Out of court

Monday, June 17, 2013

Peruvian Boot Caper

     My wife and I just returned from a fantastic 17 day trip to Peru, including the Amazon basin and high Andes mountains sites.  Machu Picchu lived up to its reputation for its high plateau setting, its variable lighting and the stunning stone work of the Incan city and terraces there.

     When we came back to Lima from the Amazon part of the trip, our group of 16 rode a bus to the national history museum.  At the museum, our guide encouraged us to leave all of our backpacks and other property on the bus, since it would be safe.  We did as instructed.  Upon our return, they had switched buses.  Our backpacks and property were all piled in the front seat of the new bus.  Except that Dana's boots were missing.  She had changed into sandals at the museum and left her brand new Merrill boots and custom made inserts near her backpack.  We notified the guides about this.

    The new bus and its cargo hold were thoroughly searched to no avail.  Dana was questioned about whether she may have left her boots back in the Amazon.   Despite our certainty that they were on the bus, our trip leader set a search of our previous lodges in motion.  At some point the blame game began.  Our trip leader-guide implied that the local Lima guide who encouraged us to leave things behind on the bus should have warned us about the bus switch.  But later we found out that he might not have been warned about the bus switch.  Even so, the local Lima guide initially denied encouraging us to leave things behind.  Later he apologized to Dana but I don't think he actually accepted any responsibility.  The next day our trip leader told us that the bus company is not supposed to do any property handling or transfer without a guide present.  So now the bus company was to blame.  Later we learned that the driver of the first bus denied any knowledge of the boots and was ultimately fired.

     I told the trip leader that from our point of view the travel group--Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) should just let us know that they are taking responsiblity for the loss and ultimate restitution for the missing boots and inserts.  No such statement was made but the trip leader spent many hours on the phone tracking down every possibility.  Coincidentally we had travel insurance with OAT, which they suggested we file a claim under.

     Before we left Lima, our trip leader took Dana to the local cop shop to make a report.  There was one high ranking officer (male) and a female tourist police officer.  They only spoke Spanish and Dana did not understand them.  They had one internet connection between their two computers and they had to keep plugging and unplugging each computer to do their work.  After over an hour, they produced a typewritten report in Spanish.  It was never fully translated for Dana, but she felt compelled to sign it.  It turned out that it stated that the boots were in a black daypack (which was untrue.)  The trip leader insisted on this unnecessary fiction to make sure the Peruvian police took it seriously (as if it would solve the problem.)  Why we never knew. 

     One thing is for sure: The Peruvian police and our trip leader spent a heckuva lot of time on this without any resolution, except that a bus driver lost his job.  If this had occurred in the U.S., the police might have spent 15 minutes on a report and filed it away.  Without proof, though, no one would have been fired here.  We theorized that the boots might have been dropped in the transfer and lost.  Or that the bus driver stole them, or that he accidentally left the bus unlocked and someone else stole them.  Theories but not answers.  Now we have to file an insurance claim.  In the end, a minor mishap, and an insight into the strange methodology of the Peruvian police in an otherwise magnificent trip.

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