There are various unavoidable laws in life that we have drummed into us for our own good that must be adhered to. Don't eat yellow snow, no staring at the sun, do not watch a live football match on BT Sport with the sound up. I thought I knew them all. However, somewhere along the journey of life I must've missed out on the unwritten rule where we were all told not to get into unlicensed Colombian taxis. Sat in the back of a clapped out Hyundai with a gun being pointed at me, it was a piece of advance intel I'd have appreciated.
As with most examples of when things go the shape of the pear for most of us, and for when we search for some form of an excuse for when we royally fuck up. There had been a few drinks that particular day. I’d accepted an invite from a friend to a BBQ on the outskirts of Medellin to watch El Clasico with him, his family and friends where I would dine out on the best of Argentinian steaks and wash them down with the most foul Colombian beer that you could ever taste.
With Barca humiliating Real, 4-0 at the Bernabeu, even through my lack of Spanish, I could see that the mood of the group at the ranch had decidedly dipped. Due to the James Rodriguez factor, the whole room had been supporting Los Blancos during the match so they weren't too happy with the final score. I decided to leave them to it so said my goodbyes to everyone and made my way back to the city for the evening.
Later on that night and after an ill advised few more bottles of Club Colombia, I decided I wanted a McDonald's. It was at this point where things went drastically and dangerously downhill for me. I jumped into the solitary taxi that was parked outside the front of my hotel with the internationally recognised request of "McDonalds" handed to my driver. With a cursory "si" offered back in my direction we drove off into the the madhouse of one of the worlds most notorious of cities.
Some point along the road the taxi stopped, although I hadn’t really noticed why at first. As is invariably the way of the inebriated, my mind was fixed solely on getting some food for myself. Looking out the car window I saw a teenage boy walking towards the taxi. With no sense of what was about to happen, I was more taken with the fact that of all things he appeared to be wearing an old Manchester United shirt, the infamous "invisible" grey shirt that made headlines for all the wrong reasons decades ago. The fact that I was looking at someone in the middle of Medellin, Colombia in 2015 wearing one was more notable than the fact that it looked suspiciously like he was going to get into my taxi. Swaggering across to the car in this tattered shirt, shorts and flip flops he wasn't exactly a full kit wanker but as I was to find out soon enough, definitely a wanker.
Jumping in the front seat, I must've had at least 10 different thoughts in a nano second involving why he'd got in but yet I kept coming back to - The fucking grey Sharp Viewcam shirt?! No one wears that fucking thing?! So bad Manchester United could only wear for half of a game! He quickly looked round at me with a blasé look on his face for a person who had just got into a taxi belonging to someone else, taking his seat looking back round again as him and the taxi driver started talking between themselves, Eric Cantona, intermittently looking round at me as I began to find my voice, starting to seek some clarity over what was actually going on. Admittedly, being able to speak Spanish at this point would've been advantageous. Which I couldn't.
As far as areas of the city we were stopped in, it wasn’t ever going to be in danger of finding itself twinned with Monte Carlo at any point in the future and due to this I wasn't for just getting out the taxi and getting myself another. Throw bravado brought on by the day's drinking into the equation and at this point, no, I wasn't for getting out the “taxi.” That option was consigned to the academic folder when the driver, still speaking to his latest passenger, drove off. Trying to set aside the fact that there was a stranger in my taxi. I tried to make sure that the driver hadn't forgotten about the fact I was meant to be on my way to McDonald's but was completely blanked by him. That's when the gun came out and my hopes of a quarter pounder with cheese became the stuff of fantasy.
I'd had a gun put in my face once before, years before, walking back to my hotel in Manchester after a night at The Hacienda in what was a case of mistaken identity and resolved amicably in a timely fashion, well, as amicably as my head full of acid could cope with I suppose. It wasn't the nicest of experiences though, and neither was this one decades later where I found a Manc gangster and his shotgun stuck out a BMW window had been substituted for a stick up kid and a small handgun with us all sat in a Hyundai. He's sat there shouting at me and waving the gun around as if he'd watched way too many Hollywood films. My exact thought wasn't that he was going to shoot me, that was a possibility obviously but the way he was acting, a slip of his finger and "something or someone" would be getting shot.
More like this... I Had A Gun Pointed To My Head In Nepal
Like I said, my Spanish was limited but weirdly in the moment I was able to understand what this guy was fully saying. Yes, he was definitely entering into negotiations with a view to procuring my wallet from me. I did what any sensible person would do and fished it out for him to try and expedite this transaction. He wasn't finished though, "Telefono" he shouted. Now we had a problem, I didn't have my phone on me. This wasn’t received too well, the news sending him into a tailspin that I can only describe as Captain Caveman meets Tazmanian Devil. It would've actually been quite amusing had it not been so serious. He started shouting at me about iPhones, punching the roof of the car and the passengers window before pushing the gun in my face.
I'm not sure what this says about me as a person but in a dangerous position that, for all I know, could've been my last moments on planet earth. I know I should've probably been thinking of my daughter and all of the people who are important to me in my life. I didn't though, now that I could see the gun up close. First of all, I had the scene in Snatch run through my mind where Bullet Tooth Tony manages to read the side of the gun . That was then quickly replaced by Pulp Fiction and the scene when the gun goes off in the moving car with John Travolta & Samuel L Jackson in it. My train of thought game was way strong but also in no way productive in terms of engineering myself out of the situation I’d found myself in. Instead, I had apparently gone in the direction of trying to remember every film I’d ever watched quite literally before I die.
While the new owner of my wallet was still, by the looks of things and aided by my paranoia, contemplating on whether to kill me right there through the heinous crime of not being in possession of a smartphone, the taxi pulled to a stop. Looking out the window I could see why. There was an ATM outside a petrol station and it was already assumed by me that I'd be using. The Stretford Ender got out and opened my door. Once I was out the car, he handed me back my wallet as we walked up to the ATM. With the gun discreetly jammed against my ribs he watched me type in my PIN number before withdrawing the maximum amount possible. After that, he resumed custodial duties of my wallet once more, along with all of the pesos spat out from the ATM.
For me, that would've been the moment that we could've all went our separate ways with some kind of happy medium struck. Him being happy at taking all of my money and myself handsomely compensated by not being shot and killed by some maniac in a football shirt even a maniac wouldn't wear. They could've just driven off and left me there and we could've all moved on. However, he had other ideas. I'd almost convinced myself that he would take the money and the wallet and jump back in the taxi and speed off and leave me, like the movies. This wasn't part of their script though and I was almost physically sick when the penny dropped that by way of the gun pressed against me and us moving in the direction of the taxi, I was going to be getting back into it.
That's when the dark thoughts began to take over, what more "could" they want now? In a city that in its pomp was nick named city of death, life is cheap and I couldn't discount that I was just going to be some gringo of a statistic who simply done nothing other than getting into the wrong taxi. At best, I considered that we might be heading back towards my hotel room to clean that out. It was neither. As the car drove off again I had a rag thrown over to me into the back and not for the first time was able to see through the language barrier. I made a play of making it cover my eyes before taking the rag away again and he nodded for me to put it back over my eyes. With eyes covered I felt him grab my shoulders and twist me to the side while the ends of the rag were grabbed out my hands as he tied it.
Sitting there in the back, I listened to what sounded like an argument between the two in the front as the car twisted and turned wherever it was heading to. It felt like we were going in an upwards trajectory on some parts of the journey, which only increased my paranoia with sudden thoughts of being dumped somewhere in the Andes with a bullet in my head.
When the car eventually stopped and I was pulled out of the back seat of the taxi and thrown down onto the ground. Lying face down, by the sound of his footsteps, he never said a word but I could tell he was still there. The silence was only broken when I heard the click of his gun. That’s when he started speaking again. Had this speech been for my benefit then he was wasting his time but hey? At least he wasn’t shooting me, right? Definitely a high point in what had til then been an otherwise disappointing evening. By the time the gun went off with two shots in a row, they weren’t any kind of a surprise to me, it was what I was almost waiting on. The major twist, and bonus, was that I was still lying there. And as far as I could gather, in one piece.
Sharp Viewcam, after what seemed like 5 minutes of me frozen in silence but was more likely 5 seconds, burst out laughing after his gunshots and by the sounds of things had started to walk away from me. Moronically, I felt the urge to ask him if he was going to shoot me or not as I was getting tired of his fannying about but elected to stay in my statue like state as I lay there listening to the sound of a car door opening then slamming shut again. It was only when the sound of the engine started up and I heard the car speed away that I was then willing to entertain the possibility that I was golden. Gingerly removing the blindfold, I still half expected him to be standing there with the gun pointed at me but no, the taxi driver and the boy in the invisible shirt were gone.
Other than a non plussed looking old man smoking a cigarette standing looking at me, the street, which was heading up into the hills and on first sight was a shit load of houses in different colours all dropped on top of each other like a game of Tetris that went south, was deserted. I asked him for help and where I could find a phone to call the police. From the few words I could make out, his message was pretty clear. No police here in this neck of the woods. He kept repeating the words ‘La Communa’ and that’s when the penny dropped where I might actually be. I was scheduled to visit a district called La Communa 13 later on in my trip. This HAD been more planned in a being babysat at all times by a known local while we explored the most notorious area of Medellin capacity as opposed to a dropped of late at night and tasked with finding your own way out kind of way.
Manage to avoid being shot and killed by an unpredictable Colombian robber - Check
Get yourself unceremoniously dumped in a part of the city completely full to the brim of unpredictable Colombian robbers - Check
Maybe it was the look of the instant horror on my face upon learning where I was but In what was, as welcome a gesture as it was a display of amazing human kindness. He grabbed at my arm and motioned with his head for me to follow him. Figuring I couldn’t get robbed twice I walked along with him. After going up the hill and further into the district, Paco, my new best friend and I eventually stopped at a place that was more shack than house, with the greatest of respect. A boy of no more than 14 walked out and with a big smile made for Paco and gave him a hug. They exchanged a few pleasantries before falling serious, both looking over to me.
Minutes later I was on the back of a Vespa belonging to Paco’s grandson hanging onto him as we headed down the hill and out of La Communa 13. He stopped at the very first taxi rank we came across, ones with actual real live take you from A to B taxis. I’ll never know what Paco had told him that resulted in me being given a passage out but after getting off the scooter and thanking him for the ride, he sat looking at me in the way that a porter will do after he’s placed your suitcase down in your hotel room. Pulling out my pockets and making a gun to my head sign with my hand was all he needed from me to know there was no pesos coming his way. With a knowing look, and tragically beyond his youthful years, he simply shrugged his shoulders and before driving off said just one word. “Medellin”