Ubud Writers and Readers Festival
An unscrupulous taxi driver tries to charge a confused attendee of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 20 times what the passenger should pay. Will he get away with it?
Taxis in Ubud, Bali, don’t have metres. You have to negotiate a fare in advance. Foreign tourists are easy prey because of the confusingly high exchange rate.
Half-way through the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, I had to find a new place to stay. That proved easy enough.
I’ve had good luck with Hotels.com in the past so I logged on and within minutes had found a place called Nick’s Homestay, and one room was available.
The price was right: under US$11 a night, and that was for a room with a double bed and a private bath – not a bed in a dormitory or a room with a bathroom down the hall.
From the map, it looked like the location was better than okay. I was vaguely familiar with the neighborhood, and I knew it had lots of cafes and boutiques and day spas.
What I didn’t know was that there was also an excellent supermarket within a very short walking distance of the hotel.
On the Road Again
I packed my bags (4 in all) and then had the very unpleasant task of getting them from the villa I was staying in across the rice paddies – which had some steep slopes going up and down some very steep steps down to the street.
By the time I got there, I was exhausted, and the sun had already set.
I waited for a few minutes, but there were no passing taxis. Had the taxi drivers gone off duty?
Not sure if I could flag one down, I started dragging and carrying my belongings up the road toward the spot where a group of taxi drivers gathered to wait for fares.
Seeing me with so much stuff, a driver yelled out hopefully to me, “Are you going to the airport?” He was disappointed when I gave him the address and asked how much.
I remembered that I was supposed to offer one half of what he asked, so when the taxi driver asked for 1 million rupiah, I offered 500,000.
So Many Zeros!
The taxi driver said there was a one-way street, blah, blah, blah, and we settled on 800,000 rupiah – which was more than 10 times what the fare should have been.
To show how ridiculous that sum of money is, I had only paid 300,000 rupiah to get to Ubud from the airport – a trip that took about 2 hours.
And this trip was only going to take about 15 minutes and should have cost me between 70,000 and 80,000 rupiah. So we had agreed on a fare that was more than 10 times what it should have been.
I should have known better, but I was hot, tired, and confused.
We chatted the whole way. The taxi driver seemed friendly enough. When we finally found the place, I paid him.
The taxi driver handed me his name card and said if I needed transport to please call him. He must have REALLY taken me for a sucker.
As he was helping me with my luggage across the street, a friend showed up on his motor scooter. He was supposed to have helped me with my stuff, but – when it started getting dark, I panicked, thinking something might have come up and he wasn’t going to show.
I didn’t want to lug my stuff across the rice paddies after dark so I went ahead without my friend’s help.
After checking in to Nick’s Homestay, I suggested we go for a beer. On our way to a cocktail lounge down the street, I said, “I think I just got ripped off by that taxi driver. What’s the exchange rate?”
When my friend told me, I said, “OMG!!!” I was initially too embarrassed to admit just HOW much I had been ripped off, but over beers, the truth eventually came out.
The initial plan was to go to the tourism police the following day. The taxi driver had been stupid enough to give me his business card, and we knew where he hung out.
Following a lengthy discussion, my friend said, “Do you want me to go over there and confront him?”
And that is what he did. He rode over to the spot where the taxi drivers hung out, confronted the guy, and told him:
“You just ripped off my friend. He is a travel writer, and he is here to attend the festival. He has bad eye site. He couldn’t see well in the dark and gave you far more money than he should have. If you don’t refund his money, we are going to the tourism police tomorrow, and you’re going to be in big t trouble.”
The driver said, “I was waiting for him to come back. The money is in the car.”
After fetching the money, the driver handed my friend 2 business cards – one for him and one for me, saying, “Give me a call if you ever need a driver.”
I doubt if I will ever give the taxi driver a call, but I’ve kept his card as a souvenir – and a reminder that you should ALWAYS ask those in the know for an estimate of how much a taxi fare should cost before you jump in a taxi in unfamiliar surroundings.