During my time in Honduras, I’ve met many interesting taxi drivers. As you can imagine, many are from working class backgrounds and live just above the poverty line. Most of them are very nice and like to talk about football, politics and women, often referred to as munecas, mamacitas and nenas, and they might have their attention called with a charming beep of the horn or a blowing of a kiss. Some can be quiet and choose not to talk. Others try to pick up other passengers, even after charging ridiculous amounts of money, and the occasional taxi will even get a meal, which means a level of discipline has to be implied. Some have boom boxes firing out regaeton, sometimes its evangelical or 80s/90s American rock ballads. 50% of the time its the radio station Habla Como Habla, which is a constant stream of opinions and topics that people can call and comment on, usually about how corrupt the government is and how they do nothing for the people (hence the words constant stream). Gelled up and blinged up come the youth; the elders are more modest, brandishing slogans of God on all possible panels of the famous white mobile. Some are drunk, but the majority are sober, but have children scattered throughout the city, and they believe that there is something wrong with me when I say I have no kids as of yet (they usually believe I’m infertile or gay or both).
There are four things that they all have in common:
1) a talent for dodging traffic jams and cutting people up (my soon to be wife looks like an angel, but she has some very colourful expressions to describe taxi drivers when they are carving up her lanes, bumpers, doors and headlights).
2) bartering the price of rides, with predator like precision, taking full advantage of the victim/client’s indecision, inexperience or unawareness (expect a hike up in price if you look affluent or have a foreign accent).
3) a stubborness and pouring of blame on another person if in a crash, even when it’s obvious it’s damn obvious it’s the driver’s fault (I feel a cruel happiness when I see two taxi drivers who have crashed into each other and then launch into an eternal argument with false accusations, lies and mind bends, but then I feel a sorrow for the traffic policeman who can’t make head or tail of the labrinth of untruths from the hyenas of the Tegucigalpan streets). It seriously is a car commuter’s worst nightmare crashing into a taxi driver (besides a policeman, gang-member, narco, Juan Orlando (the current corrupt president) or breaking down near a less than safe neighbourhood).
4) last but not least, all drivers finish the journey with a customary “vaya bien”, which translates as “go well”, and sometimes a handshake, which some people feel nervous about when looking at the shade of colour of the hand.
Yes. Think that sums up Tegucigalpa’s taxi drivers, which probably sounds like many other taxi drivers in Latin America’s many cities, if not the world.
On Thursday, after being at the Juzgados picking up my Honduran CRB for some wedding paperwork, I had to catch a cab, when I experienced the below scenario, which was announced on Facebook as a way of letting off steam and sorrow:
Just caught a taxi. The driver was in his late 30s, early 40s. I got in the taxi and noticed that he was almost crying and driving very slowly. I wondered what was up but the tension told me it was best to remain quiet. He received a phone call and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. It turned out that his daughter had died the night before in hospital. The guy hadn’t slept and you could see it, and he was working that day to pay 1000 odd lemps for the funeral tonight. When he got off the phone, I gave my condolences. He said thank you and said she was only three and died from dengue. I felt pathetic. I only had an extra 100 lemps in my pocket. I just let him take it. He then parked up and cried. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him his daughter is now in heaven. It was my stop and I had to get out. I walked away with a lump in my throat.
I really don’t know what to say or think. I don’t even know why I’m announcing it on Facebook. Obviously I’m moved, sad, shocked, humbled, amongst many other things. Also lucky that I have the finances if I suffer from such an illness. Lost for words. A prayer for the family seems the most suitable. I just needed to let it out.
It has had nearly 90 likes and multiple pourings of emotions and opinions in the comments deriving from many different pockets of the world. The opinions are mainly in regards to the recent IHSS scandals, and how adults and children are dying from illnesses that should be treated easily, such as dengue (President JOH has a whole new angst when someone now mentions the “Friday Feeling”; he knows there’s a march coming, and it’s going in the direction of his house – Google it).
I was then tagged in a different Facebook status, as well as received messages from friends who had experienced similar stories in taxis of late, and it’s repetitive. To one friend she has heard the same story three times in a week from different drivers (I think she lives near the airport). The driver talks loudly down the phone for passenger to overhear, and then talks more and more about his predicament with a young dead or dying daughter and how he needs money for the funeral and how he hasn’t slept, making the passenger want to give him money. My driver shed tears. I have obviously begun to have grave doubts about the driver’s honesty. I haggled the driver from 100lps to 80 before I got in the taxi. He walked away with 200. I don’t know whether I was right or wrong or whether he was genuine or not, but it feels awful that some taxi drivers have sunk to such a depraved low, taking advantage of the conscious of good hardworking people. A lack of trust now lays heavy on the mind. It really is a shame. Hyena tactics.
I suppose this post is really to let English-speaking Catrachos, as well as my family who will be in Honduras very soon, know and be aware about this dark trend. I don’t want to damage the reputation of the driver Juan Carlos, who has picked me up to go to work since I moved to Residencia Maya, and Toni, a body builder and self-described lady killer, who are both caring and humorous. As well as one driver who took pity on a friend who had been robbed and had all her money taken, and took her home for free. There are taxi drivers with good hearts too.
As for now, I’m signing off. Be vigilent Tegucigalpan taxi passengers.