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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Going to Ecuador? Watch Your Back!

 Scopolamine a dangerous drug used by criminals.
  
It was 11 PM on a Thursday  evening when I had just arrived in the Mariscal District in Quito, Ecuador. After checking into a little neighborhood hotel, I went out to get a glimpse of the city I was going to be visiting for a few days. The (La) Mariscal, better known as Gringolandia (Gringo Land),  where people from all over the world come to stay and/or hang out, and where businesses cater to an international clientele. 
 
As I strolled the neighborhood, I noticed a black Ecuadorian male hanging out. Thinking he might turn me on to Quito's black community, I tried to make conversation. He asked me to get him something to eat from a restaurant across the street, which I did. When I returned with the food, I saw him farther down the block throwing "pitches" at passing tourists. Realizing that he had some kind of hustle going, I left him alone not wanting to be involved. 
 
Meanwhile a black woman appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and I immediately greeted her and introduced myself. I can tell by the way she spoke that she was local, and again, I figured she might turn me on to some Afro-Ecuadorian action. But I got a little suspicious of her vague conversation coupled with the fact that she was hanging out in Gringolandia alone at night. She seemed overly elated that I even stopped to talk to her.
As I gazed into her eyes, I got the impression that she was truly interested in what’s in my pants (wallet). I figured that she too might be hustling, and perhaps working for the brother down the street. Maybe she wanted to set me up for a robbery. Who knows? I quickly reminded myself that Quito has a long standing reputation of foreign visitors being harmed by its criminal element, and that Gringolandia in particular, attracts such criminals because gringos (foreigners) are considered easier and more lucrative prey. With that thought in mind, I tactfully excused myself and headed back to my hotel calling it a night.
 
Looking back on this encounter, I wonder what would have been in store for me, had I continued to hang out with this woman. It has been brought to my attention that there is a dangerous drug known as scopolamine that is increasingly gaining popularity among Ecuadorian robbers, thieves and rapists. This colorless, odorless, and tasteless drug is slipped into drinks, sprinkled onto food, and even absorbed through the skin when holding tainted documents, such as pamphlets. Victims become so docile that they have been known to help thieves rob their homes and empty their bank accounts. Women have been drugged repeatedly over days, gang-raped, or rented out as prostitutes. Most troubling for police is that scopolamine completely blocks the formation of memories where it is usually impossible for victims to ever identify their aggressors.

The tree which naturally produces scopolamine grows wild around Bogata, Colombia, and is popularly known as borrachero (gets you drunk). The alkaloid from this drug is used legally in medicines across the world to treat everything from motion sickness to the tremors of Parkinson's disease. 

Because I have personal friends in Ecuador, I do plan to return, however, to avoid being drugged, I will not accept drinks, food, or even documents from strangers, no matter how sweet and innocent-looking they appear. I did that once and simply was lucky that the stranger I just met and chatted with didn't have evil intentions (that time!). And I certainly will not leave my drink or food unattended in public places, such as bars and restaurants.