Account manager John Westmoreland was on what he thought was a routine business trip to Colombia to sell ethylene vinyl acetate resin to H.B. Fuller Co.'s Medellin subsidiary. He and AT Plastics Inc. colleague Alfredo Flores landed at Medellin airport about 8:30 p.m. May 18 and hailed a cab.
Things were running smoothly until a half-hour later, when the cab was pulled over by gun-wielding bandits on a road leading into town, Westmoreland said. The bandits left their own hired cab and commandeered the vehicle with Westmoreland, Flores and another American in it.
Westmoreland said he feared for his life when the thieves first pulled his cab over, but ensuing events frightened him even more. The thieves hunted for a dark road to rob the passengers, Westmoreland recalled in a telephone interview from his Atlanta office. They found an isolated area and began to rob the passengers. Westmoreland feared the worst, but ``at the last minute a motorcyclist drove through and scared them off,'' he said.
Westmoreland and Flores reported to a police station where they were kept until 1:30 a.m. for questioning. The police were blase about the incident, he said. Officers said the offense probably was committed by thugs who noticed the businessmen arriving at Medellin airport and who then hired a taxi to intercept them on the road down the hill to the city center.
Westmoreland lost about $3,900 in personal effects, including new clothing he bought in Mexico and a $3,800 laptop computer.
Flores lost $2,000 in personal goods but the thieves somehow overlooked his business possessions, Westmoreland said.
It was the first direct foray into Colombia for Westmoreland, Flores and AT Plastics — and the last, according to Westmoreland.
``From now on we will do business remotely and meet in neutral locations,'' Westmoreland said.
The AT Plastics businessman warns other travelers to heed State Department tips before going to a foreign land, even if it is a country generally considered safe.
Westmoreland suggests travelers first consult the State Department's Web site at http://travel.state.gov to check for warnings about the destination.
Even in developed countries, terrorism or other problems can develop overnight, which presents risks to unsuspecting travellers.
Next, don't travel at night or take transportation that has not been checked out beforehand, he stressed.