In the Panamanian island chain of Bocas del Toro, theft is a problem on some beaches. During the week of my visit in 2008, one couple described being approached by two young men who “asked” for their wallet. They carried no weapon, but their demeanor was intimidating enough — and the travelers sufficiently isolated on their secluded stretch of sand — that they handed it over. The couple did, however, ask if they could keep the non-cash items in the wallet, which the thieves amiably agreed to.
In 2014, in Cuba, I met a German woman who had been to this same Panamanian beach. A group of teenagers had forced her to completely undress before tying her to a coconut tree, from which she watched as they rummaged through her clothes and belongings.
These unnerving encounters — thefts — happened on Wizard Beach, which is sometimes patrolled by police. In the above photo a policeman on the beach talks with an Israeli traveler, likely wishing to assure her that he’d keep a good eye on her belongings. Later the officer would tell me that she was “very beautiful,” and he also answered my question about the ship that had been anchored offshore for two days: it was waiting to pick up a load of bananas. The province was home not only to pretty beaches but also the Chiriqui Land Company, which brings you Chiquita bananas.
Bananas and beauty aside, one of the most provocative descriptions of theft I’ve ever read is in Khaled Hosseini’s book The Kite Runner. Here an argument is made that thieves include more than the opportunistic types on Wizard Beach:
“Good,” Baba said, but his eyes wondered. “Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that?”
“No, Baba jan,” I said, desperately wishing I did. I didn’t want to disappoint him again.
“When you kill a man, you steal a life,” Baba said. “You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see?”