Saturday, August 25, 2007

A longer end to a long day....

Guess who at the top...last photo taken with my trusty camera...
The summit of Rucu Pichincha
The track to Rucu Pichincha

Breathing heavily I clamber over the last rocks to reach the summit of Rucu Pichincha at 4707 m. I give the other two a paton the back and yell down to the fourth guy struggling with the altitude 100 m below. In the cold we take a few photos of Quito and head back down. The first 500 m are spent running in the deep sand. I stop at the bottom of the slope to empty the sand out of my shoes. The others are a few hundred meters behind. A local man sits 20 m away, I greet him and he asks where my friends are. He then leaves, I notice a machete on his belt but think nothing of it.
The guys arrive and we continue. After 100 m, I come around the corner only to be face to face with the man in a balaclava with the machete raised. My first response is a terrified 180 degree turn and full speed run back towards the others yelling "F*!k, f*!k, f*!k, run, run, there's a man with a machete". The look on my face makes the others realise how serious it actually is. By the time they get it the man is within 2 m of me and has drawn a gun. We have no option but to do as he says.
We place our wallets on the rocks between us, and then our bags, watches etc. One guy pleads to keep his passport but no chance. I manage to fling my money belt to the side out of sight of the gunman and to remove the memory card from my camera, perhaps stupidly. He proceeds to point the gun at us while going through our stuff. He transfers what he wants from out bags into one of the bags and throws everything else 10 m down into the gully. There is then a standoff as he carefully examines us from a distance. The sun cream in my pocket arouses his suspicion and I have to raise it to show him. The Ecuadorian guy we met an hour earlier has a mobile on his belt, he is made to through it to me and then I take it forward to the gunman, all the time saying "Tranquilo". He angrily throws my wallet away after taken the $10 bill from it. He then begins to retreat. I quickly grab my money belt and stuff it down the back of my pants. He suddenly returns and, with the gun, waves us down the step gully he threw our stuff down. The Ecuadorian manages to grab his bag on the way past but I am forced to run straight past my bag as he stands just 2 m above threatening with a big rock and his pistol. I slip and slide 3 or 4 meters down the small waterfall and land almost on top of the Ecuadorian. He has hurt his knee and is limping slightly. We continue unsure of where the gunman is. He then appears 100 m above and begins to yell at us. We retreat down the valley, getting further and further from the track. My thoughts race through the possible reasons for his actions, the most frightening being that he wants us well away from the track in order to shoot us. We continue as fast as possible. The American is lagging behind, we stop to wait for him...the gunman again whistles and yells. We are all very scared.
Our plan of attack is to head for the ridge about 1 km away and drop back down to the cable car where we came up. He is watching us with binoculars. We come within 100 m of the ridge thinking everything is safe, he suddenly appears just 50 m away, we all dive into the tussock. He disappears again, we don´t know if he has seen us. We turn down hill and run. He proceeds to hit the pylon with his machete making a cracking noise, we hit the deck again, he must be shooting at us. We find a gully and dive into it. Peering out we realise that he was not actually firing. We keep low and make our way north, away from the cable car, as fast as possible. Without any water, we are all feeling the affects of the altitude and dehydration. We no longer have sight of the gunman. The worrying fact is that there is a road going from directly where we last saw him to mouth of the valley where we are heading. Stumbling over mounds of grass, bog and small creeks (unfortunately not big enough to drink from) I´m painfully aware that he can make much better progress than us on the road. We continue. The grass begins to thicken and turn to bush as we loose altitude. We finally decide to make for the road. I´m very nervous. I hug the outside of the road so that I can jump down the steep bank into the bushes should he appear again.
After a few hundred meters on the road I can´t handle the risk, we straight line it down the mountain through bracken and tussock that is now over head height. I find the best way to get down is to roll on top of the bushes. The English guy falls and I turn to see only his feet sticking up as he yells "F?#k this s@*t". Reaching the end of the bush there is a 10 m bank which I slide straight off and somehow manage to get to the bottom with only a small hole in my pants and some grazes. We opt to continue off the road, the Englishman gets caught on the barbed wire fence. The first house is finally in sight, we take a well deserved drink from a water pipe that fills a horse trough. The dusk has set in. We hurry to make it before dark. The women at the first house tells us we are trespassing and we are forced down through her fields and through another barbed wire fence, he dogs angrily chasing behind. We begin to jog as the darkness falls. We reach another house where they tell us how to get to the nearest phone. We make our way another 2 or 3 kms downhill, finally reaching the telephone as the last light leaves the sky. We are about 20 km from where we set off. We were hiking the mountain for 3 hours and we have been on the run for a further 4. Fortunately I have $60 down my pants with my other things. We get a taxi to the police station. The police take mediocre interest in our ordeal. I borrow a cell phone and try to get hold of my Spanish teacher. No answer. We rush back to cancel the stolen credit cards. I finally get hold of my Spanish teacher, she come down immediately and helps us out with translation at the tourist police. We fill out reports and they stamp them and that's that. No mention that they will even try to do anything.
The following morning I am helped by the people at the travel agency who angrily call the cable car company and demand that they place a guard on the mountain. They tell her that there is a sign warning people not to go up there, this is totally untrue. She calls the press. Someone has to do something she tells me...

I am now waiting to hear if anyone handed in my discarded belongings and looking for a new camera in preparation for 8 days on the Galapagos Islands. My plans to climb the 5987 m Cotopaxi are out the window after the robbery. Even 2 days later I still can feel every muscle in my body...

Sitting here now writing this, my hands are tingling, this is by far the worst experience of my life so far...and hopefully ever! Until next time...

6 Comments:

At 10:35 pm, Blogger hannah said...

BEN oh my goodness! how scary! i can't imagine how terrifying that must have been. golden bay and my life suddenly feels very quiet, very safe.
-hannah

 
At 5:16 pm, Blogger Christin in Abisko said...

Usch va hemskt. Skönt att höra att du lever och allt e väl med dig. Jag vet inte vad jag hade gjort i samma situation. Adrenalinet måste ha pumpat rejält. Jag tycker du ska snabba dig tillbaks till Europa där allt e lite säkrare så jag inte behöver gå och oroa mig över dig lille vän. Massor av kramar och hoppas att du får en fin och lugn tid på galapagos öarna.

 
At 11:06 am, Blogger MARGARET NOVAK said...

THAT IS CRAZY!! I can't believe that happened!! I would have passed out for sure. You've had quite the month, stay alive and have fun in the Galaps!!

 
At 6:51 am, Blogger home_skillet said...

Hey Bro, Holy Shit! I just heard what happened. Sounds rather frightening. I'm really glad to hear you are okay! Take it easy...

 
At 10:28 pm, Anonymous Fotograf Kiel said...

Thank god yo are alive. It was nice to talk with you. Lets keep in touch-

Olaf Fotograf aus Kiel

 
At 1:40 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long time ago you mentioned between the lines that your camera was stolen.Back then I simply thought that a thief benefited from an inattentive moment of you. What actually happened as you tell in your blog was clearly way beyond my imagination. I am glad that nothing happened to you. That is a very interesting experience that you will share with your grandchildren at some point:) Nihat.

 

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