Mistakes You SHOULD NOT make in a foreign city.
In order to get to Iguazu Falls from Puerto Madryn, I had to take a bus to Buenos Aires, wait two hours, then change to a bus that would go directly to Puerto Iguazu. The bus rides were quite uneventful. My short time in Buenos Aires, however, not so much. By the time I was leaving Puerto Madryn, I had very few Argentine pesos left. Since the best exchange rates can be found in Buenos Aires (Florida Street), I wanted to use the time between buses to get the rest of my USD changed. I remembered someone from my build team saying the area near Retiro Station is a bit off, so I considered taking a taxi.
My first mistake - looking like a tourist. I left the station and stood outside the entrance looking at my map. Florida Street only seemed to be a short walk - 15 minutes max. As I was looking, debating whether I wanted to risk walking or not, a man approached me. He started speaking to me in spanish and I couldn't understand a word he was saying, so I answered "No hablo Espanol." Then he started speaking in English, asking me if I needed a cab.
My second mistake - telling him I needed to change money. Since the man didn't speak too much English, I showed him on the map where I needed to go - I showed him where we were (Retiro Station) and where on Florida Street I wanted to get dropped off. I asked him if it would be better if I just walked, but of course, he said no, he would drive me in the taxi. The taxi seemed legit, so I didn't question anything.
We started driving and the driver started talking to me - telling me how his girlfriend teaches English and how he picks up on some of it. Then he would speak in Spanish to me and I would try to understand what he was saying and respond in my broken spanish. I tried explaining to him how I was already in Buenos Aires for over a week, but I don't think he understood me.
My third mistake - not trusting my instincts. When I got in the cab, I put my map in my bag, but after about 5 minutes of driving, I sensed something was wrong. We weren't going the right way - we were passing landmarks that I remembered from my second day in Buenos Aires but were nowhere near Florida Street or Retiro Station. At that point, I could've easily said something and tried to get out. But for some reason, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe that was the only way we could go, then we'd have to backtrack because of some traffic rules or something, I didn't know. Regardless, at that point, I took my map out to try to get a sense of where we were. It was no use though - I had absolutely no idea where we were. At this point, my mind was in overdrive. I had no idea what was going on or what to do. About 15 minutes in to the trip, I finally saw avenues that were familiar, which I thought, might miraculously be close to Florida Street. So, I told him it was fine, to let me out where we were. He insisted that we were close and there was no need for me to get out. Quite forcefully, I told him to let me out, so he finally pulled over.
Just to put this into perspective, my taxi from the hotel to Retiro Station was about 33 pesos. That was about twice the distance as it would've been from Florida Street to Retiro Station. I was expecting the fare to be around 20 pesos.
The taxi driver told me I owed him $15USD. I told him I was paying in pesos and he immediately gave me a dirty look. Then he said to give him 100 pesos. I had a total of 110 pesos to my name at that point. I had no idea where I was. I told him there was no way in hell I was giving him that much and gave him 70. He wouldn't unlock my door. I started yelling, "Llame un policia" (which is probably completely incorrect) and he unlocked the doors and let me out. At this point, I was crying from anger. I was angry at myself for letting everything happen and angry at the cab driver for taking advantage of me.
Of course, though, for every bad person, there is a good person. A man standing near where I got out of the taxi was handing out leaflets. I was still so angry and had tears in my eyes, but I showed him my map and asked where we were. After he heard my accent, he somehow knew I was American, and in perfect english, asked me what was wrong and if I was okay. I told him what happened and he took out his wallet and gave me 15 pesos. That small act meant the world to me. I was so grateful. He didn't know where we were relative to the map I had, so I wiped my eyes and chose a direction to walk.
At this point, every electronic device I owned was dead. I had no idea what time it was, I had no idea where I was and I was afraid I was going to miss my bus. So I asked every approachable person I passed if they could help me. Finally, the fourth person was able to show me where we were - I was in the middle of nowhere. Looking at the distance between where I was and Florida Street, I knew there was absolutely no way I would be able to walk all the way there in time and be back at the station for my bus. Regardless, I started walking in that direction to make the taxi trip shorter. After walking about 15 blocks, I decided to finally get a cab. It took quite a while to get one since it seemed to be rush hour. But finally, I got one.
At that point, I had to decide whether it was worth taking the cab to Florida Street and then try to find another one to get from Florida Street back to Retiro Station. Since I had no idea how much time I had left until my bus would leave, I decided to play it safe and take the cab to Retiro.
That time, I made sure to ask "Sobre cuanto cuesto pesos". He said about 35, so I was positive I would have enough to pay. Finally, I was back at Retiro Station empty-handed with half an hour until my bus would leave. Instead of getting pesos changed and getting a good rate, I threw away 90 pesos - essentially two days worth of food.
Time & Money
Two things really upset me about this experience. First, I did not have 70 pesos to blow on a joy ride through Buenos Aires with some con artist. Since I was on a very limited budget, every peso I had mattered. Second, precious time was stolen from me - there was one thing I needed to do, ONE THING ONLY, and I was prevented from doing so.
There are so many ways that solo (female) travelers can get taken advantage of when traveling. This is just one way of many. It was the first time I ever had an issue like this, and hopefully, it was the last. I hope this has helped shed light on using cabs in foreign countries - this could've happened in any city. The language barrier made it even worse, in my opinion. Be mindful of how you present yourself!
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