Asalto y Robo
December 27th, 2010

Sorry no photo for this post. Nor will there be any from this trip to Ecuador. This is a different kind of story. It’s one of those things that happens to others—until it happens to you. After a really lovely dinner in Quito, and almost exactly 22 hours after arriving, Silvia and I were walking back to our hotel under a light rain when three young men ran at us. One pulled out a semi-automatic pistol, cocked it and pointed it, by now, at point blank range at us. Another had a 15″ (more-or-less) machete. I think it definitely classified as an unpleasant situation. The guy with the gun grabbed Silvia’s bag and ran. The two remaining patted us quickly for other goodies (even stealing a piece of candy from Silvia’s pocket!) and realized that while my pockets were empty that I had a rather large bag. The one with the machete decided that he wanted it. I suggested that they had stolen enough. I was wrong. I was hit over the head with the machete (flat side). The thing is that when you see somebody swinging a machete down onto the top of your head you can’t actually see what part of the machete is about to strike you. You just know that it’s coming. Fortunately, the flat-side of a machete against my hard head equals zero damage. But I’m not stupid. I gave them my bag. Silvia and I were pretty calm about it—until Silvia realized that her green card was in her bag. She has a history of once trying to get into the US after forgetting her green card on a trip. It was a painful and costly experience. Apparently, however, it can get worse.

A lovely couple drove up and asked if we needed help. They had seen everything and tried to find the police. There are supposed to be police in the tourist area (which is anyhow meant to be safe), but because it was a Sunday night, just after Christmas and under a light rain there weren’t many to be found. They drove us around until we finally found a policeman sitting in his car. He wasn’t really terribly interested in us, but he did drive around a few blocks to make it look like he cared.

It wasn’t late. It was actually quite early—just after 8pm. The rest of the night was spent trying to cancel credit cards. You’d think that would be an easy process. You’d be very wrong. If you look on the back of your credit cards you’ll likely see a toll-free number to call as well as an international number to call collect. Well, 66.7% of the time that collect call number won’t work. At least not for me. I got through to MasterCard without any problems. They cancelled my card and spent nearly 90 minutes trying to figure out if they could express deliver me a new one. This was kind of important as all our credit cards and nearly all our money was stolen. In the end, they may or may not be sending one. I’d say that it’s 50-50. Next on my list was Visa. Well that number was worthless. The Sprint operator (only international operator I could get) told me that it wasn’t valid for collect calls. Same for the American Express number. Thinking that perhaps I got a dud operator on the line, I asked her to try the MasterCard number (the one I knew worked). It worked perfectly.

The trials and tribulations of trying to cancel and get new cards was worthy of Kafka, but it is nothing in comparison with trying to deal with the US Embassy. They’ll talk to me, but when Silvia wants to talk with them she has to go to a bank, pay $12 for a special PIN and then call a special number (for Visa Information Services). She has to do that every time she calls them. It’s like a no-frills government! They’ll be charging for peanuts next.

Anyhow, we’re fine. There will be no photos from this trip as I no longer have any cameras—not even a camera phone. But stuff is replaceable. I’m pissed that my Moleskine is gone (but Silvia points out that this gives me a great excuse to return to the leather lady in Venice!). I’m very disappointed in all the hoops that we’re having to go through to get Silvia a replacement green card. It doesn’t have to be like this. But mostly I’m mad that these three got away with so much—not because it will hurt us terribly but because it will embolden them to do it again and again.

Don’t, however, think that this has tarnished our opinions of Ecuadorians. The thieves and policemen are kind of annoying. Everyone else (including the female policewomen, who seem to do all the work) have been great everywhere we go. It’s a good place. It might just have an issue or two to iron out, or maybe it was just a perfect storm of events. At any rate, we’re fine.

35 Responses to “Asalto y Robo”

  1. Mark Olwick says:

    Glad to hear you’re both safe after such a traumatic experience.

  2. Eldon Yoder says:

    I spent a year in Guatemala… It never happened to me, but I had friends who were robbed at gun/knife point. Makes a guy think when he walks around with a camera or anything else valuable.

    Best wishes with all the details that need to get worked out.

    Especially the green card.

  3. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    I should point out that we weren’t a neon target. No cameras were out. They hadn’t even noticed my bag initially (being black and all). We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Also, there are a couple of stars. When I managed to get MasterCard the second time, I explained again the situation and asked if they could please connect me to Continental President Concierge. She did, and then the concierge connected me to Visa (whom I couldn’t otherwise reach). Visa, in turn, then connected me to American Express. None of them had to do it, but all were kind enough to do so.

    And our insurance company has, so far, been great. We’ll get less than 5% of the cash back, but some of the other stuff will be replaceable. And it’s just stuff.

  4. sabrina says:

    Oh Jeffrey, you gave me quite a scare reading through this post. I’d make some joke about the lengths you’ll go to get another camera bag but I’m in no mood. I’m just SO thankful you and Silvia are ok. Please, please stay safe!

  5. Luis Murillo says:

    Sad to hear that all of your gear and other belongings got stolen, though it’s good to know that both of you are ok and nothing happened.
    I live in Costa Rica and those scenarios are quite common around here too and they can be worst though with precaution they can be adverted.
    It’s also sad that the US government makes it so difficult for non-US citizens, recently a coworker from India had to go through the same trouble to get a transit visa despite having a work visa for the US, it’s just stupid how he has a visa that allows him to work in the US but he can’t transit through the US from one country to another because he needs a transit visa…just doesn’t make any sense…

  6. Lisa O says:

    Bummer, glad you and your wife were not hurt. Be well.

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicole S. Young, JeffreyChapman and others. JeffreyChapman said: Unexpected blog post from Quito: Asalto y Robo http://bit.ly/eyKVGB [...]

  8. Jeffrey, sorry to hear of your traumatic experience but glad you both are unharmed. Best wishes.

  9. TH says:

    Jeffrey and Silvia are in Ecuador largely due to a gentle nudge I sent their way to visit me here. When Silvia finishes visiting Kafka get yourselves to the southern Ecuadorian Andes ASAP where all will be well… or at least the scenery will be better. I’ll have papayas waiting.

    Silvia will think of a way to punish me.

    your guilt-ridden brother :(

  10. So sorry to hear that Jeffrey. So sad that these things happen in Latin America so often. I go to Venezuela every year and don’t take my camera out very often, always afraid, and that is the place I call home…

  11. Brian says:

    wow – that’s absolutely horrible. Terribly sorry to hear about that. Certainly glad you are both ok and seem to be in decent spirits.

    cheers,
    Brian

  12. Hello Jeffrey and Silvia, I am happy that you are well after this horrible experience! Have a nice time during your trip and a good start into the next year! Cheers, Jens

  13. Marjan Leeuwesteijn says:

    That’s a scary experience!! Glad you both are okay!

  14. Geir says:

    A bad experience there which one wishes no one should experience. But something to learn from this: Always bring extra credit cards to leave in safe at hotel. Spares people some hazzle anywhere, especially when things like these happen.
    And must be a good thing to see so many people care?

  15. jilske says:

    Happy to hear it hasn’t influenced your impression of Ecuador too much. Go eat papaya so your brother will stop feeling guilty – none of us gave you a heads up for that matter. Like you said, wrong time, wrong place.
    However, if Silvia still punishes him, let us know how ;-)
    Sometimes we all need a smack in the head to remind us how grateful we should be to be alive. You shouldn’t literally get smacked in the head though. That seems a bit harsh.

  16. Ed says:

    Jeffrey, so glad to hear it was the flat side of the machete when it could easily have been another. The fact you both are ok is the main thing and that is good to hear. Sorry about your bags, cameras and valuables, I hope that your success with MC, Visa and AmEx continues with replacing everything else when the time comes t do it. For now stay safe and I hope you can enjoy the rest of your trip. I’m am not happy to hear about the problems with the US Embassy and replacing your wife’s Green Card. I’d be in the same situation.

    All the best,
    Ed

  17. Rowan Sims says:

    That wasn’t quite what I expected to arrive in my reader today. Crazy times in Ecuador! Glad to hear that you’re both ok. I guess credit card and Visa issues are insignificant compared to what the sharp side of the machete could’ve done.

    Stay safe.

    Rowan

  18. penny stetser says:

    Does your mother know any of this ? And you are right , stuff can be replaced .Silvia , you are the queen of understatement ! After reading your post on facebook i thought maybe the food was bad or something of the like ! ( i know how jeff is a big fan of food ! ) So glad you are both standing !

  19. I am sorry to hear this Jeffrey. Glad both you and Silvia are OK and hope that everything is back in order soon.

  20. Linda Taylor says:

    Very glad that you and Silvia are safe. You’re right, stuff can be replaced. I’ve been robbed abroad before, but never at knife and gunpoint. Hopefully that will be a unique experience and never happen again to you.

  21. Jere Judd says:

    Glad you are OK! It is just stuff and can be replaced. Glad they used the falt side of that machete. May the rest of your adventure be non-eventful.

  22. Radek Kozak says:

    Horrible story Jeffrey! Glad that both of You are safe and sound now. Hope the rest of the trip will be undisturbed!

  23. Those who blog and get away live to blog another day. At least you still have your words.

  24. Ellen says:

    What a horrible experience.. glad you both got away relatively unscathed. Good luck with the green card. Take care.
    E x

  25. Doug Pyper says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    I’m glad to hear that your frightening experience didn’t taint your view of Ecuador. I have spent five months there in the past year. The Ecuadorian people are wonderful. Unfortunately that negative element does exist there..as it does in most of Sud America.

    You’ll find the big cities are the worst for violent crime. Walking in Quito after dark is very dangerous, especially in the Mariscal (where I’m assuming you were).

    Also opportunistic theft is prevalent just about everywhere. I lost a D300, two lenses and a laptop in a bag grab last December.

    It’s great you and your wife were not hurt. A lesson learned I suppose eh?

    Hope you enjoy Ecuador during the rest of your visit. It’s a wonderful country.

    If you get a chance visit Banos….wonderful little town in the eastern Andes.

    Doug

  26. Heber Vega says:

    Sorry to hear this Jeffrey, but glad that both of you are doing well.
    To all the international photographers reading this, be careful when you walk in latin american streets. I’m from Chile and I’ve traveled most places down here, and I know what I’m talking about. Always walk with local people around and use your backpacks in front of you, not actually in your backs.

    Hopefully everything will get better on the green card thing.

  27. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Thank you all so much for the comments and support. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. I love this community!

    The best advice I can give everyone is to go out and do what you love. Every so often something will go poorly, but most of the time you’ll just create great memories. I hadn’t planned to spend so much time in Quito (now necessary for documents), but I’m now having the opportunity to discover new layers and nuances. It’s a city that I like. I’ll return here. I don’t care about being robbed (not even at gun point). One will have to try a lot harder than that if they wish to keep me at home, in my living room, in front of the TV. That’s just not going to happen. It’s not in me.

  28. Jeff,
    What a scare. Thank god the two of you are fine. I arrived home this morning from San Francisco to see the email Todd had sent to me. I’m so glad you have such a wonderful attitude!! I hope the remainder of your trip will be a wonderful one.
    Please let me know if I can do anything to help you.
    Diane

  29. Lisa O says:

    Hi again Jeffrey, I hope your getting some where with the CC companies and embassy. Anything you would do differently? Anything you are going to replace differently? Do you usually leave some gear in the hotel? Do you carry copies of travel document? Is it weird not having a camera?

  30. Jeff,
    So sorry to hear what happened to you and Sylvia.
    At least you both were not harmed.
    I hope everthing gets better.
    Good luck to you both.

  31. CJ Kern says:

    WOW! Glad to hear you are both safe. I’m really glad that they didn’t take from you what really matters, your attitude towards life.

  32. Matt Welsh says:

    Jeffrey,

    I’m so sorry about what happened to you over the holiday, but I’m glad you and Sylvia are okay. As sorry as I am about your camera gear, it’s a relief that nothing worse happened.

    :(
    -M

  33. Rosa says:

    Wow, impressed about this post. One tends to think these things never really happen.
    Glad to hear you are fine and full of energy to keep going around the world with your camera.
    Best wishes for the new year!

  34. Luciano says:

    Hi Jeffrey,
    Glad you and Silvia are fine, and like you said, stuff can be replaced. All the best for the New Year with lots of new goodies (bags included!!).

    Ciao,
    Luciano

  35. Danilo says:

    Graziana just told me about what happened. Scary stuff Jeff, and like everyone has said above – so so glad you and Silvia came out of it unscathed (except for a bit of a bump on your head maybe).
    Thinking of you …
    D.

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