Scary Men

In Lima, there’s a bus terminal in a shady part of the city called Yerbateros. It houses all of the buses that go to the province of Junín; the majority of them go to Huancayo. This is where you go to pay $3 for a bus ride to Huancayo, 8 hours away.

Whenever we arrive at the Yerbateros terminal, we’re always bombarded by a group of men the second we get out of the taxi. “Huancayo? You’re going to Huancayo?” all of them say at once. “I’ll take you there for 50 soles.” (This is around $17). They’re “taxi” drivers, they say, but about half of them just have their own personal cars and want to make some extra cash during their ride home.

I have always been afraid of these men. I’m especially afraid when I have luggage with me. I ignore them. I always take the bus anyway, they’re cheaper and they seem safer because you share your fate with 50 people instead of 5.

So, I wasn’t feeling the most secure when we arrived at the Yerbateros terminal this past Wednesday and got out of the taxi only to be faced with a double threat. The taxi driver who drove us over from the airport wanted to harshly overcharge us for the trip while we were being besieged by the intimidating crowd of “taxi” drivers at the terminal.

It was a mess. The airport taxi driver had initially told us that he was charging us “20,” but only later revealed that he meant “$20” and not “20 soles” and would also be adding $15 dollars to that price because of the extra traffic that he hadn’t expected. We knew we were being cheated because we’ve taken the trip between the airport and Yerbateros many times. We can often get there by paying only 30 soles and this guy was charging us 100 soles!

“They’re having an argument! Let them talk!” one man from the crowd says to another who was in our faces, trying to find out if we were going to Huancayo.

“How much is he charging you?” another man asks us. When the crowd hears the amount of money the airport taxi driver is trying to steal from us, everyone is outraged.

“How can he charge you 100 soles for driving an hour and a half from the airport if we only charge 50 soles for a 5-hour drive to Huancayo?”

“That’s abusive. Don’t pay him!”

“I’ve driven here from the airport so many times. I take route X because it’s faster and I only charge 40 soles maximum. He must have taken you through a longer route on purpose.”

“I have the special license to enter the airport grounds and only black taxi cabs are allowed in. This car is a white car. It must be his own personal car, just painted.”

“Robber! He’s charging you way too much.”

“Call the police!”

And one of the men actually did go call a police officer who was nearby. The crowd shouted out their grievances on our behalf. The police officer took a walk around the car. Soon after, we see the airport taxi driver taking off his tie and removing the taxi’s front tire. We hadn’t even noticed when it had deflated. The police officer would be taking him to the local jail to do a background check and to call his so-called company. If his taxi company even existed, he may have been overcharging passengers and pocketing the money for himself. We later remembered that the business card he showed us at the airport to prove his credibility said “Forza Tours,” but the official receipt he gave us cited a completely different company name.

I felt really thankful that we had all of those men on our side. They were even less insistent after: “You’re taking the bus? Yeah, it’s cheaper anyway.” I started seeing them as other Huancainos, neighbors that I may see on the streets of Huancayo. I wondered if I had seen them before at Yerbateros and I wonder if I’ll see them again some day.

What has renewed your faith in humanity recently?

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Comments (25)

  • Got to tell you. I did that once. Won't do it again. Spend the extra money if you can and fly out of Ohaa (40 miles north of Huancayo) $69 one way, but it's a 50 minute flight to Lima without all the scary stuff.

    • Actually, it's not so bad, as long as you know your way and you're not by yourself! My experience taught me that the men weren't scary after all. I'm not sure if it would be different for someone who visibly looked like a foreigner. Sometimes I'm able to blend in because there's been a large Chinese population in Peru since the 1800s. Most Peruvians get to and from the Central Andes through Yerbateros because it's 70% cheaper!

  • What a great story….It is amazing how people can surprise us sometimes…I am so happy that all those cab drivers came to your aid and helped your cause.
    My recent post My Week Living in Purgartory

  • Great story! I once had a cab driver who dropped me in the middle of nowhere because he had finished his shift! I had no idea where I was (except that it was New York the middle of Queens, on my way to JFK.
    Anyway, I made it in the end. As for you, what and adventure. I can't believe that the police was called. well done for sticking to your guns!
    My recent post Bali Again

  • Again, I can relate to that story. What may be different is how everyone came to your aid and the police took the driver in custody. Love the way you depicted the scene, can just imagine all the men shouting at the driver and at you because of what he was charging. From the comments above, I guess you run into rogue taxi drivers everywhere.

    These days, in parts of the U.S,, they all seem to be foreigners. Here, in San Diego, the Somalis seem to have a monopoly. They seem a pretty decent lot, much more polite than in NY.

    In Mexico City, we are warned against taking the "pirata" taxis that hang out around bus and train stations, and airports. Not only will they try to overcharge you, but they may take a roundabout route, or worse, steal your money and luggage and leave you stranded, or even kidnap you. So you go to a special place inside the station, give your destination, pay a set fee, and the tip is up to you. However, the drivers make very little per trip – maybe 20% – as the company takes most so be generous when tipping, and hold your breath because these drivers drive like maniacs in order to take you and get back fast to pick up more passengers.
    My recent post I Will Not Go Gentle Into the Night

    • Haha! It’s true! Now that I think about it, I have tons of taxi stories here in Peru. =P Although I think the “rogue taxi driver” image is mostly that — an image I have in my mind from all the warnings we receive about being careful getting into taxis. Peru’s version of “pirata” taxis, I guess! On the other hand, there have been a lot of attacks *on* taxi drivers recently in the news. =( Poor guys.

      Wow! Good to know the secret to getting safe taxis in Mexico City! How horrible to know that the drivers only make around 20% though. Thanks for the tips!

  • Great post Sam. What a scary position to be in and yet as they say "honour among thieves" It is wonderful how you stuck to your guns in a potentially explosive situation and how the other drivers came to your rescue. Appearances are often deceptive.
    My recent post Culture Clash, Trouble in Paradise.

  • Hey Samantha,

    I could totally relate. When I get to India, I am hounded at the Delhi airport by taxi drivers who charge more than double the fare to the ride home, but thank God for public transport and the likes!

    What has restored my faith in humanity? Loads of things; someone holding the door open, someone helping with the grocery..small things like this make me very hopeful of a better, much helpful world!
    My recent post Fridays will be Different… Thanks to Rob "The Power"

    • That’s exactly it, Hajra! Taxi drivers are good at “hounding” here too, especially at airports and bus stations. =P Whenever I’m able to, I always try to pass them by and take public transit like you do!

      Ooh! I love your tidbits on what has restored your faith in humanity — it’s definitely the little things that count. =)

  • Boy, does this remind me of a cab experience I had in St. Petersburg, Russia, after arriving by train with my daughter. Yours turned out better! I was uncomfortable the remainder of the visit and only travelled by walking or using a cab the hotel arranged for me.
    My recent post Just Another Day

  • Wow we have all had some interesting experiences with taxi drivers. I know I learnt my lesson when I was friendly with one in Singapore, and sat in the front seat. Little did I know this was an invitation for him to try and molest me. I'll never sit in the front seat of a cab again, even in Perth where I always used to sit in the front seat and jaber onto the cab driver.

    • Omigoodness! That sounded like a freaky taxi experience, Janine! I have to be really careful about who I’m friendly with here too — anyone of the opposite sex can get the wrong idea fast whether they’re taxi drivers or not. =P

  • Sam, you brought me back home with this post…again! haha! I guess this is a common situation where ever there is poverty and desperation. You're right, it's so easy to be overcome by fear and sometimes, rightfully so. You really ought to be informed, guarded, careful. But then you're also right that sometimes when we shift lenses, we see beyond the fear and see friends, or helpers and people who are really no different than us.
    My recent post How I Became A Self-Loathing Expert

    • So true, Joy! I’m imagining walking out of the airport in Manila now — not only are there tons of taxi drivers, but also porters! =P

      I love the balance you describe, Joy — it’s about being careful, but being open to seeing the human side of everyone without being gullible.

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