Published: January 8th 2006December 27th 2005
Famous for it´s peaceful vibe and the populations long lifespan, this place is supposed to be perfect for re-charging your batteries. For me, it proved to be the exact opposite.
The village is small and there´s little to do except hang out in one of the cafes or walk up Cerro Mandango (named the walk of the two crosses) for panoramic views over the valley.
There is an Italian proverb that says: "All the world is going to die,
perhaps even I too. "
I now know death can be just a matter of being in the wrong place.
We had a day to kill before taking the night bus onwards towards Peru. And, as I never like to sit still for too long, we decided to do the mirador walk, which takes takes roughly an hr to climb.
We set off aroud 10am after buying water and lunch. After paying the Park entrance fee of $2 we started the uphill climb just in time for the noon sun to beat its rays down hard upon us. Mad dogs and ...
After 10 mins we passed a Scotsman and his girlfriend coming down who warned us of the difficulty of the climb, especially the last bit which involved a scramble to the top, "impossible" he said in the flip flops we were wearing.
Balls to that. We were climbing and we were going to the top no matter what footwear we had on.
The hike was fine and once at the top the views were great. We wanted to walk to the second cross which was much higher but decided against it as we weren´t properly equipped. It was too early for lunch so, we made our way back down.
All was fine until we went below the tree line. Sal saw a snake and went off to photograph it and I carried on ahead. As I was walking through the trees I saw some figures moving quickly towards me. My brain said to me, ¨that´s strange, it´s quite hot and they have woolly masks on¨.
And then I registered that they had guns and the masks were for a very sinister purpose. I then thought "We´re going to be kidnapped and taken off somewhere and this is the last we´re going to see of civilization for a long time". It´s funny how I never thought the worst. I never thought, I am now going to die!
The gunmen were young (one probaby 19yrs, the other two no more than 16yrs, although, because they wore masks the whole time, we can never be sure). Guns were pointed at us the whole time.
They demanded dollars (we only had $25 on us and that was because I hadn´t been able to pay for our nights accommodation that morning). They went through our bags, first taking Sal´s professional Nikon camera and pendant given to him by his mother then, taking out of my bag bizzare items like, our lunch (but leaving the onion!), a broken pen and my pink, Ibiza, glittery purse (worth 4 quid).
Normally, once the goods and money are taken you´re either shot or they run. Job done. However, Sal´s camera is his love and so, he entered into a bargaining debate with the armed gunmen for about half an hour. At one point they got Sal to get on his knees and face away from them. This was when I first thought things are becoming really bad. One approached me and he got me to lift up my dress and looked all over my body (for hidden money). Again, I never once thought that I could be in danger of rape.
Eventually, Sal persuaded them, incredibly, to give back his camera. The gunmens parting words were to fire a loaded gun into the air and warn us that if we spoke a word to anyone they would come and kill us, even if we were on a bus.
We quickly walked back to the park entrance warning everyone who we passed to come back down with us immediately. It is amazing that no-one actually interrupted the robbery, because the first guy we passed was literally 1 min awayn from us. Unfotunately this tourist either didn´t understand what we were tellling him or he decided not to heed our warning. I wonder what his fate was?
Back down in the village, we found out that 2yrs previously masked gunmen had assulted two other tourists and only a month ago another armed robbery had occured. Tourists be warned.
Mum and Dad please don´t worry too much. I really have no mental scars from the experience and didn´t feel it useful to tell you before. Plus it has taught me a good lesson. Now, I always ask whether places have any history of crimes before undertaking them, even when they are total tourist sites.
Still, it´s amazing to think that I paid $2 (entrance fee) to get robbed at gunpoint.