.

Travel Tip: The Israel National Parks Pass is well worth the money if you like trails. We figure that we broke even with just four parks.