After spending two months in Cusco, the charming little Peruvian town, I was well acquainted with all corners of the city. Yes, there are shanty places and one of them is “El Paraiso Market” where stolen things are sold. Apparently, not just selling but also buying a stolen thing is a crime, according to Peruvian law.
On the night of Halloween, while the city was grooving at local bars dressed in spooky outfits, I joined a street party to feel the celebration. A bit dazed and drunk after whiling away my evening swilling pints of beer with other backpackers whom I met in the hostel, I dabbed my pockets, just to realize that my phone wasn’t there. Someone in the crowd had snatched my phone.
With high optimism of finding it, I rushed back to my hostel to try and track my device through Android Device Manager. To my sheer disappointment it wasn’t showing.
Much against locals’ advice, I walked into the Police Station to file a report. The scene at the police station was no where close to pleasant. Two drunk local young men who seemed to have had a fight were pleading with blood dripping through one’s chin and the other’s forehead. They were spewing blood while beseeching an officer who was giving them a cold shoulder.
As a foreigner, or rather as a gringo (a term used by Latinos for foreigners), I was treated much better than I expected. I was offered a place to sit while a senior official rushed in curiously.
“Todo bien señor?” (Is everything alright mister) he asked inquisitively. Credencing his tone, I recounted the incident to him in my best spoken Spanish.
He phoned someone hurriedly and reported the incident. Within minutes, two tourism police officials walked in.
After a quick introduction he delineated the case to the tourist police, who then drove me to the Tourist Police Station to file a report. I expounded the obnoxious incident which he recorded in a log book and stamped and signed on it.
With evolving hopes, I shook hands with him before being driven back to my hostel.
Biting my nails the next morning, I kept refreshing the Android Device Manager page with a light of hope of having my phone’s location flashed. With fruitless attempts, I braved myself to walk into the El Paraiso Market with no money or valuables on me. I strode through a few shops pretending to be looking for a phone case. As I entered one of the stalls, I was captivated by one of the phones on display. It had similar characteristics to mine. Curiously, I asked the vendor to show it to me; he was overwhelmed to see a buyer. He quoted 250 USD for the phone. He presented the phone as a casted off device and not a stolen one. As an inquisitive buyer, I started negotiating and we agreed on 200 USD. I then told him that I was out of cash and had to go to the nearest ATM to withdraw the money. He promised to keep it secured for an hour with no clue of what was in line next.
Outside the perilous El Paraiso, I scampered through the jostling crowd on a crummy narrow alleyway where vendors were selling cuy (Guinea Pig) meat and fake herbal medicines before hailing a taxi heedfully to make sure nobody noticed my movement.
“Estaciones de policía turística, por favor,” I directed the taxi driver, watchfully, back to the Tourist Police Station.
As he pulled over, I jolted into the door of the police station with my adrenaline rushing, with a prospect of getting back my phone. I gasped out the news as I saw the official. The officer convened a group of police and laid out a plan. The two uniformed officials and one dressed in plain clothes joined me as we drove to the shopping center.
As planned, I entered first and got hold of my phone while the officer dressed in plain clothes walked in and inquired if it was the one. This irked the vendor (he thought I was being informed that it was a stolen device). He tried to argue with the official just to expect the worst as the officer flashed his ID while the other two in uniform walked in. He tried his best to defend his innocence but knowing that his statements were baseless he confessed that it was a stolen device.
We then drove off to the police station where his belongings were confiscated after a thorough search and my phone was handed back to me and I was driven back to my hostel.
I was pounded by locals that police were unfriendly and corrupt. Well, like I always say, ”Believe in what you see or experience and not in what you hear.”
This was an edited version of the article that originally appeared on Sreeram Hariharan’s blog, Backpackways.