By Chris Collins
A Baker City couple who have traveled the world and thought they'd figured out how to keep themselves safe, are still shaken by a scheme they narrowly escaped when they landed at the Lima, Peru, airport in January.
Wayne and Linda Wall had planned a month-long vacation that included visits to Lima, Peru's capital and largest city, with a population of nearly 10 million people; Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire; the Sacred Valley of the Inca; and Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca, which was rediscovered in 1911.
The Walls flew to Lima on Jan. 28, the beginning of a South American tour that also included visits to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands.
As they have many times before, the Walls had prearranged for atour representative to greet them when they landed and then provide transportation from the airport to their hotel.
"We have been through lots of airports and met our transport in lots of places," Linda said.
This time things were different.
It was 10:30 at night when they arrived in Lima. And what happened next still makes them shudder.
They want to tell other travelers about their experience so others can protect themselves against similar schemes.
The Walls said that immediately upon leaving airport customs, they spotted a young man dressed in a suit and tie holding a printer-produced sign bearing their names.
Little did they know this man was an imposter and who, working with others, had planned to take them by taxi to a secluded area, rob them and them dump them out on the streets - with no identification, passports or money - to fend for themselves.
"We were tired and in a strange city," Linda said. "We were lambs being taken to the slaughter."
The well-dressed young man who greeted them immediately asked to see their passports, which in retrospect, Linda believes, was a ploy to discover where they were keeping the documents.
Their escort called to another man standing nearby with a luggage cart, and instructed the Walls to pile their bags onto it.
The two men then led the couple toward an exit where they were told they would board a green taxi to be taken to their hotel.
Just before leaving the airport, Linda happened to look over and saw a young man with a sign bearing the name of the tour company they would be spending the next five days with.
She acknowledged the casually dressed young man, who was wearing a shirt with the name of the tour company embroidered on it. And he immediately flipped his sign over to reveal the Walls' names again.
When they told him that they were the people named on his sign, he immediately ducked under the rope holding the crowd back and began running after the man leading them out of the airport.
Wayne, who speaks Spanish, said their legitimate tour guide was yelling, "Who are you? What are you doing? These are my people."
The suited man immediately backed off and explained that he had made a mistake.
In the meantime, the Walls were yelling at the man in the lead who was pulling the cart carrying their luggage - and identification papers and travel documents - out the door. And the legitimate tour guide ran to grab him.
"The guy with the luggage said 'I didn't do this - I know nothing,' " Linda said. "It was almost like he protested too much.
"Thank God he stopped," she added. "We were creating a ruckus at this point, it was all happening like a blur."
The Walls hate to think what would have happened if the second young man waiting for them hadn't caught Linda's eye about 30 seconds before she and her husband were to have stepped out the door and into the waiting taxi cab.
"We feel compelled to let people know this," Linda said. "It was a scheme - a slick scheme - and we are not novice travelers."
The couple are haunted by the many unknowns of why they were targeted and how the two men got their names to devise their plan.
"Don't be naive," Linda advises others.
And don't assume that just because someone is holding your name - neatly produced by a printer - on a placard that the person is legitimate.
"We should have been more careful and less trusting," Linda Wall said.
After they were rescued, their guide took them to their hotel and stayed with them for about an hour to calm their fears.
"He appeared to be very shaken as well," Wayne said, adding that the guide said he'd never had anything like that happen to him before either.
At the hotel, the Walls learned about what a dangerous city Lima can be. While the schemers target tourists, they aren't usually physically violent toward their victims because that would bring more police involvement, they learned. The crooks do rob their targets, however, and leave them stranded.
In hindsight, the couple say they should have asked the phony guide to show them documents. The legitimate guide had their documents with him, wore the shirt bearing the tour company's name and was driving a van with the company's name printed on its side rather than delivering them to one of the 100,000 green taxis in Lima.
The Walls don't want to think about how their story would have ended had they boarded that taxi.
As it was, they were ready to give up on their long-anticipated trip.
"I was ready to turn around and come back home, said Linda, 72, who worked as a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, Calif., before retirement. "We're glad we didn't. We had a great trip."
But it took all they could muster to put the bad experience behind them and enjoy themselves.
"It ended well; it didn't start well," says Wayne, 71, who retired from a teaching career in Los Angeles.
The couple didn't tell their son in Sacramento or their daughter in Denver about the incident until they returned home.
Their children were sympathetic, supportive and relieved, Wayne said.
"We really walked into this one blind," he added. "We won't again."
The Walls aren't sure when they'll travel that far from home again. But over the years they have enjoyed traveling and learning more about the world.
They've been to Europe four times, and traveled to the South Pacific, Mexico, China, Central America and Russia.
As much as they've enjoyed the worldwide travel and cruise trips, they agree that it's always nice to return home.
"As much as we get frustrated with our country, there is no place like the United States," Linda said. "Whenever I get back I am so grateful to be an American. We are so fortunate to live in this country."