Mugging in Huaraz at the cross of Rataquenua

I n our April edition, we informed readers and tourists by quoting the former Head of the Tourist Police in Huaraz, Robinzon Marino Tinoco Ramirez: “Between the end of December and the middle of January there have been at least four reported robberies. I would like to stress that no one should go there! We have been doing surveillance but without results. We do have a composite sketch here in our office but again, this perpetrator hasn’t been found yet.” Back then, The Huaraz Telegraph seriously questioned whether “going there” with a visible police car will lead to the arrest of this unidentified person. Our editor offered to go himself to Rataquenua accompanied by one of the male members of the Tourist Police wearing plain clothes to try to catch the guy. This offer was first enthusiastically applauded by the Tourist Police, but later denied for unknown reasons. Unfortunately, not much has changed.

Despite different guidebooks and The Huaraz Telegraph informing tourists that Rataquenua is still a no-go area, some tourists miss this advice and still head out to what is in fact a decent hike. But beautiful views aren’t worth the risk of losing your valuables. Like previous months, two very unfortunate tourists contacted us, Hannah McHugh from Manchester (UK) and Scott Johnson from Maryland in the United States. This couple living in Lima and here for a small holiday was willing to share their story, in the hope that no one makes the same mistake.

Why did you decide to come to Huaraz in the first place?

Hannah: Huaraz was one of the places I hadn’t been to yet, though Scott has been here before. Every time we have a bit time off we like to discover a bit more of Peru. We are both living in Lima where I work as an English teacher at a Secondary School and Scott teaches private students.

How is your stay until so far?

Scott: I was good, (laughing) but on Sunday the 12th of May, it turned bad!

Hannah: We arrived on Saturday and we had our whole week booked and planned to do a lot of hiking and try to really enjoy ourselves because both of us have a pretty stressful job. On Sunday we decided (because it was our first day at high altitude as Lima is at sea-level) to take is easy. I had a horrible headache on Sunday morning due to the altitude and thus decided not to do a lot and just relax. But in the afternoon I felt better and a bit restless and wanted to do something. At least something small; so we decided to go to the Rataquenua cross. That was my idea.

Did you have or receive any information on the hikes in general or around Rataquenua?

Hannah: We read that the road towards it is quite dangerous or boring.

Scott: Not dangerous as in terms of robberies or anything. We looked it up on the Internet and at the hostel they gave us a city map. It says on the map Mirador Rataquenua and when I looked it up online I found information that we were recommended to take a taxi up there and then could take a little hike from the cross. And that’s what we did; we finally found a taxi, although that was more difficult than we initially thought it would be.

Hannah: Because it was Mother´s Day in Peru, we noticed a lot of movement at the Church of Soledad, the cemetery and the area around it were bustling, the taxis we asked were willing to charge extortionate prices to take us up there because the road is so bad, but a lot of them just refused to go in the first place. This taxi that finally dropped us at the cross was charging a more reasonable price.

You were dropped at the cross, then what happened?

Hannah: We were going further up to the lookout point and then walk our way further down. I think we felt both a little bit uneasy up there and we discussed this afterwards, because we were close to the city but still in a very isolated spot.

Scott: Yeah, we have done quite a bit of that before and when we got up there, it became clear that there was nothing and no one up there. And then a couple of guys arrived on a motorbike and as soon as the passed us, we commented this is a really easy spot to get robbed, or at least for something bad to happen.

Hannah: We continued and took pictures and finally arrived as far as we wanted to in the first place, when we were heading down. We weren’t following the road but we took some smaller trails and that was quite fun. We might have come down until the third curve where there was another trail going down that pretty much led straight back into the city. We thought it looked like a five-minute walk. A guy down the road had mentioned to us not to go that way because it was pretty dangerous. We had to “stick to the road” we were advised. We cut off the next corner as well, using a scrambled trail down and when we finally got there I noticed that I had picked up those little prickly things on my trousers. I knelt down to pluck them off and when I stood up, I saw a man wearing a ski mask coming from a path down below towards us. I couldn’t see his eyes and then the alarm bells went off. My friend was still bending down and he hadn’t seen him coming. When the attacker came closer, he took out a gun from his waistband and started yelling: “Dame todo, dame todo!” We gave him the money we carried and I gave him my bag with my camera in it. I also gave him my purse because he said: “Give me everything” and then he asked me if this was all the money I carried. I replied: “Yes”; it was only 80 Soles.

Scott: I was carrying 810 Soles, which was half of our holiday week budget, and that was stupid of me. Happy Mother´s Day! So from my perspective she had been pulling the prickles out and I noticed I had some on my pants. While doing so, I noticed Hannah making an exhalation or sigh. When I looked up, the guy had the gun already out and it was just pointed at us.

Hannah: It´s like that feeling when you are having a nightmare. It´s like an inescapable situation, you can’t do anything while your stomach drops at the bottom of your boots. It was exactly that feeling. And you can see it coming and everything slows down and you know what he is going to do (pull out a gun).

Could you describe the assailant?

Scott: He was quite short: he was a little taller than Hannah who measures 152 cm, which is pretty short. We said 157-160 cm at the Tourist Police. He was dressed in blue jeans and a black sweater. He wasn’t young, we believe around 40 years of age.

Hannah: He was nervous, like notably nervous.

Scott: When he went through Hannah´s stuff he only took the money and gave back the camera. He was clearly only interested in the cash. As he was walking away he told us repeatedly not to report him! Additionally he said: “Yo solo hago por nesecidad,” I only do this because of necessity. Walking further away he even said “thank you, thank you, gracias, gracias.” I was like, did we have an option? The way he said this, I do it for necessity, seemed he really needed the money.

How did you feel at Rataquenua?

Scott: It happened all so fast; there was no time to think. At the precise moment, I felt in danger. I expected to be robbed when I first got to Peru; I have been here now for six years but in Huaraz? Guns are not common in Peru, not like in the United States. That was actually very surprising. Seemed like the attacker knew what he was doing. So again, yes I felt in danger and so did Hannah.

Could you describe the gun?

Scott: It was a silver gun with a black grip. It was definitely a pistol and not a revolver but quite a large caliber. Right at the moment of the mugging I thought it better not be loaded. That was what ran through my head right away. There is no point taking a risk. He didn’t come close enough to do anything. The closest he came was at the moment of handing the money. But he kept pointing the gun at arm length.

After the mugging, what did you do?

Scott: We started walking down the hill and a young Peruvian couple came up on a motorbike. They were maybe three minutes away from what happened to us so we warned them not to go up there because there was a guy with a gun. The couple told us to call the Police but because their phone was without credit, they couldn’t make the call.

Hannah: We walked down but didn’t know where the Tourist Police were and we didn’t have any money so we went back to the hostel. They directed us towards the Tourist Police, which in total took us maybe 45 minutes, so there might still have been a chance to catch the guy.

Scott: Not really with that police!

At the Tourist Police in Huaraz, what happened?

Scott: We waited, and although there was a woman there to whom we said we would like to report an armed robbery, she told us to come back later because there was no one there to take the report. We went outside asking each other: “Now what?” In the meantime the lady called someone and told us that she would do the report. It was super inefficient because it took hours and hours to do a basic report.

Hannah: We got there at 5:30pm, we were finished at 8:00pm and were told to come back at 9:00 to sign the final declaration. It just took forever. There was also a lot of repetition. The first woman who took our report went of shift, and then a second woman who then took over was left with a lot of incomplete information. They didn’t seem to have new templates because they were just using old ones. There was also very little understanding or sympathy as the first lady told us that we shouldn’t go up there after 3:30pm. What bothers me is that there is no written information anywhere. There are no signs towards Rataquenua and this is not the first robbery that happens there, so we have been informed since. The guy at the hostel was very worried and told us we should have told him we were going there, he would not have recommended it. On the map we got provided by the same hostel, Rataquenua is noted as a lookout point. If you look at the map and see a mirador, you think that´s a nice thing to do. We have been to many places in Peru and lookouts are always busy, except Rataquenua then. At the hostel, we were informed by our host Daniel that this has happened three times quite recently. We would not have gone there if we had known this upfront, in stark contrast to the Tourist Police who told us: “We have surveillance up there, it used to happen all the time, but it doesn’t happen anymore.”

Hannah: It´s terrible because it left the two of use upset for a whole week! Although it´s not excusable, the mugger was clearly from a poor community up the hill, I can understand that people have very little and are desperate. He was apologetic. He didn’t do it for fun; I think the money goes somewhere it´s needed.

Scott: You don’t know that. That’s what you hope, but who knows, maybe he´s drinking and drugging it away? He must have done it before, otherwise why would you be up there with a ski mask and a gun?

What would be a way to catch him?

Hannah: I think your suggestion (going up there with the police wearing plain clothes) is a good shot. Obviously, people going up that hill are easy targets. I wouldn’t risk it because the attacker was very nervous and this might lead into something unexpected.

Scott: I agree.

How were your holiday affected by all this and what would you recommend to future tourists in Huaraz?

Scott: We have felt depressed until today. I don’t think we will come back to Huaraz. Today was actually the first good day because we did a great hike. With a guide this time! He hired the guide especially because of what happened before. Also, you know what´s strange? I live in Lima and have been to all the terrible neighbourhoods where you shouldn’t go in the first place, and it was always fine. Nothing ever happened. But coming to Huaraz and being in the Sierra, I guessed it would be alright.

Hannah: I´d ask around first and, for the places near Huaraz, definitely hire a guide.

After the interview with Hannah McHugh and Scott Johnson, we went to the Tourist Police and spoke with Major on duty, Luis Óscar de Lucio Burga who represents the division of Tourism and Environment in Huaraz. We asked him how it was possible that, despite the fact that there are patrols on the Rataquenua hill, tourists still get attacked. De Lucio Burga made the following comment: “At the moment, doing patrols are four police members, two of which are from the Tourist Police and work in plain clothes. Officially, Rataquenua doesn’t belong to our division it belongs to Tacllan. However, because many tourists from Huaraz go there, we feel obligated to cover the area. I have no male officers and the girls doing the patrols are leaving at 8:00am and don’t even come down to eat lunch. They are up there until 4:00pm. Tourists shouldn’t be there after that time. I am trying to set up a meeting with the mayor of Huaraz to see what we can do about the situation. One option is road signs to warn people not to go there but this is something the local government should do because we don’t handle budgets.”

Until the attacker has been caught, we recommend not going to the Rataquenua lookout. Instead, tourists could walk to El Pinar, located towards the northwest part of town. In any case, always ask your hostel owners if the location you plan to visit is safe.

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