Americas, Colombia

News of a kidnapping: The true story of the Monkey’s close call in Colombia

No Comments 14 October 2010

News of a kidnapping: The true story of the Monkey’s close call in Colombia

Bogotá, June 2003. The Monkey lands in a precarious situation, and his survival hangs on the wits of his comrades and the altruism of an angel.


Perhaps the most memorable event of the Monkey’s 2003 trip to Colombia occurred on his first day in the country. It was June 2, which happened to be a Christian holy day. With shops, museums, and most everything else but churches closed, the Monkey and his photographer decided it was a good day to take in the outdoor sights of historic central Bogotá.

The Monkey in the cobblestone streets of Bogotá's Candelaria district.The weather was quite good, and due to light holiday traffic, there was less smog. The Monkey made his way through the narrow, hilly streets of La Candelaría, the core of Spanish colonial—and modern political and cultural—Bogotá, stopping for a number of photos along the way. During the course of the day, the Monkey posed at various other sites including the Moneda (Mint) Museum, the Botero Museum (displaying countless works by the Colombian painter), the Avianca skyscraper, the 16th Century church of San Francisco, and the Plaza de Bolívar, seat of Bogotá’s Cathedral, the national Congress, and the Palace of Justice.

After many hours of walking around high-altitude Bogotá, the Monkey and his photographer were pretty worn out by the mid-afternoon. They decided to return to their hotel in the Candelaría district and relax before dinner. Along the way, they passed through the area around the scenic Chorro de Quevedo, a little plaza surrounded by a warren of alley-like streets. Having spotted the Monkey posing by a particularly interesting old house, a young Colombian chap approached the Monkey and his photographer to inquire about what the Monkey was up to. As the boy and the photographer struck up a conversation and walked along, the Monkey climbed into the photographer’s camera case to rest his legs. Just as the boy was showing off the wounds he had received from an unfortunate run-in with a knife-wielding thug, loud footsteps and yelling from behind the trio signaled another assault was imminent.

Monkeyless photos just wouldn't be as cool.Two fellows dressed in black and masks grabbed hold of the Monkey’s photographer yelling to give up the money. They flashed a handgun and began struggling, one in front and one behind the photographer, to tear away his camera equipment. The photographer resisted as best he could, knowing his friend the Monkey was resting in the camera case. But with one, TWO, THREE whacks on the head with the pistol, and one more on the arm for good measure, the photographer was beaten. The thieves ran up the street with the Monkey and the equipment, and the photographer chased them imploring them to leave the Monkey, who was, after all, quite innocent in the whole affair. A few heroic bystanders did their best to thwart the thieves: one young couple swerved their car at the pair, swinging their door open to belt one of them, while an old man walking his German Shepherd let the dog lash out at one of the thieves, startling him and causing him to drop the camera, which smashed on the cobblestone street. But the Monkey was gone, kidnapped, secuestrado.

A few heroic bystanders did their best to thwart the thieves… But the Monkey was gone, kidnapped, secuestrado.

The duo escaped in the maze of streets, and the photographer had to give up the chase, at which point he realized he was bleeding quite profusely from the head, where the pistol whips had landed. The young Colombian couple that had tried to disrupt the thieves gave the photographer a handkerchief to bandage the wound, then helped him call the police. When two cops arrived, the young couple helped describe the perpetrators, and they climbed into the police van with the Monkey’s photographer to help with the search. “We want you to know not all Colombians are like that,” the couple told the photographer. “I know, I see that,” he replied.

The two police officers, in their olive green uniforms, listened to the photographer’s and the couple’s accounts of the incident, and they quickly came to the same conclusion: “Oh, it’s Chuki and Tomasa. They do this all the time here.” The cops said that they knew where to find the two thugs’ accomplice, and a few hairpin turns at high speed later, the van pulled up by a small bakery where a group of people were gathered outside. The male cop, who looked all of 18, pointed out a blonde girl in the crowd outside the bakery and asked whether or not she had been at the crime scene. Neither the young couple nor the photographer were sure, but the police said the girl worked with the thieves and pulled the van up beside her to question her. She tearfully denied any involvement, as one would expect whether or not she had done anything. After the impromptu interrogation, the female cop, in her late 20s, said, “We know where they live. We’ll go by and see if they’re home.” This idea sounded silly—if the thieves are known in the neighborhood, why would they go home right after a crime and sit around for the cops to come?—but to the photographer it seemed better than doing nothing.

Of course, stopping by the purported home of the thieves turned up nothing. The young Colombian couple left at that point, and the police took the photographer to the local healthcare clinic for some stitches. After the clinic, the photographer met with a police lieutenant to officially report the incident into the police records. The Monkey’s photographer made it clear at that point that retrieving the Monkey was his primary concern—photographic equipment is replaceable, but there is only one Monkey.

That night the photographer returned to his hotel and washed the blood from his hair and clothes. The Monkey was elsewhere, held under duress by two armed thugs. It is impossible to say what he felt at that point. That night, unable to sleep, the photographer hatched a plan to recover the Monkey.

Reward for the Return of a Monkey: 100,000 Colombian Pesos.The next morning, the Monkey’s photographer and a Colombian friend went out to canvas the area where the kidnapping had occurred with fliers announcing a 100,000 peso reward for the return of the Monkey. The Chorro de Quevedo was soon covered with fliers, and the locals began buzzing about the hostage crisis. The fliers left a telephone number where the photographer could be reached. Having set the plan in motion, the photographer and his friend returned to the hotel and the waiting game began.

Later that afternoon, a phone call came. The girl on the phone said she had seen the fliers and knew who had nabbed the Monkey. The perpetrators were locals, everyone knew them. She said she worked in a café on the plaza near where the incident had occurred. The photographer jotted down some information and went to see her, alone and carrying nothing but a pen and a few pesos for a coffee.

Entering the plaza, the photographer’s pulse was racing. Was it a set-up? An attempt at extortion, maybe? Perhaps, but with the Monkey’s life on the line, things had to be done. The Monkey would have done the same thing for his photographer. The photographer’s nerves calmed when he spotted the café and saw a gentle looking girl alone in the doorway. He walked up to her. “Are you…?” “Yes, come inside.”

Once inside the small, empty café, the girl offered the photographer a coffee and explained the dilemma. “By putting these fliers up, you have drawn attention to yourself. It might have been better to do this through other means. But then, the fliers worked—that’s how I found you.” She fixed herself a coffee and sat down beside the photographer, looking out the door occasionally as she spoke. “I know the guys who did this. They have been robbing a lot of people around here recently. They live in the neighborhood, and I have a friend who knows the blonde girl who spots for them. If you want, I can ask my friend to speak with her. They will certainly be more interested in the money than the Monkey.”

The kidnap and negotiation pattern all too familiar to Colombians was now in motion.

The kidnap and negotiation pattern all too familiar to Colombians was now in motion. The photographer reiterated that the reward was for real, and asked how the transaction might go down in the event the thugs were willing to exchange the Monkey. Obviously, a face-to-face meeting would not suit either party: the thugs would fear a police set-up and the photographer was wary of strolling into another attack with 100,000 pesos in his pocket. The girl offered to act as an intermediary, saying that if the thugs were willing to release their captive, she could hold the Monkey at the café until the photographer delivered the ransom, or pass by the hotel to deliver the Monkey and collect the money. The photographer reminded the girl that the thugs were armed and that she might be putting herself in danger, but she was confident the pair had no malice toward the local population and were content to prey on foreigners who they happened upon. The girl gave the photographer her phone number, saying, “Call me later. I’ll tell you what’s happened.”

Somewhat encouraged but also unsure how things would work out, the photographer returned to the hotel to continue waiting. He spoke to the girl later that night, but so far her friend had not contacted the blonde accomplice. At the hotel, the staff and the other guests were all concerned for the Monkey’s well-being, offering to help in any way they could. The hours passed very slowly. What if the criminals had disposed of the Monkey?

The next day the girl called. “It’s working. I’ll deliver the Monkey to your hotel later today.” The relief that overcame the photographer was cut short a little while later when the girl called again, saying, “It’s off now. They want to see the money before they hand over the Monkey.” The photographer thought it over for a moment before replying. “I will bring the money to the plaza, but I will bring someone else with me as well.” The girl suggested that the photographer and his companion wait in another café on the plaza, where she could meet them for the exchange. Things were once again in motion.

The photographer was anxious but hopeful. He asked one of the other hotel guests, a Californian called Nate, if he would mind going to the rendez-vous and informed him of the potential for risk. Nate said sure. As they prepared to leave, three other guests passed by and asked what the latest news on the Monkey was. “We’re going to make the change now.” The three—a Briton named Jason, a U.S. guy named Eros, and a Kiwi called Ash—all volunteered to come along: “We wouldn’t miss this.”

The five-man posse made its way to the Chorro de Quevedo and took up positions around the plaza. Nate and the photographer took a table at the pre-arranged meeting place while Ash, Jason, and Eros mingled with the locals in the square. A few minutes later, the girl rushed into the café looking flushed and nervous. “What’s wrong?” asked the photographer. “It’s your group. Chuki and Tomasa don’t want to come because they think it’s a set-up. You have to get your people out of the plaza.” The photographer nodded and reiterated that the reward was for real and that there was no set-up. He handed the girl 50,000 pesos. “They can have the other half when I have the Monkey.” The girl nervously took the money and before heading back to her café said, “OK. But get your people out of the plaza or it could be over for the Monkey.”

“Get your people out of the plaza or it could be over for the Monkey.”

Outside, the posse’s sudden presence was causing a sensation in the tiny square. As Eros sat talking with two local youths on a bench, Jason and Ash stepped into a bar to downplay the gringo presence on the plaza. A short time later, the barkeeper stepped into his doorway and flashed two fingers across the square to a group of men milling about. He seemed to be indicating, “There are two in here.” Meanwhile, three policemen arrived and one began talking to the girl at her café. They soon departed. The girl returned to the second café and told the photographer, “Look, now they will know you are serious but you need to leave right now. I will call you later when I have news.” The photographer agreed and asked, “What about those police?” Without saying a word, the girl gave a look that seemed to acknowledge that the police knew what was going on but were letting things proceed, perhaps because they were on the take. The girl returned to her café and the photographer and Nate paid and left the rendez-vous café.

The posse reconvened in the center of the plaza and the Monkey’s photographer informed them that the thugs were nervous about the group. Various new schemes for recovering the Monkey had been thought up—one even involved the police delivering the Monkey to the hotel. But the photographer insisted on the original arrangement, trusting that the girl in the café was trying her best to bring about a safe and satisfactory end to the episode. The posse understood that their show of force might be too blunt for the delicate situation and withdrew from the plaza.

Returning to the hotel, the waiting game ensued again. Had the posse been too much? Would the girl from the café decide that this was too risky after all? Did the thugs even have the Monkey anymore? The photographer was more hopeful than ever about the Monkey’s chances, but there was nothing tangible yet and half the ransom money had already changed hands.

After several uneasy hours back at the hotel, the girl called again. “I have good news. I have the Monkey. I’ll bring him to your hotel right now.” The photographer replied, “You are an angel. Thank you.” A short time later, the girl came up the street dressed head to toe in black. She pulled the Monkey out of her cloak and handed him to the photographer, who hugged her and handed her the remainder of the ransom as well as a token of gratitude for her efforts. The Monkey looked a bit harried, but no worse for wear and glad to be back with his friend the photographer. The Monkey and his photographer thanked the girl profusely, and as quickly as she had come the girl left, saying she needed to deliver the money before long.

The Monkey safe from harm after his ordeal.Stepping back inside, the hotel’s staff and guests took turns meeting the Monkey. It was a happy moment, and later that night a number of the guests threw a party in honor of the Monkey’s safe return. (You can see the photos from the party below.) The four-day saga of the Monkey’s kidnapping in Colombia was over. Although his pre-kidnap photos were never recovered, the Monkey was able to revisit a number of the places that he saw on his first day in Bogotá, this time in the company of friends. As a precaution, the Monkey and his photographer avoided the Chorro de Quevedo for the rest of their stay in Colombia. One kidnapping and ransom situation was enough.

Francesca and Verity give the Monkey a kiss
Two English girls, Francesca and Verity, give the Monkey a big welcome home kiss at the party celebrating his safe return.

The Monkey with Ash the Kiwi
Ash, the New Zealander who joined the posse that attempted to rescue the Monkey, hugs the grateful little primate after the kidnapping was over.

Monkey and Max
Max and other hotel guests celebrate the end of the Monkey’s troubles.

Monkey and Francesca party
As the party wore on, the euphoria overcame Francesca and the Monkey, and they had an intimate moment together.

The Monkey and his Colombian friend
The Monkey poses with his Colombian friend, who helped put up the fliers that led to the Monkey’s safe return.



This Monkey adventure has been viewed 1611 times since the 2010 website relaunch.

Colombia

   FAST FACTS


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Population:

45,013,672 (2008)

Land area:

1,038,700 sq. km.

Capital:

Bogotá (pop: 1,945,448; 2005)

Economy:

In 2006, Colombia ranked 69th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 39th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $2,981.74. Public debt accounts for 52.8 percent of total GDP, while 49.2 percent of Colombians are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):

Spanish

Monkey's name:

El Mico, El Mono (El Me-koh, El Moh-noh)

Fun fact:

Colombia’s Avianca, founded in 1919, was the second commercial airline in history (the U.S. Benoist Airlines, which serviced Florida, was the first). Colombia’s early foray into air travel had much to do with the country’s wildly varied topography and the resultant impracticality of establishing reliable road, rail, and river transport links.



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