Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 2011 vacation diary - day 5

We ate last night in one of the hotel’s five restaurants. The meal was very good in a polished fine dining kind of way and would easily have cost $150 back home, but here cost $56 (our biggest day to day problem, we thought at this point, might be not having enough small bills). Then we sat in the bar for a while.

I just discovered that the top drawer on the desk where I’m writing this contains a little ruler, a pencil sharpener, a highlighter and so on, as if they expected the guests to be engaged in school projects. Very cute. Anyway, this trip has been unusual in that we’ve had a reason every day so far to get moving by a certain time, but today we didn’t. Even so, I was up by 6 and we were out by 9 am. We walked back to the historic city, moving very slowly and happily through the Quito masses, alternating crowded side streets with magnificent squares and monuments and structures (an immigration lawyer offered me his business card...not sure what the analysis would have been there). We walked through the La Plaza de la Independencia, a gorgeous gathering spot; went by an imposing old movie theater, walked by an opera house advertising a forthcoming outdoor concert by film director and (I guess) musician Emir Kusturica.

It was still only a little after 10 am. We decided to walk up to the monument which towers over this part of town – maybe a twenty minute walk. The crowds were only a block or two behind us and we’d just passed a group of construction workers. We were starting up the hill. Suddenly a guy was holding a knife at Ally’s face and two others had grabbed me from behind. The whole thing was over in maybe ten seconds. I had nothing on me except the Blackberry, the camera and maybe $70, so they got all of that. They took Ally’s bag which had her wallet with a Visa, a bank card, her health card and that kind of stuff. Most annoying in the short term might be that her glasses were in there (she was wearing her prescription sunglasses, which they didn’t take). They pulled at her wedding ring, but took off without getting it. Ally heard me uttering words to the effect that they already had everything, but I don’t know what I said.

We walked back into the crowds. Within seconds, a van full of police drove by. It’s inconceivable numerous people didn’t witness the whole thing, but we knew it would be hopeless to try reporting it. We’re both pretty calm and pragmatic by nature, and neither of us was particularly shaken (despite the knife, it hadn’t felt that we were really in physical danger, although unless we were trained Navy Seals or suchlike, I don’t think we could possibly have registered the threat anyway, it just came and went too fast), but of course it just made us sad. We walked back to the hotel and got some new room keycards – the desk clerk seemed mildly surprised we’d been robbed, but certainly didn’t exhibit the level of concern you’d get in some places. We made a few calls, to cancel the Visa and the bank card and disable the Blackberry. It was still only around noon, but we couldn’t decide what to do. We had lunch in a café attached to the hotel. We decided to go out and buy a camera, walking back to the area we were in yesterday. To say the least, I think the people in the camera store, who didn’t speak English, were bemused at their luck in having us just walk in and buying a camera and a memory card all via sign language, with no haggling (today’s pictures were all taken with the new camera, but I think the settings are currently a little off - they’re a bit over-exposed).

We took a cab back into the old town ($4 fare), just a couple of blocks from the scene of the crime. It was so tempting to think we might have ventured in there to find Ally’s bag and the stuff they didn’t need, presumably just lying on the street somewhere, but of course that would have been foolhardy (maybe even going back as near as we did sounds foolhardy, but we really weren’t traumatized, we were more, I don’t know, just disappointed). We continued our exploring from the morning, but the shine was off the place now and we weren’t really enjoying it. Eventually we went back to the hotel ($2 fare!!) and had a couple of glasses of wine in the lobby bar. I think really we just wanted to be together because, banal as it is, you just inevitably find yourself endlessly repeating that the main thing is that we’re both safe and unharmed and so forth. But then it’s true. And so you can’t help experiencing a perverse exhilaration at the fact that, wow, we’re here. Maybe it’s linked to the reasons why people jump off cliffs for fun.

This incident might be seen as darkly ironic given my enthusiasm about Quito yesterday (and given that we’d received some extremely good news earlier that morning, which put our economic losses in considerable perspective anyway), but it’s one of those things that’s beyond analysis. Searching the web now, I find this: “Having traveled extensively through Central and South America, here is my summation of Quito: In many Latin American cities, including busy capitals, it is POSSIBLE that you CAN get robbed. In Quito, it is PROBABLE that you WILL be robbed, within your first three days…I guarantee if you ask 6 people who have been to Quito, 5 of them would have first hand accounts of theft.” Someone else writes, of the general area where we were: “During my 2 week stay I heard of 7 tourists who were kidnapped.” But we’ve walked in many places where the Internet would have posted similar or worse alarm bells, without any incident at all. So who knows? Still, as a practical matter, it breaks your momentum. We would probably have gone on a tour tomorrow to Cotopaxi National Park, containing one of the world’s highest active volcanos, but we decided to drop that idea. We’ll probably just do some targeted exploring of Quito, and then move on to the Galapagos…

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