Backpack stolen at local supermarket and mugging near Monterrey hot springs

I s Huaraz becoming unsafe for tourists or not?

The Huaraz Telegraph went to the office of the Tourist Police at the Plaza de Armas and found that even though we are barely in to 2013 there have already been 15 reports of robberies and scams; and the high season hasn’t even started yet! While with the Tourist Police we were also informed that on the same morning of the interview with Corinne and Ryan from Canada, similarly Jeff Clanet from New York was very unfortunate; having had his backpack stolen while shopping at Nova Plaza supermarket. From experience I know that you cannot take backpacks, purses or luggage into the shop, they need to be stored in secure boxes near the entrance where a watchman looks after your belongings so you are free do your supermarket run. The Huaraz Telegraph was interested in both stories and first met with Corinne and Ryan.

Ok guys, what happened?
Corinne: “We were mugged on April 13th while walking from the Wilcahuain ruins towards the thermal baths of Monterrey. It happened at around two o’clock in the afternoon. We came down from this place where there is a cross and we saw what we thought was a young man working in a field. The moment we passed we saw him go ahead of us. We think it´s the same guy. He was going very, very fast and had a hoodie up. We were actually commenting on how fast he was going. Then he got to a certain point where there is a little forest, but he took a turn and went down a small path and went the other way. Then he turned and looked at us, but we didn’t think that was rare. After a few minutes we were at the same spot where he took a turn, and we went into the forest where he surprised us with a big silver-coloured gun pointed at our heads. He started screaming: ‘dinero, dinero, mochilas, mochilas’. We handed him the money, and got our wallet back; he was apparently only interested in cash. Unfortunately he also took my camera which I was carrying on my body. He also took our day backpack which was filled with raincoats, sweaters, socks and swimming clothes such as a bikini and flip-flops. He also got the 280 soles that we were carrying on us. In total everything was worth around 3,000 dollars, with the camera etc. After the mugging he yelled at us that we had to walk down the way, but we couldn’t find a way out of the little forest. There was some construction going on and my boyfriend Ryan went back with three of the construction workers to see if there were any traces of the robber. We finally got to Monterrey where we went to Ollon de Barro (restaurant serving typical regional dishes) and those people were very kind. The owners called our hostel and our hostel owner sent us a taxi.”

Could you describe the attacker?
Ryan: “He seemed about my height, maybe 1.75 cm in height. He had a dark complexion with dark hair and wore a dark navy jacket with some stripes across the top towards his shoulders. No distinguishing marks unfortunately. He wore a ski mask when pointing the gun at us so we couldn’t see his face, but the police never really asked for a description.”

Then you got back to Huaraz and the paperwork started?
Corinne: “Yeah, it took a long time; a couple of hours. We went to the Tourist Police, but there was only one person that spoke English and that girl helped us. It didn’t seem standard. There was no form to fill in we had to write down everything on a piece of paper and the Tourist Police did the same. Afterwards we were told to come back in two hours when they would give us some sort of declaration, but this declaration only started when we got back there. This took them another hour and a half as they did it when we were there instead of in advance. We were then told that we had to pay for this declaration at Caja Trujillo (bank), and because it was Saturday evening it was closed.”

Ryan: “There is a template they used at the Tourist Police for our description but it was more a cut and paste. It wasn’t very effective.”

What did all this do to you both?
Corinne: “We were lucky because we didn’t have our passports in the backpack. At the time it wasn’t frightening, but now it is even more so when I think back. We were joking when we got to the trees, asking each other, how you say ´help´ in Spanish? We didn’t have time to be afraid while it was happening, but afterwards we were. We are upset about the things we lost but we met a man this morning that lost his backpack containing his passport, and he didn’t have any insurance, we do. It was an inconvenience. A little too unreal.”

What advice would you give to other tourists?

Corinne: “I wouldn’t recommend anyone going there! ”

Ryan: “You could ask one of the villagers at the ruins to direct or guide you to the hot springs, and then tip him for protecting you, more than being a guide because the trail is clear. I am sure that when you are there with a local, you wouldn’t be in danger. It might not have happened to us had we taken that course of action. It´s still a wonderful hike.”

Was the Tourist Police any help?
Ryan: “uhmm (hesitating to answer), they gave us a form we can use for our insurance, that’s about it. They didn’t really give us any other assistance, but we didn’t expect it either. We don’t expect to get our stuff back, and we don’t expect them to do anything about it.”

Corinne: “They didn’t seem to be concerned to prevent anything. They ate a lot of ice-cream, and were talking on their cells the whole time. But they were friendly and nice.”

How has this mugging influenced your stay in Huaraz?
Corinne: “We´re leaving tonight to travel on to Colombia. It has put a downer on our stay in Peru, but everything else has been fantastic. We hoped to stay a bit longer in Huaraz, but we want to move on. We did a hike to Lake Churup and we enjoyed it a lot, it is a safe hike.”

Ryan: “We´ll be back someday.”

Corinne:“There were some people at Ollon de Barro (the restaurant) and they overheard the story and they gave us 40 soles which were great. Also the hostel paid for our taxi, and we felt really good there.”

What follows is a short interview we conducted with Jeff Clanet from the United States; another unfortunate victim of a mugging in Huaraz.

Tell us what happened.
After a two-day summit, my travelling companion and I returned to Huaraz. On our way back to the hostel from the tour shop I decide to stop at Nova Plaza to pick up some water and Gatorade, I had been very sick over the course of the weekend and needed to rehydrate. As per Nova Plaza protocol, I was not permitted to wear my pack in the store while shopping, so I placed it beside the lockers; as directed by the security guard. I spent about ten minutes shopping. When I was finished I returned to the place where I had left my pack, but it was gone. After a moment of panic I got the security guard’s attention and we proceeded to search the surrounding blocks on foot. After about 15 minutes of running around we returned to the store. I then returned to the hostel to grab some friends who could assist me.”

Afterwards you went to the Tourist Police, was this helpful?
The Tourist Police were helpful. A police report was drafted the same night as the incident, and the next day the security guard from the Nova Plaza was brought in for questioning.”

Who do you blame?
I blame Nova Plaza and the security guard’s negligence more specifically, for the theft. You trust that if you are to leave your bag it will be looked after and secure.”

How did Nova Plaza respond?
Nova Plaza called the police as soon as it became clear what had happened. They arrived about 45 minutes later along with the store manager to review the security tapes, and begin a formal report.”

There are cameras at Nova Plaza was there an image of the subject?
The cameras at Nova Plaza were able to catch the suspect from the torso down, so they didn’t exactly do their job.”

How did all this affect your stay in Huaraz?
Despite my stay in Huaraz being cut short by about ten days, because I was planning on doing the Huayhuash trek, I really had a great experience in Huaraz. It was unfortunate that my stay had to end like this. I really loved the town and the people, I was just very unlucky. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to the staff at the Alpes Huaraz hostel. Sr. Juan, Roberto, Danny, and Paty all empathised with my situation, and were extremely helpful. Without them I most likely would have had a much more difficult time navigating the legal system. It truly felt like I was with family.”

Five days after the theft at Nova Plaza The Huaraz Telegraph went to the supermarket for their side of the story. We wanted to speak to the manager but because Mr. Guzmán was unavailable we spoke to the store´s assistant manager who´s in charge of sales. She wished to remain anonymous, but gave us the following statement: “In the surveillance video you cannot see the entire body of the subject, you can only see his legs. We have handed the evidence of the robbery to the Tourist Police. They now have this video. What happened is the following: last Sunday this foreigner left his backpack at the entrance of our shop near the lockers. On the video we see no communication between the tourist and our watchman at the entrance. Normally tourists take their backpacks into the shop and we allow them to. While he was doing his shopping, an unidentified person grabbed his backpack and left. This unidentified person was wearing a red jacket. He also wore a cap and kept his head down. From the other side there appeared to be a second companion. I wasn’t there that Sunday I was informed by my manager and we tried to solve it by calling the police. I wouldn’t want to say it´s 100% the tourist´s fault, but he did leave his backpack on the floor near the entrance of the shop. I would like to wait to hear the outcome of the investigation by the police.”

Where I conducted the interview there was a bank of screens registering the 16 cameras installed at the shop, I asked them again how it is possible that the burglar didn’t appear on any of them. “This is because our cameras register what happens in inside the shop, not outside. Our vigilance requires more tasks than just checking the lockers; we also make sure customers don’t run of without paying. This happens unfortunately. We are considering placing another camera near the entrance.” I then asked them if Nova Plaza claims responsibility or offers apologies. “We would like to wait until the outcome of the investigation.” I then told them that this happened IN their shop, which makes Nova Plaza responsible. Or am I mistaken? “Right… We have had a meeting with the managers and have discussed this topic. I believe both parties are guilty in this instance, and this all could have been avoided, but we will make sure it doesn’t happen in the future by installing an extra camera filming the outer part of the shop. Next time no one should leave their backpack on the floor near the entrance. You aren’t going to publish this, are you?”

Text: Rex Broekman

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