High on a mountaintop in Ecuador – Laura Milcawich and Steve Aube stood overlooking the Valley of Longevity. The couple were honeymooning in Vilcabamba, a Mecca for backpackers and new age spiritualists looking for adventure.
“I just had that sense, that gut that something amazing was going to come out of Vilcabamba, that something magical was going to happen,” says Steve.
The couple set out to scale the mountain they call Mandango which stands 2200 metres at the peak.
“I thought, okay, I’m going to conquer fear today and I’m going to see something beautiful,” says Laura. “Little did I know what was waiting for me up there.”
At the peak of the mountain Laura and Steve stood near a white cross when three masked men headed towards them.
“We turned around, and I saw three guys walking up and they started putting on masks. And I was like oh, this cannot be good,” says Laura.
The three masked men forced the couple onto their knees, ordering them to take off their shoes while they went through their bags looking for cash.
But the terror had just started. The men demanded three thousand dollars – and an impossible deadline for Steve.
“They said, you have two hours to go to your hotel and get more money or we’re going to kill her. If you bring anybody else up the path, if we see the police, we’ll kill her,” says Steve.
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With only two hours to make the four hour trek, Steve made a run down the mountain in his bare feet.
“It was like, I gotta go to the hotel, I gotta get the money and go back up.”
News of the drama unfolding on top of the mountain spread through the village and to the town prosecutor Victor Hugo Lojan.
“I imagined the worst. Because for me it wasn’t a robbery, it was a kidnap. It was rape,” he says.
The locals from the village rushed to join the police in saving Laura.
“We went to rescue her, but we were afraid her attackers had already killed her,” says Victor.
Part way up the steep path to the top of the mountain the rescue team found Laura lying in the fetal position only centimetres from a cliff. Unsure if she was going to make it, police and local residents carried Laura down the mountain.
“Oh my god, I think I said it the whole way down the mountain. That I love you, and thank you. You know? Who puts themselves through that for a stranger? And that’s what I was, I was some girl in a strange country,” Laura says.
While Laura lay recovering in an Ecuador hospital, Steve worked with police to find the masked men. But when police fingered a subject and asked Steve to come to the police station to identify him Steve surprised everyone – even himself.
“He fit the description perfectly, the height, the build, the hair color, the eyes, the color of the skin, everything,” says Steve. “And in that moment, I got up and I shook his hand and I walked out.” Steve told the police he wasn’t ready to change a man’s life in that way. “I felt like shit. I’m like, this is the guy’s hand that touched my wife, possibly,” he says. And so, that night, a suspect walked out a free man.
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