Ring the bells—the winner of the "My Boldest Experience" essay contest has been chosen. Behold, a tale of international intrigue by Gizmodo reader Ted T., who is just won a $100 AMEX card. Read and be inspired.
In 2006 I spent a semester in Argentina, after which I took the remaining summer to backpack through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. Four weeks to visit four countries is a breakneck pace, and I quickly fell behind my naive itinerary (sample: "9am: Arrive in Lima by bus. 10am: Hang glide over city. 1pm: Lunch").
I ended up dawdling in each city I visited and didn't make it to Ecuador until two days before my flight home. I was in a rush to cross the Peruvian border, and against my better judgment accepted a ride from a suspiciously eager taxi driver. We drove about a mile before he stopped to pick up his "assistant," an equally friendly man who gushed about how smart I was to hire them to protect me, given how dangerous the area could be—a point he illustrated by raising his shirt to show me the handle of a large knife tucked into his belt. I looked into his eyes to confirm my suspicions: I was being kidnapped.
We soon left the main road and drove deep into the forest. I politely suggested my frenemies had taken a wrong turn, but they insisted we were headed to an official border outpost. We eventually stopped in front of a small shack in a clearing, and a man came out to greet us. He wore an orange vest that read "POLICÍA," but no shirt underneath—a lazy attempt to convince me that the impending robbery was a legitimate thousand-dollar "border crossing fee." His clothes, however, were much less interesting to me than his hands, one of which waved in greeting while the other hefted a sawed-off shotgun. My escorts were still laughing and smiling like we were friends, but the gravity of the situation was obvious, so in mounting desperation I made this proposal: as the greater threat waited outside, I quietly explained to my captors that I understood I was being robbed, but I wasn't sure they were going about it the best way. I confessed that I only had about $300 on me, which I was more than willing to part with given the circumstances, but I suggested they might prefer to split it between themselves rather than share it with their topless colleague. They were clearly surprised by the turn of the discussion, but thought my idea was a good one. In minutes we were back on the road.
I might have literally dodged a bullet, but Knife-Pants unfortunately remembered a border-town ATM that would help me supply them with the full thousand dollars they believed they were owed. Seeing no other options, I nodded my reluctant assent. The ATM was attached to a small bank, and my escorts decided to wait in the car while I withdrew my money. Although my bag was still in their trunk, this surprisingly wide berth struck me as an opportunity to escape, which I immediately attempted to do. I walked up to the ATM, but instead of inserting my card, I stepped to the left and entered the bank. Inside I found one teller and a young, unarmed security guard. No customers. I explained that the men outside were trying to rob me, but my audience was unimpressed: "What do you want us to do about it?" the guard asked. I asked if I could use their phone to call the police, and the teller told me to help myself. I was grateful until I picked it up and heard no dial tone, which is when the teller remembered that they were expecting a repairman some time later that week.
Strangely, I wasn't sure if I'd escaped yet or not. I looked out the window, where my nemeses were still waiting for me, looking pissed and impatient. I could think of only one way the phone could be of use: I grabbed the whole thing and carried it to the window, and did everything I could to make it look like I was talking to the police.
But there were no police, and I think what finally saved me was my robbers' own boredom more than any cleverness on my part. They stuck around for three hours—there's no reason they couldn't have waited til night, when I would have had to leave the bank—but eventually they gave me the finger and drove off with my bag, which I'm sure they were disappointed to learn contained mostly clothes and books-my money and passport were tucked safely into my pants. The teller and the guard seemed mildly happy for me, and didn't mind letting me wait another hour before I ventured outside. I couldn't avoid getting a little robbed, but I'd managed to escape with my life and, as a bonus, my money. I still had a plane to catch out of Quito, though, so I did the only thing I could do: I hailed another cab and hoped for a nicer driver.
Thank you for all of your entries. Go forth and be bold, like Ted here, and like BlackBerry® Bold™ 9900/9930, the device that gives you all the power you need to boldly go anywhere.