Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Great Honduran Taxi Adventure

“Yes. I like taxi.”

What am I doing? There has to be an easier way. Usually, after class, a van takes us students to the bus stop, but today two friends and I want to go to a museum instead, so we’re calling a taxi. Have I mentioned I’m not quite fluent in Spanish? Have I mentioned how much harder it is to speak over the phone?

“Yes, from the bus stop to the Central Park. Near the museum. Yes. Thank you.” This is our first time venturing out in Tegucigalpa without our Professors. This is our first time ordering a taxi ever, let alone in Honduras. But we’re going by radio taxi, which is supposed to be the safest and best. And it’s just as easy as our Professors promised. Within minutes, a taxi pulls up right in front of us.

“You are our taxi?” He nods vigorously. “To Central Park?” Good. We get in.

The ride takes us through parts of Tegus we haven’t seen yet, or at least haven’t noticed. We look out at barefoot men selling water in plastic baggies. Women in shops sift through used clothes that have been shipped in bulk from the United States.

The taxi driver pulls up to the Park and asks for 70 Lempiras (about $3.50). That’s cheaper than we expected. “Each?” I ask, stupidly. “No, for the three of you,” he answers, and I hand him the money, grateful for honest people.

We walk through the bustling center of town to the Museum of National Identity. There’s a new exhibit of cartoons and political satire. As recent students of Honduran politics, we’re thrilled when we recognize politicians and understand what’s being lampooned. We translate the jokes laboriously. I get a phone call, and the security guard points me outside.

“Hola? Hello?” I hate telephones. Who is this? Is this the taxi driver? He’s in a black car? Why is he telling me this? “No we used a taxi. Already. We are at the museum.” And… he hung up.

“Hey,” I ask my friends. “Did we get into a radio taxi?”
We all stood there blinking as realization dawned.

 “Crap. He’s still waiting for us at the gas station.”

I thought back to the public taxi that had seen lost-looking Gringas on the side of the road. “Are you our taxi?” – “Sure, I can be.” – “To Central Park?” – “Yeah, I can go there.”

“I’m going to be black-listed forever,” I moaned.

I called our Professor, who promised to talk to the taxi company and explain what had happened. But then when I called the taxi again, no one answered. I tried a different taxi company and the number wasn’t active. Even though most of the public taxis, like the one we took, are perfectly safe; there are occasional problems with them and we really aren’t supposed to take them. But we didn’t have a lot of other options.

“The last bus leaves Tegus at 6:15,” my friend noted. “It’s already after 5:00.”

What’s the worst that could happen? We stopped by a food court bakery to distract ourselves from that thought.

At 5:30, our Professor called us back. None of the taxi companies were picking up, but there were some employees of their organization pretty close by that they were going to send. Look for Miguel in the silver truck.

“Yeah,” my friend said, as we walked out to the road where she told us to wait. “This guy, we ask for his birth certificate.”

“You’re Joann’s students?” Uniform shirt of the organization—check. Silver truck—check.”

“You’re… Miguel?”

A 15-minute private taxi ride later, we were at the bus stop with time to spare. “Thanks Miguel!” we all shouted as we squeezed onto the last bus of the night.

I don’t even know if this story has a moral. The closest one I can think of is this: when you’re traveling in another country, don’t get in cars with strangers. And if, accidentally, you do—always know who to call.

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