One of the first things I was told when I stepped off the plane was never, under any circumstances (even if you are stuck at midnight in the pouring rain), ever flag a taxi in the street. It’s advice that I’ve flagrantly disregarded on a daily basis.
Bogota is a city of taxis. They’re cheap, abundant and the obvious default in a city of over seven million where the only public transport are overcrowded collectivos, or the “trans-milenio” bus system, which doesn’t bisect my part of town. Phoning a taxi is very easy provided the sun is shining and you have the forethought. It’s dead safe, too, as they provide the license plate number and a secret code to the driver for you to ensure it's a legitimate cab. However, forethought and taxis don’t generally go together when you’re in a rush, or in the pouring rain (which contrary to popular belief happens fairly often here) when suddenly no taxi company wants to answer the phone.
So, despite the threat of kidnap, robbery—or worse—by one of a small minority of rogue taxi drivers that are undoubtedly out there, I daily endanger my life for the sake of convenience. And perhaps for the fact that all Bogotano life is sublimated in the back of those taxis; all the most interesting facts, juicy bits of language and unexpected kindnesses I’ve experienced here so far I’m pretty sure have been taxi-related.
So below are a few kinds of taxi-drivers that I’ve got to know:
So thrilled to have a foreigner in his cab, he will shower you with Colombia factoids and invitations to his barrio for dinner to a tour of the neighbourhood, meet his extended family and to eat some real Paisa home-cooking.
This is definitely a universal archetype. The Bogotano variety like to sing salsa or vallenato ballads at the top of their voices whilst swerving their tiny souped-up hatchbacks round Bogota’s numerous potholes at pant-wetting speed. Seatbelts? Don’t be a wimp.
Another archetype. The Bogotano breed view their car as an extension of their body and slamming the door is like chopping off a limb. They will follow you down the street shouting abuse out the window for less. These guys tend to overcharge and switch their meters off if you argue, and never ever have the right change.
The Mother Hen
Men greatly outnumber women taxi drivers here because of the safety aspect. On more than one occasion, I’ve actually had to argue to be let out till I’ve taken their phone number and promised to call to say I’m safe when being dropped in a less salubrious part of town.
The Sob Story
Sadly every now and you’ll be regaled with a pretty grim life story, and with such detail and tears they’re probably legitimate too. What follows is an awkward silence and the hope that when you get out they don’t petition you for a donation. If they don’t you feel guilty for assuming, if they do, you feel obliged. No win.
The Travelling Salesman
Are you into movies? Here, browse these en route. 2000 each. Bargain.
The Music Nut
You get treated to all types of entertainment in taxis but the weirdest I’ve had so far. . . well picture the scene: Late night, slightly drunken street hail, we jump in to a backseat bedecked in purple velvet, bathed in blue strip club-style lighting and are treated to a widescreen TV blaring out heavy metal at earsplitting volume. By the time we got back to where we were going, we just hoped that whatever grisly end awaited us would be quick and painless. Actually he gave us a discount for going the long way—you never can tell.