You always hear about these dangerous and scary occurrences in which travelers get mugged, are used to smuggle drugs or get scammed. Whenever hearing about these stories you always believe you are far too wise to ever be caught out like this.
Well let me tell you, even if you think you are a smarty-pants-know-it-all traveler, it can happen to the best of us! Especially when you have been in transit for something like 18 hours, have barely had any shut eye and are travelling from the airport to get a few hours sleep before continuing your transit to your first destination.
Stepping out of an Argentinian airport, there was no clear signage, and my Espanol was muchos no bueno (not very good). Upon approaching a police officer she merely points to her left when asked “where is the taxi, please” in my best Espanol. To the left is a group of men, and in trusting the police officer’s directions we walk towards them, they continue to tell us they are taxi drivers and produce a laminated card that seems legit in our delirious sleepless states. We walk with a man to his “taxi” which seems to be increasingly further from the airport and simply parked in the airport car park. We start to feel alarm bells ringing, however do not act on these feelings. We get in the car and all of a sudden the mans demeanor changes, he is not so friendly but more serious and unhelpful. As we drive off, out the back windscreen we see some men shaking their heads and waving their hands about, this cements those alarm bells.
Not knowing where we are going, nor if we are even heading in the correct direction to our apartment, we begin to communicate with each other on our phones trying to come up with a contingency plan. I am certain we are being kidnapped and am thinking of ways to escape. After a 30 minute drive, in what seemed to take forever, I see that we are driving along the street of the apartment and a small sigh of relief is had, although this is not over yet.
We drive into the San Telmo neighborhood, but maybe on the “wrong” side of the neighborhood as there are homeless families and graffiti covered, boarded up buildings lining the streets, and then in front of the apartment we stop. The man says we owe him 700 pesos ($77USD) we look at each other but are just happy to pay whatever to get out of the car. I hand the driver 400 pesos, which I had just gotten from the ATM at the airport, whilst my friend got her money out. Seconds later he turns around and tells me I had handed him 3x 100 peso bills and 1x one peso bill. How could this be, I had just taken the money from the ATM. So I took my 301 pesos back as we didn’t have enough to pay in pesos, and paid the man $70 USD, took our bags and boy were we happy to be out of that “taxi”.
We struggle up to our rooms, enraged and discussing what had just occurred. Too tired and upset to discuss it any further we went to sleep. In the morning I read my Lonely Planet guide, and to my displeasure I re read the safety warning for Argentina, that I had highlighted in bright yellow(!!!), that warns about EXACTLY what had just happened a few hours prior. The man had not only scammed a large “taxi fare” from us, but had switched the money I had given him, so had stolen another 100 pesos from me. What an expensive taxi fare, which had turned out to cost $90 USD. Could I have been any more idiotic, what a fool, what a noob (Aussie slang for newbie, pronounced knew-b). Feeling embarrassed and like quite the fool, we decide to not, preferably never, discuss the matter further.
So, to the experienced travelers, to the new travelers, and to the tourists, here is my advice; Firstly, go with your gut feeling because you are probably correct! Secondly, make sue you make note of important notes such as safety warnings you read about your upcoming adventures. And Thirdly, in my opinion, Lonely Planet provide accurate advice in which I will listen too much more carefully moving forward from this day (after I spent twice as much as I should have on a one way taxi scam).