From: Kirstie and Stuart
Subject: There’s Bandits in Them There Hills
Date: 21st October 1999
Place: Guayaquil, Ecuador
There’s Bandits in Them There Hills
It 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 leaving Ecuador.
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 arrived safely. How different to our arrival in Quito.
Be careful out there…
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 Ecuador 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.
Held hostage in a Post Office
“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 para familiares” 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 improved 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.
Lost in the Post Office
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 chores.
“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.
It’s just herbs officer
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 assembled 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.
Held hostage by a family
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. 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.
A right royal interrogation
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.
Lasting impressions of Ecuador
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.
Until next time
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
Looking for bandits in them there hills
Is this one?
Waiting for Kirstie at the Post Office