Victims of the pickpocket's Mustard Trick.

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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The opera is closed.

It was a very cold, gray, rainy day in Buenos Aires as we set off for our first destination: Colón Theatre. According to the guidebook, it one of the world’s Top Five operas, and since it’s reportedly extra fancy inside, we hoped to get into their Saturday backstage tour.  

The walk to the opera took us into a pretty seedy neighborhood. There weren’t very many people around, and certainly no tourists. We trudged on in the rain, following our map, feeling cold, wet, and approaching miserable.   

We finally arrived at the correct place, but all we saw was a huge building covered with tarps and scaffolding. There were signs of an extended construction project going on: rusted fence, piles of debris.
This is what COLD looks like!
Things weren’t looking good.

We circled the building, hoping to find an entrance, but all we found were homeless people. They had camped out under the building’s eaves and under the scaffolding. Men were lying on pieces of cardboard, covered with newspapers… It felt a little bit like walking uninvited through someone’s living room. Not good. And we didn’t find a way in. So much for the opera.

As we stood under the eave of a nearby building wonderin what to do and studying our map, I saw some movement behind us… and all of a sudden Steve had green slime on him! I looked back at the man who happened to be passing by, and he flapped his arms, pointed up, and said “BIRD!”  That must have been some bird, maybe a pterodactyl, because we were both COVERED in this green slime! Steve looked at my back and just said, “oh no, oh no,” and started trying to wipe it off with a napkin.
Caught by the Mustard Trick.
Conveniently, the passerby had a huge wad of napkins (I thought, “oh, aren’t we lucky!?”), and started to dab at Steve’s back while Steve helped me. I guess it was right around this time that the guy lifted the credit card and 100 pesos from Steve’s pocket, although we were none the wiser at the time. Instead, we thanked him profusely for his help.

We did the best we could, but there was no way to get all the slime off, so we made for home, quickly. We said goodbye and gave our little “helper” lots more graciases as we rushed off. He flapped his arms some more to reinforce the whole bird story.

We were quiet for a bit as walked home, and then Steve commented, “That was pretty weird.” Yeah. That must have been one big bird. And I kept smelling vinegar…maybe it’s not bird poop after all? We discussed it all the way home, not believing that we had been victim of a scam.
Steve's jacket. How could we have believed that a BIRD did all this?!
The guy had been so nice! But when Steve confirmed he was missing the credit card and cash from his pocket, well… the speculation was over. We’d been robbed.
We found a laundry and dropped our jackets off for five-hour service, doubting they would ever come clean. Back at the apartment. Steve did an online search and found that this scam is apparently the oldest trick in the book here in Buenos Aires. It’s called the Mustard Trick, which is what the man squirted on us. Green mustard. We found many blogs by people who had had nearly the exact same experience (and we learned of some other scams as well, such as the Dog Poop on the Shoe gem). When you are distracted by the “bird poop” you are a prime target for pickpocket, and oftentimes people take off their backpack or purse to get it clean… and it disappears. Unbelievable.

We picked up our jackets later, and they had come perfectly clean. So all we are out is about $30 and the Amex credit card… but we’ll always have our memories.

alyssa_ob says:
This is good to know! Sorry you had to deal with it, though.
Posted on: Sep 14, 2008
cmgervais says:
Thanks all for your comments.

Chris, we just canceled the card...we have others so it's not a problem at all. $30 is not so bad. It was quite the authentic Buenos Aires experience...almost worth $30! :^)
Posted on: Sep 12, 2008
portia says:
hi at least you were smart to not carry too much cash... it's such a hassle and I was also pickpocketed in Athens on the crowded metro, no mustard, but avoid the bad crowds.
Posted on: Sep 11, 2008
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The opera is closed.
The opera is closed.
This is what COLD looks like!
This is what COLD looks like!
Caught by the Mustard Trick.
Caught by the Mustard Trick.
Steves jacket. How could we have …
Steve's jacket. How could we have…
Pizza always makes one feel better.
Pizza always makes one feel better.