Day 127: Quito, Ecuador
The one thing I was most worried about with my family visiting was getting robbed in Quito, Ecuador. They haven’t traveled as much as I have and I remembered how traumatic it was the first time I was robbed in Saigon two years ago.
But I was serious about my trip and booked flights, my mother announced that she and my sister wanted to come visit me.
This may seem normal for some families but this was an extraordinary gesture for mine – my sister had only been to the Dominican Republic on an all inclusive vacation and my mother had been to a resort in Spain and Florida. Oh and she hates flying.
What made it an even grander gesture was that they wanted to travel like I did and backpack for two weeks.
After looking at my tentative itinerary we decided on Ecuador; it sounded like a quaint country that would be easy to travel. So they booked the tickets months in advance and we began to make plans.
But as I made my way through Central America I started hearing stories about Ecuador, particularly about theft in Quito.
Common Scams in Ecuador
1) A fake bus employee insists that you put your day bag up in the overhead compartment, when you leave you realize all your electronics are gone.
2) Someone throws ketchup or another liquid on you and a kind woman offers tissues and says she’ll watch your bag if you put it down. The bag is taken as you are preoccupied with the mess.
3) You wake up in an unknown place, robbed, after a night out with a beautiful woman at a bar – okay not applicable to us.
So as their departure approached I tried to delicately balance informing my family that they should be aware of theft without scaring them; constantly reaffirming that while theft was common, violence was not.
They arrived they wearing their money belts I had bought for them in Canada. The next day they carried only $5 each, as instructed, and we had a free walking tour of the city and our guide warned us about pickpocketing, particularly at night.
We had a nice lunch at a local restaurant and made our way back to the hostel through the colonial streets of Old Quito.
So far it was a perfect first day.
As we turned the corner to the hostel my sister screamed as a man pushed her. I pushed him back and he ran off with her camera that she had been gingerly holding under her arm, knowing that she needed to be careful.
It was that quick.
We saw him run off down the street and around the corner.
Although shaken up, she was fine and there was nothing to do but walk the remaining 20 feet to the hostel. We later found out that the corner was particularly bad for this as it’s next to the black market.
The good news was that if we wanted to we could probably go buy it back. But her camera was 5 years old and she had only taken 3 photos that day so we just cut our losses.
A bad start to the trip, having also been robbed I wanted to minimize the damage so within hours we went back out on the street. We were all a bit jumpy but we needed to shake off the disappointment that people will rob you.
I asked my sister how she was doing and she said she wasn’t scared because now she had nothing left to steal.
Looking back I realized I had given my family such specific instructions on what to bring to Ecuador but I forgot the most important – bring clothing with pockets so you can put your camera and money it it. Because she didn’t have pockets in her pants or sweater she had to carry it, the thieve could have been watching us for blocks. Such a simple tip and yet easily overlook.
Tips to Avoid Getting Robbed in Ecuador
1. Clothing with pockets, we learned this one the hard way.
2. Never let anyone touch your bag on a bus. If you have valuables keep them on your lap at all times. Don’t even think of putting them at your feet as even the most experienced traveler realized the hard way.
3. If anyone other than a policeman stops you to ask a question, help you with something, wipe a stain keep walking!
4. In transit keep your bag close to you and in front of you. On the streetcar thieves work in groups to pickpocket and pass it onto someone so when you question them they have nothing on hand.
5. When you arrive to a town people will approach you to take you to their hostel or of someone they know but there have been cases where they take them to isolated places to rob them. It’s better to be safe than worry about being rude, don’t go with anyone you don’t know.