My brother and I were all too familiar with local-created “misunderstandings” in prices throughout our time in Peru and turns out its Andean neighbor isnt much different. In Peru, we would negotiate a taxi price towards where we were going (for the lack of taxi meters) and hop in, headed towards our destination. In many instances, the taxi drivers would intentionally take us to the wrong destination or a different hostel or hotel, saying that our selected destination was nonexistent, purely for means of getting more cash or working in cahoots with certain businesses. This type of treatment made us very suspicious of all Peruvians, to the extent that we genuinely distrusted several Peruvians that were literally telling the truth.
While I almost never see any of this in Colombia, I have found that our first few days of travel in Ecuador have been filled with these misunderstandings. We arranged at a hostel to get massages for $5 each, but when I went to pay $10 for both mine and Elizabeths at the end, they told me it was $10 each and after conferring with Betty, she had been told it would be $25 for both of us. I yelled at the masseuse for about 15 minutes, using choicely words to indicate my frustration at them taking advantage of gringos, thew $10 at her and walked away. The 2nd incidence of “misunderstanding” was the taxi ride from the bus terminal in Quito. We agreed on the price, which I double checked with the driver, $5, but when I gave him a twenty he gave me thirteen in change, stating that I had misheard him and that it was actually $7. (for those non Spanish speakers, CINCO and SIETE dont sound anything alike). With the previous experience of almost being cheated I tried not to throw too many obscenities at the cab driver, as I wanted to get the extra $2 back, but to no avail. I guess before I take taxis in Ecuador from now on, it would be prudent to have correct change.
Now I now what a few of you are thinking: ¨Miles, its like a few dollars and you´re in a poor country, just deal with it!¨ To which I would reply: first off, I can understand when someone is trying to rip me off in Spanish and I don´t quite like it and think it should be a common practice. Secondly, this system of ripping off tourists creates an environment where no local can be trusted, you have your defenses up from the get go; making it harder to connect and befriend locals. Thirdly, I don´t see any of this in Colombia. The worst I´ve come towards being cheated is being overcharged in a bar in a touristy zone, which was happily corrected. I think the reasoning for the culture of cheating tourists in Peru and Ecuador stems from the fact that both countries have had so many tourists with little spanish ability for so many years. Locals here take for granted that its a piece of cake to play off mistakes in negotiated prices as ¨misunderstandings.¨ As I´ve lectured both of my would-be cheaters here in Ecuador: ¨this is why I live in Colombia, where they don´t take advantage of the foreigners.¨