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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Travel Money Card - Robbed of $10,500 with ATM card skimming

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Yesterday is a day that was any traveller's nightmare.

I went to withdraw cash to pay for our accommodation.

My card says there is $0 funds?
The next ATM says I have only a small amount of funds?
What?
Maybe my home bank has problems?
I try another ATM, then another bank, and it says the same.
I figure the card is faulty, so I go to look on the Travel Money site and I am locked out.

I start to feel something is not right.

I had just topped up funds two weeks ago, and used it two times.

I try my best Spanish at two banks to see if they can call my bank in Australia, and they are banned from international phone calls.

So I head to Policia - the police station.
Soon I am crowded around by about 6 policemen.
They soon find one that has pretty good English.
I explain my problem.
When I tell him how much is missing, they march me a bit faster to the Internet cafe that has international calling.

We try 6 international phone numbers.
2 times I am disconnected mid calls, and the one puts me on hold and wants all sorts of bank numbers.
I am to stressed to think of secret passwords and questions, plus the phone line is crackling like Rice Bubbles.

By the time I get through, I am pretty wired.

After another bout of questions, he tells me I have no funds.
"No kidding" I reply!  "So where are they?".
Security says he can't tell me?  I get a bit annoyed at this - more hysterical!
He then informs me my card looks to have been cloned, or skimmed at an ATM.
They have spent over $10,000 in a week - and we have to work out if there is more before that.
Seems they have had a great shopping spree in USA at Timberland, ToysRus, Victoria's Secret, and a number of other stores.

Well firstly, I never use my Travel Card for anything but taking out funds at the bank.

I cover my hand when I use my PIN.

I never put that much money on my Travel Card.
But when I was in Panama, I was locked out of my banking.
So when funds matured from my investment, they transferred it as a lump sum.
Never again!
Never will I put that kind of money on a Travel Card.

So, I am told to printout this 3 page form.
Complete and fax back to Australia - not scan?
I have to complete a Police Report - well this will be in Spanish - we are in Colombia.

I get off the phone and just cry.
I am in shock - numb - more tears - they just flow and I can't stop them.

The lovely policeman pays for all my international calls - so kind.
In fact they spent 2 hours helping me.
Three of them stay the whole time.

They then found a bi-lingual lady who has Colombian parents and is visiting from Canada.
Her family comfort me.
She spends the next hour plus assisting with getting the right documents copied.
A Police Report is done on the spot and printed out and signed.
We get scans sent to my email.
Copies for her.
Copies for the Police.
It is incredible teamwork!

Alas - this country town I am in has no international fax lines.
We wander to the Telecom office, but it is closed for siesta.
The lovely lady who is helping says she is going back to Bogota that night and will fax.
So I give her $10,000 COP and hope it is enough.
She says "her family will forward me the copies and takes our forwarding hostel address".

I say "I will try hotels and more stores til her bus leaves and meet her at the bus station".
The Telecom office has a super long siesta.
At 4 pm they are still closed.
I give up and we wait back at the bus terminal.

I come back and send emails with the scanned attachments to my banking friend in Australia.
Within hours she is on the case and helping me.

By the end of the day I am completely wiped.
Not just our of cash, but out of steam - I feel like a roller coaster has just made a pancake out of me.
And I feel for my son.
He has not cried once.
He has rubbed my back, encouraged me and been so strong - a champion!
I try to encourage him it will be OK.

We are at a quiet hostel, and there are two Australian girls here.
They invite us to share a nice dinner.
As we talk I learn one of the girls had been robbed of absolutely everything.
I feel for her, but I realise it could be worse.

I have learnt is that the skimmer was attached inside the magnetic card reader of the ATM.
This would have made the magnetic card reader protrude slightly forward.
It was probably not at a Bank ATM (In Panama and Colombian nearly all ATM machines are outside the bank - never inside - making it easier for this to be fitted.
I have also learned that once they make a false card using my data on the magnetic stripe, they go on a shopping spree.
They target large stores that swipe credit cards without a pin.
They can go undetected, and shop to the limit.
They usually make smaller purchases that do not require authorisation or will alert the bank.
They also target international travellers, as the bank will not notice the transactions as out of the ordinary.
As this was a Travel Money Card, there are no on-line statements.
I have never logged in to check this account, but now know I can - when I am not locked out of on-line banking that is!
So I may be (hopefully temporarily) much poorer, a little wiser, and very upset.

I feel saddened that this was discovered in Colombia.
The skimming may well have occurred in USA or Panama, so I don't want Colombia to get a bad wrap.
This is a lovely place.
It is really lovely!
The people I have met so far, and my Colombian friends are just so nice.

I am also so grateful for all my Internet and Facebook friends who sent me encouraging and supportive messages, and their prayers.
Thanks a million - I feel them.

I am counting on the bank to sort this out.
I am thankful it is not all my money.
I am thankful it is not a physical robbery.
I am thankful we are safe, healthy, and can continue to travel.

And I am much wiser on credit card fraud now.
And I am not a quitter.
I am down, but I am not out.
Good things are ahead.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Zipaquira, Salt Cathedral - an awesome place to visit.

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Today sees us leaving Bogota.
We have to take 2 buses.
They are lovely, clean and comfortable and a definite one up to Panama.
Note the crosses and Mary pictures that decorate it.

We have pre-booked a hotel.
Unfortunately it is opposite a service station and on the main street.
It is clean - but again noisy.
We are within walking distance to 'Sal Catedral', so off we go down the old paved streets.

We find one of the squares.
It is really lovely.
We find no hostels in this town.
There may be some near the bus station, but we wander and compare about 10 hotels.
This is a tourist town, for the middle to upper class and priced accordingly.

We continue to wander through the quaint streets and squares.

It turns out to be quite a hike up the hill.
I am completely stuffed.
It is warm, and we have long sleeve tops on.
My son finds a maze out the front and has a bit of fun.
I am feeling my age.
He wants to play, I need water and a rest.

We get to the entrance of the mine.
We then find out we have to go back to the car park entrance to buy our tickets.
This could be sign-posted way better.
I am worn out from dragging bags on buses, so I don't think my attitude came across well to the man who directed us where to go.
But we finally get the tickets.  
There are a lot of choices.
We select just the tour with the English speaking guide.
You can also go into the mine, and don a hard-hat - and mine for salt.
We didn't do this.
My son has no idea it will be a bit dark.
He is totally afraid of a lot since Halloween and a bad Disneyland experience.
 

The entrance has a light changing display.
This is enough to put him off his fears.
We walk DOWN the tunnel.
It is lined with eucalyptus - in fact gum trees are all over this area.
A gentle nice reminder of home in Australia.

Our guide is wonderful.
He slowly explains so much.
Like the fact that 'salary' comes from 'sal or salt' - and was used as wages way back.

As we wander down we get to enjoy a light display.
There was only 3 of us here for this, it was so good!

We wander past an incredible carved wall.
The detail really doesn't show in these photos.
It is glorious, and the colours n the salt walls add so much, in real life visuals.

 We then head to a low pool.
This is only inches deep.
The reflection is important int the mining process.

It is so mirror clear, you would think there is a room under you!

 Unfortunately, there are way too many stores under here.
It kind of ruins the amazing feel to the place.
But there is a coffee shop 180 metres below the surface.
And more than 1 km undergound - worth having a coffee at.
There is free salt rocks to take.

 There is a great soft, salt wall in the cathedral where moisture has got in.

 The cathedral is very lovely.
If tourists took time to be quiet and reflect on life, this is is the place to do it.
We take time to be thankful of far we have come.
We have made it more than 6 months on our journey - so we thank God for that.
The cross has a read heart-beat in the centre lights.
I don't get to take a photo at the right time, but it is a nice touch.

It is a lovely area.
If you visit - take your time.
Wander and immerse yourself in the awe of this cathedral.
There are testing areas - they say it might last 300 years.
They are expanding.
There are lots of tunnels to explore.
There are rock roof toilets too.

There are all different stations of the cross along the first tunnel.
We are told by our guide to take photos on the way out.
The mine drains batteries, so we appreciate this tip.
Start taking your photos only when you get to the bottom of the cathedral area.

We head out and there is a train waiting for COP $3000 each ($1.50 approx)
We ride it and meet a lovely lady from Korea who only has 3 days in all of Colombia.
Her husband's camera never stops - he has to take it all in so fast.
We laugh, but now I realise how good it feels to travel slowly, and for so long.
We enjoy the trip around the old town.

We actually take the train all the way back to the base of the salt cathedral.
We hop off and walk through the pretty town again.

My son and I find a restaurant for dinner.
It was not this one, but the guy rips us off.
We made the mistake of him helping us in English to order "off the menu".
So then when we came to pay he invented the price.
Oh well - I live and learn!

We get back before dark.
Our hotel La Terraza is not expensive, but not cheap.
But part of the top window is missing and the other slowly opens.
So as we are several floors up, I stuff a pillow in the broken window, 
and hope for the best with the other window.
But as we are opposite a fuel station, the horns, alarms and music goes off all night.
At 3 am, they decide to blast music through the loud speakers.
By 6 am I am up.
Time to move on - I need quiet, and I need sleep!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Teleferico to Monserrate, Bogota, Colombia

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Bogota is full of life.
We strike a rate with the taxi driver and head up behind Candelaria.
My son cracks me up in this photo as we walk to the cable-car launch area.

 We buy our tickets and it is cold!

 My son is a bit scared as they told him he had to hang on to me. 

Up we go. The view is amazing! 

We head for the church.
At Easter, many people go up on their knees whipping their backs.
Way up the path to the top as they crawl in one another's blood - I am told.

 The day is fairly clear.
Typically it is clear in the mornings and rains in the afternoons here.

There is lots to wander around and see at the top.

We head down the path to explore.
It is so pretty!

I love this photo.
The bell tower is so quaint.

We head to get lunch, but it is closed til 2 pm.
I find odd hours for places to eat in Colombia.

 We try another restaurant, but it is too formal for us - or our budget.

After about 2 hours of wandering around the market we head back.
We leave tomorrow and I need to pack.
My son needs to do his school work.
Though he has great history lessons here in Colombia.

 It is way down - we stay to the left at the bottom of the hill.

We walk back to our area.
It is such a mix of old and new.
This car breaks down and there is a complete traffic jam.
Finally the police come and push start him.
I note he has no brakes!
They help him on his way.
It cracks us up that he is even allowed on the road.

Back near our hostel there is a horse who refuses to move.
They offer my son to feed him.

 We will be heading out of Bogota tomorrow.
It is a lovely city.
Colombia is really cleaned up.
You still need to be smart and we don't venture out at night.
The hostel is secure and gated in.
Colombians are very friendly and helpful.
They will soon us if we are not safe, and always give advice.
Such lovely people we found so far.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Visiting Divercity - a great education tool for both travellers, for Colombian children

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Today we visited Divercity.
It is a 3 floor centre on the side of a shopping centre.
Kids learn all about careers and working here.

They have their own bank, and are given some starter currency.
But they can spend on leisure, or earn a wage.
So off to the bank he goes.
No adult, unless they work there can go participate.
We are fortunate that a worker knows some English, and he helps my son.

They learn the basics of car maintenance, and how to drive.
They even get their own licence.

Next my son goes to cooking school.
Each station is a lock-in.
There is a timer and the parents can leave.
Parents and the child have matching swipe wrist security tags.
It is a fantastic set-up.

The first educational place my son attends is the University of the Future

He then spends some of his hard earned wages on the gym.

He loves interactive boxing.

Next is the chocolate factory, and he sets to work again.
I head off to the cafe for a coffee.
All stations including the bank are brand name Colombian companies.

 I meet an American-Colombian family and the kids speak English.
Yeah - my son loves it.
The kids team up for activities.
We head to the adult floor for relaxation time.
We also do a Colombian cooking class.

Meanwhile the kids are training to be fire-fighters.
The simulate a real fire for them to put out and they ride the truck.
Most of my photo's never worked out of this - shame - it was cute.

The highlight of the afternoon was a long 2 hour production.
The kids go to the TV station to make their own news program.
As we have to help with Spanish - English interpretation, this is a long, long event.

But my son gets to do his own news spot.

They can see themselves on the monitor.

Our new friends son David is so lovely as he reads his spot.

The kids finally make their mock "live" production.
We buy the DVD at the end.

What a fabulous educational day.
As we take the bus back to our area I am absolutely wiped out.
We safely get back just by dark.
A great day!

Bogota Colombia is safe to travel with my son

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Today is our first real day to explore Bogota
We did a little yesterday afternoon, but my son was tired.
It was a great day to explore La Candalaria - the old town.
This little church was n the next street from our hostel.

We wandered around the quaint cobblestone streets.
At the start of this street stands a policeman and his dog.

We love the little old buildings.

We meet a woodworker, who invites us in to see his craft.

We just wander around and take in the history.

My son loves to run in and out of the little doors and explore.

I love the old churches, but he is quickly tired of them.
Again on the opposite corner is a policeman. 

 We head to the Botero Gallery.
This is to be part of my son's un-schooling lesson for the day.

He loves this Mona Lisa painting.

He actually loves Botero art, and we practice our Spanish with the ID tags.
We get help from the guard on duty.

We meet two doctors from Adelaide and have a lovely chat.
We meet them again in the street.
It is nice to talk travel and home.
The streets are crowded and a nightmare to cross.
The mix of old and new is everywhere.

My son loves this twisted metal art and buys a scorpion.
I try to teach him to haggle, but he sides with the seller.
So we walk off and I give him a lesson in negotiating.
He goes back with the COP $ and makes the deal.
He gets COP $6000 off, and makes a good deal.
Well done I say :)

We then head to the political square.
Here we people watch. 

We go to enter another Museum, but decide it is Spanish history my son is not up to understanding yet, so we leave.

We love the streets.
People try to sell us pigeon corn and a myriad of other stuff we decline on.

The square is FULL of pigeons. 
My son has a ball chasing them around.
 

We head down to the President's Palace.
Here he is with the guard.
Technically, you cannot put a foot on the path on this side of the road.
So we are fortunate to get this photo. 

Here is the President's residence.

Here is another church.
By now my son is tired, and we go to find a place for lunch.

As we wander the street, we see the vendors selling mobile cell calls.
The phones are chained to a pole.

 As this is the gem and precious stone area of Colombia, many are sold on the streets.

We head home - dodging trucks and carts. 

Next day we go to the Gold Museum for our schooling.
My son poses as the Jaguar.
We learn a lot about history.
I find it hard to breathe in here for some reason. 

You can see the gold and how ornately they used to decorate themselves.
I believe this is the largest Gold Museum in the world, or the 2nd largest -
my limited Spanish caused me to get confused.

My son loves the doors to each room.
There are guards everywhere so you feel very safe.
But heaven help if you breathe wrongly, eat, drink, or answer your phone.
They pounce on you!

Outside we meet a lovely lady in traditional dress.

My son decides to take me out for coffee.
We enjoy going to our new favourite coffee haunt.
He has smiley faces on his hot chocolate. 

Dinner for Valentine's Day is a fun night.
My son gives me his scorpion as it has a love-heart tail
I give him a Botero magnet,
We laugh and had a great night.
We had so much fun.
Interestingly he order cheese pizza - it came out made with blue cheese.
But I took it back to the hostel and enjoyed it later.