I read all the guide books. I read all the “danger you will die whilst travelling” information. I always split my monies up and never carried anything valuable with me. I did everything I could to be careful and I still managed to be scammed, lose £30 and have my mobile stolen. It was so simple, so obvious in hindsight that I’m left feeling complete infuriated with myself!
It all happened in Trillijo, where after the first night bus of two I arrived very tired and not really wanting to do anything at all. Still, I watched the parade in the square, wandered off to the market and got my haircut and then the badness started. As a solo traveller I’m always keen to talk to people and to share stories and thus, I’m very receptive to people saying hello – turns out this isn’t necessarily a good thing!
I was walking past a casino and someone sparks up a conversation by simply referring to the monies you could make (or lose says I), we’re walking the same direction so chat for a short while before he invites me for a beer. I, tired and wanting some company, say yes. Why wouldn’t I? We wander to the “out of town” bar where prices are cheaper – he’s a traveller who has been here for a couple of days so it makes sense he knows of a cheaper bar. It’s closed, so we try another before settling on one way out of town. Nothing at all seemed out of ordinary here although in hindsight going somewhere out of town (away from the Police) and speaking to one of his friends on his mobile who studied in England should have triggered something.
We get to the bar and meet the gent I spoke to on the phone and we settle down enjoying two bottles of beer between us. It’s nice conversation chatting about England and Trillijo although again his suggestion that he studied Medicine in Manchester should have made me think (he knew nothing of Manchester). A woman turns up and she starts paying me a lot of attention, but it’s all about speaking to a English Person. I’m asked for help translating words (simple ones everyone knows like “to Cook”, “to Dance”…). I started to smell a rat as the phrases were so simple, but didn’t think anything of it.
We need to pay the bill for the beers and the guys ask me to change their S/100 note – I refuse on the grounds I only had S/70, why on earth would they be happy to accept a loss of S/30?!? I pay for the beers with my S/20 and don’t see the change which I think is odd, but again, said nothing.
I went to the loo and was watched by one of the guys, which I realised was very weird and kept a strict eye on my rucksack (I’ve been attacked whilst using the loo before) but in the end I figured this was just friendliness as he’d shown me where the toilet was.
They insist of taking my picture on their mobile (and then my camera), but one of the guys is terrified of the camera hiding his face. This in itself isn’t too strange in South America as a lot of people apparently believe a picture “takes their soul”. In hindsight – he’s a known criminal and didn’t want a photo taken.
The guys then disappear off to buy a special drink (Pisco and Orange) which costs S/70. This I knew was bull – no way could the bottle of Pisco cost S/70! But, they still took my S/50 off me and promised change. It happened quite forcibly and quickly to the point I couldn’t refuse. Things got odder as the woman would disappear outside and talk on her mobile. She’d be outside for ages and then pop back in, apologise and step outside again. A guy then beckoned me over, chatted for a bit about his job and how he could help get me in to Chan Chan ruins cheaply (I thought he was a scammer at the time). He then told me to disappear as I was getting scammed by the others – he was actually a thoroughly nice guy, not a scammer at all.
After a while I stopped and took stock, checking my bag over to make sure my laptop, passport etc was still with me and discovered my phone was missing. I have no idea how they got the phone as it was in the pocket of my rucksack (along with my MP3 player, leatherman and various other gadgets). I popped back to the shop and realising the futility of trying to get it back walked away. I probably shouldn’t have returned when I had my laptop and all the other valuables with me!
As I walked back to town I chatted to a Policeman who tried helping but wasn’t really able to so gave up and intended sitting in the square, surrounding myself with Policemen. As I did this a guy approaches me – I try to ignore him, but he is insistent and then says “the guy you were with 2 hours ago, he’s a scammer”. If he’d seen me, knew who the guy was why didn’t he say anything?!?
I immediately called over another Policeman who took me to the station for the difficult explanation (we used the Google Translator) and took copies of the pictures on my camera (remember they insisted they took pictures of me and the woman) and then I had to look through thousands of mugshots! It was all to no benefit – my phone was long gone and I was simply left learning important lessons!
It was incredibly frustrating to have been scammed after been so careful and knowing all the signs. I can only blame fatigue and the openness I’d gained from traveling for two months that I didn’t realise earlier and was only able to spot the signs in hindsight. What is incredibly annoying though was that people recognised the scam taking place and knew the scammer, but neglected to say anything. It felt very much that the whole town has a “lets steal from the rich tourist” attitude and it sucks. When I got to Monacro the next day I find out that the town is rife with crime and I’m not the only one to have suffered (everyone going through there pretty much has a horror story)!
Combine my wallet getting stolen, scammed and losing my credit card (and then finding it later after I had cancelled it) – it’s been a tough few weeks!
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