Its amazing how the mind functions in high stress situations. I remember looking and thinking “That looks like it might be a Sigg. Where did he get a Sigg?” I guess I was looking too closely as I then felt the tread of a boot gently tap the back of my head causing my chin to hit the hardwood and clap my teeth together… hard. And to think, the day was going so well up to this point.
We left Quito late in the morning and drove to Otavalo to see the huge market. It was Liz’s birthday so we thought a short trip would be nice. There were seven of us split between two cars: Erin and I, Liz and her two sons and friend of the family Rafael and his niece. Erin and I rode with the boys while Liz rode with Rafael and his niece. Along the way we stopped at Lago San Pablo. We did a short boat tour, where Erin and I began chatting with some older ladies after I smiled really wide in the background of their selfie. I always seem to make friends with people old enough to be my parents, or grand parents. We then had a delicious lunch in the restaurant that had an amazing view of the lake.
We wandered up and down the narrow pathways between the booths looking at all the amazing hand crafted wool items. Among the many great things were wool ponchos. Naturally I had to buy one. Paulo was kind enough to translate for me in the bartering process. The initial price was $22 and we haggled, dickered and ground her down to… $18. Not my finest work but it was a nice poncho. We then loaded up and headed home.
We arrived back at the house after dark, around 8:30 pm. We were just relaxing, looking on our phones, and slowly making a plan for dinner. Then Rafael’s car alarm went off, I didn’t think much of it as there are always car alarms going off here. Much like at home, its usually over nothing. Rafael was quick to his feet and ran out the door to check it out. I heard a scuffle at the door, and Mateo, in some of the quickest thinking I have ever witnessed, told us to hide our phones. Confused, I stood up and put it in my pocket, then immediately realized the we were being robbed and the scuffle was Rafael exhibiting great bravery by trying to pull the door shut while people tried to get in. I quickly pulled my phone out of my pocket and tossed it under the couch I was sitting on. In almost the same second, Rafael came around the corner into the living room and was pushed to the ground by a man with a pistol. It looked like a silver Sigg 226. I got on the ground, following Mateo’s lead, as a second man entered holding a flat head screw driver. They both had an interest in making sure I stayed on the ground, as I was about 8 inches taller than both of them. I was looking closely at the man with the gun while the man with the screw driver stood over me. I remember the gunman was wearing a red bandana that had just slipped off his nose. It was at this point that his companion stepped on the back of my head, as a reminder to keep it down. He then started asking for phones, Erin and I both said “No telephono” so he patted us both down. He took from me my wallet and my pocket knife, he then motioned at my watch. I slipped it off and handed it to him.
When the men first came through the door, Liz and Rafael’s niece ran onto the balcony and closed the door behind them. The gunman never found them, or bothered to go get them. Paulo was in the washroom and quickly shut off the light when he realized what was happening but it was too late, as the gunman saw the light flip off. He kicked the door in and took Paulos cell phone and then proceeded to take Erin’s and my day packs along with Liz’s computer and camera.
I didn’t really hear it at the time, but Liz’s brother, Miguel, who lives in the apartment above her, heard the yelling and stomping of Rafael trying to close the door on the men. He sounded the alarm in his house which made the thieves hurry as they knew police were on the way. My adrenaline was pumping so hard, in my mind I thought it was the car alarm, in hind sight it was so loud, in other circumstances one might call it deafening. The whole thing was over in under two minutes. As the men ran out of the house, Paulo in a fit of quick thinking and bravery, ran out to catch a glimpse of the car and try to get the plate number, they were too fast for him to get the plate but he did see the car. The police arrived within minutes of the ordeal ending, their response time was impressive but unfortunately there just isn’t a lot they can do, or perhaps are willing to do, in these scenarios.
We told the police everything we could, which wasn’t a lot since it was so fast. We then went back in the house and did a quick inventory. Luckily our passports were untouched and they had missed Erin’s purse, but they did take her backpack which had a photocopy of her passport. My pack that was stolen didn’t have much of value, an old sweater, a water bottle, some toilet paper…they are going to be seriously sad when they open my pack and cashless wallet. Erin’s pack had her rain coat and, sadly, our flashy new camera lens as well as $60 cash. Luckily our camera was somehow left behind in Erin’s purse on the bed.
After the police left, we all kind of sat around and discussed where each one of us was, I also made a point of thanking Mateo for his quick thinking to hide the phones, Rafael for doing his best to stop them or at least delay them, and Miguel for sounding the alarm. Considering what happened and how things COULD have gone, we all got lucky. We did our best to fix the kicked in bathroom door, called friends just so we could tell someone. Erin and I agreed we would wait till the morning to tell our parents, f0r sanity’s sake.
The rest of the night and into the following day, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could have done differently. It was almost like a survivors guilt. Would it have helped if I charged at the gunman? I’m sure if I grabbed his gun with my left hand and his throat with my right I could have shoved him right out the door, along with his friend. While we were laying on the ground I could have simply grabbed the screw driver wielders boot flipped him and over powered him, but that still left an armed gunman in the back of the house. I know I did the right thing by shutting up and cooperating, but it still feels wrong. I think the worst injury or loss was my pride, it hurts to stand down, even if by all measures it was the right thing to do. Playing hero could have gotten people killed.
My guess is that the two men were simply trying to rob the car and saw a golden opportunity for a home robbery. I base this on the damage to the locks on Rafael’s car and the fact that one of the men had a screw driver. Had they wanted to do a home invasion it would have made more sense to bring the gun and a knife, simply kick the car to sound the alarm and then wait for someone to run out.
The next day, Erin and I went to the shop, and began replacing our stolen items. A cheap backpack and some headphones, and a pair of sunglasses later, we are almost back to normal. They stole my sweater too, but luckily for me they left my new poncho. When we got home from our shopping trip, we realized that on their way out, the thieves had also made off with Erin’s hiking boots that had been sitting by the door, which to her, was the most personal insult. Its a day I won’t soon forget, and I can still feel the indignity of that boot on the back of my head and the pain of my teeth grinding together. I feel the worst for Liz, she had a lot of important things on that computer, and her birthday was going so well before the break in.
At first I didn’t know what was going on. Mateo told me to hide my phone, so I did. Then a guy walked in with a gun and pointed it at me, motioning for me to get on the ground. It was surreal. I thought to myself “There is a gun pointing at me, I should lie down”. When he began yelling “TELEFONO TELEFONO” I thought to my phone lying inches away under the sofa and replied “No telefono, lo siento, lo siento”. He patted me down, and checked all my pockets, and I remember hoping he didn’t get too handsy. He didn’t.
After it was over, I felt very calm. It seemed totally unreal to me. I hovered awkwardly while the boys talked to the police in Spanish, and Tyson showed them pictures of the type of gun he thought it was. I caught the eye of Rafael’s niece, who ran into my arms for a hug. She was shaking like a leaf, and I’m an awkward person, so my first thought was to make her some tea. I think I just needed something to focus on, and she was it. I was really okay with the whole situation. I just felt so lucky that they didn’t get my camera, my iPad, my phone, my computer, my passport, my bankcards, or the big stash of cash we had in our room. I was totally zen about it until the next afternoon when I realized they had taken my hiking boots on the way out the door and I immediately burst into hot angry tears. Apparently that is my line, and they crossed it.
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