Pick-pocketed in Montevideo: It could have been much worse

This was not a subtle effort where they hoped to succeed without being noticed. They simply didn’t care about that. It was, in essence, a “smash and grab” job. We had just wrapped up a delicious (and ridiculously huge) meal at the Mercado del Puerto in the old city of Uruguay and were walking bad to the hotel for a bit of siesta time. Maybe my guard was down a bit as the streets were quiet and we’d split a bottle of medio y medio at lunch, though I’m honestly not sure I should’ve seen the guy coming.

The delicious lunch we had just finished feasting on, right before I was taken for ~$60 by a couple hoodlums in Montevideo.

He came from behind us, stuck his hand in my right front pocket, grabbed and ran. It wasn’t far to the corner where a friend joined him in running away. They turned the corner and then into a semi-abandoned building. And I, mostly being an idiot, was chasing them through this. I should’ve stopped running. Mostly because there’s no way I was actually going to catch them and because I probably deserved to be taken down much harder once I went in to the building. That was a quite fortunate non-event for me. I’m also pretty sure that once they got inside and upstairs they played me for a fool (not too far off, really), saying that the guy who robbed me performed some sort of ridiculous parkour moves and jumped on to the roof of the building and escaped. In reality I’m pretty sure it was the guy or guys making that claim but I couldn’t be certain and at that point getting into a fight with them on their turf and in their language seemed a really, really, really bad idea. I retreated to the street to find my wife and assess the damage.

She was right outside on the street, wondering where I was. I got lucky again that I quickly spotted her and we regrouped. I stuck my hand back in my pocket and realized that I was missing the Uruguayan currency – 1300 pesos which is about $60 – and my wallet. I still had my US dollars (roughly the same amount) and my chap stick. As I started to ponder which credit cards were lost I took some solace in the fact that I’d just paid for lunch with my “go to” card for travel and it was in my shirt pocket with the receipt, not back in my wallet. And I keep two cards in a separate wallet in my suitcase. This was going to be annoying certainly but not a massive loss. As I explained my losses to my wife she held up my wallet and handed it back to me. Apparently the guy dropped it during the grab.

Filing the police report was, at this point, mostly a formality so their stats show that it happened. I don’t expect anything to come of it or to hear from them again. Oh, and the officer spoke almost no English, which isn’t too surprising. Fortunately a woman in the station was able to translate for me and he wrote the statement. I signed it. I don’t really know what it said. I don’t really care.

Total loss was ultimately the 1300 pesos. I managed to not get injured and they managed to not take the things I had on my which were actually valuable. My other pocket had my mobile phone (OK, yeah, a Blackberry isn’t very valuable but probably worth more than $50) and a Canon Elph 110 HS in it. In my right hand was my dSLR camera. Over my shoulder was my camera bag (though without the camera in it probably not worth as much). But they managed to grab from that one pocket and only take a few dollars in cash.

Shitty way to spend an hour of the afternoon, to be certain. But it could have been much, much worse.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Ugh. That is such a terrible welcome! I am impressed with your 2 back up cards in your suitcase–that is a good tip.

    I’m glad it wasn’t worse and that you weren’t injured, and hope that you and your wife have a great time the rest of your trip.

  2. Ouch, sorry to hear. You got me concerned as I am heading down there tomorrow night for the first time. This is a good reminder for me to be cautious and and leave the wallet in the safe, one credit card and little cash in the front pockets should be enough.

  3. Seth, glad that it wasn’t worse. No matter the amount that was taken, when it happens, one certainly feels violated, even more when having just finished a great meal and were probably still lingering on that pleasure. I hope you both enjoy the rest of the trip!

  4. LOL yea, chasing after the guys was “macho instinct”. At least you had the good sense to stop quickly. Be thankful you didn’t get held up at knife point or worse…

    And kudos for being so well prepared. I have goten lazy and just carry whatever plastic I have on me in one place. I should probably be smarter about that. Thanks for reminding me.

  5. when traveling abroad is it best to NOT carry your passport with you? I have always carried mine with me. appreciate any thoughts or advise….

    1. If you have a room and can secure the passport there then, IMO, do so. I usually (though not as much recently for no good reason) have a photocopy of my passport on me when out but leave the real one locked away.

      Obviously if I’m just bouncing from place to place and not actually stopping anywhere along the way I keep it on me.

  6. Sorry you had to experience that as even though due to your intelligently splitting up your cars and currency, I know from experience that the experience of being robbed hurts.

  7. I always leave passport, wallet, and most cash in the room safe. I carry hotel keys, passport copy, 2 credit cards, and minimal cash.

    1. I always leave my passport in my hotel room but usually carry my drivers license with me. You should at least have some form of picture ID on you just in case.

  8. I’m sorry to hear that, and I’m glad you are ok. But they should have taken that old bb so you can finally buy a nice iPhone 😉

  9. Seth,
    Glad it was not as bad as it could have been…
    You are both good to rise again another day; thankful for that.

  10. Sorry to hear. It sucks that people do that, and it probably ruin your day a bit to have to file the report and do those misc thing when you could be on your way traveling.. Glad you’re OK though. I have never been robbed (knock on wood) when traveling, but I never carry significant amount of cash or wallet when I go out. I must admit that I was a tad worried about it when I traveled to Athens, because well, that’s well known as one of the pickpocket cities, but it’s always best to be prepared and alert when traveling.

  11. Wow that sounds totally unexpected, as for me in Bogota when a cyclist zoomed by me and grabbed the gold chain from my neck. I didn’t know, I had only just arrived. Big lesson for me.

  12. beware of areas that post “danger of pick pockets” signs, some people check their wallets when reading the sigh, thus tipping off the crooks which pocket to pick.

  13. I live in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is not a safe place currently. Lots of robberies on the street and breakins of houses. Lots of shootings as well. It is very sad because Uruguay use to be a very safe and cultured country.

  14. Sorry to read about this “experience” on what otherwise was a very pleasant day in this city…was out in the Prado district myself. (BTW bus fare must have gone up this week as the website still shows P$11 which is what I paid last Monday.)

  15. Ah, those Montevideo pickpockets have no style, certainly no grace. Just a grab and run. But Paris. Paris seems to be the capital of pickpockets, which otherwise seems to be a pretty safe place (except outlying areas, les banlieues, where proper Paris folk and tourists don’t often visit). But in Paris itself? My wife and I were coming back from Versailles one fine June day on the RER and after negotiating a maze of passages ended up at a place where everything merged and what looked like an exit loomed. Guarded by those guillotine gates, of course. We’re fumbling around for our billets and trying first one gate and then another, but somehow they were all jammed up. My wife finally got through by using the Parisian trick of bulling one’s way out. Good thinking, and apparently not hard to do since she’s much smaller, so I follow. On the other side I’m starting to fell like, hey, I can do Paris like a Parisian, no sweat, when a man behind me says (in English, no less), “Pardon me, but I think you dropped your wallet.” And he hands it to me. I look down, flip it open and, well, that look of what the frigging…!!! just rolled down my face. There’s no money. Ha, ha ha. I look up. There’s no man! Disappeared into one of those labyrinth of tunnels with maybe 60-70 euros and probably thinking of a fine dejeuner. Or maybe he’s thinking of opening a new account with Charles Schwab. And my wife and i just stand there, staring at my wallet for several minutes. Lets see, somehow my wallet hopped out of my pants pocket, fell to the ground, the money fled to who knows where, and this nice young man just happens by a split second later to pick it up and promptly return it to me. Well, Paris is the city of culture, and the gentleman was very polite, and I got to keep my wallet and cards and whatever. But sheech…. Still, pickpockets are endemic to the city. Entering or leaving the city’s train stations, we ran into several squadrons of gypsy kids, cute and well groomed in their school uniforms, with an older woman brandishing a clipboard asking us to sign some petition while the kids did a scrum around us. Pickpocket squads. They start young here. Bull through, babe, like it’s third and nine at the goal line. According to a recent news report, the staff at the Louvre was so upset by the clouds of pickpockets swarming around that they staged a one day protest strike to get the authorities to crack down. I’m sure that saved a couple of wallets or bags from ending up in the Paris landfill. So beware, and be aware that pockets and handbags are just handy places to affect the most efficient transfer of wealth from the better off tourist to the less well off local.

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