Subject: There's Bandits in Them There Hills
21st October 1999
Place: Guayaquil, Ecuador
was as if the Ecuadorian Baggage Handling Service had just discovered
clingfilm. The senior baggage assistant
insisted on wrapping all of our baggage in it using the world's
largest cling film dispenser. Kirstie looked on anxiously as Stuart got closer and closer
to the machine, wondering whether she would be spending the
flight sitting next to a freshly wrapped cyclist. We were finally
We both breathed a sigh of relief as we caught sight of two,
six foot by four foot bundles of clingfilm
riding the baggage reclaim merry go round at Santiago airport.
No sign of any bike bandits in Chile.. this time BOTH bicycles had
Mind you, we didn´t actually SEE any
bandits in Ecuador.... but we heard a lot about them. Most Ecuadorians
seem convinced that their hillsides are infested with them...
everywhere we went people told us with great seriousness "be
careful, keep your eyes open, there are bandits in them there
hills, dont go out after dark"
We travelled up and down many hills,
with our eyes wide open, and never once met a masked marauder....
but we were taken hostage several times..... and
somehow always managed to make a clean getaway.
On our last day in Ecaudor we went
Christmas Shopping. Well, you´ve got
to start early when it takes one month to find a post office
and two months for the parcel to get home.
"A few things for the family" Well that´s
what we tried to tell the postal superintendent when she demanded
to know what was in our carefully packaged and sealed box. "Regalos
said Kirstie as she pointed to the writing neatly stencilled onto the box. "Que
regalos?" demanded the superintendent
with some irritation. Unfortunately our Spanish had not imnproved
sufficiently to catalogue the various pieces of tat we had cobbled
together in various craft markets on our travels. So, we resorted
to mime. Kirstie´s impressions of exotic Ecuadorean
wildlife seemed to further confuse the situation..... the
superintendent frowned as Kirstie
flapped around her office making "caw-caw" noises.
Stuart looked on and quietly gave thanks we did not buy the
tribal spear we looked at earlier..
imagining how Kirstie´s
virtual spearing of the superintendent might inflame the situation.
He hoped that we would not be detained for attempting to export
a box of the protected "caw-caw" species.
After ten minutes of flapping around her office, the superintendent
announced it would be better if we went to another department.
We were then separated. Stuart was escorted out of the building
while Kirstie disappeared through
a door marked "No Entrada"
with the superintendent holding both her and the parcel in a
vice like grip.
Then, deep in the bowels of the Ecuadorean
postal system, in a scene from Parcel Armageddon, an unpleasant
smelling uniformed clerk screamed loudly at the superintendent, snatched
the parcel from her, threw it with great precision at one of
her ten thousand colleagues and continued with her everyday
"Happy Christmas" Kirstie
muttered as she hurried towards the only crack of daylight she
could see. She escaped alive but that was the last we saw of
the parcel. Hope it makes it.
A day later, we found ourselves in trouble once again,
this time hostage to the combined forces of the Ministry of
Agriculture, and Customs and Excise. They had become very interested
in our herb tin as we tried to leave the country. "It´s your turn" said Kirstie.
"Por la cocina....
hacer tortilla" Stuart explained as he mimed cooking
an omelette for the assembed
crowd of customs officers. Meanwhile Kirstie
tried to distract the import/export officers who had developed
an interest in the now vacuum packed bikes. "You enter
with one bike and leave with two?"
Stuart quickly surrendered all our supplies of pepper, chilli,
cumin and rosemary, his offer of curry powder and ground ginger
was flatly refused. We made a quick getaway concealing a knowing
smile that we had managed to smuggle out half a kilo of powdered
milk...... and a bicycle.
Our best hostage experience occurred late one night on the road,
trying to make a run for the coast. Suddenly two bikes swung
out of the darkness and skidded to a stop in front of us. We
were held up by two children who refused to let us go any further.
We tried to buy them off first with money and then with ritz crackers but they weren´t interested.
They insisted we accompany them back into their village, where
we were introduced to the local policeman and imprisoned in
a local house. We were obliged to take a shower and then were
sat on a sofa and force fed oranges in front of a growing crowd
of onlookers. They then brought in their English speaking interrogator.
"Wityornam" he spat at us
over and over again. "Wityornam.
WITYORNAM." We sat bemused spitting
orange pips into a bowl which had appeared on our laps and wondered
what would happen next. More oranges... and then the chant changed.
"Minamos Car" The crowd
looked on in silent anticipation of a response. We were still
bemused. "Minamos Car. Wityornam. Minamos Car" Suddenly in a moment of divine inspiration,
Kirstie jumped up. The crowd gasped
and held their breath. Kirstie cried
out "I´ve got it. His name is Oscar and he wants to know what our
names are" Having gained confidence from his first intervention,
Oscar introduced us to the community of onlookers as Eduard
and Kristina... friends of Princess Diana. There was a spontaneous
round of applause as we smiled regally and wiped the orange
juice from our mouths with the towel provided.
After a meal and a further hour of stilted interrogation, we
were escorted to our cell.... little 8 year
old Jimmy's bedroom where we were confined, two to a bed, watched
over by Jimmy´s Ninja Turtles. We
had been hostages to their very generous and unprompted hospitality.
The following day we cycled through "them there hills"
and not a bandit could be seen.
As we finally leave Ecuador behind, we are left with an impression
of a country of contrasts.... from the poor seaside shanty villages
to the proud indigenous indian villages of the high sierra, from waking up in a tent
on barren scrubland with our shoes full of ants to waking up
in the poshest hotel in the capital with a rum truffle on our pillow,
from clutching breath climbing high above the clouds in the
icy thin Andean air to bombing it down 3000m through the heat
of the rainforest gasping for water on our way to the coast.
And now Chile.... much to our surprise in our early encounters we
seem to be some kind of heroes. So thanks
to Jack Straw.
Thanks for all your replies to our missives. It´s
amazing how close home can be sitting at a computer far away!
We love reading them.. but
don´t always have time to reply individually... but keep em coming and we´ll do the same!
Let us know if you want off the mailing list. And take care
out there..... "there´s
bandits in them there hills"
Kirstie and Stuart