A pair of Australian university students backpacking across central America feared they would be killed when they were caught up in a dramatic bus hijack in Mexico at the weekend.
Olivia Gallo and Eva Antoniou, both 20, were robbed of their cash and valuables at gunpoint when two armed hijackers stormed their local bus as they travelled six hours from the beachside resort town of Zihuatanejo to Mexico City overnight on Saturday.
The men, armed with handguns and with machine guns slung across their back, had created a roadblock using boulders and logs to force the bus to divert from the main highway and drive down a rural road for several kilometres.
Ms Gallo told Fairfax Media how she and Ms Antoniou felt helpless as the only tourists on the bus, and not understanding the hijackers' demands.
"There was a huge amount of hysteria spreading through the coach, and as the only tourists, that only heightened our sense of fear," she said. "At this point ... we were totally petrified and said our goodbyes."
The hijackers ordered the bus driver to turn off the inside lights and then shouted at the passengers – some got off the bus, but Ms Gallo and Ms Antoniou remained in their seats. One of the men then pointed a gun at their heads and shouted and gestured for them to get off the bus.
"They robbed each passenger and herded us into the middle of nowhere while they raided the bus," Ms Gallo said. "The local women who were in hysterics only made us more petrified as we couldn't understand them and made us feel as though we could only expect the worst."
The two Australians were frisked in "an incredibly intimate and confronting manner", making them fear rape. They were robbed of cash, bags and valuables, and only by begging the hijackers were they able to reclaim their passports.
Ms Gallo said the bus company had not reported the hijacking to police and she planned to speak with officials at the Australian embassy on Monday [local time, early Tuesday morning Australian Eastern Daylight Time] to report the incident.
She said that this was the first time during a five-week trip that included Mexico, Guatemala and Belize that the two of them, students from Melbourne's Latrobe University, felt unsafe, despite Australian government travel warnings applying in Guatemala and Mexico.
The two planned to fly to Los Angeles for one night and then Ms Antoniou was to return to Melbourne, while Ms Gallo planned to be with family in London.