the valley of the shadow
A man in black
The tale of another TCU kidnapping
By David Van Meter
Shaw '99 and his wife Alyssa Anes Shaw '99, nearing the summit of
Mt. Chirripo, the tallest peak in Costa Rica. Shaw would later be
kidnapped briefly in Colombia.
THE MOST amazing thing in Houston engineer
Daniel Shaw's apartment is the map stretching from ceiling to floor across
an entire wall and part of another.
A geography buff by nature, it is the mountains
that captivate Shaw '99. He has spent most of his life climbing them,
his sinewy arms giving evidence to a way of life more than a passing hobby.
That drive prompted Shaw and his childhood
best friend, Dave Staley, to plan the ultimate mountaineering trip two
Januarys ago, "our dream trip after college," Shaw calls it.
To climb the tallest mountain in every country in North and South America.
More than 23 peaks, Shaw and Staley would
see terrain ranging from a sulfur-spewing volcano in Guatemala to the
tallest desert peak in the world in Chile. The climbers also planned to
climb in Colombia.
"Both Dave and I are real confident;
we've always been warned not to do things," Shaw said. "When
people warned us of the danger there, the political instability, I guess
we didn't heed the warnings as much as we should have."
The trip foreshadowed the trouble to come.
Driving into Mexico in a "beat-up" Mazda, Shaw and Staley paid
off corrupt police officers trying to confiscate their driver's licenses.
In Nicaragua, dense jungle left them slightly
lost and without much food or proper clothing; they found shelter for
the night, and a bowl of pasta for dinner, at a remote hut where a man
and his son were staying. The next day, the two were forced to seek the
help of police, after the backpack containing their passports was stolen.
"That was really strange," Shaw
remembered. "They agreed to come help us, and then they piled into
the back of our car because they didn't have one. . . . It was weird seeing
three police officers with machine guns crammed in the back seat."
Next came Costa Rica, where Shaw was joined
by then-girlfriend Alyssa. Together,
they climbed 14,000-foot Mt. Chirripo. Before Alyssa left, he assured
her he would contact her every few days. That
changed once Shaw arrived at the base of Colombia's Mt. Colon a few weeks
"No one had climbed it in years,"
Shaw said. "There wasn't even a known route up the mountain. We just
had to check it out."
The 19,000-foot ascent proved to be the
trip's most beautiful climb. Mid-way down, on a different route and with
darkness approaching, Shaw and Staley stayed the night in their tent on
the edge of a small Indian village.
Shaw was reading when "a man in black"
fatigues approached them. He left and returned a short time later.
"He told us we were going to have
to come with him."
The two had been taken by one of Latin
America's largest militant leftist groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia, or FARC. A 45-minute, pitch-black march into the mountain
undergrowth transported the two Americans to a cocaine processing plant.
The two spent the night on banana leaves and black plastic, guarded by
"The next morning, the leader of the
group asked us, joking-like, if we were scared," Shaw said. "I
said, 'I don't know, do we have a reason to be scared?' The commandante
nodded his head and smiled. Later, he would tell the two men, "We're
trying to figure out how much to get for you.' "
Then the unexpected happened. The lead
guerrilla produced a Palm Pilot-like organizer; the instructions were
in English. He asked Shaw and Staley to translate how to use the device.
Then, perhaps endeared to the two, he agreed
to the ransom terms the boys proposed: The coats off their back, the 50
dollars they carried in their pockets, a GPS tracking device, a stove
and two cameras.
"He said we were lucky," Shaw
said. "He said they usually kill Americans."
Once out of site of the camp, the two broke
into a walk-run. Suddenly, the guerrillas ran up from behind. Shaw thought
their captors had changed their mind.
"They only wanted to know what kind
of film the camera took," Shaw said.
Incredibly, Shaw continues to climb today.
Next up are Peruvian peaks Huascaran and Alpamayo, which will complete
Shaw's South American goal.
"Getting into that situation tells
you what your character is like more than you ever knew it before,"
Shaw explained. "After it happened, I evaluated what is important
to me in life. I came to the conclusion that what is important to me is
Alyssa and my family, but mountaineering is also a part of who I am, too."