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?