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January 20, 2010

Kidnapped by the FARC?

About five years ago arrived in Bogota Colombia near dusk.

As you leave the secure area you are greeted by a throng of shouting taxi drivers, pimps and who know what else.

I started to walk towards a guy who had been shouting my name. Almost immediately another guy grabbed my hand and showed me the placard he held with my name on it.

He then walked me out of the airport with my luggage, and bundled me into the back seat of a car where I was told to lie on the floor.

We then set off with a car in front and our car, with me lying on the floor, racing through the streets of Bogota.

All the while I was lying in the back seat with the distinct impression that I was being kidnapped by the FARC to become part of that countries greatest export - ransom notes.

As it happened I was with the good guys, and this was just the strategy for transporting people working with the military like I was.

The other guy at the airport was not related to my work and was just a random opportunist kidnapper. There are plenty of those around apparently.

The moral of the story? Working international is a pretty wild ride and your nationality is more of a problem than a help. Particularly if you immediately stand out as someone from a Western and most likely rich nation.

- Always have a driver pre-organized
- Always walk towards the guy holding your name, not the guy who read it and is shouting it out
- When you find the driver always ask who sent him (it is always a guy)

The journey to where I am today has actually had a few kidnap and near kidnap stories in it. As well as a few incarcerations for ridiculous reasons and even one cross border escape.

My view that I have taken away from all of this is, if you can work locally and earn a reasonable income, then do so. Not for any form of cultural cringe, I love to travel, but it is just wiser to work where you know who the bad guys are.

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