Serious crime

It doesn’t happen very much, but it does happen and it’s very unpleasant. Keep out of dangerous areas and don’t flash your cash to keep the probabilities down; leave things you don’t need somewhere safe, to mitigate the damage; and if the worst happens, keep your head so it doesn’t get too bad. 

The taxi robbery People tell terrifying tales of unlicensed cabs, but really the numbers are in your favor. In Lima, there are at least 25,000 taxis, and about one robbery is reported every day. Robbery of taxi drivers is about twice as common.

In the taxi robbery, a driver takes you to where his accomplices are waiting and then stops, sometimes pretending to stall the engine or run out of fuel. Then, you get mugged or kidnapped. Nice.

Many of the cabs used in these crimes have just been stolen, so don’t get into a vehicle with e.g. a broken window. You can reduce the chances by taking a cab from a company that you call up.

On the street, one cab is as good as another. The fact that it’s yellow, has a phone number written on it, is parked by the cinema rather than being driving past when you flag it down, a driver with official-looking ID; none of these means a safe taxi.

Older drivers are generally more trustworthy, and don’t accept a ride from someone with gang tattoos (face and hands, particularly web of the thumb) or who appears drunk or stoned. Criminals are also likely to appear less tidily turned out, though regular taxi drivers don’t exactly dress up. Be suspicious of a driver who offers you an extremely low price.

Once in the cab, it pays to know the route more or less (even if just from looking on a map) and to strike up a conversation with the driver. If he appears to be acting suspiciously, for instance turning down a dark alley when he ought to carry on up the avenue, tell him you’re not happy. If you think something is amiss, get out and pick up another taxi. 

The hijack An armed team stops a bus and robs everyone on board. Being foreign is likely to single you out for an extra going over, sadly. While these can happen even on the Panamerican Highway, they’re more common on cheap buses in mountain zones where the rule of law is weak. Avoid the Belaunde Highway (which leads between Tarapoto and Tingo Maria) and the Ene-Tambo-Apurimac region, and keep an eye on the news and an ear to the ground locally. Night buses are more likely to be hijacked.

If it does happen to you, sit tight and hand over the goods. Any Wesley Snipes stuff may get you and innocent bystanders killed. 

The mugging This is where normally a gang of young men (sometimes even children) demand your money, wallet, passport, even shoes and in some cases all of your clothing. Many will be armed with knives and occasionally (though very rarely in
Peru) guns. They may be violent, and will generally not hesitate to use their weapons if things go bad.

Best advice is, give them what they want and hope they leave. Sometimes you can get away with a smaller loss if you throw a quantity of money on the ground so that it scatters and then run: particularly if it’s only one guy, he’d often rather pick up the money than follow someone who’s probably now penniless.

People who talk about fighting back are generally macho idiots. Don’t try it, and don’t carry a weapon (such as a knife) of your own. You’re not ready to get into a knife fight, no matter how many action films you’ve seen; pulling a weapon is likely to get you badly hurt. Carrying a gun is said to make you more of a target, as a lot of muggers would do anything to get hold of a gun. Plus, if an unarmed but violent mugger gets your gun or knife off you, he may well use it on you. 

The strangle mugging Now we’re getting into properly unpleasant territory. These guys come up behind you and then get you in a choke hold. They only rob you after you’ve lost consciousness, often then dumping you somewhere well out of the way. In the mountains, that may leave you freezing cold and without clothes, money or your eyeglasses.

We’ve received reports of strangle muggings in Cusco and Ica. Take care in nasty areas after dark, and watch for people sneaking up behind you. 

The kidnapping This is about as bad as it gets. Play your cards right and you’ll get away unscathed. Kidnappings are extremely rare in
Peru but do occur, generally in spates: a group of criminals decides to give it a go, and then carries on until they get busted.

First up, they have to abduct you. Offering a lift is a popular way, as well as dodgy taxis and people who offer to guide you somewhere. Be polite but cautious.

Generally, kidnappers are after your ATM card and PIN code. Do what you can to stop them getting these. This is the one case when you’re better off not doing what a violent criminal tells you to do.

The thing is, if they get the card and the code, they can withdraw up to your daily limit – normally about $500. Then, they have to wait 24 hours before they can do it again. They know this, and they know that you may have thousands of dollars in your account, which would therefore take them many days to drain.

So, they can’t let you go, as you’d cancel the card and call the police, reducing their gain and increasing their risk. That leaves them the options of keeping you hostage or killing you. Killing you is quick, easy, and leaves them less likely to get caught.

However, it’s not that easy. They may threaten to kill you anyway, they may torture you. None of this is very pleasant at all. So, stop them getting their hands on the ATM card in the first place. Best way to do this: don’t have in on you. They may well let you go once they’re sure you haven’t got it. Second, if you find yourself in a dangerous situation (in a cab that’s stalling in a bad area, being led by a rough man, or surrounded by a gang of thugs, etc), get a hold of your card in your hand. One simple clench of the fist, and it’s broken. Show the pieces or the horribly bent card, and the kidnappers may let you go on the spot. Of course, you’re left with no ATM card; but surely mom and pop can send you money by
Western Union until the new one arrives. It’s inconvenient, but still a lot nicer than being dead.

Rape and sexual harassment Another worry for women travelers. Normal violent criminals may rape women, particularly white women who are seen as particularly attractive, but you also have to content with rapists who are not robbers. Do not dress provocatively and avoid solitary night-time walks.

If you find yourself in a worrying situation, appeal to a man on the street (preferably someone middle aged or with a woman) to walk you to a safe zone. If you are being harassed, don’t hesitate to make a fuss. Bus drivers will reseat you or kick the offender off, and the popular opinion will be strongly in your favor – people will be angry at someone who mistreats a guest in their land. To minimize harassment, it can pay to pretend to be married and to travel with someone male.

Some behavior seen by travelers as harassment is due to cultural misunderstanding. Here men are more forward and women less so, so a reluctant “no” can be taken as meaning a “yes”. If a man expresses interest that you don’t share, don’t tell him that you’d love to but you have a boyfriend back home or that you find him attractive but think it wouldn’t work out – just tell him you’re not interested. I’m sure you won’t hurt his feelings too much.

One Response

  1. […] What is worse, many of them are looking for victims to rob, rape, or kidnap. According to the PeruNews […]

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