The absolute worst part of any vacation abroad is getting out of the airport when you land, provided that they don’t have a decent public transit system. Thank you Amsterdam for taking care of that in epic fashion! Sometimes worse things happen to you during your trip, but those things are unexpected. On every trip you take you’re going to have to deal with exiting the airport, unless you’re some kind of weirdo that just likes visiting airports.
You will be hustled and get the run-around and there isn’t anything you can do about it. You think going to an official taxi stand is the way to go, well not always. You think taking a ride from someone dressed really well is a smart move, well not always. Last time I was somewhere dodgy was last week when I was in Buenos Aires. I checked out the ride situation. There were several people trying to get me into their cars but I didn’t commit at first. I noticed that well over half of the cars out there were black and yellow Radio Taxis. I figured they were probably the most honest ones out there, so I took them. They probably were the most honest but they still ripped me off shamelessly. The lesson I learned from them: always have small denominations to avoid relying on them to give you change. They never have change. Even if you see the exact change in their hand, they’ll lie and tell you that’s not really money, it’s lottery tickets or Kleenex or some shit like that.
Don’t be fooled by any driver with a crucifix or rosary beads hanging from the rear view mirror. It’s doesn’t mean they won’t financially rape you. Don’t buy it if there’s a plastic Jesus or Virgin Mary on the dashboard. Those Saint cards that look like baseball cards on the visor doesn’t mean that the driver is a Christian and won’t break any of the Ten Commandments just to get a few extra Pesos out of you. There is no God in a Third World taxi.
First and foremost when getting into a cab in a country where you don’t speak the language is to not let the cabbie know that you don’t know the language or where you’re trying to get to. Know the destination of where you want to go and how to pronounce it correctly. Even if you don’t know any other words in that language, know how to say, “take me to so-and-so please.” The first time I went to Australia I told the driver I needed to get to Clovelly beach. I pronounced it “Claw Velly” instead of “Cloe Velly” and forty minutes later I was where I needed to go. It wasn’t until days later when I took a cab back to the airport that I realized how close those two places are to each other and how horribly the driver had ripped me off by taking the most scenic route possible. I think we were somewhere near Ayers Rock for a while. So say the destination correctly and hopefully your bluff will work. A good follow-up step is to take out your cell phone and pretend like you’re talking to someone the entire time you’re in the cab. That keeps the driver from asking you questions and accidentally discovering that you’re completely full of crap. If you don’t want to keep up that charade then put headphones on and ignore the driver if he tries to talk to you.
If there are tolls to pay en route pay them yourself as you go through them. Often times the driver will tell you that he’ll take care of it and you can just add it to the fare at the end. “Wow, that’s was nice of him” you’ll think! Bullshit! Keep your eye on the sign on what they charge. You will be charged at least ten times that when it comes time to pay the guy. He’ll explain it by making up some crazy excuse like the “Driving an Aries on a Thursday following a New Moon” surcharge.
When you finally get to your destination he’ll try to get you one last time, or take it upon himself to tip himself. Put up some resistance to keep at least some of your money but don’t create a bad scene that could turn dangerous. The old trick of showing him your empty wallet works. Turn those pockets inside out and translate the phrase, “You can’t get blood from a stone.” It’s frustrating and infuriating, and you’ll feel completely useless/helpless but at least you’re where you need to be and the nightmare is over.
When getting back to the airport you can play it just right and not be screwed over too badly. You want to tell the driver that you’re in a hurry but not too much of a hurry. If he think you have plenty of time then he’ll go down random streets and purposely get stuck in traffic, or worse, fill up with gas while the meter runs. That’s when all of a sudden all four tires need to be filled with air and the oil needs to be changed. He’ll drag that drive out as long as possible and take you for as much as he can. If you tell him that you’re in a big hurry however, he’ll try to charge you for some sort of expediting fee that doesn’t exist at all. He’ll say he can get you to the airport in time for your flight but he’ll need extra money because he’ll be breaking all sorts of speeding and traffic laws. It’s a fine line and you need to know how to walk it. To avoid the gas station detour, check his tank before you get in, that way you know and he knows that you’re not a complete schmuck. Go ahead and take out your air pressure gauge and check the tire pressure as well.
If you must talk to the driver, tell him that his city is your favorite city you’ve ever been to. Tell him the food is wonderful, their local sports team is the best, and the girls are beautiful. This might make him happy but it won’t stop him from doing that thing he can do to the meter to make it charge faster. I thought that was an urban legend until I saw a guy do it, again in Argentina. He did something weird with some wires under the hood and I didn’t think anything of it. By the time we got to the airport it read 340 Pesos on the meter when it was only 150 going the other direction from the same spot. Only 8 of those 340 Pesos were wasted at the gas station as he let the gas slowly drip into the tank. Some cabbies rig their meters so that they flip for an eighth of a mile every time they perform a certain operation, like a turn signal or flashing their brights. I know, pretty brilliant! Now I know why my guy kept running the windshield wipers!
Forget all about the NYC Taxi Customer Bill of Rights. Those don’t exist anywhere but New York. And don’t get your hopes up of stumbling into Cash Cab Bogotá, it doesn’t exist. Ben Bailey won’t be giving you money as you get taken around town. There will be no Red Light Challenge. Street Shout Outs would probably be a bad idea anyways.
So 99% of the cab drivers you come across, especially in poorer countries will try to take you for all that you have. It’s going to happen so just don’t let it ruin your holiday. It’s inevitable. It will suck and even though you know it’ll suck, you’ll still complain while it’s happening exactly how you knew it was going to happen. Just suck it up, get through it, and get on with your holiday. It’s smooth sailing after that, until the cab ride back to the airport.