Stupid tourist played by a Peruvian conman

10 Jan 2011 // places

Damn. I thought I was a savvy enough traveller not to be taken in by a conman. But there I was, sitting in the main tourist nexus of Lima, Plaza Mayor, when the man sitting next to me strikes up a conversation in english. He tells me he is a school-teacher for 47 orphans (pulling the heartstrings hard), working up north, and that he is in Lima to meet a doctor to get medicine for his kids. Fine.

We get talking, and I ask him more about his school, and he asks me where I'm from. He introduces himself as Luis, and I introduce myself. I tell him I just arrived in Lima, and he says that he too wants to see more of Lima, and conveniently pulls out a tourist map. I have nothing better to do, so when he invites me to follow him, I go along.

We spend the next few hours looking at various tourist site, and he proves an excellent tour guide (in fact better than many a tour guide I've actually paid money for). He is quite charismatic, although he is dropping the fact that he is a teacher of 47 orphans a little bit too much for my liking. Still, I am really enjoying the tour. He suggests, quite reasonably mind you, for a little drink of Lima's famous "pisco sour" afterwards. I say fine, fully expecting to pay him for his tour, which I suspect is his game. Along the tour, I mention I'd like to try some ceviche. He says the bar has ceviche, which I am fine with.

We get to the bar, which is near the town square, and he takes me up there. It's rather empty, and filled with ultra-kisch Inca decor, which actually matches with his patter. I had told him that I was interested in archaeology, and he had totally played that up with a rant about being a Peruvian proud of his Indian heritage. Looking back now, that probably explains why he had numerous of copies of archaeology magazines in his backpack, useful for any potential tourist conversation.

Anyway, I was kinda of expecting this, but at the bar, he asks if I could buy a drink for him as he is a poor schoolteacher, which I am fine by. Except that he doesn't order just a simple pisco sour, but a huge jar of four or five drinks. One for me and one for him. He introduces me to his "shaman" friend, supposedly the intimidating guy who is destined to play "bad cop" to his "good cop". I ask Luis how he found this bar, and he gives the bizarre story (in hindsight) of being introduced to the bar by a Canadian engineer the "last time" he was in Lima.

The goal here is to get me drunk out of my fucking skull. Which only works to a certain extent, as I don't like getting super drunk. Still I am hammered after the second drink for my tower of drink, and feeling nauseous, when I next get up to go the bathroom. Still, the ceviche is served, and it's pretty good. I insist that we share the food, whilst the whole time Luis is trying to get me to order another dish, of Alcalpa. I am suspicious by then and simply say no.

Well, finally its clear I'm done, and they bring out the bill. I look at it and can't quite believe me eyes. It's 270 soles, which is about US$100, which is ridiculous for Peru, where an good meal for one can easily be got for about US$15. If I was sober, I would have realized it was a con, but I am quite hammered. Fortunately, I had taken the precaution to not have too much money on me but it's still a lot, ~US40. I give this to them and tell them this is all I have.

And then, (this is when I finally understand that Luis is in on it) Luis and the server girl both insist I use my credit card. I am hammered at this point and quite confused. Very fortunately for me, they did not have a card reader and suggest I go to a machine. As good habits die hard, I manage to grab my backpack, leave Luis at the bar, to follow one of the servers to take me to the machine outside the bar. I stagger after the server. Once outside, my mind starts to work. Something didn't quite add up and I stop following the server. She motions angrily me to follow her. I start following her. But my mind continues to work. The inebriated penny finally drops. I have been conned and I am just about to get conned even further. However, she is Peruvian, and typical for Peruvian, she is a small girl and not intimidating, and so I just walk away. As I turn around, I almost run into the "shaman", who he has been following us all this time, which confirms the con. I realize now that he was meant to be the "intimidator" but I am quite angry. As he is intimidating for a Peruvian, he is not really much bigger than me. I growl at him "mas?", and I could see that he could see that I had figured out the con. Fortunately for me this moment happened in the middle of downtown Lima in broad daylight, there wasn't much he could do. I just leave and made my way back to my hostel.

What an interesting experience. Poor orphans, they won't have anything to eat tonight.