The Taxi Cabs of La Paz by Carolyn
Well, I’m still alive…I guess that’s the good news……..
It all started so well……..
We’d had a lovely thunderstorm the night before while we’d slept out on our brand new “back porch.” At one point, Russ rolled over and asked,”Hmmmmm…what do you figure will happen if lightening hits the mast?” I thought about it a moment and mumbled,” We’ll probably get fried…….” So we both moved our feet away from the mast and went back to sleep….
The next morning, life was samo-samo except for whopping humidity…..Ho hum….big sigh…and tons of sweat.
Up for coffee and brekkie (our Australian son-in-law’s term for breakfast) while Russ tried to explain to me why the mast and rigging “just might” act as a Faraday cage and protect us from the lightning (and the whole time I am nodding politely because I haven’t a clue what the heck it all means—and knowing that I have a PhD in Shakespeare, which does me no good whatsoever in the real world of boating where I can indeed be zapped by lightning and become a crispy-critter cadaver should the mast and rigging fail to act as a Faraday cage) when on the Radio net came an offer for a used IPad…Really good price….Okay, we’ve wanted one and –I mean it’s a realllllllllllyyyyyy good price–so off Russ trotted to the Transporte Colectivo to go IPad hunting. Meanwhile I’m getting ready to head in the opposite direction to the Oficina de Correos (post office) and, before I can leave, our friend Anibal stops by to chat.
Anibal is a PhD in anthropology, who is the world’s leading expert in the petroglyph rock art of California Baja Sur, and who just published his book on the subject, is scheduled in November to be honored by the Cultural Ministry of Calfornia Baja Sur……..and who also is a diver who cleans the bottom of boats in marinas so his family can eat. As you can probably surmise, education pays about as much here as it does in the United States, which apparently equals zip these days of University faculties comprised of 67% part-time instructors.
Anibal is a great guy… he’s fun….he is a friend….and we love talking to him…spend a lot of time with him, and he was very excited about being honored at the ceremony here in La Paz . Holy Moley!!!!!!!!!!! I squealed, jumped on the dock, gave him a great big hug, and promptly plopped a sloppy kiss on his cheek. (Well, that turned a few heads.) Then he told me that he’d come to ask us to sit with his family as his guests of honor…….Well, then came the next hug!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! More stares and some frowns from the bystanders. (Lord, but I do so love being labeled THAT WOMAN wherever I seem to turn up. Not bad for a 65 year old grandma.)
I thanked him profusely because I feel very honored…and YIPPEE….I’m gonna have to wear a dress and wear real shoes!!!!!!!!!!! And it’s actually for something academic……(I do occasionally miss academia; and, I really do occasionally enjoy long , boring, and endlessly esoteric discussions about topics other than wind steering, the advantages of satellite phones over Single Side Bands, and . . . Faraday cages.)
Russ got back to the boat with the IPad and went nuts as well about Anibal’s news……..much laughter…….many hugs all around…and then, of course, made an appointment with Anibal to scrub the boat bottom the next morning. What a crazy, wonderful place is Mexico!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And, of course, by this point I still needed to go to the Post Office and it was now hot–the middle of September, the middle of the day, an 11 on the UV index, and a predicted 104 for the Heat Index……..(There are other ways to achieve crispy critter status in La Paz than simply being hit by a bolt of lightning.)
Soooo…..I went to the Post Office, but I took a cab with a cabby I know named Mr. Castro. He’s about 65, a careful driver, very nice, and between my poco Español and his poco Inglés we generally manage to get me places and back again in one piece…….which almost got terminally screwed up that day. Not so much a matter of crispy critter, more a case of bug splat.
Anyway, off we went to the Post Office (there is only one major Post Office and it is located far away from the Marina). It is huge…the front lobby is full to the roof with packages to be delivered and only two little middle-aged women working the desk…….Other than me, there is absolutely no one in the lobby except for one guy sleeping on a bench. The ladies speak no English, but my Spanish is actually getting better every day, if we keep discussions in the ‘present’ tense. So we get the deed done………..Bueno!
Back to Marina La Paz with Mr. Castro…………except for the other driver, who ran a stop sign and who only missed hitting us broadside by about a foot at about 60 mph in a 20 mph zone. Mr. Castro swerved… other guy swerved…..and went right on. Mr. Castro’s cab stalled and the engine flooded–at which time, two other drivers barreling down the same street hell-bent-for-leather nearly did the exactly the same thing again–twice.
By this time, poor Mr. Castro was shaking and cursing in Spanish and couldn’t think straight enough to put the pedal to the metal to start the motor…So he put the cab in neutral and proceeded to coast down the hill to a curb. At the curb, he put on the emergency brake and kept trying to start the cab … until he ran out of gas!
I wasn’t upset; I was absolutely calm….I’m wasn’t in the least bit angry (it certainly wasn’t Mr. Castro’s fault and , besides, I didn’t have anywhere else to go)…..and if it had been Russ and me, in our own car, I’d have been laughing by then….but it would have been totally un-cool to laugh at that particular moment (I don’t think a Mexican gentleman would have appreciated my sense of humor)…and then Mr. Castro got tears in his eyes and started apologizing profusely………..
I’m so pleased that I’m studying diligently trying to learn Spanish–I told him essentially that I didn’t have a problem, it would all be OK, and not to worry. I continued by saying that I knew he’d fix the problem. “You think so?” he asked. I said, “I know so”…..and pointed out the window and up to a PeMex gasoline station sign about a block away…..”You got a gas can, Mr. Castro?” (Any American, living in Mexico, who doesn’t know how to say Gas Can and Gas Station in Spanish simply isn’t going to survive.)
Mr. Castro fetched the gas and I helped him fill the tank (with his van, it really is a two-person process because the funnel won’t stay in the tank top while the person tries to fill it and the gas can doesn’t have a pour spout.) The cab started and so…Mr. Castro took me home which was of tremendous personal and professional importance to him.
And this is why. Many of the cab drivers of La Paz are middle age or older; and most of them are wonderful guys, who are proud of their jobs. If they own their own cab, they worked hard to get it (nobody gave it to them as some kind of present). That cab is their family’s pride and livelihood–its life’s blood. Most of them work six days a week and generally a ten-hour day at that. If their cab gets in a wreck or breaks down, their family can expect some very hard times. And driving that cab is an honored responsibility for them—it’s one of the most important things in their lives. If you pay attention, you will notice that many of the cabbies keep some copy of a prayer or the Chauffeur’s Prayer on the their dashboards. It’s not simply for show or to be colorful–many of the drivers are Roman Catholics and they take prayer seriously. They respect their customers and deserve your respect, in turn.
My relationship with Mr. Castro has now changed………It is no longer Señor Castro and Señora Harper….it is now Espiridion and Carolina–We’re good amigos…After all, we’ve had an adventure together.
So here’s the point: If you are new to La Paz:
1) When you first get to La Paz, always be sure to first ask the cab driver “¿Cuánto cuesta?” (meaning “How much does it cost?” /pronounced Quanto Questa) before you ever get in the cab. If you don’t, the cabbie has every right to charge what he wants to charge you when you arrive at your destination. Establish the price before entering the cab. If you get especially good service, a tip is appreciated.
2) As soon as possible, find a cabbie–one you like, one you trust, and one you know doesn’t over-charge….Most every cabbie has a cell phone and a business card of some sort. If you find a driver, whom you like, get his business card–cultivate a relationship and you will have gained a friend. If you get lost–they can get you home.
3) Be polite always. In Mexico, courtesy is valued much more than it seems to be in America these days.
4) Even if you know a driver, any time you have a more complex ride—such as round trip or more than one stop–check with him about the cost. They don’t mind and it’s a lot more comfortable trip even to the grocery store when everyone is on the same page about what something’s supposed to cost.