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Travel Stories






Quito - If Only All Thieves Were This Stupid

Nearly everyone I met in South America had a travel horror story about them or someone they knew, and I know it sounds cheesy to say ‘it’s not until it happens to you that you appreciate them all’ but it’s true.

I looked at my map for the 100th time to see where I was heading, looking back to England and tracing with my finger the route I had taken so far and wondered what was in store for me in Quito. For those of you who have landed in Quito will know that it is pretty daunting heading into a mountain range, I had several James Bond style images of crashing into one of them, wondering if the pilot had just found out that his wife had been sleeping with the co-pilot. As the plane swerved round I saw the runway and sighed relief, looks like the secret was still safe.

I didn’t fancy paying for a cab so I barged past the usual cab hagglers and jumped on a bus opposite the airport. I tried to work out where I was in Quito with my map and jumped off the bus where I thought there were a bunch of hostels. I hadn’t slept properly for about 40 hours and this was becoming apparent, I was lost. Great start, I just kept walking and finally came across some hostels.

´Hola, cuanto vale para un dormitorio?’ ‘Ten dollars?’ ‘Que?’ Having spent way over my budget in Mexico I was running low so decided to keep walking. According to my guidebook there were cheaper hotels about 20 minutes walk down the main high street Amazonas, unfortunately the book didn’t mention the 75 degree slopes in-order to get to them, I had saved $3 but I was now in need of a serious siesta.

I woke up with massive hunger pains. ‘Where can I get some spicey food?’ ‘Spicey? What is spicey?’ ‘Hot food, Hot, haa haaa oooww hot hot?’ My imitations of a Big Indian Chief weren't helping so I decided to have a wander. ‘Be careful around here after sun’ ‘sure sure’ I responded, I was in Quito not Rio, and besides the people looked pretty friendly in the area. I hadn’t heard anything bad about Quito but I then again I hadn’t heard anything about Quito, the nerves started to kick in a bit.

Unfortunately I had to walk back to the touristy area to find some restaurants that were open. For my first night in Quito I fancied something Ecuadorian with some spice, so where did I end up? In a Mexican with a steaming hot bowl of chile con carne and a beer, just what the doctor ordered. I could feel the effects of the food and the beer kicking in after not sleeping properly and was feeling a bit tired. I overheard a group of foreigners talking about the delights of Quito at night ‘Yeah I wouldn’t go out and about on your own mate, my landlord told me to get back by eleven and to stay with other people’ ‘Yeah I think we should stick together’. I wasn’t really in the mood for socialising but was conscious of the possible dangers now, it was still relatively early so I decided to take a quick stroll to another bar and see what was about.

I think the Ecuadorian beer was playing with my judgement skills because the route I had memorized lead me back to the main road. I was back on Amazonas, now I was feeling nervous, shit, it was dark, I was on my own and lost, I walked along to the next corner and saw there were lots of lights ahead, I calmed down a bit, but not for long. I don’t remember seeing anyone but the next thing I knew I was whacked up against the wall ‘Dinero, dinero’ [beep], I looked into the blokes eyes, he didn’t seem too happy and certainly wasn’t interested in asking me how my first night in Quito was going, ‘No tengo, no tengo’ He started to search me frantically, shit, my money belt, guess this is where we see if the damn thing works, I emptied out my pockets I only had $1 cash on me, I gave it to him shaking violently and pleaded with my eyes ‘lo siento, no tengo nada’. He looked at me and the $1 in my trembling hand, then he smiled patted me on the shoulder sympathetically as if I had just told him my one year old puppy had just died and then walked off. Did that just happen? He smiled and walked off. Guess the money belt came in handy. I continued in the direction of the lights, found a bar and grabbed a beer to steady my nerves, welcome to Quito!

I decided to dismiss the event as a one off. I managed to find work teaching English with two academies and decided to stick around for a couple of months. Quito began to grow on me as I found a room with an Ecuadorian family who were amazing, I made a few friends and my students were great fun and really keen to learn, I heard a few more stories about muggings and robberies and made sure I was never alone at night and always got a cab if it was late.

Unfortunately one can not always plan for the unexpected. I got a cab back home one night to my flat on Amazonas (yes it was the only place I cold find and the view was cool) and as usual I checked to see if anyone was about, I could see a couple walking in my direction and assumed they were taking a nice romantic stroll long the river bank. As I walked to my flat I realised it wasn’t actually romance they were looking for but stupid foreigners. I didn’t look at them as I walked past but they guy said something, I ignored him ‘oh shit not again’ I thought. Then he walked towards me to stop me and said something else ‘no entiendo, no entiendo’ I blurted.

I could see he wasn’t a member of the happy family living opposite me and then he put his arm around me ‘escucha me’ I could smell he had been knocking back the happy juice, and also making sandwiches by the looks of things, a bread knife! Shit he has a bread knife and I don’t suppose he’s gonna ask me for some of my home made jam for his packed lunch. His ugly bird decided to frisk me over, this time I didn’t have my money belt, but I did have my digital camera in my backpack, oh Jesus. I emptied my pockets as if I was getting experienced in this sort of thing and offered them a measly 50 cents ‘por favour solo tengo este, solo tengo este’ my legs were shaking. Maybe he was the brother of the first guy or had trained with him in the Thick School of Thieves, because he looked at me, rolled his eyebrows and declined my well earnt cash, shook my hand and then walked of arm in arm with his beast of a girlfriend.

I was one metre outside my flat, I opened the huge metal gate in front of the door, which was becoming more and more apparent for its use and slammed it shut behind me. ‘Holy [beep] they didn’t see the bag, why am I so stupid to get caught again?’ How stupid are they to have missed my quite clearly visible bag, someone needs to step in and take control of the Thick School of Thieves and offer some formal training. Needless to say I made a sharp exit out of Quito the next week. I wasn’t sticking around to make it 3rd time unlucky!

By Barry O'Leary

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