costa rica; taxi

My First Taxi Ride

4:36:00 AM

My last summer as a college student I took a trip to San Jose, Costa Rica. It was by far one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot - about the Spanish language, about a different culture and even about myself. I have many, many different stories that I could share with you from my time there. Honestly, I could probably talk to you for hours on end about how much fun I had, but instead of subjecting you to that... I'm going to share one of my favorite stories to tell from that trip.

My First Taxi Ride

I grew up in a small town, and although we have a heck of a lot of traffic lights we don't have a professional taxi service. There are actually two private taxis that run through town, but you have to be an extremely brave individual to call one of them to take you to and from the grocery store. Suffice it to say that I'm not that brave. Call me chicken, but I've never been so desperate to get somewhere that I had to call one of Blakely's taxis - one driver was so old and shrunken all you could see of him was his hands on the wheel.

I've never been to a big American city, unless you count Atlanta or maybe New Orleans. But in Atlanta we always drive and in New Orleans we walked. So in my 23 years of living I have never experienced an American taxi ride.

In the summer of 2009, I participated in a study abroad program in Costa Rica. There were about 20 of us, all assigned to different host families in the city of San Jose which just so happens to be a majorly huge city. While there most of us just used the bus system that ran through the city. It was cheap (around 50 cents a day) and most of us lived within walking distance of a stop. In fact, my bus stop was right around the corner from my host family's home.

One afternoon, three of us decided to go to the Mall San Pedro in downtown. It was the middle of the afternoon so we walked from the Instituto de Espanol Costa Rica (IECR), but when we were ready to leave it was raining and getting dark. So we decided to be brave and hail a cab.

It wasn't truly that hard. We walked out the front entrance and there were about a million to choose from, and they all looked like this:
All certified taxis in Costa Rica are red with a yellow triangle that has their driver numbers. If you get into one that doesn't have what I just mentioned, well good luck.

So we pile in and take off in the direction of the first house. We had made it about a third of the way when the car started to sputter. The driver pushed it as far as he could up the hill we were on until finally, it just died. There was nothing for us to do, so we paid him for the distance he'd taken us and got out.

There we were, three American girls in a Spanish-speaking country, obviously lost in a not-so-nice neighborhood. We did the only thing that made sense. We continued walking in the direction we'd been traveling, hoping to see something we'd recognize, another taxi or someone who didn't look like they'd kill, rape or sell us into slavery that we could ask for directions. Luckily a taxi rounded the next corner.

We gratefully get in and dutifully hand over the first set of directions. The funny thing about Costa Rica is that the streets aren't named, just the neighborhoods, and many of the taxi drivers don't know where they're going. This was one such taxi driver. He got lost and actually had to stop and ask for directions.

We finally got the first girl home. She lived on the other side of the city from us other two, who luckily lived right down the street from each other. So we handed him our directions, crossed our fingers and waited anxiously as he proceeded to get lost again. Luckily, all the taxi drivers know the bus routes and all the stops. So we told him which bus stop we were next to - Musmani - and he took us straight there.

So my first taxi ride was actually an adventure. It tested my Spanish, my bravery and my common sense. It was an experience I'm glad to have had, an experience I'm glad to still be around to laugh about.

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2 comments

  1. Yeah, it was quite like an adventure! Driving in Costa Rica is really quite a challenge because most of the people there only use landmarks to guide taxi drivers where they want to be dropped off. Getting lost was still a good experience because it tested how brave you really are as person.

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  2. That was such a fun adventure! It's not easy being a stranger in a foreign land, especially if you are not fluent with their language. But I think you should give credit to the taxi driver because he indirectly taught you how to become independent in the city.

    Sabra @Downtown Yellow Taxi in Saint Petersburg

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