Tourist drama in Colombia – They went to the restaurant – shortly afterwards they were dead

They went to the restaurant – shortly afterwards they were dead

Posted today at 4:32 p.m

The deaths of two young Dutch tourists, Nienke Bawa and Robert Gerrit Kootte, are a mystery, and that mystery is blighting an entire city.

Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez once said that Cartagena de Indias on the Colombian Caribbean coast is the most beautiful city in the world. Maybe he was right: the colonial center with its winding streets, the bay windows, the colorfully painted facades, the Andalusian-style palaces, the balustrades and spacious squares, the Cathedral of Santa María la Mayor, the old artisan district of Getsemaní.

Outside the city walls lies the modern district of Bocagrande, hotels with glass facades, beach promenades and palm trees, tropical vegetation, salty sea breezes. The beauty of Cartagena is almost surreal and kitschy.

According to Gabriel García Márquez, “the most beautiful city in the world”: Cartagena de Indias in Colombia.

Nienke Bawa (29) and Robert Gerrit Kootte (31) were in love. Kootte was an employee at the investment bank JP Morgan, Bawa worked for the multinational consumer goods group Procter & Gamble, headquartered in Cincinnati, USA. Smart, cosmopolitan young people, adventurous, with money, confidence and the future ahead of them.

The couple from Amsterdam will spend a few days in Cartagena in mid-August. The two check into the boutique hotel Casa del Coliseo in the historic center. The Spanish newspaper “El País” describes it as a “tastefully restored house with spacious, stately rooms and balconies that overlook the hustle and bustle of the old town streets.” The Casa del Coliseo has a swimming pool on the roof terrace.

Woke up with stomach pain

Two days after their arrival, the two tourists wake up on the morning of August 22 with stomach pains and symptoms of food poisoning. According to the Colombian media, when her condition rapidly deteriorated, she was taken to the hospital. Nienke Bawa died that same evening, Robert Kootte the morning after.

Since then, the whole city has been puzzled: Why did Bawa and Kootte die? And why don’t the investigators finally say what’s in the autopsy report? And last but not least: how bad could the image damage be for one of the most visited tourist destinations in the South American country, especially since the US website “Travelling Lifestyle” is already asking: “Is it safe to travel to Colombia at the moment?”

The day before her death, Bawa and Kootte visit the Bazurto market with its countless fish stalls and food stalls. Did they eat a poisoned fish here? When a reporter from “El País” visited the market a few days ago, the traders complained that they had been selling less fish since the mysterious death.

However, the suspicion of being the origin of the disaster falls more strongly on The Rum Box restaurant than on the Basurto market. According to the tourism website Tripadvisor, it is the best restaurant in town. It belongs – and this allows speculation to run rampant in Colombia in such cases – to the son of Cartagena’s mayor.

Was the couple poisoned to harm the mayor?

Nienke Bawa has reserved a table for two here for the evening of August 21st. Shortly before the agreed time at 8.30 p.m., however, she asked via Whatsapp to change the reservation. Not two, but four people came. Another couple, also foreigners, is having dinner with the couple from Amsterdam.

According to Colombian media, the group orders various appetizers and several cocktails. Kootte eats fish, his lover a pork chop. The wife of the other couple also chooses a fish, her companion salmon. A surveillance camera films the four of them getting up at 11:10 p.m., chatting in front of the bar and then walking away.

Another strange rumor

Since then, the strange rumor has been going around that the other couple has disappeared without a trace. Investigators have not been able to locate the two young people, nor have they turned themselves in, despite all the excited reports in the Colombian media.

Experts examined the food, drinks, refrigerators, storage and kitchen at The Rum Box, checked all guests’ bills and evaluated all video recordings. Nothing is known about the results. A few times since then, passers-by have shouted at the employees in the restaurant: “Your murderer!”

The owner suspects the Dutch tourist couple were poisoned to harm not only him but also his father, Cartagena’s mayor. A Colombian newspaper writes that the dignitary spends a lot of time in his son’s bar and sometimes even holds meetings there.

Or was it food poisoning? The restaurant owner claims that no other guests that night had any complaints. And if Bawa and Kootte ate different dishes, why did they both wake up with the same symptoms and later die? Did the unknown couple put poison in their food? Is this the explanation for his sudden disappearance? But why should the two strangers do such a thing?

Some speculate that Bawa and Kootte may have died the mundane death that occasionally strikes an adventurous tourist in Colombia: a drug overdose. That they underestimated the exorbitant degree of purity of domestic cocaine and therefore overdid it doesn’t fit the symptoms of food poisoning. So a drug cocktail that you take while drinking? But if it’s so trivial, why didn’t the investigators say so long ago?

According to the journalist from “El País”, unrest breaks out at the Basurto market, with the large pots of boiled rice and huge lobsters, just by mentioning the two Dutch tourists. A saleswoman threatens to go on a protest march if the accusations and rumors don’t finally stop.

Sandro Benini is an editor in the culture and society department. He studied Italian and German literature and was Latin America correspondent based in Mexico for eleven years. More info

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