Sunday, April 27, 2008

Personal Safety in Ecuador

I have avoided this entry.
Well, it was inevitable that this topic would eventually grace my blog. Fact is, violent crime is on the rise in Ecuador. Yes, the vast majority of criminal acts are non-violent crimes of opportunity; but unfortunately we've been hearing more and more of crimes involving weapons and assaults on women. Last month, our car was stolen from in front of our house...on a busy street, with a multi-lock security device in place. Our families hate hearing this, but I know there are readers of this blog who may be traveling to Ecuador; and those people should know the real deal when it comes to crime. This is a long entry, but if you are traveling to Ecuador; or any other place with the potential for crime, you really should read on...

Where are the crime spots?
First of all, where are the places that have seen criminal acts in Quito? The Mariscal is obvious, it's where all the tourists are, and is a blatant gold mine. Late at night and slow Sunday's are the times when you should take a cab even for one block directly to your destination. The teleferi-Q is not so obvious...but crime has become rampant on the slopes of Pichincha. NOBODY SHOULD ATTEMPT TO CLIMB RUCCU PICHINCHA. There have been violent attacks on groups as large as 8 people reported to us by the Embassy. Even the tourist gondola that goes to the top should be avoided, it's going bankrupt and is basically a dangerous ghost town. Other locations to note are the Panacilla and Old Town Quito. Both are tourist destinations, but you should avoid traveling far from the crowded areas around these spots.

Taxi Cabs
Another in-obvious location for crime is in taxi-cabs. Females, especially, should avoid cab rides by themselves; you are, after-all now in a moving car which is very difficult to exit. NEVER get in a cab when there is another person inside other than the driver. Of course, only use cabs that are yellow and display their credentials on the side of the cab. There are legitimate incognito executive cabs in town, and these are less of a target for a carjacking as they are unlabeled, but it's hard to tell who is an executive cab and who is a criminal when hiring one off the street. If a unmarked cab shows up after a restaurant or hotel has called one for you, then this is fine, if not a bit better than a yellow cab! Finally, I'm always wary of a cab, or any other car, pulling up next to me...this is perfect set-up for a robbery and get-away car combo.

Speaking of wary, what are the best ways to avoid being victimized? Number one: awareness. Almost everyone who is attacked was surprised by it; they were zoning out, walking along, and then, all of the sudden.... When walking in Quito I am always looking around me, to my side, and behind my back. I look at people in the eyes to let them know that I have seen them and am noting their actions.

Hints you have never heard of...
Walking with authority, purpose, and awareness is the best way to avoid crime. However, I also have some other unique tips. If I need to carry important documentation or a sum of money greater than 10 bucks, I carry two wallets. One is a fake, and has copies of my license, some left over Subway meal cards, a library card, and 10 bucks or so. The decoy hasn't been needed yet, but if I do need it, at least I'm only out 10 dollars. Secondly, if I'm going out and I need to carry something, I put it in a Supermaxi grocery bag. The messenger bags and backpacks gringos wear are walking advertisements. Better to slip that camera in a grocery sack! Next, I don't smoke, but I carry cigarettes. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between aggressive panhandling, and someone who is getting ready to try and rob you. Either way, offering them a smoke instead of money is a quick, easy, situation-diffusing tactic that has worked for me multiple times. Finally, pepper spray can be bought at our local hardware stores...Kywi. The pepper spay is a double-edged sword, it could be used against you (as with any weapon) and some criminals have been known to train and build immunity to it. That said, if your life is in danger, pepper spay could be the ticket for buying yourself enough time to run and start shouting "ladron!" (thief). It's also a necessity for runners or bikers and run-ins with dogs....rabies shots are the opposite of fun.

Buy a cheap phone!
Finally, buy a phone. A Movistar phone can be bought for $40, and comes with minutes included. Once bought, immediately, look up important emergency numbers, and program them into your contacts. Include your embassy, the red cross, police, your hotel, and reliable taxi cab can even call internationally if you needed to (though the price of that could be considered a crime itself!) At the end of your trip, hand the phone off to someone getting off the plane and reap the Karmic benefits.

Erin and I, for the most part, have felt very safe in Ecuador. The only crime we have been victims of has been our car theft, which was totally non-violent. Watching the news from America still makes me more concerned with the violence there, than the crime we have here. My hesitance to write this blog entry lies in the risk of characterizing the people and country of Ecuador as dangerous, they are NOT. In their debrief to us at our schools orientation, the American Embassy representatives said, and I quote, "given the opportunity, any Ecuadorian will steal from you." This is racist bullshit. Some of my best friendships I have developed here are with Ecuadorians. So, please, take this article with the grain-of-awareness and nothing else-salt that it is intended, Ecuador is a beautiful country.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What would you miss?

Sorry I haven't been on the blog in a bit, it's been hectic around here since our Spring Break trip to the States....a story in it's own right.

But here's a short one, what would you miss if you weren't living in your home country? While home, Erin and I went on a bit of a shopping spree. We don't have any solid plans to return home for another year, so this was our chance to nab everything we had forgotten, miscalculated for, or had used up since my sister came bearing gifts in December. Number one, was, as usual, Irish Whiskey. Number two, something I didn't expect...seasoning packets without preservatives and MSG. Though the meats and vegetables here are great, we really missed those easy to prepare-Whole Foods-sloppy joe mixes and the such. Who would have thought of that? So, what consumer item would you miss the most?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Ecuador Reporter

We've got a new English newspaper in town, The Ecuador Reporter. My friend Jon Dinner is the sports editor, and he convinced me to start a column on my own bumbling adventures. The first one is on Paragliding, I don't know where it will go from there....but it' s worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Some might wonder (like me) why one road closure would affect a school that serves a city of 3 million people and a vast transportation network.

Our roomate Dave took this picture from our patio last week, and I think it explains the answer to that question. Because this is how traffic is handled when the road are perfectly fine....

Apparently it took them about 20 minutes to sort this mess out...