Extremely Important: Ecuador

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Extremely Important: Ecuador

by lessthanjoey » Sun Dec 09, 2007 11:08 pm

I have just shared an extremely traumatic experience with my climbing partners (including fellow summitposter mattyj) in Quito which is causing us to abandon our plans to climb the major volcanoes here and return home tomorrow. The following is a brief account of what happened. I will provide more details when I am back home (and I´m sure that the others will chime in). I sincerely hope that anyone with immediate plans to travel to Ecuador will take a moment to evaluate the risks beyond what you might have previously read. It may sound like I am a ranting crazy person and that this is a one in a million occurrence, but please take the time to read the entire account and comments.

This past Friday afternoon, December 7, we took the Teleferiqo out of Quito and continued to Rucu Pichincha. We had heard and read many things about the dangers on the approach to the peak out of the city, but also that taking the Teleferiqo and going to the summit was safe. Mattyj sprinted ahead on the descent, but about 20 minutes down from the summit the other two of us were confronted by a bandit with a machete and a revolver. We jumped off the trail and scrambled down steep slopes (where my friend took multiple long falls over cliffs). We noticed another 6 people slightly across the slope, caught them, and found that they too had seen the bandit. The 8 of us proceeded to walk/jog cross country in an attempt to escape. Unfortunately, one of the 8 had altitude sickness, requiring us to half carry him and making our pace slow. We were eventually caught by the bandit because he had a trail to go on whereas we were trying to move across bad terrain. We submitted assuming it would be a simple robbery. Unfortunately, the bandit just became more and more agitated over time. Despite having all of our money, having searched all of our bags, and gotten more things from people´s pockets, it clearly wasn´t enough. He began marching us again, further away from civilization. He repeatedly sat us down frantically waving his gun and yelling. Eventually, perhaps 90 minutes after he caught us, he split the group and demanded that three people leave down a valley. Shortly after that he forced the remaining three men (myself included) to leave at gunpoint. He left with the two girls in the opposite direction. We eventually made it back down into the city. Extremely unfortunately, the girls were then assaulted. Extremely fortunately, the girls were then set free and everyone is now safe and alive.

There are many more details to this story but that is all I have time to share for now. I have nothing but the utmost respect and praise for the response of the American Embassy and the DEA cops they sent to help us after we finally got in touch. The Ecuadorian emergency phone services do not work at all. Calling an embassy is the only way to get any results. An armed Marine guard can be reached at the American Embassy by dialling 02 223-4126 or 02 256-1749 in Quito.

After talking to many people (several other girls on an extended visit), as well as Embassy officials and other Quitenos, it appears that this violence is becoming more and more widespread. This is at least the third such incident on Rucu Pichincha in the last 2 months, and similar violence is becoming more and more commonplace even on all the other volcanoes in the country.

I have travelled through Argentina and Brazil, as well as sections of South East Asia and have always felt safe (even in places where I was warned of danger). I can only try to emphasize how different Ecuador currently feels to all of my previous experiences, and how seriously you should take all warnings about violence here.

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by Scott » Mon Dec 10, 2007 12:18 am

That's terrible and sad. We had a wonderful experience in Ecuador last January. Hopefully the police/embassy will catch these people.

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by lessthanjoey » Mon Dec 10, 2007 12:57 am

Two things I should add briefly:

When I said this has happened at least 3 times in the last two months on top of Rucu Pichincha, I mean that the US Embassy has been involved 3 times. There may have been more attacks not involving American Citizens.

Two telephone calls were made to the Teleferiqo "Emergency Number" during our initial attempted escape from the bandit. The Teleferiqo did not even call the police. Absolutely nothing happened until we contacted the embassy.

I realize that this can happen anywhere in the world, but it seems that it is happening a lot in Ecuador recently. In my opinion the risk is not even remotely worth it when the probabilities of significant harm are so much lower elsewhere. That can of course change but things seem to be very bad right now.

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by gemma » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:47 am

yeah... really glad to hear everyone came through it. Its completely shocking.. I had a great time there in September and I can honestly say i felt fine walking round on my own, at night too and as a lone female. Everyone seemed friendly and helpful. This is whats so crap about this world, and even worse because its happening on some of the most beautiful places on earth. what a horrible experience... :(

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by cbcbd » Mon Dec 10, 2007 4:53 pm

Wow, that sucks to hear and I'm really sorry you had to experience that.

We stayed off Rucu when I was there and back then in '05 there were already "reports" of how that area was getting pretty dangerous because of the proximity to the city and easy access by tourists.

I found Quito to be "semi" friendly. Friendly were the ones who work in the tourism business...
But its hard to go into poverty areas (in any 3rd world country) with your foreign look and expensive equipment riding a bus to climb some mountain with your extra money, the same bus that all of the local folks take every day to their jobs which probably give them just enough money to survive - you're bound to see hostility and resentment... especially toward Americans - we had to turn back @ around 19K on Chimbo because one of our guys was having some altitude sickness. On the way down we took a break for him and a group of Ecuadorian guides who were on the way up stopped to take pictures and make fun of the failed Americans.
It's sad but I don't think it would stop me from going back. I think it's just more important to be more low key while you're there (hard to do sometimes carrying huge packs around). You have to be wary of people's intentions and look out for yourself.

The pic below was taken across the street from another graffiti that read "Fuera Bush. Imperio Falido" - Out Bush, failed empire.


ps-luckily the worst thing that happened to us was a stolen camera as we were pickpocketed by a gang of 5 year olds - they must love gringos and their treasure filled cargo pants.

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by big_g » Mon Dec 10, 2007 5:25 pm

That's a horrible experience. I'm glad everyone is now safe. I don't know whether you should just leave the country or not, but I will say that I'm not surprised.

I've travelled a lot usually alone and lived in Quito for 9 months or so. Ecuador is the only place in the world that I have been robbed, pickpocketed, and had large amounts of stuff stolen in broad daylight. I won't even get into the sheer number of times someone has tried to cheat me or look me right in the eyes and lie. I've also been followed at night and been set up for the old "you have something on your shirt, lets clean it off scam". There are some great ecuadorians in Ecuador, no doubt, but the percentage of people out to get you is hard to believe.

And don't think for a second that those guards you see on the street will help you out. They've been known to stand there and watch an assault. Or in one case let their dog into the fray and it promptly bite the victim in the calf.

My experience is typical of someone spending an extended amount of time there. For savvy travelers on a short trip, everything might be fine. Or not. The neighborhood below Rucu is very bad. I've been many times to the Pichinchas without trouble but I would never descend from Rucu.

I'm left with no love for the country but at some point I'll be back to finish some climbs I didn't complete.

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by duaxanh » Mon Dec 10, 2007 8:25 pm

I just read your story and I'm sorry that this happened. Could you please contact the U.S. Embassy in Quito for American Citizen Services at:
Tel: (593) 256-2890
Fax: (593) 256-1524

For calls concerning the arrest, injury, serious illness, or death of an American citizen after regular business hours (5:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m.), please call: (593) 223-4126 or (593) 256-1749

This phone number (593-223-4126 or 256-1749) is available 24/7. An American officer will answer this emergency phone and will help you with any logistic (especially for the women who were assault in this case to get medical care) to get the folks home safely. You should contact the embassy anyway and identify yourself as a US citizen and they will try to track down these bandits. The embassy has law enforcement agency (usually CIA, DEA, FPI, etc.) and these people will work with you to find these people.

I work for the U.S. Foreign Serivce and helping Americans overseas in this kind of situation is part of our job. Please let me know if I can be of any help.


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by lessthanjoey » Mon Dec 10, 2007 9:53 pm


Sorry if it wasn't clear above but we have been significantly involved with the US embassy regarding this case already and they have been an enormous help. I can never thank them, and the related US agencies who helped out enough.


The kidnapping happened at close to 15000' on Rucu, well above the Teleferiqo. We were forced to descend all the way to Quito after the bandit made us leave. Fortunately we found some friendly Ecuadorians (and sadly, some of the only ones on the entire trip) as soon as we hit the Barrios, but they were not surprised at what had happened.


We are now back in the United States. We continued to see signs of violent crime (a large amount of fresh blood on the corner next to our hotel, and more fresh blood on another street a couple of blocks away).

I don't believe that Ecuador was this bad even one year ago, but at this point in time it seems like violence is surging.

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by EastcoastMike » Mon Dec 10, 2007 10:15 pm

First off, let me say that I am terribly sorry to hear about that. That really really really sucks and I wish you the best sorting it all out.

That said, I spent a semester in Ecuador (Winter 2006) on a study abroad with a home stay family living on the outskirts of Quito and spent a large amount of time traversing Quito (before and after dark) alone or with just one other individual. We were of course given a long talk when we got there from embassy representatives detailing all the horror stories of what can and has happened to Americans in Ecuador. Despite that, I felt quite safe throughout the city. Two students on our trip were robbed but their stories were no where near as shitty as yours. They were quick snatch and run robberies in the city.

There were some signs of negative feelings torwards Americans, graffiti, and a couple of rude Ecuadorians but for the most part the people were really nice; we made lots of friends in the bars and never ran into a problem in the streets. It's a shame that things have trended torwards violence and mistrust. Thanks Bush (you fucking asshole).

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by big_g » Mon Dec 10, 2007 10:30 pm

Thanks for the clarification lessthanjoey. I've made some additions to some of my pages to point to this thread.

This problem certainly predates Bush, EastcoastMike.

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by NewDayRising » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:23 pm

EastcoastMike wrote:Thanks Bush (you fucking asshole).

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by Corax » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:35 pm

Scary story.
Glad you came out of it reasonably ok.
I've spent quite a lot of time in Ecuador and as with many of the other countries in the area it's matter of luck/bad luck what situations you end up in. Some places are notorious for robberies and other kind of bad stuff. One potentially bad incident happened to me when I was there. Fortunately I was in company with a street wise Mexican girl and a very street wise Colombian and his girl friend.

We were about to leave from Latacunga for Cotopaxi. It was early in the morning, before sunrise and we were going to hitch to the national park. Two guys with big knives appeared from out of nowhere and told us to hand over our money. I was reaching for my ice axe.
To my surprise Puas, the kind, soft spoken Colombian stepped in front of me and laughed in the faces of the two robbers.
Aqui, cabron, aqui. (here, asshole, here) he told them and made a sweeping gesture over his throat. The robbers got uncertain, looking into the face of a man which obviously wasn't sane. Puas continued to laugh, a very psychotic laugh I must say. The Mexican girl started to insult them asking them if they were going to stand there all day, or start to chop us up. Puas continued to laugh, took a step forward and told them to come to Buenaventura (his home town) to find out what the real deal was. The robbers lost their guts and run only to bombarded by insults about manhood from the Mexican girl.
The aftermath - Puas' girlfriend (a tidy American girl) was more chocked about Puas' behavior than of the robbers. She had never seen that side of him before. Later she asked me if he was a potentially dangerous company for her. What could I say :roll:

Definitely NOT the way to go for most people, but Puas later told me ate "hobby-robbers" like those for breakfast. He had lived through enough of those situations to evaluate when to the threat was real or not. That time he was right. [/i]

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by dioid » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:50 pm

Just to make it clear - was he alone or was it a group of bandits?

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by lessthanjoey » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:10 am


He was alone when he confronted us. However, there is a second bandit involved. The two girls ran into him while they were being escorted down and it was clear that they knew each other. The previous incidents sharing the same M.O. are a mix of 1 and 2 perpetrators.

Despite being a group of 8 against 1, any possible (but still quite slim) chances we had to change the outcome without severe injury or death were very early when it still appeared to be simply a robbery (albeit a committed one). By the time it was clear he had other plans there was no longer any chance of doing anything without being shot, and given the remoteness, even minor gunshot wounds would likely have been fatal due to bleeding.


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