“I’m going into our travels assuming at some point all of my stuff will get stolen,” I said over and over again. Little did I know just how quickly this would begin to come to fruition…
Much more on Lima proper to come in a later post (probably tonight), but first a tale for you that bears such a resemblance to tumbling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland that a part of me still thinks I will turn up at the Mad Hatter’s tea party tomorrow morning. Only time will tell. (Time? Time for tea!)
In an effort to travel properly, Dom and I boarded the Metropolitano Bus (a pseudo train) on our first day in Lima to head downtown to catch a 3pm walking tour. As Dom and I happily joked about just how crowded the bus was (“I feel like I’ve cheated on you five times already!” Dom chided shortly after pressing our bodies flat against everyone else’s), someone opportunistically snatched his phone. We didn’t notice until a few stops later, at which point searching the ground in the hopes he dropped it instead proved futile.
People around us generously thrust their own phones in front of us suggesting we try calling Dom’s phone as I awkwardly replied, “su movil esta en modo aeroplano”. (It wasn’t until hours later that I remembered airplane was avion, not aeroplano, but eh, this was just a taste of what was to come.)
The commotion alerted a transportation security guard who then guided us off the bus to a station security guard named Ana. Ana would become our guardian angel the following two and a half hours and the first silver lining that came out of this situation.
The second silver lining? An intimate tour of Lima’s many police facilities and my first ever ride in a police car.
Once I confirmed to Ana that we would like to file a police report (“declaracion” seemed to be the term in Spanish) so Dom could then hopefully get some money through his traveler’s insurance (“seguro de viajero”), she took only two seconds to tell her work partner she’d be back in a bit before ushering us back onto a different bus so we could head to the police station.
Two men sat at the front desk of the station while opposite them two women were casually assembling a nativity scene. Ana immediately explained our situation to the officers and we were ushered into a back room where benches filled the center of the room and a few desks dotted its perimeter. An officer gestured for us to sit on the benches, so we did. Just a few minutes later, we were ushered back out of the room into the lobby.
As the minutes rolled on, I watched the women repeatedly catch the Christmas tree, unable to make it stand on its own. Occasionally I chatted with Ana, learning that she was from a town 18 hours north of Lima that had recently been devastated by floods and landslides. She moved to Lima 7 years ago. “Te gusta Lima?” I asked her. “Pues, tengo mi trabajo aqui, entonces no es importante si a mi me gusta,” she answered.
After what seemed like hours (but was probably only 40 minutes), I asked Ana what the hold up was. Apparently there was only one translator on duty, and he was tied up at another station, so they wouldn’t work with us until he was ready. I decided between my Spanish and Ana’s patience, together we could be our own translators and we went up to inform the police as such.
This somehow led us outside of the station and into a parked police car. “A donde vamos?” I hurriedly turned to ask Ana while smushed in the middle between her on my right and Dom on my left. “A la oficina de policia de turismo,” she responded. I wasn’t thrilled sitting in a police car in Lima, but at this point we were in it for the long haul. I turned to Dom to translate what I understood from the conversation transpiring between the two police officers up front, and we both held back nervous laughter at the absurdity of the situation.
While we did eventually make it to the police tourism office, and indeed did receive some type of police report with two official looking stamps, we first spent nearly an hour in the police car narrating over and over again the events that led to Dom’s phone getting stolen. One officer sat in the passenger seat hand-writing the next great novel while the other officer stood outside Dom’s door occasionally asking me a question (“Que fue el modelo del celular?”) that I would then translate to Dom (“What was the model of your phone?”) that Dom would then write the answer to on a tiny little graph paper notebook, that the officer outside the car would then pass to the officer in the passenger seat, after which the officer in the passenger seat would then repeat the question to me and I would affirm Dom’s written answer. I kid you not, this lasted for nearly an hour, with one break to move the car down the street as we were apparently blocking someone.
Finally the officer outside of the car hopped in the driver’s seat for good, googled the address of the tourism police office on his phone, and the five of us were off. Amusingly the tourism police office is inside the same building as the counter-terrorism office. I was therefore especially relieved once we found the right office (after three failed attempts in the complex), where the police officer handed the aforementioned novel to a tourism police officer, shook our hands and then was gone. (I was equally relieved that I noticed a giant hole in the ground before falling into it during this scurry.)
Here the tourism police officer transcribed the hand-written novel, added some fluff (“Estas cansado, si? Tienes un trabajo?), printed a copy, used her magic official stamps, handed us the paper and bid us farewell. And that was that. Two and a half hours after the phone was stolen, we were back on our way.
Ana walked with us a few blocks to our next stop (a shopping mall so Dom could begin the arduous task of buying and setting up a new phone), hugged us tightly and then was off.
I don’t know how to properly convey how bizarre this situation was. But remember that nobody during this entire time spoke English, this was just my first day back in a Spanish-speaking environment in more than six years, and we were navigating a foreign police system. I’m definitely not glad this incident happened, as it cost Dom a lot of time and money, but I am grateful for how the situation unfolded. We glimpsed a unique side of Peru and experienced the incredible generosity of Ana. If anything, I’m just relieved this happened where one of us kinda spoke the language. If this happens in Laos…