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Getting Robbed in Cusco, Peru. And Catching the Thief.

While in Cusco, Peru, Jim and I had a couple hours to kill before we were to catch a flight to Lima.  We decided just to wander around town.

We were walking in a non-touristy market-y area on a beautiful Saturday morning.  There were lots of people out on the street as you can see in the photo below.

View of Cusco street

I just want to note, than when Jim and I are traveling, the person who is NOT wearing the backpack (is this case I am referring to a small daybag, not a giant backpack) is in charge of keeping an eye on the backpack being worn by the other person.  We are very vigilant about this.  In fact, literally two minutes before the incident happened, we were standing on a bridge and Jim was taking some photos.  I put my arm around his back, over the backpack, while it was exposed to passersby.  This is just an example of how careful we usually are around protecting the bag.  Even when we are walking around, I will stay ever-so-slightly behind Jim just so I can always keep an eye on the bag.

cusco_street1.jpg
The photo Jim took from the bridge a minute before being robbed

Back to the story.  Suddenly, the sidewalk got extremely crowded to the point where all of us were pushed up against each other.  Jim got separated from me and was about one or two people in front of me.  At that moment I realized this was not a good situation and that I better keep a closer eye on him and his bag.

Then I saw that a bird crapped all over the back and side of Jim’s neck.  I saw him sort of turn his head when he realized it happened, but he didn’t really react.  I remembered thinking, “That sucks, we will have to go get him cleaned up.”

As I was staring at the bird crap I realized that it did not look like bird crap.  It looked like spit.

Then, in the next two seconds, a few things happened.  I realized immediately that someone spit on Jim and that it was part of a scam and my brain went into defense mode.  As a backpacker, you have either read or heard about the scam where someone either spits on you, squirts mustard or hand lotion or crap on you, then comes over and helps you clean it off, all while robbing you.  I immediately looked at his backpack and sure enough I saw that the small outer pocket was UNzipped.  I starting yelling to him, “Jim! Your bag! Your bag is open!”  Remember we were in an extremely crowded area.

In that same second, I looked around to see if I could see someone actually robbing him.  There was a small older lady next to me, maybe about four and a half feet tall, and I must have seen her hand on his bag or something – I can’t remember what I saw now – but I knew it was her.  I grabbed her.  I grabbed her arm so she couldn’t get away.  I don’t even remember what I said to her, but likely she didn’t understand since I don’t speak Spanish.  I am still surprised at myself that I actually grabbed her like I did.

Immediately she reached into her pockets to show me she didn’t have anything.  I thought this gave away her guilt that she even knew to show me her pockets’ contents. 

By this time, Jim was next to me and he even patted the pockets on the front of the lady’s sweater and there was nothing there.

I asked him what was in that front pocket of his bag (I had thought it was empty anyway, other than some change).  He said, his iPhone! I couldn’t believe he had his phone in there!

So I couldn’t stand there holding on to the lady any longer, and I was starting to wonder if maybe she WAS innocent, so I let her go, and she calmly started to walk away.

At that moment, two police officers showed up out of nowhere.  I pointed at the lady walking away and exclaimed “She robbed us!”  It felt like a scene from a movie.  Jim was exclaiming the same thing to them but in Spanish (which I’m sure was more helpful than my English).

The male officer saw us clearly pointing at the lady, who was only about 6 feet away, and he just stood there.  He didn’t make any moves to go talk to her or anything.  He just let her go.  We couldn’t believe it.  He just stood there!

Then, I saw a woman standing at the side of the bridge point to the ground.  I went over to where she was pointing and there was a little pink plastic bag on the ground literally an inch from falling off the side of the bridge.  I looked closer and saw the iPhone was inside the bag.

Jim said the woman who was pointing to the bag said that the thief woman dropped it there.

I couldn’t believe we recovered the phone.  My heard was beating fast.

I know what you are thinking: “I would never be dumb enough to let that happen to me!”  Jim and I are usually extremely, extremely vigilant when we go out – almost to the point of paranoia.  All it took was just one moment of laziness.

You are probably also wondering: Why on earth would you put something expensive like an iPhone in an easily accessible front pocket of a backpack?  This was my question for Jim!  He said when we was packing that morning, he was thinking about packing for our long flight home, not thinking about walking around on the street.  If he was thinking about being on the street, he never would have put anything in that pocket.

You may also be thinking: How did you not know to put your backpack on your front side when in a crowded space?  This is another bit of laziness on our part.  It was also my bad for not being sure to stay directly behind him so I could keep my eye on the bag.  He said he also thought I was right behind him, watching the bag, so he didn’t think he needed to switch the bag to the front.

After we found the phone, I wiped the giant mound of spit off Jim’s neck.  It was so gross.  I was actually thankful that he got spit on, though.  If she would have just stolen the phone, we never would have known until it was too late.  But the spit called my attention to the situation.



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