We were so excited to have made it through the 8 day trek and back to the hostel. We were looking forward to taking a shower and putting on some dry clothes. Henry has arranged for Brian, our driver who brought us up to the hostel on the first day, to drive us back down to our hotel in Kasese.
At the hostel, we asked for the bag we had locked away for safe keeping at the beginning of the trek. This included our money belts and some extra clothes and camping stuff. Jay grabbed the white plastic trash bag that we had stuffed everything into from the “massage room” we had locked it in earlier at the advice of Jean, the accountant / receptionist. Before the trek, we told Jean that we had valuables including money and passports that we needed to lock up in a safe place. Jay had also talked to the company via email before we left the country to ensure we would have a safe place to leave our things, and they said they keep people’s valuables all the time while they’re in the mountains. Jean told us, yes of course, let’s lock up the bag in our massage room and Jay carried the bag in there and watched her lock it up.
Once Jay got our bag back from the massage room, he started going through it. Like he always does, the first thing he did was check the money in his money belt. He was shocked to find that it was all gone! As I was repacking all my stuff, I heard Jay say, “We’ve got a big problem here. All my money is gone.” I asked him if he was joking. He was not, so I quickly looked in my money belt. All my money except a couple Ugandan bills was gone as well.
We called over Henry and told him what happened. He went and got Jean. Jean had a strange reaction. All she said over and over very quietly was, “Who could have done this, who could have done this?” But then she never did anything to follow up. When Jean failed to act, we went and told Brian. Both Brian and Jay confronted Jean because she was the one responsible for our valuables. She denied taking it or knowing anyone who did. But Jean was the only one with a key to the massage room.
We then found out that there is a safe where money is supposed to be counted, logged, and locked away per protocol. We told Jean in the beginning that we had money, and she failed to follow protocol and log our money and lock it in the safe. This was very suspicious to us as well. Especially because she knew our money belts were in the plastic bag. When I rented boots from her, she saw me take my money belt out of the plastic bag and get the money to pay for the boot rental.
At this point, we decided we needed to call the police. We had almost $2000 stolen which was not ok. We were driven down to the police station and filed a complaint.
The officers immediately got back in the van with us (they don’t have their own police vehicles), and we headed back to the hostel to confront Jean. It was actually kind of funny because all of the officers got really excited to get to do an interrogation. They piled into the van with their rifles. The Officer in Charge of the Station (OC), a plain-clothed woman, had to tell all the of excited officers to leave their rifles. So, about 3 officers had to file out of the van again to put away their weapons.
Then we headed back to the hostel. The officers interrogated Jean and did a thorough search of the premises. At one point, Jay saw the officers talking to Henry and said, “oh good, they’ve got Henry vouching for us now.” Then the officers brought Henry up to us and started to question why Henry had US dollars. We had given him a tip from the money Jay had kept in his wallet. So, we quickly cleared Henry’s name and he was able to go.
After what seemed like forever (probably about an hour and a half) the officers had concluded their interrogation and search. They didn’t find the money, but they did end up arresting Jean. It was a little awkward because we had to ride down in the van with her and the officers. Once we dropped off the officers and Jean at the police station, we were asked to return the next day to provide our official statements. So the Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS) van took us back to the hotel and told us they would pick us up the next morning to go back to the police station.
Everyone was in disbelief that this had happened. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and we could tell that Brian, RTS, and even the police officers were shaken up by the event because it hurts the company, it hurts tourism, and it hurts the country. We were also disappointed that it had happened to us, but we were impressed by how seriously the police and RTS took the issue.