Radio Scotland - Days Like This

Theme: Pain & Difficulties

Kidnap in the Altiplano

Ruth Tauber


The first word, so empty of the magnitude of the experience, my shaken hand could pencil so gingerly onto the page of my travel journal in the aftermath of that day.

We had been travelling with friends in Peru for two weeks before then, taking in the magnificent Maccu Picchu, and visiting a friend who had been living in this strange country with its thin air and rough, beautiful mountains.

On leaving this friend, we ventured west, to discover in reality the magic that had been promised to us in travellers tales of Bolivia. The temptation of salt deserts and carnivals concealed any notion of danger.

Before we had even set foot in the country, we were laced up in a scam which was to set our seven week trip to the continent seriously off-course. It began with the chaotic port of Desagudero, on Perus border with Bolivia, with the appearance of a young woman in baggy clothes and baseball cap offering to escort us to La Paz.

The minibus journey was uneventful, we picked up other passengers, stopped for fuel and repaired a problem with the bus.

We were soon in La Paz on an unpaved side road. I had thought that perhaps they were to drop off one of the passengers; after all, they did seem on friendly terms. There was a taxi turning into a street to the left. The bus stopped abruptly, men jumped from the taxi yielding a silver pistol and boarded the bus. In my naivety, I first thought they were after the other passengers, it was some kind of gang affair, and actually felt relieved when one jumped over the seat in front of me, grabbed my hands and pushed me out of sight. I though he was protecting me.

After about ten minutes the van was parked in a driveway, we were sat up and parcel tape was wrapped roughly round our mouths and hands.

We three were lead to a concrete room, glimpsed only through gaps in makeshift blindfolds, pushed down onto hard mattresses and covered with blankets. I could hear the panicked breathing of my companions either side, shallow and stifled. I concentrated in understanding the quickened speech of the men in the room, a welcome distraction from thinking the unthinkable. I could hear our belongings being scattered across the room, valuables and commodities being salvaged. It was not long before they searched us, so thorough that even our socks were removed, checked, and replaced. They found what they wanted, our bank cards, and sat us up one by one, pushing the gun into our mouths and stomachs, to get from us our PIN numbers. Our co-operation saved us from abuse worse than slaps and rough treatment, a fact later confirmed by the Tourist Police.

When they had gathered the necessary information, some of the party departed to use the bank machine. After what I guessed to be a couple of hours my own sense of timing was all I could rely on we could hear our sleeping bags being rolled out. My mind was racing; they were going to move us, but what for? To be shot? To be raped?

Thankfully it was just to be made comfortable for the night. We were frequently offered water, use of a bathroom and food, but I agreed only to the first for fear that any more might be more dangerous.

The time passed in a haze of thoughts of home and family, of the fact that the alert might not be raised for four days, until we were due to meet our friend in Chile, and morbid rationale. Planes passed overhead, our only clue to our geography. Previous to moving us to the other mattress, the twine had been removed from our wrists and parcel tape wrapped around our fingers to make our hands into a prayer position. Surely if they bothered to shake out our fingers and confirm healthy circulation they wouldnt kill us? Yet what possible way out was there?

It soon became clear that things were changing, we were to be moved. I was engaged in a blind conversation with one of our captors, quizzing me about children, husbands and home life, then about where we were to stay in La Paz, and Chile, he was keen that we leave Bolivia as soon as possible.

We were raised up and, still blindfolded, pushed back into the van. By now night had fallen; it was so cold. Still the questions persisted, to a deafening level, where were we going? Sleeping bags were strewn over us. Each of us was being minded by a member of the group, myself by the ringleader. He fumbled in the pocket of his trousers, and my imagination could only race more. Thankfully it was but a grubby Boliviano note, enough for a taxi.

We were pushed out of the mini-van, down to the ground in a heap and again covered in our sleeping bags, two backpacks discarded with us as the little van sped off into the night. After waiting for long enough that we hoped they would be gone, we surfaced.

We walked for some time through the dark, dusty dirt tracks of an industrial estate, with only dogs, the moonlight and the occasional speeding vehicle around. The fear of something even more awful happening to us at that point was, thankfully, cut short by a taxi driver who saw us when occupied but returned to collect us. One by one in the back of the taxi, we broke down, sobbing uncontrollably.

Like so often after a traumatic event, my first thoughts were for my material possessions, my journals, photos of home, and beautiful words written in cards by friends who felt so far away then. But when we had finally reached the safety of a hotel we opened the packs returned to us to find our passports, bankcards, some clothes, documents and that travel journal

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