February 10, 2008

Taxi Protocol in Latin America
Pacasmayo, Peru

Most taxis in Latin America are battered little vehicles with no meter (and often no functioning instrument panel). These are the guidelines I automatically adhere to each and every time I ride in one:

  1. Find out how much for the destination from a local
  2. Have a general idea of what direction I should be traveling in (so that I know if something's wrong)
  3. Never take an idling taxi, only ones in motion, or those that have just dropped someone off
  4. Once flagged down, start off with "Buenos/Buenas, price to destination?" This quickly eliminates those that want to screw you over, and reveals that you know a thing or two about the area
  5. Sit in the front seat (with belongings) if in a dodgy area
  6. Always lock all the passenger doors
  7. Exchange a friendly greeting with the driver once settled inside. Clarification of the destination is sometimes necessary, as they have sometimes agreed to a price, but are unsure of exactly where you want to go
  8. Most drivers are chatty, and I opt to chat back as much as possible, to exhibit confidence and knowledge of the language (even though I lack a lot of vocabulary). I strongly believe drivers are less likely to rob a gringo who is able to engage with them in conversation (especially if you say you have a local girlfriend in the capital city of the country)
  9. I size up the driver and rehearse several times in my head what I'd do to disable the individual should I become overwhelmingly threatened. I do this each and every time I get in a cab, so that I don't have to invent a course of action in the heat of the moment, should the situation turn poor
  10. Always get out of the car with belongings before paying (if there is an argument, you can always just walk away)
  11. Never, ever, get out of the cab or leave the taxi without your belongings—always keep a door open if things are in the trunk (most often the driver will have to exit to open the boot)

It's really amazing the number of times I've heard about travelers leaving their cab to go check on the vacancy of a hostel, only to return to find their cab, and their belongings, gone.

In rough places, a taxi can easily take a sharp turn into an enclosed car park and have his accomplice shut the gate. You need to know yourself, and be prepared to react accordingly under such circumstances.

I have never taken a taxi ride that turned out poorly. I follow the above to mitigate danger, and to allow myself to respond to escalating threats in an unemotional way. Dismiss the taxis you don't feel right about, and work hard to identify the traits of those you do.

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