We had passed the control gate and were walking up the winding stone path to the Saqsaywaman ruins in our usual order – the 18 year old nephews up front, followed by our friends Geoff and Hwee, then Rob occasionally looking back to see if I was going ok and lastly me. I stopped to take a couple of gasps of air and looked over at the adjacent hill where I could see a bloke jogging on a path around the hillside. “Bastard, show off” I thought. He was the first person I had seen in Cusco do anything other than gently amble and until then I had assumed that, sensibly, Cusco residents had decided that their lungs got enough of a work out living at this altitude. My reveries on this topic were interrupted by some cries of “Help” followed by the sight of young woman hurtling done the path and into our group. By the time I caught up to the rest of our group the young woman was explaining that she had just been robbed and her camera stolen. Being Australians and reared in the belief that they should spring to the aid of damsels in distress, Rob and Geoff took off at a sprint along the trail after the jogger I had just seen. More sensibly, the 18 year old nephews ambled a bit further up the path to watch Rob and Geoff. Unfortunately altitude and age do not in Cusco sprinters make and Rob and Geoff were soon gasping and proceeding along the path after the thief at the pace of a slow jog.
Meanwhile Hwee and I were confronted with the task of comforting a very distressed, twenty something woman. She turned to me and requested a hug. To say that I don’t generally hug strangers is a bit of an understatement. Hugging for me is reserved to Rob, my mum, other sundry family members and those odd occasions when I am pleasantly inebriated. Even I, however, could see that, in this case, non-hugging was not really an option. In between sobs the young woman explained that she had come to a part of the path where there were no other tourists around and this guy had approached her from behind attempting to rip the camera from her hands. She had resisted but the thief had ended up forcibly prising her hands open. The young woman was kicking herself for not regularly uploading her photos and for walking alone – she had seen our group but didn’t wait for us to get up to her because she had not wanted to intrude. Not long after she finished explaining what happened the guys returned from their chase. Unsurprisingly they had been unable to catch up with the thief, who had a fairly decent head start and the advantage of being acclimatised to the altitude (in addition to being about 20 years younger).
We spent the the remainder of the day with the young woman calming her down and assisting with a new camera purchase. Later that evening, thinking that it would not take long, I accompanied her to the tourist police station to report the robbery. Several hours later after trying to explain the events, assist the police in completing their report and re-enacting the events back at the scene of the crime, all undertaken in circumstances where our Spanish was non-existent and the English of the tourist police limited, I was able to return to our hotel. The benefits of reporting the crime, in hindsight, were not clear. We were unable to provide a description of the thief which would assist the police in distinguishing him from thousands of other Cusco residents. Neither we nor the police seemed to be under any illusion that the thief would be caught and, given the value of the camera stolen, the hours lost in the police station were not really offset by the benefit of being able to make an insurance claim having reported the crime. In the end it was salient reminder of the precautions you should take when travelling:
- travel with others or, if travelling alone, join up with another group. We, and I am sure most other people, would have had no problem being approached by a young woman and requested that she be able to tag along;
- upload your photos regularly. The young woman lost a couple of weeks worth of photos and would not have been as distressed by these event if that had not been the case;
- if you can, avoid police stations. Several hours spent watching someone try and fill out a report is mind numbingly boring.