WARNING. Violence in South America is real. I have been a powerless witness to several acts of violence, and was unluckily the victim of one.
During my Gringo Road trip, I heard a lot about drug related crimes. Each Latin American country competing for the top spot.
A friend who works for a drug rehab NGO in Santiago de Chile told me drug use was on the rise, as any tourist visiting Valparaiso can tell. In La Paz, tourists are kept out of El Alto, a crime ridden suburb dominating the Bolivian capital. A friend met a the "Alliance Francaise" has just been hijacked in her home by 4 cagouled men who spoke with Peruvian accents.
In Lima, all friends said to me: "don't go to the North, it s full of criminals because of the porous border with Ecuador."
In those countries, I heard a lot about crime, but I didn't really feel concerned, thinking, it's just a media scare.
I was expecting the same kind of story in Ecuador, even if I was warned by some contacts: "Be careful, criminals are very violent here."
I saw policemen at every street corners in either Guayuaquil and Quito, and so I mistakenly thought it was safe. I should have wondered in the 1st place: "Why are there so many policemen?"
On my first day in Ecuador, I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador largest city, and went out for dinner in the city centre, around Parque Centenario. At 8pm, we were only 2 persons on foot in the street: I and one frail looking local guy just in front of me, and managed to cross the road to change pavements. I was just wondering about what to do, should I follow him or not?, because I just been warned by my hotel friendly receptionist to be especially careful during dark hours, when suddenly 2 young guys emerged from the shadows of a colonial building to jump on the guy in front of me and hit him on the face and knees. The guy fell down. On of the attacker kept punching him in the belly while the other explored his jeans pockets. He found a wallet, and then he also punched the guy on the ground. I was paralysed, what could I do, shout, run away? After a long long minute the 2 attackers fled running while the victim stayed still, then moved a bit and managed to stand up. He was looking helpless and at the same time fatalistic.
A bit upset by what I saw I went back to the hotel and tell the staff about what I saw and also that I wanted to go to Quito early the next morning. They understood me, they said, things like this are very common and Guayaquil has one of the highest crime rates in South America, which is not a small assessment. Guayaquil mayor using loads of oil money has although made a difference in recent years: Malecon 2000, Parque Historico, Cerro Santa Anna are his main achievements. But there are still work to be done!
Quito. Not listening to other fellow travellers and despite my Guayaquil experience, I decided to find a room in the Centro Historico again, and not in Mariscal, the fancy/rich/modern local equivalent of Miraflores. The number of locks in the 2 metal entrance gate to my hotel should have warned me. Taking only a small 10US$ bill and nothing else (US$ is now the official curency), I decided to start looking for a dinner earlier at 6.30pm, attracted by a nice looking, if empty, pedestrian street: La Ronda. Astonishingly, this street, probably the most beautiful of Quito, has on both sides nice looking arty restaurants and cool cafe/bars. But they are all closed, with posters saying. This place has closed by municipal police order! What a pity I was thinking! Just at this moment 2 guys approached smiling asking for the time. I replied with just a second too late, in english, as they asked me in the same language. How stupid! I had just failed their examination as I understood, as one of them drew a knife and put it under my throat. Unable to think, I pushed him strongly away, and ran in the direction of the last policeman I saw. They didnt follow me. Once again, I was safe. As in Guayaquil, the mayor has put a policeman on every street corner, but it s obviously not enough. What could be the next step?
Later, people with whom I shared the story, empathized with me, and most of them guessed I have been attacked in the touristy Calle La Ronda, see pic, apparently a crime hot-spot.
My advice: visit La Ronda during daylight only