Worst (or Best) Taxi Ride Ever

You might say he was in the wrong line of work. A taxi driver whose driving skills are basic at best and who doesn’t know his way around his own city. He not only had to use GPS but also stop to ask directions. Four times!

I’ll be the first to concede that one can’t possibly know every street and location in any major city. However we wanted to go to the Museo Nacional in Bogota Colombia. This would be like a cab driver in DC asking for directions to the Smithsonian or a New York cabbie not being able to find the Guggenheim.

Let me back up because this grand adventure started much earlier.

Being in Bogota with a schedule that was firmly in vacation mode and having a relatively free day, I decided to go on an adventure.

So I walked a block or so to the bus station. This was basically how the conversation went; me using my rudimentary Spanish, the guy behind the glass speaking very fast and refusing to slow down, both of us playing charades trying to pantomime our intended meanings:

“How much to take a bus to the north side of town?”

“You need to charge your card.”

“I don’t have a card. Can I get one?”

“Where is your card?”

“I’m a foreigner. Can I buy a card here?”

“We don’t have cards here. If you don’t have a card you can’t get on the bus.”

Suddenly a woman who was in the booth with him had an idea. She reached into her pocket and took out her own personal card. They charged it then she came out and used it to let me through the turnstile.

Once inside I found the right bus. Or at least I was about 75% sure it was the right bus. It may or may not have been the right bus. Luckily I was in vacation adventure mode so it didn’t really matter all that much.

I rode about ten miles to the very end of the line.

TransMilenio (the city bus service in Bogotá Colombia)

TransMilenio (the city bus service in Bogotá Colombia)

After walking around for about two hours exploring the area, I attempted to get back on a bus going back the other way.

“Where is your card?”

“They couldn’t give me one at the bus station.”

“You can’t get on without a card.”

“Can I get one from you? I have money.”

“You need a card.”

“Where can I get one?”

“I can’t let you on without a card.”

This was clearly not a productive conversation.

I was in front of a major shopping mall. Surely there was a place in here that had cards or someone who knew where I could get a bus pass.

The problem is that two months of Spanish lessons is not enough to effectively communicate when almost everyone around me speaks like it’s a race to get to the end of the sentence.

I texted a few friends. Being far away, the best advice they could give was to catch a cab.

There was a taxi stand inside the mall. Luckily, I was staying about a block away from the Museo Nacional. That’s a huge landmark.

I asked the girl at the stand, who looked like she was about 15 years old, how much for a taxi to Museo Nacional. She had to look it up on the computer.

Which meant that she had to stop shopping for slutty lingerie online and do her job. Actually, first it meant that she had to figure out how to use the computer system that quotes fares.

Ten minutes later she had figured it out and quoted me 25,800 pesos (about $8.50). This was vastly more expensive than the 1,800 pesos it cost to ride the bus but I had few options so I agreed.

I gave her 50,000 pesos. You’d think she’d never seen a 50,000 peso bill before. She had no change.

So I took back my 50,000 peso bill and my friend and I pieced together 30,000 pesos from smaller bills we had. She still had no change.

The girl took our 30,000 pesos and went to another booth to get change from the shopkeeper there.

The transaction finally concluded, she called over a cab driver who was waiting on a nearby bench. As soon as she handed him the printout with our destination on it, the look on his face should have told me all I needed to know.

Securely in the cab, he waited for traffic to clear. So he could go the wrong way on a one way street!

After all, it was the shortest route to get back to the stop light so he could make a left turn.

A few minutes later, I noticed that the taxi driver was using the GPS on his phone to navigate. That wasn’t really so bothersome. He was probably just trying to find the best route, especially because many of the roads were closed for Bogota’s weekly “ciclovir”.

(Every Sunday from 8am to 2pm, the city closes a vast circuit of major roads to vehicular traffic and leaves it open strictly for buses, bicycles and pedestrians.)

Bogota’s major north-south arteries are all numbered. They start out at Carrera 1 on the far east edge of the city and increase in numbers as you travel westward.

Museo Nacional (The National Museum of Colombia)

Museo Nacional (The National Museum of Colombia)

Museo Nacional is on Carrera 7, very near the eastern foothills.

About ten minutes into the ride I noticed that we were on Carrera 63! Our driver was clearly lost. As I was about to say something, he pulled over to ask directions.

Given guidance by a local street cleaner, we set out again back toward the mountains which flank the east side of the city.

Three more times, we stopped so the cab driver could ask directions. (Yes, he was still using his GPS as well.)

Once more down the wrong way on a one way street. Until we met up with a police car traveling the right way. The cab driver was forced to back up to the nearest intersection and pull over. He explained to the police that he was lost and was trying to take us to Museo Nacional.

Let off with a warning and more directions we were back on our way. Another ten minutes or so and we stopped at a red light. While the driver consulted his GPS once more, I looked out the window.

We were literally right next to the Museo.

I told the driver that this was the place and that we’d be happy to just get out here while stopped at the light.

The ten mile trip took well over an hour. In the process, we got a personalized tour of practically the whole city. Plus I got a really great story out of it.

That was so worth $8.50.

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