It was 10:30 AM on a Saturday morning. I walked out of a tienda near the
bus terminal in Otavalo with a new $15 SD card in hand. I was pretty sure
it wasn’t actually compatible with my camera, but I had to buy it because I
had forgotten mine at home and was already late to the event I was supposed
to cover for my new apprenticeship that morning. Hurriedly, I stuffed my
coin purse into the front pocket of my backpack and checked my phone to
make sure I was taking the right route to the park where the event would
take place. The ETA on Maps.me was a whopping 40 minutes walking, so within
about half a second, I made the decision to hail down a cab. The first
thing I noticed about the one that pulled up was that it had an older woman
in the passenger’s seat, which struck me as strange since I thought shared
cabs weren’t really a thing. Sensing my confusion, the driver explained
that he would drop the woman off first and then take me to my
so it’s like an Uber Pool,” I thought to myself, and agreed to get in.
I threw my backpack down to my right and sat down. Immediately, I spotted
that the two front pockets of my backpack were unzipped. I had been to
enough GCY safety talks to know what that meant; I’d been robbed. Luckily,
my wallet was in a small pocket hidden within the main compartment of my
backpack. However, my coin pouch holding about $10 worth of change was of
course in that small front pocket. I opened Whatsapp and quickly composed a
text informing the rest of the Northern Ecuador Hub what happened. I was
honestly relieved that my first robbing had only resulted in a loss of $10;
the camera in my bag would’ve been a far more severe casualty.
Absorbed in texting my friends, I wasn’t really paying attention to where
the driver was taking me. I didn’t really look out the window until about
10 minutes into the ride, when I realized we were in an unfamiliar
neighborhood. I checked Maps.me and saw that we were in the complete
opposite direction of where the park that I needed to be at was. By this
time I was about 45 minutes late to the event, so I was starting to get
stressed. I asked the driver where we were, and he said the neighborhood
was where the other woman needed to be dropped off. Reassuring myself that
I was just anxious about being late, I told myself to calm down and got
back on my phone.
A couple minutes later, the car came to a stop in an alley. I looked out
the window and saw 5 or 6 men who looked like they were waiting for
somebody. Feeling a little unsettled, I asked the driver again where we
were. “Tranquilo, tranquilo!” he replied, pointing to the woman. “Ella esta
saliendo aqui.” But the woman wasn’t getting out. So far, this cab ride
was panning out to look like a textbook situation of a tourist getting in
the wrong cab and ending up in a potentially life-threatening situation.
Maybe this really was where the woman was getting off and I was just
overreacting, but I knew it was better to not take that chance. My fight or
flight instincts kicked in, I opened the car door, and ran as fast as I
could without looking back.
After what felt like 30 minutes but was probably closer to 5, I finally
found refuge at a small, family-owned panaderia. Shaking and breathing hard
from the adrenaline of my escape, I talked on the phone with Alli, my team
leader, about what to do. She sent a trusted (female) taxi-driver to pick
me up and take me to the Otavalo market where my mother was selling her
bags that day, and in the meantime I played with the baker’s adorable,
I was in a state of shock from what happened for the rest of the day. Alli
came to have lunch with me and we decided to go to the police station the
following Monday. I met up with a few friends afterwards, and called both
my parents to fill them in on what had happened. Besides that remarkably
short incident, the rest of the day was relatively normal.
Going to the police station that Monday was just as anticlimactic as I had
expected; they couldn’t actually do anything about what happened since I
didn’t record the license plate number. The woman at the station did tell
me that this kind of thing had been increasing in frequency recently.
People with bad intentions trick out their cars to look like taxis. They
call them piratas.
I still haven’t really processed what happened yet; I just know that I did
the right thing by running away as fast as I could. I don’t know what
would’ve happened had I trusted the driver and stayed in that ‘taxi’- maybe
nothing. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from being a woman–both in
America and abroad– it’s that we have to trust our instincts. It’s better
to feel stupid and like you’ve overreacted than the alternative– and who
knows what that would’ve been in this situation.