As the taxi speeds down the freeway and the driver once again mutters a question en español that I cannot comprehend, I begin to wish that more of the five years I spent studying the language in high school had been devoted to actually learning it, instead of playing bingo, singing Mexican Christmas carols, and knitting the flags of Spanish-speaking countries.
I’ve retained enough basic vocabulary that I can usually converse on an elementary level, but this driver and I are having serious communication issues. I don’t know a soul here in Tijuana, except for my host, but I can’t contact him because I didn’t bother setting up international calling on my phone.
So we continue down the freeway with no apparent direction. And the meter is running…
I did not adequately prepare for the Tijuana trip
I must admit: As tales of being lost in foreign lands go, this one is fairly tame. I wasn’t chased by rogue police. I didn’t have to duck behind a building to get away from local drug lords. I didn’t have to sleep in the street or hitchhike across the country. I was simply stuck in a cab with a driver who didn’t speak English and didn’t know where I was going.
But it was still plenty unnerving, and it’s my story so I get to tell it.
Tijuana can be a dangerous place for visitors, especially Americans traveling alone. I thought I did everything right – I secured a place to stay via Couchsurfing, I parked on the American side of the Mexican border and walked over, and I headed straight for one of the Taxi Libre cabs (the ones with running meters, as opposed to the other cabs with no meters where the driver may charge whatever he desires.)
I just forgot the little detail of knowing where I was going. My host Victor had sent me a map to his place, but I didn’t bother to print it. I just assumed the cabbie would recognize the address when I told him. Oops.
Even though he doesn’t know our destination, he takes off anyway. Soon we’re racing down a four-lane road, past intimidating-looking slums. The only thing I know is that my destination is “cerca de la Universidad.” I think that’s where the driver is going, but who knows?
How long am I going to be in this cab? Are we ever going to find our destination? And just how many pesos is this ride going to cost me?
My non-functioning phone somehow saves the day
I try to call my host, but my phone doesn’t work. Since I’m only planning to spend a day here, I didn’t think it was necessary to contact Verizon to setup international service.
Finally, when it feels like we’re halfway to Mexico City, I’m surprised to hear my ringtone. It’s my host! For some reason, my phone is still able to accept incoming calls. So I put him on the phone with my driver. They talk in Spanish and figure out just where I’m headed.
A few minutes later, I arrive at my host’s house and check the meter. Surprisingly, the tally is less than 100 pesos. I hand the driver an American $10 and thank him.
What did I learn from this ordeal? International phone service is a good thing. So are maps.
I can only hope the morning’s cab ride back to the border is easier …