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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

Mugged in Santa Elena! Guns, Rocks and Psycho Men

ECUADOR | Saturday, 10 November 2007 | Views [2013]

You never think it will happen to you. Despite being overly paranoid and conscientious about the way we travel, we can never truly be safe, especially in South America. We've read the horror stories of others having been robbed, mugged and physically attacked as banditos attempt to relieve individuals of luggage and other valuables. We actually feel overly paranoid and Darrin tends to rip on me when I suggest further prudence with how we carry our valuable and packs. We've slimmed down to just our two big packs we each carry on our backs, and a hand carry bag each. Darrin with the computer bag which he occasionally stuffs into a cheap plastic cargo bag we picked up in Asia to disguise the computer, and I with a day pack containing cameras, back up hard drives, irreplaceable pharmaceuticals, and other electronic gadgets. We still have a ton of stuff, but having it all consolidate into two bags each makes it much easier to hold our stuff and keep an eye on each other. We have a shared plan that if we are attacked, that our safety is more important than our replaceable belongings, and so we would hand over our stuff if we are physically threatened.

We had made the decision to take the overnight bus from Baños, as we truly thought it would be the easiest and safest option, as it was a direct shot from Baños to Salinas. We're headed to the small remote beach town of Punta Ayampe, a small surf beach just 25 minutes north of Montañita, the more popular but dirty surf town. The owner of the eco-lodge we've booked suggested we change busses in Santa Elena in order to avoid having to back track from Salinas. Our bus would drop us off at 7:00a.m. and we could easily catch the green Manglaralto bus up the coast, as they run every 20 minutes or so. So we get ourselves settled into our less than desirable overnight bus. The bus ride was tough to sleep on, the bus wound through narrow mountain roads, and I kept getting jolted out of sleep as the driver stomps on the breaks rounding sharp corners, I am half dreaming that the bus is toppling downhill. We make several stops - Ambato bus station for an hour as the driver tries to solicit more business at midnight to fill up seats; the outside road that passes Guayaquil station (they dump off passengers outside the locked station lot to fend for themselves at 3:00 a.m.). I'm half asleep for the other stops and miss the "baños breaks." We both crack open our eyes around 6:00 a.m. as the sky starts to lighten up. Looking out the bus windows we feel like we've landed on another planet. It's all dusty and brown with no plant life, aside from a speckling of dead trees every few kilometers. It's even more desolate and "dead" than parts of the Baja Peninsula. Passing through small villages we see crumbling brick cubicles and shanties surrounded with barbed wire. Not a real welcoming place. I look at the seat across from us, and there's a policeman sitting quietly, but awake. "Es este cuidad Santa Elena?" I ask to figure out if we're close to where we need to get off to catch our next bus. "Si," he replies, and I notice two other men collecting their belongings to disembark. I ask them if this is the stop to catch the bus to Montañita and they say yes... it's a good thing we're somewhat awake. I get my pack, and Darrin gathers his bag and sweatshirt. We're groggy and still only half awake before we find ourselves on the roadside with our two big packs in their canvas zipped up covers in a completely empty, desolate area. It's now 6:15 a.m., a bit hazy out but beginning to light up. There are busses coming down the road in both directions. I reach to unlock my bag to get the notebook where I wrote the name of the bus we need to take. The two other guys who got off with us are on the other side of the "V" shaped intersection and I figure I'll just ask them if that's where we also need to be. But in between us and the two guys are two other men seemingly fighting with each other. One has a rock in his hand, the other I don't pay much attention to, and I grab my bag and tell Darrin to do the same, as I'm not getting a very good vibe. It's like being near two dogs that are fighting; you want to avoid them and quietly sneak around.

What happened next is hard to truly recall all the details. It was like watching a horror film play out before my eyes. One guy with the rock is yelling "muy tranquillo" (be calm) to me. I look over at Darrin who is getting his big bag, grabbing it by the excess canvas material as he hasn't had a chance to pull it out of the sack and get it on his back. I see the two guys moving close to him, one has a rock, and the other has a gun. Darrin is struggling with his bag, and trying to hold it and yelling at the guys. Both guys have surrounded him now. I scream to him to let the guy take the pack, but he's holding onto it tightly. I start to scream "help," I can't remember any Spanish words at this point, and the other two guys from our bus are just standing there looking at us. Another bus going the opposite direction stops about 300 meters from us and the driver and co-pilot are now out on the street just watching us from a distance, keeping their distance. I'm still screaming. The guy with the rock keeps yelling at me to be tranquillo. I leave my big bag on the ground, with smaller day pack on my back, and I run to Darrin, grabbing onto his back to get him away from the guy with the gun. He still has the computer bag slung around his back. I grip onto him with all my might and scream to him to let the bag go. The guy is slamming Darrin's hands and arms with the gun. I don't think Darrin realizes it's a gun, but then the guy holds up the gun in front of his face, and Darrin lets go of the pack and the guy runs down an adjacent road. Struggling to drag the heavy bag, and the other guy with the rock is further ahead, running down the road trying to flee the scene as both Darrin and I are now screaming in the middle of the road for help. Darrin takes off running down the road after the guy with the gun and our bag, on the slim chance he can catch the guy and get the bag back. Then, the unthinkable happens... the guy drops the bag and continues to race faster down the road. Darrin grabs the bag and hauls it back. We spot a bus going the opposite direction and I try to flag it down, but it blasts by us. Darrin screams to me to get on the next bus that stops, it doesn't matter where it's headed, we just need to get the hell out of here. Luckily for us, the next bus that actually stops is headed for where we're going. The other two guys from our earlier bus are also getting on this bus with us. We're trembling and completely out of it. We plop ourselves into a seat, the other guys speaking rapidly in Spanish to us. They also had been attacked and robbed, minutes before us. They handed over their wallets to the banditos. They said that it was the first time it's happened to them. We are still in a state of shock. Darrin's right hand is swollen, bruised and bleeding, and he's got big bumps and cuts on his arms where he's been hit. The sleeve of his sweatshirt is ripped. We both sit in a state of shock and disbelief at what's just happened. Scared and shaken to the core, we're thankful for the fact that we're safe, and have each other. Having all of our luggage is just icing on the cake.

The driver lets us out at his last stop in Montañita, just 25 minutes south from where we need to be. He says we need to catch another bus. We drag our bags across the road, nothing is open except for a small corner shop which doubles as a family's home. I start to explain what has happened and that we need to use a phone to call the guy at our hotel. I was supposed to ring him from Santa Elena, but there was no way we'd stay there a minute longer. Recalling the story with the family, I was shaking and tears running down my face, I think it finally was hitting me what had just happened, and luckily we were not physically hurt. The ladies put their arms around me and then went to check out Darrin's painfully swollen hand.

A guy said he could take me to a phone on his motorcycle and I looked at Darrin, "should I really trust this guy, and why do I need to get on a motorbike, why can't we walk?" No one here in this town has a phone, there are specific shops in town that have a phone where locals make calls, but it's early and everyone is still sleeping, shops don't open for hours. All the women are telling me in Spanish to go with the guy. An older guy "grandpa" jumps onto his bicycle and says he'll accompany us, I think they finally realize I'm not in the state of mind to trust anyone, even if they have the best of intentions. Motorcycle man wakes up the village phone woman who helps me place the call. The mobile number for the hotel guy fails to connect and the other number from our Lonely Planet Guide is not correct. Exhausted and still frightened, we decide to head out on a pus to Punta Ayampe. It looks safer than any taxi in this town. i pay the phone lady and she gives me a big hug and kiss and we thank the local villagers for their help. We sit on the roadside waiting for the next bus. As we sit, we watch this tiny town wake up. The "fresh meat" man rolls his slabs of thick, jiggly red carne through town on his tricycle open air cart. A man and his wife cook up breakfast, served hot, on the corner. A bus lets off a group of backpackers heading into town in search of a nights accommodation.

We hop aboard the green Mangalarlto bus heading up the coast. Luckily there are a few seats left. An old man points to the seat next to him for me to sit down. He's such a cute old guy and keeps poking my arm with his finger to ask me questions, "Senora, Senora..." he persists. The high school aged kid across the aisle from me does the same thing. I feel like I'm in the middle of a ping pong game, rapidly switching between both of their prods for me to answer their questions. the old guy eventually wins out, and he shares with me all his knowledge about the beautiful jungle/forest we've just entered into, pointing out all the different plants, trees, fruits and seeds by name, and probably a whole lot more that I can't understand between the roar of the bus engine, the blaring errie Latin music from the mega speaker hoisted above the drivers seat, and the hold guy's fast rambling Spanish that I'm trying really hard to understand. A young boy that I befriended on the steps up to the bus notifies the driver of where we need to stop, and we finally get off. Another 15 minutes walk up a big dirt/mud hill to our lodging lies ahead of us.

We're dumped out on a street corner, and some freaky redheaded western-looking kid unloads himself from an animal truck, "Hey," he yells, "are you the people that got attacked in Santa Elena?" Word travels fast in this small town. He's staying at the hostel that I had mistakenly called with the number in the Lonely Planet Guide, hoping to get our lodge to pick us up. An elderly woman comes out of her home to say hello to us, and meet the only other tourists staying in this small sleepy beach town. Her son joins us, and he says he actually works for the eco-lodge in the busy season, but would be happy to escort us to the lodge. We are followed by swarm of huge black mosquitos I think they're attracted to our black packs, the swarm is so thick it looks like a black shawl waving behind and covering us from the front. We're swollen with welt sized bites all over our arms, legs, neck and face... they even bite through our clothing! Minus the mosquitos and bandito encounter this morning, this place cold be a perfect paradise.

Tags: scams & robberies


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