TAK­ING TAXIS

SUP Magazine - - Frontside - –MOR­GAN HOESTEREY

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.

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