Before journeying to the Galapagos, we paused a day in Quito to wander the historic city center and visit the nearby equatorial attractions. I wrote about a similar experience in this post two years ago. This time, let me tell you about a taxi ride that did not go quite as planned.
(Warning: this post also contains unrelated Galapagos photos, in a shameless attempt to keep things interesting.)
Dusk was settling over Quito’s Old Town. It was time to head back to our hotel. We had chosen lodging near the airport, in a small town called Pifo that few of the city’s cab drivers are apparently familiar with.
As Quito’s rush hour worsened, our fearless group of eight (dubbed the Ambiguity 2.0 – see this post to know why) risked life and limb in the busy streets trying to hail a couple of taxis. Eventually we snagged one. Half our group stuffed themselves in. The cab driver spoke almost no English, but he seemed knowledgeable about the hotel’s location. We wished our friends well and sent them off.
The remaining four of us waited several more minutes until another empty cab came around. The second driver spoke no English at all, and had never heard of our hotel. But in what little of his Spanish I could understand, he indicated that he would probably be able to find it once we were in the general vicinity. Our fare, he said, would be veinte dólares – twenty dollars. (Ecuador uses the US dollar for its currency.)
As we approached Pifo thirty-five minutes later, darkness was falling and so was the rain. Our driver had no clue where to go next. I showed him the hotel’s location on Google maps, but that only seemed to fluster him. Eventually he pulled over. I dialed the hotel and handed him my phone. After a brief conversation with the hotel staff, he indicated that he now knew where to go. But we had missed our exit and had to backtrack fifteen minutes. We felt bad about that, so we decided to improve our driver’s economic situation.
“Vamos a pagar treinta dólares,” I told him in my un poquito of Spanish – we would pay him thirty dollars instead of the agreed-upon twenty. He nodded anxiously and ventured cautiously down Pifo’s back roads.
The rain came harder. The streets were poorly lit and the turns were difficult to see. We missed one and came to a dead end. The pavement gave way to a dirt road, which by that time was mud. The driver tried to back up, but our little taxi got stuck. He revved the engine while switching gears, but the car wouldn’t budge. The four of us scampered out of the cab and took shelter from the rain under the narrow awning of a ramshackle dwelling. The driver tried again without our added weight inside. Still the car would not go.
The driver got out and stood in the rain shaking his head. We gestured to him that we would try pushing the car. He nodded in agreement. Just then, the tiny home’s front door opened. Two little dogs came running out into the rain and mud, barking disagreeably. Their presumed owner stood in the doorway scowling at us.
Two of our group got into position at the front of the car while the driver got back behind the wheel. He revved the engine and they pushed the car. It moved a few feet before bogging down again. They gestured at the driver to give the engine more gas. Then they gave another shove. Again the car moved a short distance. Everyone was getting soaked. Meanwhile, the dogs kept barking and running around our feet and the car. Twice we had to wait for them to get out of harm’s way before resuming our efforts.
The driver revved the engine one more time while our clan applied a third heave-ho. Finally the car came free of the mud. We all scurried back inside the passenger compartment, pointed the driver in the right direction, and applauded wildly a few minutes later when our hotel entrance came into view.
I looked at the others knowingly. They all nodded in silent agreement. I turned to the driver.
“Vamos a pagar cuarenta dólares,” I said.
We’re going to pay (you) forty dollars.
At that, even the driver couldn’t help but let out a laugh.