Who to Trust?

Trying to decipher whether people’s intentions are pure is difficult. I hate discovering that I’m being spoken to or coerced into something to satisfy someone else’s agenda or because I’m foreign and opportunists see dollar signs. I also hate approaching situations fearing the worst and talking to people like they are going to take advantage. Some people I meet on my travels simply don’t trust anyone. Any interactions they have are tarnished by them being rude and demanding because they expect the worst. I aim to have a happy medium.

This is another blogging 101 assignment, using a prompt.

I often find myself at the mercy of complete strangers so it’s important for me to quickly asses people. Having a vial of truth serum would be incredibly useful in a lot of situations. As I unfortunately don’t have one, deciding who to engage with and who to avoid is a skill I’m learning. I used to smile and pay it forward in the hopes my kindness would be returned. It works a lot of the time but increasingly I find it’s better to approach situations assertively and try to show immediately that I won’t be scammed and don’t need help, even if I do!

A situation in Costa Rica was the last straw for me. I had to see a Dr and the only way to get there was by taxi. I negotiated when I got in the cab as I wasn’t going to pay tourist prices, and asked to go to the Dr that had been recommended to me. The driver was sweet and concerned that I was not well. He wanted to take me to his family Dr as he said he was really friendly and spoke english. My driver spoke some english but we were having difficulty communicating so he pulled over and asked someone passing by to help translate, they assured me where I was headed was known to be expensive and that I should go with the taxi driver. As a blanket ruling I don’t trust any taxi drivers. But I was sick and tired and didn’t have the strength to argue. Plus the cunningness of taxi drivers in San Jose and their elaborate scams should not be underestimated.

After the consult, I was told my blood results would be half an hour so the taxi driver waited to drive me back to the hostel. I took him for lunch as a way to pay it forward, hoping he would not try to rip me off at the end. We chatted a lot and joked around like old buddies.

The driver knew I needed to get to the bus station later so after I got my results he drove me back to the hostel to collect my things, I tried to tell him I would make my own way (concerned at the rising taxi fare) but somehow he managed to persuade me and he took me to the bus station. I thanked him and he showed me the fare, I had expected about $50-$60 and he asked for $300 USD. I looked at him shocked. “No”, I said, “I do not have this kind of money” I offered him $60. He looked at me furious and shook his head. He turned the cab around to take me to the police station. We drove around in circles arguing for about 15 minutes as I pleaded with him to reduce the price. Somehow I managed to get him down to $80. The driver kept looking at me disgusted, and I back at him. My last few words as I got out of the cab were in english, but I’m sure he understood.

Whilst it might not sound so bad, consider that I had planned to spend maybe $8 on getting to and from the Dr I had been recommended. The cab driver made $80 out of me instead of the $4 I had negotiated. And had tried for $300. Others may have been too scared to argue as I had. The little family clinic the cab driver took me to was really expensive also, I’m sure kickbacks had been arranged here and a bribe given to the stranger in the street who had told me to go with the taxi.

There are hundreds of other examples of “tourist tax” or casual scamming. The lengths people go to and the lies they tell are phenomenal and saddening. The extent of it in Costa Rica really left a bad impression on me. One price for locals and double for tourists (advertised openly) for food, activities and fitness classes. It’s probably negligible for short holiday makers but I would advise backpackers to enjoy your time in neighbouring Nicaragua or Panama if you want to stretch the budget. It’s a shame that some people get greedy as Costa Rica really has a lot to offer tourists and is known for it’s hospitality.

Taganga and Tayrona in northern Colombia I found terrible for being ripped off also. One price will be quoted for food or drinks and then another price will be demanded once you’ve eaten. Almost every single time!

Some friends and I had a horrible experience with a tour guide in Taganga who instilled fear in us of booking with locals. He then proceeded to book us on a boat with a local, Bruno, who we had previously been speaking to about the trip. Bruno was tough and carried around a small shoulder bag with a large knife sticking out. He was not at all happy we had gone with the agent. Bruno cornered each one of us separately “Why didn’t you just go with me?” He demanded. “Now I take you anyway and I lose money”.

Then we arrived at the Tayrona to find the booking agent had not paid enough for the accommodation and we had to sleep on the beach. This was prohibited so we spent an uncomfortable night watching out for security guards. They found us as we tried to leave the next morning and charged us for accommodation anyway. Later we asked the agent for our money back and he blamed everyone else and refused to refund us. He was happy to keep his commission.

I would still highly recommend visiting these places as they are stunning. Just be vigilant. And don’t book with the company we used – Taganga Tours or something similar. They are directly across the road from the centre of the main beach.

It’s been over two months since these occurrences and I haven’t been ripped off since. I had a great tip from a Colombian, he said if someone quotes you something outrageous don’t even engage with them. They’ll drop the price back to something more favourable as you walk away but by speaking to them you are condoning their first attempt to rob you. Opt for someone with a more reasonable starting price if negotiating is required.

In the broader sense of determining who can be trusted and who can’t, my truth serum is simple. If I can’t decide I go with my instincts, how I feel about the person. If I feel OK I don’t listen to a word that comes out of their mouth, unfortunately some people are very skilled at telling you exactly what you want to hear. Especially if you are smiling and receptive! Instead I pay attention to their actions. It’s working better for me.

If anyone has any tips or comments on the matter please don’t be shy to comment.


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