Not the only time thieves have their way with us in South America, but this time it’s different – it’s a major robbery in Chiclayo, Peru…
In 2011 and with over twenty years of independent travelling under my belt also to dodgy countries, this is the first time experiencing a major robbery. And, I have to admit that it does leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Chiclaylo is not on a traveller’s list and without any intention of stopping here, only stopped to break up the journey from Trujillo to Los Organos. Stayed for the first time in a hotel, instead of the usual family-run and much safer guest house (Hostal).
What a mistake!
After 8 months of South American travelling and hearing many traveller stories of robberies, let me set the scene…
Finding the Hotel El Sol without any problems, the first night proves uneventful in the not-so-clean room.
Deciding to venture out for a stroll the next morning, the alarm bells should have been sounding when the friendly smiling staff member displayed too much eagerness to clean our room. Naively thinking nothing of it, we agree.
After only 4 hours we return to find that our laptops on charge under the table are gone – only the cases remain.
Surely this is too obvious of a theft in a locked room?
Frantically calling the same staff member, he feigns ‘surprise’ and tells us to look everywhere in case we misplaced the laptops – seriously? He calls the manager.
Meanwhile we check to see if anything else is stolen. With several untouched locks on our main backpacks, surely everything is safe?
Unlocking both packs, our hearts sink…everything of value is gone. Starting to scream at the staff member, he continues to watch the scene unfold, but does nothing…
In addition to our two laptops, an iPod, iPhone, and a bunch of cash is also stolen. Even Polish Zloty and other left-over small notes that can’t be changed on the streets is stolen.
The robber/s left coins, credit cards, and thankfully our passports. Police later advise that passports can’t be used.
Around AUD$4,600 of belongings and cash between us is gone!
Why travel with so much of value you ask? It’s the first time.
Returning from a month in the US with too much American dollars left over and unable to deposit the cash, we split this between the two locked packs. As hotel safes are also robbed in South America, this is not an option either.
You have to remember that when travelling in South America but particularly in Peru, you can’t take everything out when you leave your room as you can be robbed on the street.
Our rule when taking photos is one person takes their camera out the other keeps watch, then switch. This is the same when withdrawing money from ATMS – one withdraws the other keeps watch.
I may be painting an awful picture about Peru, but after 8 months in South America and almost every traveller we met robbed in some way, robbed ourselves, it’s no point sugar-coating anything.
Back to the robbery as it gets even better…
Reluctantly, the manager phones the police after we insist.
The police arrive, check the door, check the scene, and advise it’s an inside job, but we can’t prove anything.
The robber/s unlocked our room, picked all locks on our 2 backpacks, stole everything, re-locked our packs, then left re-locking the room again.
Worse still was the experience at the police station…
Police station – 1st visit
Of course for insurance we need a police report. Piling into the back of the police car we drive off in the traffic until we arrive at a scruffy part of Chiclayo – mind you, Chiclayo isn’t picturesque.
In the police station, we’re plonked at a desk with another officer behind an archaic PC.
Continuing in broken Spanish to recount events, the officer doesn’t understand me so it takes almost an hour to take our statement.
The report is still wrong.
Just when we think the officer is finished, an obvious drugged up junky ordered to stand in the corner near us, rips out the PC’s cord and our officer loses the report – it’s not backed up.
Off we start from scratch and recount everything as he obviously suffers from short-term memory loss.
Noticing our hotel’s manager enter the room, he gives his report to another officer and they both leave the room. The office returns sliding something into his pocket.
Finally, after a couple more hours including having our fingerprints taken – we’re not the thieves – our report is finished but told to return and collect it tomorrow.
As we’re meeting friends in Los Organos tomorrow – not wanting to return to Chiclayo anyway – we now need to return in a few days.
Back at Hotel El Sol
Back at the hotel and still extremely upset, my partner discovers he lost about 1,000 irreplaceable photos of Machu Picchu and Boston – his SD card was still in his laptop. I only lost many blog updates saved in Word on my laptop.
Luckily, the robber/s didn’t find our external drives in our room.
Interestingly, we are the only gringos staying here and the only people robbed.
Checking out the next morning, the slick manager has the nerve to charge us for the two nights after knowing what was stolen from inside our locked room on his watch.
Throwing the money down at him, we leave in disgust – this isn’t like me but I truly had enough of Hotel El Sol. Off to the Muchik Hostel (formally Santa Catalina), which is less expensive than El Sol, cleaner newer rooms, caring staff, and safe.
Reading good reviews until June 2014, I think the Muchik Hostel changed hands as reviews thereafter aren’t great and one also recounts an inside robbery.
Police station – 2nd visit
Following some de-stressing in the laid-back seaside town of Los Organos, we return to the police station only to be told we have to pay for the report – we must pay 3 soles at the Banque de Nacional for a receipt. Of course it’s just after 5pm so need to do this tomorrow as the bank is closed.
Today, of course the bank charges more than the 3 soles for the receipt.
Returning to the police station, our mate that took the statement isn’t here today and no one knows anything about our report. I insist that we were fingerprinted on the day and the information is in their system – we’re told to return at 5pm.
Ever feel as if you’re getting the run around?
Off we trot again to the police station at 5pm and of course the report is in Spanish.
As I’m trying to check the Spanish, 6 burley officers drag a guy around the corner and we start hearing deep thumping noises – they’re laying into him…
Trying to concentrate whilst the thumping is going on, I notice the report’s cash amount is wrong. On wanting this corrected, the officer advises that this will take another week. As gringos, these guys know that we can’t hang around so we take the report and leave.
Carlos, the owner of the bungalow at Los Organos explained the officer didn’t give us the report on the first day as we didn’t give him any “lunch money”. This is probably what the other officer slid into his pocket after speaking with El Sol’s manager on the day of the robbery.
TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, ThornTree
Immediately emailing Lonely Planet requesting Hotel El Sol is removed from its recommendation, I also write on the ThornTree traveller forum to alert travellers of this hotel. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.
Also writing a review for TripAdvisor, after 5 years the hotel’s manager responds to my review denying the robbery ever occurred, accusing me of lying and fabricating the whole robbery. As I can’t respond to his comment, I contact TripAdvisor but told that I’m not allowed to respond.
Just remember, anyone can post a review about anything on TripAdvisor.
The insurance company won’t reimburse more than AUD$250 cash but also as we’re not back in Australia within a certain time of the robbery, the company won’t reimburse us for the rest of the items – a bitter pill to swallow.
All I can advise is check the fine print in any Travel Insurance as when it’s time to claim, you may get a nasty surprise.
I’d love to hear about any of your not-so-great travel experiences. Better still, does anyone know of anyone else robbed in Chiclayo or in Hotel El Sol?
A little on pickpockets in South America as you need to be aware of the professionalism in which thefts occur, especially if you’re thinking of long-term travelling through this continent.
After only a couple of days of arriving in Argentina, I notice that medical and female items are stolen from my backpack in our private room. This is the start of locking everything – it must be the cleaners.
Only a few days after the major robbery in Chiclayo and whilst still in Peru, a pickpocket manages to steal my small leather purse, which I only owned for a week from my daypack. The thief absconded with just a few coins so nothing too drastic.
In La Paz a pickpocket goes to work and manages to lift my camera bag out of my daypack without me even realising.
It’s only luck that my friend is walking a couple of people behind me in the narrow congested lane, and screams out so I turn around in time to see the thief.
Hanging on tight to the bag’s strap not wanting to part with my camera and screaming at him, the camera falls to the ground and the thief takes flight empty handed – luckily only the lens filter is slightly damaged.
Many travellers and expats we meet advise that Peru is the worse country for theft – Ecuador is worse for muggings, robberies, and scams. Great, Ecuador is the next country.
Guess we’ve been lucky up until now.
Where is Chiclayo?
If you’re planning a stop in Chiclayo, then it’s an easy 3-hour bus ride from gorgeous Trujillo.
What to see?
Although there isn’t much to see in Chiclayo city, the fascinating Sipán Royal Tombs nearby in the arid Lambayeque Valley are definitely worth visiting.
Just over 30-kilometres from the city, it’s an easy public bus or taxi ride to the site.
Only a relatively new discovery, the Royal Tombs of Huaca Rajada – also known as Sipán after Lord Sipán – is from the Moche Civilisation and excavated during 1987-1990.
This valley and site feel similar to the Temples of the Sun and Moon near Trujillo.
Although time and the environment consumes the adobe constructions, you can still make out the pyramidal shapes.
Still under excavation, the site is expanding.
Can’t get a smile out of these friendly entrance guys…
Painted replica in traditional colours help to understand the Moche’s renown iconology.
Preserved chambers provide a visual blueprint.
Intricate murals within the adobe-brick tombs depict sacrificial ceremonies. With the discovery of tools and knives ‘used for bloodletting and decapitation’, evidence shows that the Sipán rulers took part in these ceremonies.
A replica of Lord of Sipán in the Royal Tombs of Sipán…
Sadly, many tombs were looted over time.
As with many lords and serfs through the ages, often commoners paid tax using their labour to build these tombs for lords. Adobe bricks in these tombs are etched with marks tracking such labour.
Where to eat
Sticking to the one eating haunt on our brief stay here as the restaurant is definitely worth a mention.
On J Balta 512 this restaurant has it all – delicious food, great-valued breakfasts, good friendly service, and is always busy with locals.
Happy to be leaving Chiclayo after a stressful couple of days, it’s time for another bus to unknown Los Organos for some rest and relaxation on the Pacific shores.