Our Three-hour Tour

San Jose, Costa Rica, taxi

The S.S. Minnow crashed on the rocks of a deserted island, our disaster involved a three-hour tour by taxi in San Jose, Costa Rica. (If you don’t know who Gilligan is, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.) The Minnow’s skipper was a generally good-natured guy who would smack Gilligan with his hat, our captain was a taxi driver who was looking for a couple of patsies to scam.

Lessons learned. We’re here to share them with you.

We caught a cab outside our hotel, looking for a short ride to the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica. A round trip should have cost us about $7.00.

San Jose, Costa Rica, taxi

San Jose taxi

It wasn’t long before our driver, Manuel, began with warnings about how dangerous the city was. He showed us a scar on his ankle, he said it was from a bullet wound. Okay, that got our attention. He chatted up Nadine, who was practicing her Spanish, with descriptions of some of the better (safer) areas of town and the important sights. But many were closed because it was Sunday. Good to know.

We ended up at the Teatro Nacional, and he offered to wait for us. Seemed reasonable, but I really didn’t want a guide.

Lesson 1: Go with your gut feeling.

We were in the teatro for all of 10 minutes, when Manuel tried to rush us off to a new location. I said no, and signed us up for a tour of the teatro – he tagged along. I wanted to stop for lunch at the cafe, he said it was too expensive. I insisted. The cafe at the teatro is one of the most beautifully decorated rooms I’ve ever experienced. We took our time over coffee, sandwiches and cake.

Cafe in the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica

Cafe in the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica

Lesson 2: The meter is always running. 

I was getting concerned, I wanted to know how much he was going to charge us. His English was poor, so I wrote out a note with symbols, and asked: “$$??”  I’m thinking, he indicated as he took us back to the cab. Apparently his brain wouldn’t kick in for another 20 minutes.

Lesson 3: If they won’t quote you a price, bail. Now.

He took us to our next destination – which he had suggested – a beautiful cathedral which we really enjoyed visiting. Being a friendly Canuck, I asked if I could take a picture of him with Nadine. He said no. That probably should have been a warning bell, looking back at it.

We got back in the cab, and he had suggestions for more sights. But we hadn’t agreed on a price, so I told him to take us back to the hotel. I insisted.

He pulled off to the side of the road, a block from our hotel. We negotiated a final price, but we ended up paying about ten times what we should have.

After the experience, it came back to me. My friend Paul, who I travelled with extensively, had a great system for getting a fair deal on a taxi ride:

Lesson 4: Agree on the price of the ride in advance, before getting in the cab.

But, after all that happened, I firmly believe that:

Lesson 5: Life’s too short.

It wasn’t a total loss; Nadine practiced her Spanish, we got to see the important sights that I was looking forward to, and the coffee and cake in the cafe were wonderful.

A three-hour tour, and we got out with a small dent in our wallet. If only Gilligan had been that lucky.

Pura vida.

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