As we arrived at our Cuzco hostel that last day of the Inca trail, our thoughts were only to a warm bed (any mattress however broken was better than sleeping on the ground) and as many hours of sleep as we could catch. The next day we were going to relax, upload some pictures and prepare ourselves for our jungle trip. But things rarely go well once you’re in the gutter… as I counted the money in our money belts - which were inside the computer bag in the hostel’s safe box - I realized that two hundred dollars were missing.
What followed for the rest of the day and the next was a comedy of accusations and rebuttals and probably my best effort in speaking Spanish so far... (Follow the link below for the whole story)
The manager and the four employees who had access to the safe were quickly assembled at the reception. First they wouldn’t believe me, and tried to convince me that I counted the money wrong, since the employee I gave the pack to didn’t really count the money himself (but I had counted in front of him twice). Then they said that I may have taken some money out before handing the whole pack to the night watchman. Understandably, they tried to absolve themselves of responsibility any way they could. I hate to accuse anybody of theft, and before doing so I would doubt myself a hundred times, but there was no room for doubt here – there was no way I could have miscounted $200, and both Angela and I knew that we had one single $100 bill which was now missing.
The situation was made tougher for me by the fact that I had put a lock on the zipper of the computer bag. This was a three-digit lock with an asp, and it could not only be opened by trying every combination in a row, but the zipper could be moved far enough for a hand to get in the bag even with the lock. The lock on the bag was probably what the thief had counted upon in order to put the burden of doubt on me. How could anybody steal anything? You had a lock on it!
In an attempt to settle with me on the phone, the owner offered me to stay there for free the two nights that I had reserved. We’re talking $18 a night. Pfui!
So the next morning I went to the tourist police and came back with the “constable”. He explained to them that as things stood, the truth was on my side: there was the tag attached to the bag, that I had written before leaving, which had a certain sum that I had counted in front of the hostel employee. Even if I had been wrong, this was negligence on the side of the hotel for not checking and negligence comes at a cost. In all cases, if my complaint were to be registered, they would have to go through a trial, get a lawyer and in the end they would probably have to pay anyway. That perspective seemed to have scared the manager and she called the owner again. He made another offer that I refused (something about giving me $70 plus two nights) and finally he agreed to pay the whole sum, which the manager did later that afternoon. I was so paranoid by then that I immediately went to an exchange office and had the two hundred dollar bills checked to make sure they were real and replaced them with twenties.
By then, it was already time for dinner.
I’m sorry for them and their reputation but there’s one person who works there and who is not honest. All these explanations and negotiations took place in Spanish and the fact that I’ve been able to pull this off made me really proud of that my level of proficiency. I’m happy that Angela was sick in bed with her cough and fever for most of the day so I was able to deal with the problem without screaming and yelling. The lesson for me is not to ever leave anything in a hostel’s safe, or if I do, it will be in the presence of the manager and another employee, and they get to do the item counting themselves.