Monday, August 17, 2009


It was my first Saturday night in Colombia. I had been to Cartagena the night before and got back in the afternoon. After grocery shopping, and eating food at restaurants that was OK at best, I thought it’d be nice to cook a pasta puttanesca – this was partially because I found all the ingredients at the store. I had finished cooking and was feeling rather pleased with how it turned out for my first cooked meal in Colombia. I had just lit a candle went over to invite Kären, my fellow North American colleague, if she wanted to join me for dinner and a glass of wine. I walked out of my apartment, knocked on her door, she answered and accepted. Suddenly, because of a windy evening and an open window in my apartment, the door slammed shut.

“Uh-oh,” I said, but was feeling OK about things.

Surely the front desk would have an extra set of keys, right? Kären went with me to the security guards downstairs. I explained the situation in Spanish and was feeling a bit stupid about the situation, but rather pleased with my Spanish. Cesar the security guard to the rescue. I thought he had brought a replacement set of keys, but no. Apparently they don’t have extra keys here. The way to solve the problem was to try and break into my apartment.
“Uh-oh,” again followed by, “Really?"

Here were Cesar’s tools: A leatherman pair of pliers, some credit cards, a hat full of keys (none of which worked), and a gun with the bullets removed. He was trying the old trick of sliding the card in to open the door, but to no avail. The leatherman was used to make the space a bit wider and the gun was used as a hammer. Despite the potentially grim situation I was in, I found this Colombian style MacGyver ingenuity hilarious. Apparently Xave did too.

“El gerente no tiene otras llaves?” I asked.
“Nadie tiene otras llaves?”

So I guess no one, not even the manager has extra keys. I found this pretty surprising obviously. Cesar continued to work up a sweat using both hands and an occasional foot to try and break in to my apartment.

After what seemed like an eternity, and several dents in the wood of the door stop, he did eventually get the door opened. I seriously think Cesar would have continued to try all night until he got in.

In case any of you are getting worried about the safety of my apartment, let me explain about the lock situation. The door Cesar was trying to break in to locks automatically when shut, there is another lock that is a dead bolt on that door, and there is an iron barred door that gets locked in front of that. 3 locks and 2 doors of which the only possible one to break into took a security guard trying his darnedest, and making a whole lot of noise, took about 40 minutes. If anything this made me feel ridiculously safe.

When Cesar was picking up the bullets to put back in the gun, I was thinking to myself that he could be saying, “Now that I’ve opened your door for you, I'll have to kill you.” Actually, he was very sweet. Just in case, I gave him a little tip. Oh yes, making a great name for myself everywhere I go. So embarrassing.

Moral of the story: don’t feel too smug, and make sure you always have a trusted person with a copy of your keys.


  1. Next time, make sure that you have your keys with you Ok. Seems like a very safe apartment.

  2. Ha ha. That's like the time my 'concierge' in Beirut had to scale over the ledge from my neighbor's apartment.