We had just arrived at the Lima airport from Arequipa. We were nearing the end or our 2 weeks in Peru and had taken a flight from Arequipa to Lima since the gold miners had evidently closed the bus road due to a strike. The airport is out of the city a bit, so we read that most people take a taxi to Miraflores where we had picked out a hostel, and it should cost in the ballpark of $10. 3 soles to a dollar, so about 30 soles.
I asked the first taxi what he would charge to take us to Miraflores and he said “40” so we hopped in. I figured the prices might have risen a bit since the book was written, so 40 soles seemed right. A half hour later, we arrived at the hostel and paid him 40 soles.
He looked hurt behind his classy black sunglasses and clarified himself from earlier saying his practiced phrase, “No, 40 dollars. Give me 80 soles more.”
I looked at him in bewilderment. “40 dollars?”
We were with my in-laws, who were traveling around South America with us for a few weeks. They thought I misunderstood the driver’s number in Spanish and were pulling out 80 more soles to give him. I knew this wasn’t a misunderstanding of numbers and exchange rates, it was the first steps into a taxi scam.
From here everything switched into Spanish.
Taxi: “Yes, $40. That’s what I told you back at the airport.”
Me: “No, all you said was 40.”
Taxi: “Yeah, 40 DOLLARS. That’s what we always charge here.”
Me: “No you don’t. We are in Peru, so if you say ’40,’ it means 40 soles because we are in Peru, not the US. You could pick euros, pounds, colónes, franks, or yen. How am I supposed to read your mind?”
Taxi: “But we always charge in dollars!”
Me: “I’m not a stupid gringo who doesn’t know a lick of Spanish. I know enough Spanish to know you’re trying to rip us off because you think we’re dumb. I’ve taken taxis in Peru before and $40 is an outrageous price! We’re not paying you $40, so what’s next? Let’s skip the confusion and talk to someone with more authority.”
Taxi: “But we always charge in dollars!”
Me: “I’ll tell you what. I’ll pay you 60 soles and we’ll both be happy. You scammed me a little, but you won’t waste my time.”
Taxi: “No, nothing less than 120 soles ($40).”
Me: “Show me a paper with your taxi rates then.”
He didn’t have any papers with any taxi prices on it. Nothing. Just him adamantly explaining that they always use dollars for some reason, even though everything else is charged in the local currency, soles. So, I had him call his boss so I could hear the rates from someone with more authority and ethics.
He wasn’t any better. Through the garbled speakerphone on both ends all I could hear was that dollars were all they ever talk about. Bad idea trying to trust managers or bosses.
By this time we had been here a good 10 minutes and were making quite a scene on this small quiet road. That’s what the driver wanted. He wanted us to buckle under the pressure and just pay him triple what he originally told us.
The owner from the Dragonfly hostel we were planning on staying at saw the commotion and came over. He saw we were getting scammed and asked if he should call the tourist police.
“Sure that’d be great” I said. “How long until they can get here?” I envisioned a chubby security bouncer in navy blue pleated pants riding up on a beach cruiser with a baton at his side.
“About ten minutes.”
Whew, I had to keep this argument going for another 10 minutes! The taxi driver was getting restless and upset and I had used up all my defenses. I got nervous and kept a few steps away from him. I just went over everything again, and repeated the above conversation a few more times. He didn’t have anything to base his price on, but wasn’t going to leave with 40 soles.
Luckily, after only 5 minutes the policía showed up. To my relief it was a legit motorcycle policeman. I hoped he would be on my side, and not expect bribes. Just as I finished explaining my story to him another police motorcycle pulled up. Then a police car. And another.
I started explaining everything all over again. Then a police truck pulled up, and all the others made space for him. He was the boss-man.
Alyssa and her parents were patiently standing on the sidewalk, watching in awe and confusion as we had 6 police vehicles surrounding us and the little black taxi. It looked like a big police bust. But at least nobody had their gun out…
My in-laws weren’t keen on making a spectacle, and offered to pay the difference of what he wanted. This wasn’t about the money, it was about scamming tourists. The taxi drivers are famous for scamming tourists because they make a confusing mess of the prices and the tourists just pay it because something like $40 is a drop in the bucket. He wasn’t getting off so easy today!
So, by now there were 3 police motorcycles, 2 police cars, and a police truck. I was explaining to the jefe how the taxi driver only told us “40,” which means 40 soles in Peru. He knew the story. He had heard it a few times. He took our ID’s and made sure neither of us was illegal, and then we danced around and around the same conversation a few more times.
Apparently, we had picked the super-fancy taxi from the airport. It was a sleek black Toyota Corolla with dark tinted windows and no taxi signs or lights on it. It turns out that they probably do indeed charge $40 normally because they’re the premium/executive taxis at the front of the airport. The problem was, he had advertised a false price to us. If he had said $40 at first we would have found our way to the cheaper taxis just outside the airport on the main road, but he lied to us instead.
The police knew this, but apparently didn’t have any power to enforce the price one way or the other.
They sort of stood around waiting for us to come to some sort of agreement. I didn’t know if anyone was expecting a bribe to enforce the law, but that wasn’t what I wanted either. At least they would be there if the taxi driver wanted to start a fight.
As the sun was climbing higher in the sky, I realized I probably wasn’t going to get away with paying only 40 soles. The taxi driver was wasting time too, but he sure wasn’t getting $40. Not after all this!
I lowballed him and offered him 60 soles again. He was starting to pull the pained-face attitude, so I knew I had broke him from his original price of 120 soles. He dropped it to 100. Soles. I gave a chuckle and told him he was wasting our time, his time, and all the police’s time.
He was in the wrong and he knew it.
I offered him 70 soles and he finally accepted it with a pitiful expression. He looked like a kid who only got paid 50 cents to mow his neighbor’s grass. He turned sour and mad and got in his car and zoomed away. I could have probably wasted another half hour and paid even less, but we had passed the point of diminishing returns.
After a full half hour or more with this taxi driver we thanked all the cops and made our way to the hostel at last.
I was wiped out.
Almost an hour of arguing a heated debate in Spanish, with police and a grumpy taxi driver, not knowing if someone was going to end up in jail, was all I had in me that morning. At least I had accomplished my 2 goals. I had saved us $15 from the ripoff taxi price and had put a little bug in their ears that gringos deserve a little respect and aren’t just easy money to scam.
Boo-ya! Ain’t nobody messin’ with me!
But the worst part of it all was that nobody took any pictures of the whole ordeal! Alyssa and her parents patiently waited on the sidelines, but they were too scared stiff to even think about taking a picture of this crazy taxi scam experience. Well, maybe next time…
Have you had a crazy taxi experience? Been scammed by one yet? Leave a comment below!