Monday, August 30, 2010

241 / Taxis And Class

The hotel in which we landed in Santiago de Chile is kind of "out there." It's not in "el centro," which is where I like to traipse around, so we took a taxi from "Vitacura" to "el centro," and no problems were encountered.

Coming back was another story.

After a long and rather exhausting day walking through Santiago de Chile, visiting museums, and markets, and post offices, and many streetside kiosks, looking for the illusive "tarjetas de llamadas internacionales" (telephone cards for international phone calls), it was time to return to the serenity of our hotel in barrio Suecia. Yes, that means "Switzerland," which conveys the "tone" of this upscale part of the City.

At the time we decided to head back, we were in the middle of a small demonstration of students, protesting higher university fees; one young man was sitting nearby on the sidewalk, receiving treatment for the beating he had apparently received (and presumably from the police, who were enjoying the Saturday afternoon in plentiful abundance, and making us remember the good old days of Pinochet).

At any rate, we wanted to "get out of there," and so walked directly into the street as the line of traffic was stopped, and hopped right into a cab "libre," which didn't look too much like the nice cabs in the image I've included. Frankly, this cab was a bit "scruffy," but it was definitely "disponible" (available, or "libre") and that counted for a lot.

We told the driver where we wanted to go, the name of the hotel and the street, "Vitacura," and he nodded, and headed off in exactly the right direction. After one-half day, I don't claim that we were experts in the complicated geography of the City of Santiago de Chile, which does have a population of something like 5,000,000 people, but we knew the general route, and our driver definitely knew the right way to go. He also said he knew the hotel.

Imagine our surprise when the cab driver drove right past the correct turn, and continued on out towards the suburbs, or the Andes, which ever came first. We attempted to remonstrate, but he knew what he was doing. Or so he said. And then, my Spanish isn't that good!

In fact, it became obvious that our driver didn't have the slightest idea where he was going, and kept wanting to take us to the Sheraton, or the Marriott, neither of which was even close to our actual hotel. Eventually, we did arrive at the hotel, having run up a cab bill about three times what it cost going the other way.

Upon reflection, I realized that what was at work here was not a complicated scheme to trick the tourists, but a real example of class stratification. In fact, a cab driver who picks up passengers in "Suecia" always knows how to get downtown, but one who drives daily in "el centro" doesn't, necessarily, know the more upscale neighborhoods at all.

I counted it all to the good, as a kind of mini-tour of the areas around the golf course, which we never otherwise would have seen (there is a neighborhood called "Golf" in Santiago de Chile), and had some empathy for our poor driver, whom we directed out of his area of familiarity, into a world he seldom, if ever visits, even in the course of his work.

Moral of the story (reminder to self): Since I am an "el centro" kind of guy, make sure in the future that that's where the hotel is located.

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