Tonight at 1:00am I was held at gunpoint in my hotel lobby by three strangers. It was easily the most intense moment of the trip, let alone my entire life. Just like in any horror movie, one second I was minding my own business, the next my life was spinning out of control and split decisions were deciding the outcome. I’m thankful to say that the moment has passed and I’m calmly lying in bed with a bloody towel draped over my head.
As anyone with a lot of free time, Alex and I are on a pretty warped sleeping schedule. We go to bed around 3:00am and wakeup around noon here in Barranquilla. 1:00am tonight I was feeling thirsty and it was my turn to go get water from the front desk. I grabbed $10,000 pesos ($5 US) and slipped out the door. I took the stairs. We live on the third floor so it’s a toss-up waiting for the elevator; I figure the exercise can’t hurt.
I reached the bottom of the last staircase and immediately saw our friendly bellhop. He was talking to a guy wearing jeans, a purple button-up shirt, and a cowboy hat. In between them was a rectangular box with a white sheet laid over it. The bellhop looked over at me and I asked him for water. He hesitated and told me there was no water for sale. I could see the water in the fridge. I figured I had misunderstood his Spanish so I went over to the empty front desk to peruse their candy selection while the bellhop finished up with the other guests.
Barefoot with a pair of Prana climbing shorts and a V-neck tee shirt I was facing away from everyone fantasizing about chocolate when I felt his hand pushing at my back. I looked down and to my left to see who was bumping into me. It was the guy in the purple shirt and he had a revolver in his hand. I ignored his lead and moved for the staircase, just leave the situation. He followed gripping my arm muttering that we were going outside through the front door. I didn’t like that idea; people with guns are scary, but even worse is the thought of going out into the Colombian night with them. I got to the wall and made eye contact with the bellhop. He looked at me helplessly; there was nothing he could do. That’s when the alarm really set in.
Two others, a guy and a girl, joined up with the gunman and started walking me towards the door again. I started resisting everything. I was freaking out, throwing their arms off me, telling them that we weren’t going outside, and always moving towards the staircase. I started throwing my body weight around shuffling the huddle away from the front door. They didn’t like that and kept brandishing the pistol to in front of my face as leverage. I had some momentum and forced us up against the wall next to the stairway, raising my voice exclaiming that I wasn’t going anywhere. Then it got rough.
The purple shirt handed the gun off to the woman; she immediately started waving it around screaming about shooting me for various reasons. The two guys tried to wrestle me to the ground. I was on my feet but bent over with one over my shoulders when the other kicked me hard in the gut. Immediately thereafter I was pistol-whipped right in the back of my head. A couple more punches to the ribs and I was lying on my side with my back to the wall. The lady kept going on wielding the gun back and forth like it was a sword. The purple shirt pulled out a roll of clear packing tape and went down to his knees pulling out a strip for my mouth. The other guy only had my legs though so my arms were free to keep any and all tape far from my mouth. I started screaming loud in both languages for whoever would listen. I looked for the bellhop again; he was horrified in the corner with his hands covering his mouth, unable to react.
With the tape out it became clear that this could be more than a mugging. I got real loud, belting up the stairway for help. They kept telling me to shut up or they’d shoot me. They looked nervous and I screamed more. Amidst all of it I managed to get back to my feet. They kept tugging at me towards the door. I kept swimming through them and finally my hand caught the stairway bannister. I was anchored and I could tell they were spooked. I didn’t even know where the gun was at this point, but I felt a position of power for the first time in the battle. The two guys grabbed me again, more forcefully. I slipped out of their grasps and felt my shirt rip in two and fall right off me as I hopped up a couple steps. I was free and halfway up the staircase and I bolted. I looked back as I rounded the first turn and the three of them were fleeing towards the front door.
I blasted through our hotel room door shirtless with blood all over my chest and dripping down my forehead. I didn’t even know I was bleeding. I locked the door and told Alex that I had just been held at gunpoint in the lobby. He looked up, saw that I wasn’t joking, and immediately took over. I sat down in the chair looking around trying to take in the last two minutes. It was like a dream or a story; I wasn’t sure whether the struggle had been real or whether it was truly over. Al handed me the last bag of water and had me recount what happened.
My tale was full of conspiracy. I had the bellhop in on it, plus our new Colombian friend Nicolas, possibly even the entire hotel staff. I felt framed, targeted, hated. As much as I wanted to go downstairs and start pointing fingers and demanding answers, I was far too terrified. Alex took a look at my head. My hair was matted in blood from where the butt of the gun hit so I put it under the shower for a moment. Upon further inspection, he decided that it would stop bleeding sooner or later. I threw a hotel towel over my noggin and sat down again. Moments later I heard more commotion downstairs through the window. I heard a man’s voice say ‘they’re going to Argentina.’ Alex and I looked at each other and both grabbed knives. Reinforcements were not going to have their way with us.
It turned out to be the police arriving. They showed up on the third floor and Alex answered the door. Outside were a couple cops and the bellhop. I saw his eyes, just as helpless as they had been during the struggle. We immediately hugged in the hallway; he was shuddering with tears pouring down his face. The cops didn’t ask any questions. Instead they urgently took off in another direction. Nicolas came out of his room and told me to go inside and lock my door for the night. So I did and I’ve been cooling down ever since. A hotel lady knocked a half hour later and gave me a pill for my head. I took it figuring it can’t hurt. The remaining fallout has been pretty tame. My head has stopped bleeding and I’m positive that I’m alive. It’s 5:00am and my mind is still racing, but let’s face it: I got pistol-whipped in the dome in Colombia tonight.
Looking back on the decision to fight the abductors, it was the only logical thing to do. I’ve always heard not to get into cars with people no matter what and that’s why I initially fought them off despite the gun. The more we struggled the more apparent it became that the trio were a bunch of amateurs. They weren’t playing cutthroat. If they wanted to, they could have bashed my head into a wall, kicked me way harder in the gut, and then broke my arm throwing me to the ground. Instead all of their pushing and pulling felt like an insistence with the expectation that I would cooperate. They also picked the worst type of tape in the history of kidnappings. Everyone knows that finding the end on a roll of clear packing tape takes a while. When you have a kicking and screaming Gringo flinging blood around the room from his scalp, it’s impossible. As for the gun, they never aimed it directly at me. They waved it around a lot, dragged its crosshairs over my body plenty, but never held it steady at point blank for me to stare down. I never felt like they had it in them; there was never a do-or-die moment. With all these hints playing off each other, I knew my best bet was to resist and thank God it ended the way it did.
I don’t understand what instigated it, though. When I walked down the bellhop told me there was no water for sale even though I could see it. It was my cue to leave. What was in the box with the sheet over it? Were they going to fleece the bellhop or simply wait for the first guest to step into the lobby? Or did the golden goose gringo waltz in the room and change the game entirely. I tried to get some of this out of the bellhop but he was too worked up which leads me to believe that I interrupted some very tense words between him and the gunmen. Maybe he owed them money. Wrong place, wrong time. Whatever the case, we are all alive and shaken.
Since returning from Taganga I’ve had a bad feeling about Barranquilla. I think my previous report reveals my worries about the way people act here. It was like I looked around and realized the probability of being there when something bad went down. Last night in the hotel lobby the numbers game paid out. Now that the dust has settled, I feel surprisingly better. Like Alex, I’ve gotten my dose of bad luck and come out on top. I feel good about the rest of Colombia and I’m ready to hit the road and catch up with my mates. I want the hell out of Barranquilla. I want my shirt back too; I only have three. Most of all, purely out of principle, I want back the $10,000 pesos I dropped! I guess I’ll settle for my livelihood. Tomorrow we get Al’s bike back. At dusk I will whole up in the hotel room with plenty of water to last through the night. Sunrise on Wednesday we are leaving this shithole.