There were, to the best of my memory, only three rifles aimed at us from the high walls that enclosed the palatial home of Alberto Antonio Alvarez Tufillo, Argentina’s Ambassador to Ecuador.
Although the order was barked at us in Spanish, it was pretty clear what they demanded. My buddy and I had been rumbled.
Respective lads in our hands, we had just relieved the contents of our swollen bladders over a delicate arrangement of flowers. Nothing lost in translation here. The bed of roses were strategically placed at the foot of a paved path that wound its way from the huge double doors of the mansion down to the gated entrance below, cutting across an acre of pristine grazed lawn en route.
Keen to avoid a ‘There’s Something About Mary‘ moment when Ben Stiller zipped up too quickly, catching his tackle between the zip line to create an agonising meat bubble, I made sure to exercise caution yet act fast enough to somehow save what little face I had.
This was helped in part because the trained assassins had our heads in their aim, prompting our gringo testicles to crawl so far back inside their owners bodies they could have been back in Greenwich Meridian Time.
As we stood frozen like two oversized garden gnomes, my friend and I shared a glance of panic. There’s nothing quite like a gun pointed at you to bring sudden sobriety. The chill of the night air and tricky spot we found ourselves punctured a moment of clarity into our drunken states. How the hell did we end up here?
It had all started quite tamely in fact. We had arrived in Quito, Ecuador ten days earlier.
If truth be told, we had been partying a little too hard. Every other day brought some reason to make the short walk to Plaza Foch in La Mariscal, where there were a cluster of excellent cheap bars and nightclubs.
It reminded me of a cheaper version of Temple Bar, minus the hen parties. In a word, it felt like Home. Especially for two single backpackers on a budget.
Our first visit was to Finn McCool’s, the only Irish owned bar in Quito which was refreshing as I’ve visited many other Irish bars in South America and been left disappointed – typically they have been only Irish in name, with no English speaking staff.
Because we had been there a few times, the kind manager knew us and joined us toward the end of his shift for a couple of beers before deciding to take us under his wing and show us more of the nightlife on offer.
His friends were in a bar nearby, and we joined them for a drink. They looked to be in their late 40’s, early 50’s. One of the men was the owner of the biggest and most popular nightclub in Quito and had a stunning Ecuadorian girl hanging off his shoulder who was both half his age and height.
Although the club was bursting at the seams that Saturday night, he squeezed us through the side entrance and we immediately went to the top floor of four where we reckoned it would be quieter.
We parked ourselves down at the foosball table which wasn’t being used and played for thirty minutes as we sipped on our buckets of sugary cocktails. In my peripheral vision I could see a lot of commotion at the bar behind my friend. There was a young guy there who was knocking back the drinks with a raucous crowd of girls. I recognised him from one of our first nights in the city, and he evidently remembered us too and approached while we were mid game.
We teamed up and played doubles before moving to the bar and taking the drinking up a notch. The kid was throwing the cash around like confetti. He was a fairly good looking, chirpy guy in his early twenties and spoke perfect English.
As cocktail chased beer we all got talking, and it turned out that he was the son of Argentina’s ambassador to Ecuador, spending a few weeks at his old man’s currently unoccupied house – a mansion on the outskirts of the city. Our casual banter seemed to make an impression on our new friend, or perhaps it was the vodka jelly shots because towards the end of the night, he invited us to join a party back at his provincial palace. It was a no brainer.
Our modest group of around 10 strong dived into waiting taxis outside the club and followed the lead car containing our young host. After a ten minute drive, our car slowed up to a gated entrance which was manned by an armed guard at a security checkpoint.
He checked each passengers ID before raising the barrier allowing us to enter. Up ahead was a huge building perched at the top of a hill illuminated by dramatic cross light beams that seemed more befitting of Bruce Wayne than a Government official.
The other cars had already been parked near the side entrance and we hastily got out, keen to explore our new surroundings.
Inside we followed the sound of the music blaring off the long, high ceilinged corridor passing a dozen rooms on either side. When we found the source of the music, we found our host setting up his laptop to some speakers. A big smile greeted us and he asked if we wanted anything to drink. Before we answered he was already whisking us out of the room, and into a smaller chamber where he opened a trapdoor.
A little ladder took us down into the bowels of the house and he flicked on a switch. There was a musty smell down below of trapped air suggesting that it hadn’t been accessed in a long time.
“Help yourselves guys. My Dad only uses this when we have guests over – politicians or business owners.”
He climbed the ladder and left us alone to study the little collection.
There were dozens of bottles of vintage wine stowed safely away on wine racks and vodka bottles were piled on the floor all housed in original, expensive looking boxes. We grabbed a couple bottles of red wine and moved back upstairs into the clean air again.
“Just setting everything up guys.” he shouted from down the corridor. “The other’s will be here soon. Make yourselves at home.”
We began exploring the interior of the house, primarily focussed on not getting lost in the maze of rooms and finding a kitchen with a bottle opener. Most of the huge rooms were vacant with no furnishings, or boxes stowed away to one side in the corner. A lot of the doors were locked to us, but some of the open rooms were so huge that they would fit a bungalow. It was unbelievable.
It was difficult to find our bearings but as we slowly made our way to what we figured was the edge of the building, we opened the big double doors and found ourselves at the front of the house.
“I’ve broken the seal. Quick piss stop,” I said. “Might as well take the chance while we have it.”
We placed the two wine bottles at the step of the doorway and walked out onto the gravel path. It was a short minute later when we found the guns pointed down at us from on high.
Of course, in that moment it would have been advisable to explain the situation calmly and logically in butchered Spanish to avoid a potentially disastrous international diplomatic incident. That would have been the correct plan of action.
However, these two intoxicated Irish men caught with their flies down had different plans despite the rifles pointed at them. In a split second, our brain synapses snapped together in telepathic agreement and turned away from the oncoming men and sprinted as fast as we could away from the building, leaping the garden obstacles like some sort of twisted human version of the Grand National.
We ran for our lives expecting shots to ring out at any moment. The desperate cries from the men continued as they closed the gap on us, but we were already out of sight rushing through the security checkpoint and the guard stationed there, out onto the street.
Fortunately it didn’t take long for us to flag down a taxi, leaving behind the three armed guards in our wake. The taxi driver must have thought it strange to find us cowering in the back seat eager not to be noticed – I half expected to see a flickering red laser sight to appear inside the car searching for the two runaways – a sudden shot to the back of the head from an unseen sniper’s sentinel position somewhere within the fortress.
Or perhaps I was being too dramatic. After all, who would have thought watering the plants would have created such a fuss?