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Bag slash robbery on Quito – Cuenca bus

March 1st, 2009 | Thomas | South America, Travel | 17 Comments »

I arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador a few days ago, having taken a bus from Quito. The journey was meant to take about 10 hours, but I arrived in Cuenca exhausted, 13 hours later.

The first bus broke down after 2-3 hours, and we ended up sitting beside the road for about an hour and a half waiting for a replacement. On the second bus I ended up in the seat at the back by the toilet, inhaling the acrid smell of piss.

There’s no doubt about it, this was a journey from hell. My first seating companion was a local woman with a baby that screamed hysterically non-stop for two hours. She tried to stop the baby screaming by shaking it, which of course had the opposite effect. She was replaced by a woman with her (approximately) 9 year old daughter sprawling on her lap, which ended up being on my lap too. The daughter then started vomiting in a bag, and continued vomiting for quite some time, whilst lying all over me.

We stopped for lunch at 3pm, I had got up shortly before 6am and missed breakfast, so I was starving. The man in the roadside restaurant had no change for my $5 note, so I was forced to skip lunch too.

I arrived in Quito 13 hours later, having eaten one bag of potato crisps all day, and then discovered the following morning that my small backpack, which had been carefully sandwiched between my legs for the whole journey, had a neat 15cm razor slash in it. My plastic wallet (hidden in a back compartment of the bag) containing $1300 in travellers cheques and $100 in cash was missing.

All I can think is that I fell asleep for a while, and the sprawling 9 year old took it. BUT I am totally amazed that anyone managed to enter my bag, with it sitting between my legs (whilst ignoring my laptop, two cameras and MP3 player) and go straight for the hidden compartment and extract the bag without me noticing.

The Police lady informed me that I am the 10th tourist in the last two months to have been robbed on the Quito – Cuenca bus, whether that’s cause for alarm or not I don’t know…?

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17 Responses to “Bag slash robbery on Quito – Cuenca bus”

  1. Elise
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 2:22 am

    I just returned home from a trip to Quito, Ecuador. I met a young German man who had been there for a month, and he had been robbed three times, each in the Mariscal area. I met three young Swiss girls who had been held up by gunpoint in a taxi about a week and a half ago, also in Quito. Finally, I met a British couple who were held up by gunpoint at 9am in Mariscal.

    Apparently, in response to political changes, tourists in Quito have been a target for increasing violence. I have been scouring the Internet for more specific information, but I can’t find anything in English. If anyone understands this phenomenon, please let me know!

    I, luckily, made it home without incident.

  2. Matthew
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

    Sorry to hear about your bag slash; glad that you still have most of your valuables.

    Thanks for the webesite, which as been very informative. My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to South America soon and in particular want to learn Spanish.

    How long were you and Tina studying at the school? What level of Spanish do you have now? I am a complete beginner and my girlfriend has got a old GCSE Spanish.

    We really want to get up to as high a level as possible in the year or so that we are in Latin America; what are you recommendations.

    Thanks

    Happy safe travelling!

  3. Thomas
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

    Hi Elise, the Mariscal area of Quito certainly felt dodgy – however I also stayed in the old town – which was cheaper and nicer than the backpacker places in Mariscal.

    I haven’t heard of more incidents here though than elsewhere – I still feel alot safer here than Panama City or Guatemala.

    Matthew, Tina and I were at the Guatemalan school for 6 weeks and also wanted to give our Spanish a real kick-start with a view to perhaps working out here later on in the trip.

    I am now studying in Cuenca and also have a very good teacher here, although it is about $7 an hour as opposed to $5/hour in Guatemala.

    I would recommend both Guatemala and Ecuador for price and ease of understanding the Spanish.

    Before the trip I had basic Spanish – maybe about the same as your girlfriend, and Tina had none (except for some home study). We are both fairly conversational now, and I would say that I am now probably intermediate – freely using most verb tenses, and I understand about 80-90% of what people say to me…

    Any more questions, please fee free to ask. Got to go, have a Spanish class in 5 mins!

    Tom

  4. Costas
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

    That was a close one…

    Is now a good time to invest in one of these?

    http://www.hidelinks.com/?2qx2y7ijy0

  5. Thomas
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 11:01 pm

    Yes, been thinking of getting creative with some chicken wire too 🙂

  6. Studying Spanish in Cuenca, Ecuador | Earthoria
    March 5th, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    […] got over the trauma of my bag slash, I found some Spanish classes in Cuenca, Ecuador through a recommendation on the Lonely Planet […]

  7. john conti
    March 8th, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

    your bag was carefully tucked between your legs the whole trip and somehow they got your wallet!!!! first of all passport and money, visa etc. always on your person!!! to thomas’ readers: this guy has no idea how to travel, laptop, ludicrous…TWO cameras and an mp3. never use travelers checks as they are discounted, and never ever carry that much money, period. and o yes always have small money, a fiver is a lot to a small merchant in places like ecuador. myself i always enjoy trips like that. what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. you have never seen an anything from hell my friend!!!! but good luck, i like your site anyway!!!!

  8. Thomas
    March 8th, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    Hi John, thanks for your comment. I’d like to respond :-).

    I always carry the majority of my cash, credit cards, passport and visa in a hidden money belt down my trousers…which is what I was doing that day. I carry (carried) the travellers cheques separately, in my bag so that I split things into two places.

    I carry my laptop because a) I am doing audio and video editing for this website and b) I am a web developer and intend to be working whilst I am in South America. In fact I am using it right now to trade free Spanish lessons for a new website for the Spanish school in Cuenca.

    Travellers cheques are *not* discounted, and I have used them repeatedly on my journey, in towns where it was known that the ATMS were defrauding customers – such as San Pedro in Guatemala. I also have used them to pay for the majority of my Spanish studies. An additional reason I brought them was because the value of the pound was free-falling shortly before leaving the UK. I changed a lot of pounds into dollars travellers cheques at a rate of 1.75 dollars per pound. The rate now is 1.40, thus I have saved myself alot of money by having them, and using them instead of ATMs.

    I carry the MP3 player as I use it for making the podcasts on this website, and for listening to Spanish audio whilst I travel.

    As for the two cameras – well perhaps that is a luxury, but I’m fairly serious about my photography and have two very different cameras with two very different lenses.

    As for having no idea how to travel, I have been travelling for 6 years and this is the first time something like this has happened to me.

    What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Agreed 🙂

  9. Michelle
    May 7th, 2009 @ 9:06 am

    I would like Elise to come back and explain, “Apparently, in response to political changes, tourists in Quito have been a target for increasing violence.”

    Are foreigners in other cities of Ecuador also a target for violence? Why are political changes causing increasing violence against tourists? I’m planning to move to Ecuador this year, so I’d like to know.

  10. Matt
    June 8th, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    “Apparently, in response to political changes, tourists in Quito have been a target for increasing violence.”
    Thats completely and utterly untrue and absurd statement. Tourists are targetted for robbery, nothing more, period. Most robbery occurs in the Mariscal district of Quito because of the concentration of tourists, and it is also the redlight district with drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves.
    Crime in Quito against tourists is probably around the same as any other big Sth American city.
    Always carry your daypack on your lap. If it is at your feet someone can go under your seat from behind. Do not let any so-called attendant “help” you with your bag, and dont put it in the overhead rack.
    Source .- lived here in Quito for 5 years.

  11. art
    January 5th, 2010 @ 7:14 am

    Can you tell me what the weather is like in Cuenca in February and March. I hear there are floods there now

  12. viracocha
    January 19th, 2010 @ 3:24 am

    Try to find the essay: How to Survice in a Third World country. Google that title. I’m sure it will come up. It is packed with loads of useful information and “tricks” on how to be one up on thieves in Central/South America. It’s a must, and there are many simple ways to hold on to your money and other valuables.

    Watch out on busses, especially when they get extremely crowded, as they do in Central/South America. Someones fingers will enter your pockets without you even knowing, but you can keep them out by closing your pockets with safety pins.

  13. viracocha
    January 19th, 2010 @ 3:25 am

    sorry, that’s “How to Survive in a Third World Country.”

  14. Thomas
    January 20th, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    Thanks Viracocha. I was actually taking all the precautions I could have done, it was just bad luck really that the first bus broke down.

    I had my bag between my legs the whole time which is how I/we had always been travelling up to that point, and which I consider safe.

    In retrospect, and the more I think about it now, I think there’s chance I might have been drugged with that drug Burundanga (from the flower) that turns you into a zombie. Also known as Scopolamine it is known to be used in Colombia and Ecuador. In fact my English teacher in Cuenca told me one of his students had been drugged and raped in Cuenca.

    It says on Wikipedia:

    In recent years the criminal use of scopolamine has become epidemic in Colombia. Approximately one in five emergency room admissions for poisoning in Bogotá have been attributed to scopolamine.

    In a bizarre case, a band of female thieves would impregnate their breasts with scopolamine and then would lure potential victims to lick their nipples.

    “Losing all willpower, the men readily gave up their bank access codes. The breast-temptress thieves then held them hostage for days while draining their accounts.”

  15. Mike
    April 2nd, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    I am an American traveling with my friend from Ecuador. While boarding a bus in Cuenco a helpful young male ecuadorian wanted to assist us with a seat. But it was not the seat assigned to us. I was suspicious but was more concerned I was being seated on the opposite side of where my suitcase was being placed under the bus. While talking to my friend, little did I know that the young man had made sure my laptop was placed just above us in the rack. I went to use it an hour later and it was gone! I am thinking he slipped up behind us while we were chatting and took it to the back of the bus and removed it and put the carrying bag back and then walked off the bus with the laptop under his coat. We had no idea it happened. Be careful of those overhead racks and keep your bags with you at all times. I am just glad we did not get injured in a robbery. It was a cheap used laptop anyway. Laptops can be replaced but physical injuries can take a long time. I still like Ecuador though…just wiser now. Be careful my traveling friends.

    ——————————————————————————–

  16. Moh
    June 12th, 2010 @ 11:26 pm

    I am terrified reading the blogs above. A freind of mine was supposed to fly from Quito to Miami on Tuesday, June 8. She had to go to Quito from Cuenca. She didnt show up at the airport and I haven’t heard from her since then. Her parents have contacted the embassy but I still haven’t heard from her. Its day 4 since I last received her email.
    Could she have been a victim of robbery/hostage? What would be the best way to find out where she is?

  17. Paulina
    August 11th, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

    Hi, my name is Paulina. I live in Ecuador and I am a proud ecuadorian citizen. I am really sorry to hear about your terrible experiences. But let me recomend something to every traveler. Do not travel alone and if you do, leave at least an emergency phone number where some can reach a relative of yours. About the bags. Always keep them on your legs, not between your legs, specially if you have values in it. Take care with friendly people, that appear from nowhere, those are for sure thives, indeed, children are to be aware too, I know it sounds terrible but its truth.
    For every trip you make in Ecuador, before you even start get as much small money you can, coins are better, because there is not enough small money in the financial system, 50 and 100 dollar bills are hardly accepted.
    Should you have questions do not hesitate to contact me. Have a nice trip and please be carefull on your trips.

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