I should have journaled about this a while ago now, but I’m home in Canada…for now. I returned December 17th after being robbed for the third time inside the bus station in Arequipa, Peru. I know…I was a target. I tried not to be, but with my white skin and blonde hair I stuck out like a sore thumb among the sea of bronze complexions and black hair.
I was making my way towards Lima for my flight home and was approached by a supposed traveler wearing a backpack. At the time I was chatting with my Colca Canyon hiking guide who after walking me to the bus station, decided that he too would buy a bus ticket to Huacachina. Really? Oh boy. It’s not something that I encouraged by any means, but what could I say? He insisted that it was time for a holiday and he always wanted to go to Huacachina and surf the sand dunes. That was my destination before I planned to arrive in Lima, or it was supposed to be until things went entirely sideways.
Before my hiking guide tag-along friend arrived at the station with his luggage, I had been sitting in a seat quite aware of the possibility of thieves roaming the area looking for their next target. So, I kept one hand on my bag of gifts, one hand on my backpack and strapped the new purse I bought in La Paz diagonally across my body in front of me so it was sitting in my lap. I know…bad idea to even wear the purse and I kick myself now. Earlier I had been using my bra as my money belt, but then had to take money out to exchange it from American dollars into soles, so I could buy my bus ticket. Instead of publicly stuffing the money back into my bra, I chose to stick it inside my little red change wallet which I put into the new purse that I bought to replace the other one that had been stolen. Bad move.
So while I sat there, my tag-along friend arrived. We chatted and about a minute later the “supposed” traveler appeared in front of us. He seemed quite relieved to find some fellow travelers who spoke English.
“Hey, do you speak English?” he interrupted.
“Yes, I do.” I responded.
He continued, “Oh good! I’m so relieved. It seems that no one speaks English around here and the taxi drivers have no idea where the Wild Rover Hostel is. Do you know where it is?”
That should have been my first sign something was wrong. The Wild Rover Hostel is a popular party hostel and any taxi driver should know where it is, however I didn’t.
“No, I don’t actually, I didn’t stay there.” I said.
My tag-along buddy piped up and tried to give him directions.
Then traveler-guy turned his attention back on me again and explained, “Rather than take the night bus like I should have, I decided to take the day bus, so I could enjoy the scenery along the way. That’s why I’m just arriving now. It wasn’t all that nice really and now I’ve wasted an entire day.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Live and learn, I guess.” I responded with a smile.
“What?” he leaned down as if waiting to hear the punchline of a joke.
And I repeated, “Live and learn…you won’t make that mistake again, right?”
“No, I won’t. Well, thanks for your help.” he said and waved goodbye.
“Good luck finding the hostel.” I called after him.
It didn’t take long to realize something was amiss. When we got up out of our seats, my hand went to my purse and I felt that the snap had been undone. Strange. I immediately felt around inside and sure enough, my little red change wallet was gone. All of my money gone in an instant once again.
A man sat in the seat next to the one I had been sitting in and was reading the newspaper. When I turned to look at him he looked up and our eyes locked. He didn’t smile and neither did I. I didn’t even bother asking him if he had seen what happened. I knew he would say no. It was likely him who snuck his hand into my purse while I was distracted by the “traveler”. They were probably working as a team. I’ve heard that’s what thieves will do, but it was too late now. My money was gone and I couldn’t get it back.
I was embarrassed to journal about this earlier because getting robbed seemed to be a constant theme along my journey. I’ve learned a lot. I was robbed three times in South America, all in different ways, however, thankfully none of them were ever violent…just sneaky.
Unfortunately, my trust in humanity at that moment plummeted. Immediately I wondered if my tag-along friend could somehow be involved. After all when we were standing in line to buy our bus tickets he grabbed my little red change wallet with the Peruvian women stitched to the front of it, squeezed it with his fingers and asked me, “Muchos dineros?”. “Si,” I responded. Probably not something to disclose. I kept my eye on it the whole time while it was in his fingers and then snagged it back when we got to the front of the line.
Afterwards, we took a taxi to the Plaza de Armas. I needed to collect my pack and bag of gifts from the hostel. He continued on to his house to collect his luggage and then we were going to meet back at the bus station. What could have happened during that time? Could he have phoned a friend and concocted a plan to rob me at the bus station? These were the thoughts running through my head then.
So, once again I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do. I had no money and it was again a weekend, so I was unable to retrieve funds from the Western Union. It reminded me of the time I was in the Salar de Uyuni. My money had run low and the Western Union had closed before I could retrieve the special number you need to give them. It was my fault for not planning enough in advance. So, I had to make a choice. It was either I use my remaining Bolivianos to sleep somewhere for the night, eat or take a night bus to the city of Sucre. In the end I chose the night bus. It was better than staying a night in the small, barren desert town of Uyuni plus it doubled as my accommodation. In an effort to make enough money to eat, I tried busking again outside the bus station although this time it didn’t work. People weren’t in celebration mode like they were on Day of the Dead in the Puno cemetery.
Now, I was again in the same position with no money plus I had my tag-along friend who I wasn’t sure I could trust. We got on the bus and of course he sat in the seat right next to me. He was one of those touchy-feely types of people and he kept hugging and trying to console me. Finally, I had to turn to him and say, “I’m really sorry, but I’ve been robbed so many times that I don’t know who I can trust. I’m not even sure if I can trust you. I’m so sorry, but please…just don’t touch me.”
The ride was very teary and in an effort to preserve my valuables, I stuffed them down the front of my jacket: my flute, camera, new tablet and ipod. For the next nine and a half hours I tried to sleep, but kept waking up as the bus laboured along the highway. My tag-along friend would put his head on my shoulder when he sensed my body shuddering and then my body would tense up. I hoped he would sense that too, but he just didn’t seem to get it.
When we arrived in Huacachina, I really just wanted to go straight to a hostel where they didn’t require payment until I left. I had three days before my flight from Lima and I needed to make it to a Western Union. One would be open the next day.
My tag-along friend tried to encourage me to go with him to Ica where the sand dunes are, but I had no money to surf them anyways. He insisted I come and that he would lend me money for it, but to be honest, I didn’t really feel like having fun. Besides I just lost a whole lot of money, so should I really be spending more? I didn’t think so. I just wanted to get to Lima before anything else happened. Paranoia had possessed me. I felt so close to making it home, but so far away at the same time. Would I make my flight? I wasn’t entirely sure and, in my mind, I wasn’t going to relax until I finally got on the plane.
Luckily, my tag-along friend lent me the money to get to Lima and we left on the next available bus. It was another four-hour bus ride. He seemed to be legitimate and caring, but my paranoia still wouldn’t let me entirely trust him. He followed me to the Loki hostel where I would spend the next couple of days. The Western Union opened the next day and I was able to collect some more money and pay my tag-along friend back.
My time in Lima turned out to be really fun although I had to be quite firm with my tag-along friend, so I could spend my remaining days my own way. I wandered around Lima, shopped around the mall above the ocean and bought myself a sweater for the trip home.
A Christmas tree stood towering from the first floor open area and the sun set on the ocean behind it. It was beautiful.
I also found the most fantastic Christmas store ever in Lima. It was a lovely last couple of days. I basked in anything North American from McDonalds to Starbucks and that night I discovered that I’m actually really good at beer pong. It took me four months of traveling to finally try it. I made some fast friends and on my final day I decided to treat myself to some much needed luxury: surfing in the morning and four spa treatments in the afternoon.
It was great to finally fly into Calgary and as the plane descended I couldn’t help, but notice how relaxed and orderly the highways seemed down below and then I saw the the outdoor ice rinks. It was nice to come home to Canada.