My Loved Ones Were Kidnapped in Nicaragua
In any travel situation, there is a certain degree of planning necessary to ensure a smooth trip. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, and these trips are ones that fall off the beaten path; they are not littered with tourist hubs or information desks, so it’s difficult to properly prepare for your first time there. Traveling to these locations means witnessing firsthand how people live without the subjectivity of the thin, deceiving film that excessive tourism can pull over your eyes. One such place is Central America.
February was an exhilarating month for my family: I was traveling to Guatemala as the leader of an international volunteer trip, my older sister was finishing up the last few months of her ESL teaching in South Korea, and our eldest sister was backpacking across Nicaragua with her best friend. I should preface this story by indicating that my sisters and I have been infected with an incurable travel bug since a young age. Having all three of us in our native country at once is a rarity and usually calls for some level of celebration.
My eldest sister, Trista, and her best friend, Nina, are too of the most spontaneous, courageous, and down-to-earth people I have ever met. Every time I have had an opportunity to travel, my sister has challenged me to accept it. She provides endless support when it comes to educating myself and expanding my horizons. Both my sisters have been role models– absolute rocks in any time of unsettlement. I have never felt fear or reservation in traveling alone as the two people I look up to the most had always done so with near perfection.
However, on February 27th, my sister and her best friend encountered what they described as one of the most horrible, terrifying experiences of their life thus far. Just after noon on the last day of their nearly ten-day excursion, they were victims of an express kidnapping.
They were traveling from Leon to Managua in Nicaragua, the largest country in the Central America isthmus. During the bus ride, the man sitting in the seat to their left struck up a conversation in English. He asked them the destination of the bus and then proceeded to ask about the quality of his English, indicating that he had been living in the United States for a period of time. Trista and Nina attempted to ignore him and continued to do so even as his brother got on the bus at a later stop. Despite being reserved, they said it was difficult to ignore them as they made themselves out to be incredibly nice, even discussing their mother awaiting them at the last bus stop.
The bus stopped a short time later and nearly everyone stood up. The boys told Trista and Nina that this stop was the final terminal. Nina said her heart sank at these words, as this was not the terminal they had anticipated arriving at. They exited the bus, bid the strangers goodbye, even waving at the boys’ mother, and attempted to find a taxi to their hostel. Half a block down, a burgundy car pulled up beside them. Since the men had previously made contact, their initial instinct was not to run. The men pulled up beside them, jumped out and threw them both into the back seat of the car, closing the door and speeding off.
Trista & Nina
The mother, the two men, and an additional stranger were in the car. The “mother” pulled out a knife, waving it in their faces and screaming in Spanish. Nina described the situation vividly, saying “she jumped on top of us holding the knife in our faces threatening to kill us, telling us to shut up, stop screaming and shut our eyes.”
The three men proceeded to tie Trista and Nina’s hands together with huge plastic twist ties. My sister was able to keep her eye open a slit in order to keep record of their location. Nina, who had recently wed in December, felt her wedding rings wrestled off her finger. The English speaking man told them he was sorry about this and begged them to stay calm and tell the truth, or pay the consequences.
One man exited the car with their visa cards in hand and at that moment, Nina began to panic. Her credit card had not been working for the entirety of the trip.
I spoke up, in my broken Spanish, and told them very calmly that my card would not work, that they had the right pin, but for some reason it hadn’t been working … they all became very aggressive.
She indicated that her wedding rings, which had already been obtained, were far more valuable then her credit card. The atmosphere escalated as the four argued amongst themselves in Spanish. They gave them back their credit cards and passports.
They told us to open our eyes, still holding the knife to us, they told us if we told anyone they would kill us, that they had contacts. They took pictures of us, they said they took pictures of our passports and that if we made a report, they would find us and kill us.
My sister maintains that she had kept her eyes open for the duration of the events and no pictures had been taken. They were given $55 US and a little bit of Nicaraguan currency – enough to get to the Hostel, then to the airport and to finally arrive at home. One of their hands were cut free as the woman of the group pushed Trista and Nina from the car into the country side. They had no idea where they were and after using sunscreen, managed to escape the tied maneuver around their wrists. They headed back down the street, eventually catching a bus back to Managua.
I feel the locals on the bus knew exactly what has happened. I could see it in their eyes.
After the bus ride, Trista and Nina took a taxi to the airport – the only place they would feel safe. Nicaragua does not have a single public phone, but eventually, Nina approached an international police officer. They told their story in an office surrounded by police officers. The entire exchange was done in broken Spanish as the police officers remained less then helpful, even texting during their statement. After purchasing international minutes and acquiring a telephone from a police officer, the two called home and delivered heart wrenching news – a phone call no loved one ever desires to receive. Nina said they asked the police officer what they should do next and, “they just stared at us. They said, you wait for your flight.”
The two were alone: no phone numbers to call for help; no indication of where they could get an earlier flight; nothing. They bought a cell phone, contacted their loved ones, and asked for help. As they waited, they met another man from Quebec who had just experienced a similar situation within his first day in Nicaragua. Eventually, after 23 hours of waiting and 30 hours straight without sleep, they boarded their airplane and began the journey home.
My initial response to this story was similar to any loved one of someone in a situation of peril: to ensure my sister and Nina were okay, and that they would continue to be okay. My second instinct was to ask who we could tell, where this story could go, and who should be contacted in order to ensure these people were caught. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that these occurrences happen far too often for travelers. The Government of Canada’s travel advisory website indicates that while there is no official warning for Nicaragua, there are occurrences of violent crime such as “express kidnapping.”
The government workers Nina and Trista approached were less then helpful, at times seeming downright accusatory and indifferent.
While they were reimbursed for the money taken from their credit cards, the lack of resources available to them was appalling. They wanted to acquire information on what to do now that the situation was over and how to potentially raise awareness for future travellers. While the aid response from persons of authority was less then accommodating, Trista and Nina wanted people to know what happened and to consider it a caution. Not a caution against traveling to certain locations: a caution against trusting those who seem nice but hold ulterior motives; a caution to put resources in place for yourself as a form of preventative measures rather then looking for them after the fact; a caution to act calm in those instances; a caution to not let those instances stop you from living.
My sister has not been scared off from continuing her one true love: traveling. Less then three months afterwards, she backpacked across Southeast Asia with our middle sister. What begs consideration in this situation is that Trista and Nina did not call attention to themselves prior to being kidnapped. They did not approach these men nor did they demonstrate a desire to maintain even a casual conversation with them. They were just two young adults traveling in a foreign country when a group of four individuals marked them as targets: an occurrence that can happen to anyone regardless of gender, size, or situation.
Written by Nikki Gladstone
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