A Mugging (and a Shooting) in Barranco

The Barranco district of Lima, Peru. © Emily Ding.

This photograph was taken just minutes before it happened yesterday afternoon.

I was walking along the circuit of cliff-hugging parks from Miraflores to Barranco, daypack strapped to my back and camera slung over my shoulder. It was a Sunday, and relatively quiet.

Turning into Jirón Centenario, I was about to cross over to that salmon-pink building in the photograph when I felt a splatter on the back of my jeans just as a man walked by. He pointed to the sky and said something I couldn’t make out, but I took it to mean that some bird had just taken a dump on me — although I had been unfortunate (or fortunate, if you’re the kind to find good luck in every mishap) to have been shat on twice before, in Venice, and the dark brown splotches on me did not look like bird poop. Anyway, I didn’t think anything of the man — he seemed only passingly interested in my situation and was making as if he had somewhere to go. He disappeared around the building.

Then a woman came up behind me and exclaimed at the “mess” on my back. As she brandished wads of tissues to help me clean up, I moved my daypack around to my front to better guard it. Then she grew more forceful — grabbing my arm, trying to pry my camera strap from my fingers, pressing me against the side of that red-brown car. But I didn’t yet dare act out. I thought I could still extract myself without fuss — at least, until my camera slid off my hand and onto the ground, and I saw that the man had doubled back, and he was creeping up behind the car. He had his hand on my camera.

That was when I started yelling and lunged for my camera, and somehow managed to yank it back. I think I had caught them by surprise: that I had reacted at all, that I was making a scene. They ran off into another car — dark blue — parked on the other side of the road, and started to drive away. I hurried up the street, looking for the neighbourhood patrol, but with no luck. Stupidly, I had failed to get a good look at the car’s number plate.

I walked into a pizzeria I happened to be standing in front of and asked for tissues to clean myself up. The proprietor helped me place a call to the police to report the incident, though nothing had been stolen from me. The streets around Barranco are outfitted with CCTV cameras, he told me, and if the police could be bothered they probably wouldn’t have a hard time arresting the couple.

Not surprisingly, the police couldn’t be bothered, since I hadn’t suffered any real damage. Besides, they were occupied with more pressing matters. When we asked the officer on the phone why there were no security guards in the immediate area (I had heard there usually were, though not as many as were stationed in the Miraflores district, where most expats and tourists live), he said they had probably gone over to Rincón Gaucho, a restaurant just five blocks north on Avenida Grau, where a man had been shot eight times, twenty minutes before I took that photograph. To put things into perspective, though, it wasn’t a random shooting — someone had had it out for the guy. The bohemian Barranco district is supposed to be one of Lima’s safest, alongside the wealthy Miraflores and San Isidro districts, and the Peruvians I told about this incident were surprised.

“It must be because you were wandering around on my own, on a quiet day, on a quiet street. They had probably marked you out as a target, and followed you in their car until they saw an opportunity to act,” one friend said. She’s probably right.

And I know it’s clichéd to say this, but it’s true that for every bad thing that happens, something good does too. I ended up chatting to the pizzeria boss and his family for some time, and stayed for lunch. While I waited for my lasagna, his wife Ana sat with me to keep me company. Later, she invited me to dine inside their home at the back of the restaurant. She set the table for her daughters, and then fed me some of the broth they were eating. She also invited me to her eldest daughter’s birthday party in their hometown of Moyobamba in the Amazon, which is in two weeks. I’m sure it has to do with being female and travelling on my own and looking younger than I actually am, but it seems I’m always crashing family reunions wherever I go in Latin America.

I’m still not sure what that man threw on me. Just mud, I hope.