Robbed in Peru: It Happened to Me on Summer Vacation
University of Baltimore Asst. Professor Marion Winik has recently returned from her trip to Peru with Roland Park Middle School on an emergency passport, as faithful readers will be unsurprised to hear.
POLICIA NACIONAL DEL PERU – POLICIA DE TURISMO CUSCO
Date: 23 June 2013, Hour: 12:10 PM
In the city of Cusco in the Office of the Tourist Police, the tourist MARION LISA WINIK (55), a U.S. national, single, a teacher, presented herself without personal documents or papers of transit through the city. The aforementioned tourist had suffered the loss of her brown handbag in a cafeteria …
Date: 23 June 2013, Hour: 6:10 AM
In the unheated breakfast room of our hotel, I was writing a journal entry titled “Cranky in Cusco.” Though I’d been having a pretty good time on my educational tour of Peru with 25 seventh graders, their teachers, and some of their parents, Day Six found me in a snit. Hoping to get it out of my system, I wrote at length about the smelly hotel, the boring food, the effects of the endless walking on my arthritic knees. Having broken a fifty-five year ban on organized travel to take this tour with my daughter Jane, I’d begun to remember why I might not like such a trip. I also remembered that I was not all that interested in ruins or the brutish ancient civilizations behind them. Machu Picchu, I admitted, was the best of the bunch. If you like mountain scenery. Which I don’t.
When Jane came down with a group of six girls for breakfast, I suggested we skip the daily rolls and margarine and try our luck elsewhere. A few blocks away, we came upon a fancy pastry shop where I was only slightly surprised to find almost all the other members of our tour group already dining. Things were looking up, I felt. So much so that I pulled out my journal to note the fact. Cafe Valeriana. Good quiche.
When I put my journal back into my bag, I saw I had a text message from the short-lived boyfriend who had broken up with me on the eve of this journey. I had just begun to reply, stabbing at the touchscreen keyboard, when the waitress brought our bill. I reached down for my purse, which had been wedged between me and the girl beside me on the bench. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t on the other side of me, or on the floor.
Since none of us had even seen anyone approach the table, this was clearly the work of a magician.
So much for Cranky in Cusco — the journal was now history, along with my money, credit cards and ID, and the novel I was reading. Jane’s iPhone was in there, too, but thanks to that texting ex, mine was not. Worst, I had lost my passport. I say “worst” but I had no idea what I was in for.
During the time I was at the police station filing my report, four other robbery victims came in. Officer Juvenal Zerceda Vasquez regretfully explained that this was the weekend of the Festival of the Sun, when professional thieves come to Cusco from all over the country. I pictured a chartered bus, Oceans 11 on the DVD player and umbrella drinks.
He proceeded to type up a detailed description of every item in the purse, then printed the report using a dot-matrix printer and a sheet of carbon paper. My wrinkled copy is all that remains of the “estuche multicolor conteniendo lapiceros y maquillaje,” (multi-colored pouch containing pens and makeup), the “cuadernillo personal,” (personal journal), and the “billetera floreado” (flowered wallet. Actually, it was polka-dot but I couldn’t get that across.)
Next, he let me use the phone to call the U.S. Embassy. The woman who answered brusquely informed me that I would need to change my flight to Lima, get passport photos, fill out DS-11 and DS-64 online, and by the way, the Peruvian immigration office closes at noon. Since all this would cost a pretty penny, I should immediately message my contacts in the United States to explain my plight and ask for money. (God, I thought, are some of those emails for real?)
“When are you supposed to fly home?” she asked.
“Tuesday evening,” I said. It was Sunday.
“It’ll be tight,” she said grimly. “Tomorrow is a national holiday.”
“And there’s nothing you can do for me?”
“No,” she said firmly. “Nothing.”
I returned to the hotel in a police cruiser. Too depressed to remain conscious, I fell into a deep sleep of many hours. When I awoke, any complaints I may have about organized tourism were forgotten, for it had become my fairy godmother.
The director of our tour group had been on the phone to the head office in Boston. They had changed my flight and arranged for a local to meet me at the plane. I was handed a xerox copy of my old passport and an envelope of cash for cabs and fees. In the meantime, I was advised to relax and enjoy the national holiday.
Believe it or not, I did.
My escort Martin turned out to be an ex-skateboarder whose band once played the Warp Tour. With his help was I able to negotiate taxi fees, maneuver through traffic, fill out forms, get photos, swear I told the truth and nothing but the truth, then race across town with my brand-new passport to the Peruvian Immigration office, which as you know closes at noon, but where the line to find out what line to wait in is a mile long, where armed guards are charged with preventing you from asking questions, where you need two copies and a receipt for your payment from the bank, where at 11:45 a fat man puts everybody’s passport in a pile and gets on the phone to order lunch.
Having been in a state of extreme stress for eight hours, I was starting to lose it. I slumped to the floor in exhaustion. I wondered vaguely where I would sleep that night, what would happen to Jane when she got home.
Martin was a mild sort, but he rose to the occasion. Braving the guard, he stormed the counter and got my passport back. At which point the fat man returned everyone else’s passports too, so that we walked out of there like Olympic heroes.
Then we returned to the airport and met up with my tour group, and we all came home.
Regular readers of this column know that this is the second theft of my purse this year, not to mention the robbery of my mouthwash from my car last month. There is a reason these things happen to me and not other people, who lock their doors and use belly packs abroad and don’t take their passports out of the hotel. My son Vince has kindly called it an “aura of vulnerability.”
May it fail to kill me and continue to provide amusement for us all.