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Always Listen To A Man Holding a Shotgun, Even If You Don’t Speak The Same Language

August 14, 2013

(Photo Credit: Gas Lamp Post)

In 1998, Colombia was a dangerous place. I was going to Bogota to teach a Microsoft class for a week. The rebels were actively fighting the Colombian government backed by the US. It was pretty much impossible to drive from Bogota to Cali, a distance of a little less than 300 miles. The government held the cities, the rebels held the countryside.

A favorite tactic of the rebels was to kidnap business people for ransom. Oil field workers were especially vulnerable. As I was preparing for the trip, I approached a friend who was a Microsoft director. I knew he’d been to Colombia recently.

Sam, were you worried during your trip to Bogota at all?

Well, I had a security detail. My visit was announced to the media in advance. I told the security guys that whatever they planned, I didn’t want to know any of the details.

So, if I get kidnapped is Microsoft going to bail me out?

. . .Just don’t get kidnapped.

We weren’t really joking.

It’s a long flight from Houston to Bogota. I got to know the other passengers in business class pretty well. They were all oil executives.

Do you have someone meeting you? You know you shouldn’t take taxis, right?

Yeah, I heard that. I’m supposed to have someone meeting me, but it was all set up by corporate. I’m hoping he’s got a sign or something.

You’re staying downtown? If you don’t find the guy meeting you, we’ll give you a ride to your hotel. We’re renting a car, and it’s really not safe even from the airport to the hotel if you’re not familiar with the country.

I’ll admit it, they were scaring me a little. I consider myself as brave as the next person, but I’m also a realist. Anything could happen.

I stuck close to my new BP Oil friends as we cleared customs and collected our bags. Like many 3rd world country airports, Bogota’s was chaotic. And as I mentioned in “Do You Speak English?” my Spanish was poor at best.

Finally, I decided to take my friends up on their offer. Only after we were in their rental Range Rover did it occur to me to wonder whether I should trust THEM. My hotel was a brand new Sheraton in downtown Bogota. We arrived after dark and noticed the street in front of the building was under repair forcing us to stop at the corner. My new friend John didn’t like the look of it.

You’ve got to walk all that way before anyone from the hotel can see you. Tell you what, I’m gonna walk over there and check and make sure the hotel has your reservation. When you see me wave from the door, walk quickly straight from the car to the door.

Okay, now he was really starting to make me a little paranoid.


I managed to get safely in the hotel without getting shot or kidnapped. I thanked John, and went and locked myself in my room.

The next day I was talking to the concierge, who fortunately spoke perfect English and looked like he was from Nebraska or Kansas or someplace in the midwest.

Well, you need to be careful, of course, but the hotel grounds are perfectly safe. You can go anywhere you want, just don’t leave the grounds. We have our own security. If you need to go somewhere, let me know. We’ll send you in one of our cars.

I arrived on Saturday night and my class didn’t start until Monday. Sunday, I located a place to attend church and then hung out at the hotel. This is where I encountered the guy with the shotgun.

The hotel was new and they had spent a good amount on aesthetics. There were two towers about 20-30 feet apart. They were connected by a bridge on about the 30th floor. But, at about the 15th floor, each tower featured an oversized sculpture of a mermaid on one side and Poseidon on the other. Only the upper half of their bodies were visible, as if they were swimming out of the building. It really was very striking.

Sunday night as the sun started to set, it became obvious that the architect had created the hotel with an eye toward the evening light. A few minutes before sunset, as the sun was casting it’s last golden rays the entire side of the hotel lit up. The mermaid and King of the Sea were cast into stark relief and shadow. It was breathtaking.

Naturally, I grabbed my camera.

I hadn’t noticed the guard, so the Spanish words startled me.

No foto.

Excuse me?

No foto.

The first thing I noticed as I turned to face him was the shotgun he held. The barrel looked big enough for a grapefruit. I realized he wasn’t pointing it at me, but he wasn’t NOT pointing it at me either.

The light was fading. There was probably no more than 5 minutes of daylight left. I doubted that I’d be able to explain in my terrible Spanish that I had permission to be here.

The security guard simply stood watching me. He was neither threatening, nor accommodating. Would he have shot me for taking a picture of the hotel? I have no idea. And at the time had no desire to find out.

I watched the shadow line rise up the hotel as the grounds filled up with shadow. The guard faded back into the scenery. When the sun finally set on the top floors I headed back inside for a late dinner. I happened to pass the concierge desk staffed by Kansas Farmboy.

You said I could wander the grounds. A security guy, with a large gun, told me I couldn’t take pictures.

What? Of course, you can take pictures. I’ll go talk to him.

No, no. It’s okay. That’s what I thought, I was just checking.

It’s always great advice to listen to the man holding the shotgun. It doesn’t really matter if he’s right or wrong. A camera vs a gun is a poor matchup.

My driver for the week showed up right on time the next morning at 8:00am. Apparently there are two entrances at the airport and he was at the other one. Oh, and he didn’t speak a word of English.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, blogger and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children. He still cannot speak Spanish, but understands “I’ve got a gun” very well.

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