The case of the TAXI DRIVER
These must be the richest guys in the world given their rip off tactics, taking particular advantage of weary and naïve travellers just off the plane. Why then do their cabs often come equipped with mouldering refuse lining the foot-wells, and designer worn patches on the seat covers so you can see the quality of the stuffing, many with their own unique eau des cigarettes. Top it off with a tacky religious icon wound around the rear view mirror with plastic beads and the whole set up just oozes wealth. Still, they are there to take you away from the bustle, and you’re desperate for a shower and a kip so in you jump, knowing that paying over the odds is just all part of the adventure.
I always research taxi rates before a trip so I’m armed with the facts and ready to argue. It’s sensible to insist the driver uses the meter in cities, and more often than not they can be persuaded. Of course they’re actually taking you on the ‘scenic route’ and making a killing anyway (and will tell you about extra charges for your luggage only after you stop) but you don’t know this since you’ve never been before. So everyone’s happy.
The taxi experience is a variation on a theme in different countries. In Guatemala we’ve ridden standing on the back bumper of trucks, hanging on for dear life as pot holes fly past inches from our feet with the local male population comfortably inside the vehicle waiting for us to fall; in the USA I’ve seen a guy get beaten up in the taxi next to us at traffic lights, blood everywhere; and in Morocco we finally thought we’d found someone to trust, who we considered a friend, yet in the end he tried to royally rip us off as well.
A few particular taxi journeys we’ve had the dubious pleasure of taking stand out above the rest…
The scary taxi ride – THAILAND
We were in the back of a pick up truck in Krabi, sitting with our luggage on the way to catch a boat to Koh Lanta. With us were a French chap and his 8 year old son. The driver was flying down the dual carriageway, no doubt so he could fit in a few more runs before lunch. Suddenly without warning the tailgate flew open and luggage started careering out and bouncing along the road behind. We all held on for dear life but could feel ourselves slowly sliding towards the gaping space beside us. The driver continued, oblivious. The French lad just couldn’t hold long enough and out he tumbled, followed closely by his father who tried in vain to catch him. I made a desperate grab at them but was left clutching just a rucksack, feeling helpless. Luckily hubbie had firm hold of me. Father and son were rolling along the tarmac, human bundles of blood and bruises getting smaller and smaller as we left them behind. Hubbie and I yelled and walloped the back of the cab with our fists and eventually the driver slowed to see what was going on.
Of course it was all our fault that the tailgate opened, and the driver was more concerned about potential damage to his truck than the bodies sprawled across the highway, where any moment they might get crushed beneath the wheels of oncoming traffic. Although the father had badly hurt his back, and the son looked like he’d been into battle, they wanted to continue to Koh Lanta and seek medical help there, so we continued down to the dock. Slowly this time. There was one slight benefit to all of this. Finally after years of lugging our first aid kit around the world, we were able to put it to good use on the ferry. Which a short while later nearly sank.
The one-up-man-ship taxi ride – KUALA LUMPUR
Emerging excitedly from the dingy bus station where we’d been unceremoniously dumped by the airport coach, we shielded our eyes from the bright light of the city and scouted around for a taxi. It appeared that we’d walked out of the wrong exit, despite following signs clearing stating ‘taxis this way’. Funnily enough none of the other passengers hads followed us out, they must have known something we didn’t. So we trundled along the road until we at last spotted a lone taxi in a layby.
Rushing thankfully over we tapped on the window, and after some muttering the guy opened it just an inch. He was eating his lunch and we were a little hesitant to disturb him, but needs must. However, when we mentioned we were heading to the Sheraton Hotel, dollar signs suddenly shone in his eyes and the sandwich was forgotten, abandoned in the foot-well amongst the cigarette papers, unwashed socks and last weeks newspapers. We tried to persuade him to put on the meter, but of course he refused. It was clear we’d go with him anyway, we didn’t have many other options. So we agreed a flat rate, which was no doubt way over the odds, and settled into the back seat a little disgruntled.
However, 20 minutes later and we were completely lost. He had promised he knew the location, and we kept seeing the hotel taunting us from above, accessed by a flyover road that apparently kept eluding us. We tried not to laugh as the guy who thought he would take these clueless tourists for a ride was doing just that! Getting increasingly frustrated and swearing to himself and us, he eventually pulled up at the grand hotel entrance. We were immediately met by the door staff who tried gallantly not to raise eyebrows at this beaten up scruffy little vehicle spoiling their forecourt, and the emerging tourists sporting backpacks and flipflops. We duly paid the driver his agreed rate, and immediately set him off on a rant. He demanded more since the journey had taken so long. Nodding and smiling but keeping our hands firmly in our pockets, we scurried into the cool tranquility of the foyer, to be immediately escorted up to the Club Floor for a personal check in service.
We heard the tyres screech off into the distance, and just hoped he was able to find his way back again so we didn’t bump into him later. The smug feeling of getting one over on a taxi driver for the first time in our lives lasted all week!
The surprising taxi ride – CAMBODIA
Although they are all of a ‘type’, each taxi driver does have his own characteristics, and just when you think you have your brand knowledge down to a fine art, one of them comes along and surprises you.
This time we were in Siem Reap for a few days for a dose of temple action at Angkor Wat. We’d come to the town via tuk tuk, arriving just about in one piece with bitten finger nails and lungs full of dust. But we loved it. So we decided to hire a friendly looking chap to drive us around the temples in his tuk tuk so we could go at our own pace and avoid the crowds.
We’d expected another ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ experience, but Nik, our driver, not only came with a helmet but also the utmost courtesy, to the point that we were travelling so slowly we were overtaken by old men pulling carts overladen with pigs for market. This considerate approach allowed us much temple viewing and scenery admiring, but we just couldn’t help the natural desire to go faster. It was a bit embarrassing seeing other tourists go zooming by as we trundled merrily along the edge of the road, being passed by dead chickens and entire extended families all balancing like tumblers on one bicycle. Luckily we’d bought our buffs to filter out the dust, and they served double purpose as a disguise.
Still, we had to take our hats off to Nik for bucking the taxi driver trend, and he was such a genuine lovely guy that we’d forgive him anything! Even the crash which resulted in him losing his shoes and us a few years off our lives.
Confession: When to belt up
My ‘I know I’m finally on holiday’ moment always comes when we’re in a taxi after the flight, speeding towards our first destination and trying to drink in the new sights, smells and sounds all at once. We’re going at break neck speed, which is exhilarating and great fun, and never wear seat belts because that just feels wrong. Back home, I feel naked without a seat belt, but abroad never give it a second thought. I once made the school-girl error of belting up whislt bumping up the Sani Pass in Lesotho in a 4×4, and was promptly ordered by our driver to take it off. I argued for several minutes that I felt safer with it on, and it stopped my insides from being curdled quite so much on the rocky terrain. He then calmly told me if the vehicle goes over the side into the ravine people without seat belts hindering them have more chance of jumping out alive. I promptly did as I was told. There’s a first for everything.