High drama on the Rio Napo

We just got back from the jungle lodge to Quito. I saw lots of birds and dripped rivers of sweat. And met a towering blond man called Thor. I don’t think he was the Thor though. No enormous hammers or eight-legged horses. And would a thunder god go in the shape of a Dutch birdwatcher? Perhaps He moves in mysterious ways.

A slight downer was put on the end of our visit when gun-toting balaclava-wearing Colombians robbed the lodge during dinner on our last day. Fortunately they didn’t rob us individually, which would have been really a bit scary. We just lay on the floor of the restaurant while they raided the valuables box in the office, and stayed until we were sure they were gone. And they were mainly after cash, so I’ve still got my passport and credit card; I only lost about sixty bucks.

I actually vaguely thought it was some kind of bizarrely unfunny joke by the staff at first, and by the time I realised it was real it was pretty obvious that they weren’t after hostages or anything, so I wasn’t even scared. I suspect this represents a failure of imagination on my part. I do feel sorry for the staff who had to try and be competent and organised while we were lying under the table quipping. Especially those who were chased by the gunmen and had to hide out in the forest until 1am awhen they were sure it was safe.

Anyway, not the ideal way to end our stay, but it hasn’t actually affected my travel plans at all since I was coming back to Quito today anyway. I’m still planning to visit the cloudforest. And I don’t seem to be traumatised or anything, so that’s good. On my personal scale of unpleasant South American travel experiences I reckon it rates lower than the food poisoning I had in Venezuela.

15 Comments

  1. 4 November 2006 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Ah, nothing like adventure!

  2. Harry
    4 November 2006 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    It turns out that the manager of the lodge was killed, which makes it all that bit more horrible.

  3. Deb
    14 November 2006 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Could you please tell me what the name of the lodge is that was robbed? How many robbers were involved? Do you feel this was a one-time thing or don’t you know?

  4. Deb
    14 November 2006 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Another question? How did you know they were Colombians? Hope to hear a reply soon…..Thanks

  5. Harry
    14 November 2006 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    The lodge was called La Selva, although most of the lodges are equally isolated, so I don’t know whether there was any particular reason they targeted that one. Apparently there were ten men involved, though I only ever saw two of them. It was the first time they’ve had something like this happen in 14 years, so it’s new; who knows whether it’s likely to happen again.

    At the time one of the staff said the robbers had Colombian accents, though I slightly suspect that may have been a case of ‘when in doubt, throw the blame on the Colombians’. I can’t say it makes much difference to me what nationality they were.

  6. Dorothy
    15 November 2006 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    How did you become aware that it was ten men involved the lodge and staff, were there children present at the time? Did anyone witness the shooting ( guests) Did the men speak to the guests, Who and why were the staff chased into the jungle? Nationality makes a difference, a couple of dumb drunk Indians vs Colombian planned crimes. Do you feel this was random , planned , targeting the lodge? Have you heard of similir events at other near by lodges? Do you feel it’s safe to go there?

  7. christine
    15 November 2006 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    Have you heard of any other recent crimes in this region,

  8. Pablo
    15 November 2006 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    It is really sad what happened but seems it was an isolated event and the lodge was elected in a random way, there are no proofs of nationality of the criminals but seems that there were local thiefes with no experience in this kind of things, the police is already investigating, the manager of the lodge was killed after fighting against the attackers. Ecuador is a safe country to travel, the area is fine, all the lodges are now implementing security measures to make sure that this will never happen again.

  9. Paul Sanders
    15 November 2006 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Sad but sometimes true. Crime is present in every area of our society not necesarily in Ecuador but in the world.
    Things like this shouldn’t make us stop travelling to countries like Ecuador, I’ve been there many times including La Selva and my experiences have been the best. Hope they catch this criminals.

  10. loosos
    21 November 2006 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    what a shame to loose lifes just for money, hope that all this sad episode is over and that La Selva continues as always, a miracle of nature and frienship.

  11. christine
    29 November 2006 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    My family has been traveling to La Selva for over 15 years. We bring 12+ middle school children to learn about the rain forest and share our passion for Ecuador. My husband and I were married there. our entire ceremony, & celebration was tradtional quichua and was planned by out dear friend who was killed during this terrible robbery. He will be forever missed. We will be traveling again this year to hold on to our trust in this region and it’s people.

    I still believe I am safer at La Selva than my own home town, which since that horrible day has had many more shooting, robberies and violence. There has been none in our magical La Selva. The miracle and faith of nature and friendship at La SElva lves within me forever and I count the days until we return.

  12. aw
    7 January 2008 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    La Selva was robbed in 2004 in a similar way, while my wife and I were staying there: robbers came in the night and removed the contents of the hotel safe after making the mangager open it. About 14 guests lost their passports, credit cards, cash, etc.

    So this is not an isolated event; it has happened at LEAST twice. Who knows if there have been more occurrences. The day after we were robbed, it was business as usual there- including the welcome speech advising that all valuables be put in the hotel safe. This practice must be common knowledge in the neighborhood. Hence, I would think, the repeat crime. “Hey, let’s go down to La Selva tonight and clean out the gringo loot in the safe again”.

    We also were told that it was a “random” event and that measure would be taken etc. etc. Talk is cheap. If they told you this was a first-time event, then you were lied to, as I was robbed in 2004.

    This part of Ecuador is notoriously problematic – various governments advise against travel to this region. I would further say that anywone who believes that Ecuador is as safe, generally speading, as the USA, must lead a rich fantasy life.

  13. Harry
    8 January 2008 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    “I would further say that anyone who believes that Ecuador is as safe, generally speaking, as the USA, must lead a rich fantasy life.”

    That seems an odd comparison, frankly. Why would any one think that?

    When I go to somewhere like Ecuador I accept that I’m taking more of a risk, for various reasons, than if I go to, say, Orlando. For that matter, if I never visited any countries that were more dangerous than my own, I wouldn’t even visit the USA.

  14. aw
    8 January 2008 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Christine, above, wrote “I still believe I am safer at La Selva than my own home town, which since that horrible day has had many more shooting, robberies and violence”

    I’m presuming she is American, which may incorrect.

    I heard the “Ecuador is safer than most big US cities” logic any number of times, especially from Ecuadorians and also from tourists we met while travelling afterwards. Why would they think that? Who knows.

    Anyway, the point I think is that vistors to La Selva should be aware that multiple goverments advise against travel to Sucumbios and Orellana provinces, and that La Selva Lodge in particular appears to have a problem. Whether it is neighborhood gangs or Columbians, the place is in the wilderness, far from police or military, and as such is a sitting duck. Of course, La Selva is never going to tell anyone that. I don’t know how people can be made aware of this problem. I tried to get the Canadian Foreign Affairs people to specifically mention La Selva on their website, but they won’t do that, for fear of making “libelous” statements. We did provide them with a police report, so I don’t follow their logic.

    I find it most interesting that La Selva told you that your robbery incident was the first in 14 years. Liars!

    And the funny thing was, my wife and I had misgivings about putting our passports and such in an envelope and handing it off to the manager, but we thought, hey, everyone else is doing it, why not. Never before and never since have I given up my passport, credit cards, traveller’s cheques, and cash. The only person who wasn’t robbed was a wily Swiss bank executive, easily the richest guy there, who thought the idea of entrusting his stuff to the hotel manager was absurd. He bought the rest of us drinks for the rest of the fateful evening, which was very nice of him.

  15. Former visitor
    25 July 2008 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    About oncidents at La Selva, it is true that incident of november was not the only one, the reason why this became to be know is because the manager got killed after all. If it wasn’t because of this event, they would have kept lying and lying. La selva not only is a very unsafe place but also the place itself is crap. The owner doesn’t care about the place anymore.

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