Huacachina Oasis- A scam story
One of my scamming stories whilst travelling was when I was heading to Huacachina Oasis in Peru, an implausible little oasis ringed by palm trees, in the middle of a desert, surrounded by sand dunes. This tiny paradise and the additional adrenaline activity of sand-boarding attracted backpackers like honey. I had got off my bus in the closest town, Ica not aware that I could actually stay in Huacachina itself, being 2002 and not the tourist trap it has become.
I was walking to my hotel not far from the bus station. Suddenly I felt something splatter on my back, then on my front. I looked down confused to get a whiff of the sweet smell of chocolate. From nowhere five men came rushing to my aid, fussing and crowding around me. Immediately one man helped me take off my little, front day-back which was placed on the ground in front of me, as another started to take off my big backpack. It all happened so quickly. In all the diverted attention my instincts clicked into overdrive, something wasn’t right. In that split second I started to wonder what had happened. Had someone deliberately tried to throw something at me? I looked down at my feet where my daypack had been- it was gone! I immediately turned to see one of the ‘good samaritan’ man running off with my bag in his arms.
Everything of sentimental value was in that bag- my diary, my unprocessed camera film, my camera, my compact disc player and CD’s, nothing that meant anything to anyone else but was priceless to me. I transformed into the ‘Road Runner’, darting in-between pedestrians, knocking them flying like a true rugby player about to score a try. I had to get my heart-filled possessions back as if my life depended on it.
I managed to catch up with him, in a frenzy I stretched out my arm to grab his shoulder just before he stepped off the curb into the abyss of traffic and lost forever. I yanked him back with considerable force, luckily Peruvians are on the short, petite side. He stared back at me wide eyed, I returned his glare not entirely sure what would happen next. I then became very aware that I was probably not capable of taking on this man if he leapt on the defence. Both stunned into a staring paralysis, I finally spat out some words “that’s my bag!” snatching it from him. He didn’t resist, panicked and instantly ran across the street, leaving the crime scene and me, bemused staring after him.
I turned to the locals who were carrying on with their business, not battering an eye-lid at the crazy ‘gringa’ barging into their lives. Feeling embarrassed at the scene I’d caused, I slowly walked back to my large backpack, still lying on the floor where I’d left it, the other four men nowhere to be seen. I was so relieved to have rescued my diary and photos but that elation was overshadowed by the fact I had essentially been mugged. My hands were still shaking as I tried to wash the chocolate from my jacket, in my depressing shoe-box of a hotel room. I felt vulnerable and alone, so I left immediately, grabbed a taxi headed to Huacachina to get some distance between me and my close call.
The Oasis was like a mirage, I’d never seen anything like it, apart from in films. I was terrible at dune-boarding but the dune jumping was ace. When I snowballed to the bottom of the dune for the third time I couldn’t believe my luck. I literally flew into 2 Israeli’s that I had travelled with a couple of months previously in Bolivia. I was so enthralled to see them and enthusiastically hugged them so tightly after my clash with danger. After explaining my heroic ‘run, snatch, stared back in bewilderment pickle’ we celebrated my triumph by getting absolutely hammered, still not quite believing I’d got my irreplaceable possessions back.
I ended up staying with them in Huacachina, feeling much safer with 2 ex-militaries. It all ended well but whenever I smell those roasting chocolate covered nuts sold my Roma gypsies, in winter, on the Southbank, I’m instantly taken back to that moment and how lucky I was to have my supersonic, sharp, scammer radar.
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