IT WAS THE LAST NIGHT OF WHAT HAD BEEN A TRULY SPECTACULAR surf trip in the Galapagos Islands. I was there with a crew from Paddle Surf Hawaii and we’d spent the week scoring amazing waves in between fascinating wildlife sightings. But among all the unforgettable experiences we took from the trip, what happened in Ecuador on our way home would be the most life changing.
Our crew was out to dinner at an upscale restaurant in Guayaquil, Ecuador, our port of exit from South America, when our tour guide announced that he had an urgent family matter and excused himself from the table. We were forced to get back to the hotel on our own, which seemed like no big deal since it was close by. We ordered two taxis from the restaurant host and hopped in, four people in one taxi, three in the other.
I’d been sleeping for hours when I was startled awake by a loud knock on the hotel door and the alarmed voice of a travel buddy on the other side.
“Come down to the lobby now!” he said. “There’s been an incident.”
We rushed downstairs to find three of our friends covered in dirt and scratches, looking scared, tattered and exhausted. Chills ran down my spine as they told us what happened after we parted ways at the restaurant.
Minutes after getting into their taxi, the driver stopped at a traffic light where two armed men got into the cab, put guns to my friends’ heads and demanded they “give them everything.” For the next few hours, my friends were driven around Ecuador at gunpoint while their captors cleaned out their bank accounts. After the thieves had gotten everything they could, the kidnappers took my friends to an empty, dark, dirt parking lot miles outside of the city and, told them to get out and start running.
Back at the hotel with our group safely reunited, the police informed us that this was a common occurrence in the city and the only way to safely use public transportation is to call cabs from official companies that have been approved by the American Embassy. Not exactly a precautionary measure I’m used to taking with taxi services at home, but then again, that’s probably why we were oblivious to the threat in the first place.
Make sure you do your research regarding potential travel dangers in the areas you visit, even if it’s just a quick stop-over. A simple Google search may just save your bank account—or your life.