Nothing has delighted me more than getting around Ecuador by taxi cab. They are plentiful, cheap and a safe way to get around.
There are many ways to catch a taxi cab in Ecuador but my preferred method is just to stand on the sidewalk and wave one down. Basically, I just stand outside, extend one arm and sort of point down repeatedly at the ground where I stand.
If I’m having a bit of trouble waving down a cab on the street, I use the Easy Taxi app on my phone. This app is basically exactly like Uber and Lyft except it dispatches taxi cabs and not just some smooth operator with a car. There’s an extra 50 cent fee added on for using the app so that’s something to be aware of.
I could call a cab as well but from my experience, the first two methods are faster and more reliable. If you call to have a taxi sent, you might have to call again and again before one actually shows up. It’s also a bit uncomfortable to call a taxi if you suck at Spanish but then again, that’s part of the fun (one of these days I’ll write about ordering Pizza when your Spanish sucks).
I initially lived in a fancy building with a guard who used to call cabs for me and they always arrived quickly. However when a friend of mine called from her home, she always had to call at least twice before one would show up.
So what’s it like to get around by taxi cab in Ecuador?
Interesting. Educational. Funny… At leas it has been for me.
One of the things I love the most about taking cabs are the cab drivers. They are always chatty and they don’t care how bad your Spanish is. In fact, cab drivers are the sole reason why my Spanish has improved drastically since I first arrived. When they realize your don’t speak Spanish very well, they don’t just stop talking to you because communication is a struggle. Instead, they get a bit more excited that you’re not from there and start chatting away. I love it.
95% of the conversations I’ve had with cab drivers are about my age, relationship and parental status. I would never volunteer such information to a stranger so the conversation is always initiated by the cab driver.
This is how the conversation goes if I feel like being open. Most of the time, I respond with more evasive or silly answers for S&Gs (shits and giggles).
Driver: Where are you from?
Me: The United States.
Driver: Ohhhh Are you here with your family or husband?
Me: No, I’m here alone.
Driver: Ohhhhhhhhh By yourself? Do you have any kids?
Me: No, I don’t have any kids.
Driver: Annnnnd you’re not married… do you have a boyfriend?
Me: No, I don’t.
Driver: Well, maybe we can go out for a drink sometime or I can show you around my city.
Me: No, thank you.
One cab driver even asked me how to ask women if they are married in English. When I told him, it quickly turned into a full fledged English lesson complete with part by part pronunciation practice. Ha!
Are there any female drivers in Ecuador?
Yes, there are female cab drivers. Not many but they exist. In the three years I’ve lived in Ecuador, I’ve only seen three female drivers and it was questionable whether or not one of them was actually a licensed cab driver.
The first time I was picked up by a female cab driver I was outside of the Super Maxi grocery store on Don Bosco in Cuenca, Ecuador. She was not chatty at all. In fact she didn’t say anything other than to ask me where I was going. I noticed she was sweaty and wearing gym clothes. She got me from point A to B without issue. However, I just got the impression that there was a 50/50 chance that she borrowed the car/cab to go to the gym and thought “why not?” when she saw a chance to take a fare. The cabs are owned by the cab drivers there and they take them home so it’s not implausible.
The second female taxi driver I caught a ride from was in Cotacatchi, Ecuador. I was there visiting some friends and checking out rentals because I was thinking about moving there. My friends and I walked over to one of the cab stands and they recognized the female driver they’d ridden with before. They wanted to ride with her again because they felt she was a very careful driver. She was indeed... Slow is a more appropriate term. Ha! Eventually we made it back to their place so I can’t complain; it was a nice change of pace.
That brings me to the third female cab driver I had the pleasure of riding with. She was driving a sports car (they can get whatever car they like and have it painted taxi cab yellow). I flagged her down from outside of my apartment building. She asked me where I was going and I told her I was going to Mall Del Rio. There was a passenger in the backseat but she told me to get in because the elderly woman in the back lived just around the corner. So I got in the front seat and she drove around the corner and dropped the woman off. Standard stuff right?
Let’s just say, I should have known something was amiss when I saw she was wearing racing gloves. Apparently, the indie500 was on the streets of Cuenca, Ecuador that day. She was speeding around the streets like crazy. I mean seriously… I was not in a hurry to get to the mall. I just hung on for dear life and hoped for the best. A “tuck-n-roll” would not have ended well my friends.
As she sped the short distance to the mall she managed to casually ask me a few questions about where I’m from, etc. I did the best I could to respond but with puckered cheeks, a death grip and terrible Spanish skills, she didn't get much out of me.
Is the taxi cab experience in Ecuador basically the same each time?
No. One of the weird things I noticed is that cab drivers in Cuenca, Ecuador would behave one way for a while and then suddenly stop. Such is the case when there was a period of time when cab drivers acted like they didn’t understand what I was saying to them. I would get in the cab and tell them the street address or location I was going to and they would act like they didn’t understand me. I would have to keep repeating it and then they would repeat it back exactly like I just said it and then be like “oh now I know where you want to go”. This was happening with almost every cab driver I used. .. Then … it just suddenly stopped and I never had that issue again.
Then there was a period of time when cab drivers were putting people out before they reached their destinations. I have no idea what that was all about but it was happening to a lot of people and not just expats. I too was put out of a cab before I reached my destination in Cuenca, Ecuador.
I had just moved into a new apartment (less than 2 days prior) and was coming back from the grocery store.
On a side note, one of the things that bugs me about taking cabs in Cuenca is that a lot of cab drivers don’t know the city well even though when you ask them where they’re from, they've lived there their whole lives. I guess knowing the city isn't a requirement for being a taxi driver here.
Anyway, I got into a cab where the cab driver said he had no idea where to go when I told him my address.
On another side note, most buildings do not have numbers. The address you give is literally the street you live on and the nearest cross street.
So I told the cab driver the street I live on and the nearest cross street and he said he had no idea. Because I’d just moved there, I did not yet know how to give turn by turn directions. And although the cab driver had a GPS capable phone, he didn’t use it to look up directions. So I did on my phone and handed it to him.
My phone was giving him turn by turn directions. But at some point he just said “fuck it.” We got to Las Americas (a major street) and he handed me back my phone and said it was as far as he was going. I was shocked but I didn’t get angry because one of the “different” things about Ecuadorians is that they are generally nice people. Yeah, he kicked me out but he was nice about it. Ha!
I pulled all my bags out of the cab and flagged down another. When I told the new cab driver the address, he knew where it was and I was able to get home. When I was telling some of my expat friends about it, they were telling me they experienced the same thing during that time period. Then we started hearing & reading stories about many others who were being put out of cabs left and right. And just like the “I don’t understand you” shenanigans, it suddenly stopped.
This bill is beneath me…
The last spurt of nonsense that came and went was a time period where cab drivers were refusing raggedy bills. Ok so this one was actually understandable to a point. Ecuador uses the US dollar. During this time, the United States decided they would refuse to accept raggedy bills from Ecuador so banks were refusing raggedy bills so it cascaded down to whoever was selling anything was refusing raggedy bills and no group of people were more diligent about it than cab drivers.
There are a few things wrong about this situation. The first being that it’s not necessarily fair or wise for the US to refuse worn bills from a country that operates almost entirely on cash. This may also be why I rarely saw a paper dollar bill. Those dollar coins are absolute KING in Ecuador. The second thing is that cab drivers would refuse to take a worn bill but then give you the raggediest bills they have for your change. Say what?!
Yeah, so then it just became a joke because if you have any sense you’ll refuse their raggedy mess too. So it’s like “no, that’s too worn”, each digging around in pockets and wallets for other bills… just back and forth like fools. Then like the wind, it stopped.
What other miscellaneous nonsense happened?
There are a few cab drivers who hate to take directions from a woman. I’ve never been yelled at but there was a lot of grumbling and refusal going on. But I’ve been lucky because it’s really only been a few cab drivers who have done that but I do know others who get it all the time.
I’ve also had a few cab drivers grumble and refuse to go the route I suggested. Not because I’m a woman but because they are impatient. Say what? Yes, one interesting thing about cab drivers in Cuenca is that they don’t usually take the longest route to make more money. They are too impatient. They want to get there the fastest and if you suggest a route with a lot of traffic, they are unhappy. Sometimes, I just can't avoid it because I live on the other side of Las Americas which is a very very busy street and then they slapped a silly tram down the middle of it and it has become hell to cross. I like when I get a young male driver because they can not resist the urge to speed; the fare is always low because of the quick ride.
Another type of Cuenca cab driver is the one who stops and asks you where you’re going so they can see if they feel like going that way or not. I’ve actually had several cab drivers tell me they didn’t feel like going to my destination. It makes me chuckle. Can you imagine going to work and asking your manager to let you see the work so you can see if you feel like doing it? Ha! Me either… I’d be fired like hell.
Every now and then there is a cab experience for the “What the Fuck” files and my very first entry was the cab driver who picked me up from the mall and then proceeded to watch cartoons while he was driving. That’s right. You’re eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. He had a small screen where the radio goes on the dashboard and he was watching cartoons on it.
Look at this nonsense.This cab driver was not just glancing at the screen. He was fully engaged. He was watching “Yosemite Sam” (not even kidding) and laughing his ass off. I’m talking throwing-his-head-back-and-everything laughing. I rode that whole way with my hand on the door handle. If we were going to crash, I was going to “tuck-n-roll”. He was going to have to crash by his damn self.
My next entry involves both a hotel clerk and his friend. I’d gone down to Guayaquil and stayed at a cheap, dingy hotel there because my flight for Florida left at 3am. So I had to take the 4 hour trip from Cuenca to Guayaquil and then get a cheap place I could rest until my flight left.
When it was time to go, I checked out and the front desk clerk said he would call me a cab. I waited about 10 minutes and he told me the cab was out there (I couldn't see the cab from the lobby seating area). I walked out of the hotel carrying all of my bags and there waiting for me was just some guy in a maroon sedan. I started looking around for the cab. The man with the maroon sedan opened his trunk and motioned for me to put my bags in it. I looked him up and down and said “No way,”! He kept motioning for me to come over and said he was the cab. The clerk came out and pointed to the maroon car. I said “No,” and started walking. They kept calling to me and I kept walking. How dare he call his friend to come get me! Ha!
I crossed the street a few times and there was no shortage of individuals driving around in their personal vehicles trying to give me a ride. I kept saying “no” and jumped into the first yellow cab that stopped.
It’s funny because I’d like to say I would never get into someone’s personal vehicle like that… but I did. Just not that night.
Hey, I was tricked! This is what had happened….
I’d taken a 4 hour bus ride from Cuenca to Guayaquil to meet with an American visa facilitator so I could get an extension on my tourist visa. When I walked outside the massive bus terminal there was an absolute sea of yellow cabs, all trying to get fares. In the middle of this sea of yellow cabs was a man who was working hard to get my attention. So, yeah, I’m thinking, “Cool. Here’s a cab. I’ll just grab this one.”
I walk over to the guy standing in the sea of cabs and he motions for me to follow him. I’m thinking his cab might be 1–2 rows over (when I say sea of cabs, I mean it). So we walk and walk and then we emerge from the sea of cabs and into the regular parking lot. He points to his raggedy little sedan and tells me his car was over there (in a parking spot).
Intellectually, I knew I should have spun right around and gotten into one of the many available yellow cabs. But inside I felt like, “Nah, it’s alright but you know you shouldn't do it.” But I did. I got into this guy’s personal vehicle and let him take me to my destination all the while prepared to “tuck-n-roll” and knowing I had no business being in his car. In the end, he was super sweet and got me safely to my destination for very little money (maybe $1.25) and I survived.
I never did that again but I couldn't in good conscious leave the story out my taxi cab diaries.
Don’t get into cars with strangers. Ha!
Have you had any interesting taxi cab experiences in Ecuador?