It happened so fast. One minute I’m in the middle of the tourist zone packed with people, the next I take a turn down a not too dimly lit and not so isolated street and notice 2 sketchy characters coming my way. I decide to head the other direction and then notice 2 other sketchy characters heading my way from that direction. Then a couple others emerge out of the shadows. Yup, I’m getting surrounded.
It’s 9 pm on a Tuesday night in Plaza Foch, the main tourist zone for restaurants and hostels in Quito’s Zona Rosa. I’ve been in Quito less than 3 hours.
My camera is out but I try to hide it inside of my hoodie. Too late. Before I know it I’m in what seems like a life or death struggle for the camera with some guy dressed all in green (almost like surgeon’s scrubs, we’ll call him aqua man) yelling unintelligible Spanish .
All I can think of is how I screwed up and I need this camera for the rest of the shoot and aqua man is trying to take my camera and God knows what else and ruin my night, indeed the whole trip before it even gets started.
I’m thinking “Tonight is my first night in Ecuador for God’s sake. I haven’t shot a frame video and just a few stills.”
I scream out “no way man! no f**ing way”.. as I struggle with aqua man. I feel my groin muscle pull and I realize I’ve just re-injured my groin that took me 3 months to heal from. I hear a ripping noise, it’s my hoodie.
Having known what it feels like to be robbed in Argentina just over a year ago, I wasn’t anxious to relive that experience.
Next I feel a couple more hands on me as another dude tries to grab me from behind. I’m waiting for the inevitable pummeling at the hands of the other guys. 6 on 1, should be an easy task for them but I figure I’ll make it as hard as possible and try to hurt somebody at least.
I start to yell louder, “Policia!!!!” “Robbery!!!” whatever pops into my head and now at the top of my lungs. I sound and probably look crazy and it starts to work.
People start to come out of their houses and businesses. But no one does a damned thing. I’m thinking that these cowards are going to sit and watch me get robbed and not lift a finger!? Now I’m really pissed and start to fight back harder. I want to punish somebody.
Aqua man and I swing around a couple more times, then he finally lets go, now completely ripping my hoodie in the process.
Miraculously they ALL walk away and now, my camera firmly in my hands, lens cap on the street and my hoodie in shreds around my waist I scream at them.. “puta madre” (mother f**er)! The “F” word, The “C’ word, it all comes flowing out like I have tirets’ syndrome. It’s in English and Spanish as low as I can go on the vocabulary scale and as high as I can go on the volume scale. No translation needed.
It all lasted maybe 30 seconds? Maybe 45? who knows, but I feel victorious and primal and yes, it feels strangely good. Like a warrior who vanquished his enemies. “Hell no, not tonight! Go get some more help bitches!”. I’m really pumped up now and ready to kill somebody. I’ve gone from scared to pissed, I mean really dangerously angry in a matter of seconds. I was ready now, lets do this.. why are they walking away now? This is just getting good!
A crowd has now gathered as the wanna be thieves trot and then slow to a walk and stroll away like nothing had happened. They are walking away and no one is doing anything? Finally 10 minutes later some police came by while some nice concerned locals tell the cops what happened and try to translate my Spanish which is worse than normal because of the adrenaline. I’m sure they were wondering if this Gringo might be a touch loco? The police shake their head, tell me it’s very “peligrosa” and to be careful and drive away.
By now I am laughing at the incident, happy as a clam that my camera is still in my possession and that I won’t be feeling like a total loser tomorrow because my camera was stolen the first night of a shoot. I’m happy that all I have is a ripped, cheap hoodie, a re-pulled groin muscle and a story to tell for my trouble. No black eye, no bloody nose, no stab wound, no gun shot wound. I have my camera, my phone and my wallet and I start to feel really fortunate.
But I’m also concerned. The pack of thugs walked away but are possibly still around and I think it wise to return to where people and police are more numerous so I head back to the main area of the Plaza where I am supposed to meet and interview the guys from Sikotikos (Psychotics), a local punk band at 9:30.
Incredibly, it’s now only 9:15. Time was crawling by. I still have 15 minutes to kill. I was in this dire situation because I had finished dinner early and wanted to get some stills of some punk graffiti I had seen on some of the side streets on the ride in from the airport.
In just a few hours in Quito, I had already seen several punks, anarchy graffiti, rocker bars, etc. I already knew Quito is a big punk town but I wanted to grab a few stills to help me tell the story, My little digi hand held camera I normally use in these situations is broken so hence my big, expensive Cannon D12, the one I use for video, was out and snapping away.
At this point, I’m back in the main tourist area and I’m still pretty shaken and thinking of grabbing a beer to calm my nerves when I see 3 of the guys walking in the distance. There he is, Mr. Agua Man walking by like not a care in the world.
My first instinct is to go and confront. Then I think better of it and run to the police who are nearby. They bolt into action and before I know it the 3 cats are assuming the position, taking off socks and shoes and being searched and sadly, slapped around a little by a now fired up police force that includes a couple under covers who seem to know this pack of hoodlums all too well.
I’m still pissed so I look the guys in the eyes and say “Recuerdes me!? (Remember me?).. I show the guy my ripped hoodie and say “Recuerdes este” (Remember this?).. I say something like “Seis en uno no mano y mano eh?” (6 on 1 not 1 on 1 huh?) in my broken ass, tarzan Spanish and regret yet again at not being able to express myself adequately in Spanish.
Now surrounded by police and onlookers, they looked much smaller and more pathetic now. I start to feel a twinge of guilt and sympathy for these guys. Of course they are dirt poor and a couple look to be immigrants. Five of the six attackers were black, usually the poorest of the poor in Ecuador which is pretty damned poor to begin with.
Moments ago I wanted to kill them, now I’m sorry that I brought this misery on them by flashing an expensive camera all for the sake of a few pics for this blog. Of course they brought it on themselves but still… I feel bad. But for the grace of God could our situations be reversed? Who would be an angel if they are hungry or addicted? Why did I stupidly put that temptation out there?
To my right I see 3 punks taking in the scene among the crowd that has gathered. It’s the guys from Sikotikos. They recognize me. I had described my wardrobe so I was easy to spot, but I guess they weren’t expecting me to be in the middle of a police bust. What can I say, I wasn’t exactly expecting that either.
After the police excused me and told me once again to be careful, I shook their hands, thanked them and walked off with Sikotikos to do the interview. They told me they knew of these guys, that they see them around all the time and that last week they robbed someone they know and beat him up really badly.
I was lucky and I know it by now. Adrenaline or not, one knife point, one gun, one brick to the head and it’s all over. This is my third robbery attempt since traveling to Latin America the last 10 years (only one was successful and that one was completely non violent). Though in each event situation I can point to a careless situation on my part, it’s starting to get old.
I’m beginning to wonder when am I gonna get unlucky and get the knife or gun or whatever pulled on me.
If i keep traveling, it will happen again I know it. May as well get prepared.
In the meantime my interview with Sikotikos was an admittedly jittery affair. I kept looking over my shoulder during the interview to assure myself the pack of thieves weren’t back. Only 3 of the 6 were in custody and for all I knew had been released and were out for revenge. I tried to focus.
While Sikotikos answers were almost all in Spanish I was able to comprehend from the guys that the punk scene in Quito, is as I expected, pretty damned strong.
They are playing in a big punk show this weekend with 15 other bands, and I’m really pissed I’m going to miss it but alas I’ll be in Banos working on my other project, the one I’m really here to work on, Raw Travel.
The guys were cool enough to give me a funny little shout out that went something like “We’re Sikotikos from Quito, Ecuador and don’t ever try to rob the Punk Outlaw!” Thanks fellaz!
Wish we could have spent more time together. I can tell you Sikotikos are some cool cats who promised to have my back should the robbers show up again.
Oh and they play some pretty sweet punk music, check out their myspace page. They’ll have a new CD dropping soon so stay tuned on that information as well.
I have a couple more punk interviews set up between now and when I leave Quito, so stay tuned for that as well.
Oh yeah.. Really sorry about that misleading headline, since I actually didn’t get robbed (nope they didn’t get a thing but arrested). But I can’t let a good robbery attempt go to waste can I?
I mean, “Almost Robbed in Quito” Just doesn’t have the same ring to it does it?