Peru’s capital Lima is a large vibrant capital set on the Pacific ocean halfway up the country’s 2400km coastline. Chile is to the south and Ecuador to the north. Though big and exciting it cannot compete with more picturesque and tourist friends cities of Cusco or Arequipa where the majority of foreign visitors go. Cusco sits on the doorstep of Machu Picchu and is on many people’s travel bucket list. Lima then is often relegated to a necessary stopover before the real trip begins elsewhere in the country.
Having done some travelling in the south of the country I decided to spend a few days in Lima before taking the bus 550km north to the city of Trujillo. I have always liked to spend time in capital cities, especially at the weekends when they often come alive and its possible to take in an atmosphere much different from the weekday. So, with this in mind I arrived in Lima on a Thursday just after the new year in 2013 with a bus ticket further north booked for the Monday.
“Where’s good to go for a few beers?” I asked the guy at reception on the Saturday night. Staff at hostels are often better than any guidebook, especially when asking about things as changeable as a good place for a pint.
“The Barranco area has lots of bars and is not too far away,” came the advice.
Armed with this information I took a taxi the 3km south to where the driver dropped me off on Avenida Miguel Grau which lots of bars dotted along both sides of the street, including the aptly named El Gringo.
I found the atmosphere surprising low key for a Saturday night and had a few Cusquenas, my beer of choice in Peru, as I dropped into a few different bars for a look. Normally it would be possible to chat away to people at the bar, which I found to be a great way to improve my Spanish. However the bars in Barranco weren’t that packed with most people sitting around tables in their own groups.
I’m sure there are more exciting things going on in this city right now I thought to myself as I sipped another Cusquena and admired the arrangement and variety of the spirits behind the Shushupe bar. Maybe because it was still January or maybe because it was still relatively early at just after midnight but things were quiet, so I decided I had seen enough and was going back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep.
But that was when the excitement of the night really kicked in. As I made my way along Avenida Grau towards the taxi rank there were more people on the street and there was even a man handing out fliers for a nightclub just across from El Gringo bar.
“Half price entry tonight with this flier,” the man said to me.
I paused for a minute and buoyed by the more vibrant atmosphere on the street and the fact I would probably never pass through Lima again I decided a look inside and a beer wouldn’t hurt.
“Ok why not,” I said.
“Cool, follow me,” the main said as he made his way up the steps towards the nightclub which had large double doors.
I walked along absentmindedly behind the flier handler and we went through a door just before the big entrance doors. It was only when we were inside that I realised we were in a toilet. Confused about what was going on I looked at the flier man again who had pulled a bag of white powder from his pocket and said cocaine in Spanish.
“No,” I said as I turned for the door.
Before I even touched the handle the door burst open and three men entered. Two of them were small and took up positions to my right with the flier man. The third was much larger and stood with his back to the door facing me. He had an official looking armband over a combat jacket so I wondered if they were police. To my left were the sinks and behind me the back wall.
“Police, show me your identification,” the large man said.
“No tengo nada,” I said, which means I don’t have anything in Spanish. I was referring to the cocaine which the flier man was selling. I now realised I was part of a setup and didn’t know if the men were police or not but making my lack of wrongdoing clear seemed like a good idea. Luckily by this stage my Spanish had come on a lot so I was able to answer and ask questions about my situation in clear Spanish.
“Show me your identification,” the man said again.
“No, if you are police then show me your badges,” I said to the large man, who was the only one who spoke though the whole thing.
This went back and forth for minute or so then I saw something come towards me and I swiped my hand to keep it away, but not before it had touched my neck. When I looked I saw it was a taser, not working of course as I didn’t get a shock when it touched me.
“Lets go to the police station,” I said to the big man at the door, who just looked at me.
“Lets go, lets go to the station now,” I kept repeating.
The big man looked and me and I looked at him. There was silence apart from my demands to go to the station. It felt like we stood there for ages staring at each other, three to my right and one blocking the door. Then just as quickly as the men had appeared the big man stepped away from the door and opened it for me. I didn’t have to be asked twice and made my way out, back down the steps and straight into the safety of the Gringo bar.
I ordered a Cusquena and stood at the now busier bar. A man next to me looked at me and asked I was alright.
“You just drank most of your beer in just two sips,” he said gesturing to my bottle.
“I’m ok thanks,” I said as I emptied the remainder of the bottle down my throat. As I raised the it I noticed my hand was shaking and found it difficult to steadily drink.
Time to get out of here and go home I thought to myself and got myself a taxi back to the hostel without speaking to anyone else.
The men in the toilets could have easily overpowered me and taken whatever money I had but the last thing the group wanted was to beat and mug a tourist, bringing police attention to their scam. I would say the club bouncers were involved in this as well as their cooperation would be needed to use the toilets. I should have reported it to the police but instead had a relaxing Sunday and got on the but to Trujillo on Monday.