Nicaraguans undergo a strange personality change behind the wheel of a taxi. In every other setting in Nicaragua, aggression and speed are frowned upon. The Nicaraguan mantra is, “Manana” or “Tranquilo”. But, put a Nicaraguan in the driver’s seat and he portrays all the calmness of a hooded bandit in a lynch mob.
I shouldn’t be so hard on the taxi drivers in Nicaragua, but it took us many drivers before we found one that we can trust with our lives, our possessions, and our pocketbook. Apparently, there are no standard rates, nor do the taxis have meters. So, how does one know how much a taxi ride should cost in Nicaragua? Below, you will find my guidelines for getting a taxi in Nicaragua, but first a little about my favorite taxi driver, Francisco.
Francisco is our local taxi driver. Since we don’t have a car, nor do we want a car in Nicaragua, Francisco takes us everywhere. The first time I met him, he offered us a ride in Rivas for 10 cordobas. We had just turned down a $10 taxi ride to the ferry…a little over a mile, and I was hot, tired, and angry with the taxi drivers in the market for trying to rip us off. When I asked for Francisco’s telephone number, he handed me a crumpled Winnie-the-Poo sticker from his son’s backpack and scribbled his number on it. After that, I was sold on Francisco’s warm smile, his honest taxi service, and his safe and tranquilo attitude.
I wanted to help Francisco increase his business, so I offered to make him some business cards. Since my biggest complaint is that we never know how much a trip will cost, I convinced Francisco to put the prices on the back of the card. As a result, Francisco is the first taxi driver to have his prices on a professional business card and his service has increased daily.
Guide to Taxi Service in Nicaragua
1. How much should a taxi ride cost?
A good rule of thumb is to plan on paying around $10 for every 20 kilometers.
Distance calculator in Nicaragua
2. Never get in without agreeing on a fare. Period!
Since none of the taxis in Nicaragua have meters, it is very important to agree on the price before getting into the taxi. Make sure the rate is per person or for more than one person. Does it include luggage? We’ve made this mistake several times and ended up paying 4 times the normal fare. I hate to be taken for a fool. If you are only going a short distance, from one street to another in the same town, ask for a collectivo. A collectivo generally has a standard rate in town and they will pick up and drop off many passengers.
Standard rates for collectivos in Rivas are: 15 cordobas per person
In Granada: 10 cordobas per person
3. To put your luggage in the trunk or not?
BF ( Before Francisco), I never put my luggage in the trunk of a taxi. If I was going to have a big dispute over the agreed upon fare when I got out of the taxi, ( and you probably will at one time or another in Nicaragua) I wanted to have all my luggage with me. If your luggage is in the trunk, it is easy for the taxi driver to hold your luggage for ransom during a dispute. Plus, I always carry my laptop in my day pack on a longer trip and I don’t want to subject it to over 100 degree temperatures in the trunk of a taxi.
4. Have the proper change.
The story of our lives in Nicaragua. Don’t go anywhere without the proper change. It always amuses me when a taxi driver requests a $15 fee and when you arrive at your destination, and hand him a $20 bill, he looks at you shocked that he is supposed to make change. Usually, after a little argument, I give up and tell him it’s a tip. It’s not worth the hassle. Bring small bills and give the taxi driver the exact change. On another note, I always give Francisco a tip, but that is not the norm in Nicaragua unless you have an amazing taxi driver. More chances than not, you will be overcharged just because you are a foreigner who doesn’t know any better, and I consider that the tip. It may be calloused, but I’ve learned the hard way.
5. Check the condition of the taxi before getting in.
I’ve ridden in some literal death traps in Nicaragua. The doors don’t unlock, the windows don’t work, the tires wobble…oh the tales of horror. Unless you know the driver or have a recommendation for a good driver… if the car looks unsafe, don’t get in. There are plenty of other taxi drivers in large cities. Just say, no!
6. Just say, NO!
It’s perfectly fine to be aggressive and just say, NO, especially if you get a strange feeling. Some taxi scams in Nicaragua:
The buses aren’t running scam.
You are on your way to the bus station in a crowded market to catch a bus. A taxi driver yells,” Where are you going?” You respond, “Granada.” The taxi driver says, “You just missed the last bus to Granada. There are no more buses today. I’ll take you, cheap.”
Taken to an isolated spot, robbed, and dropped off in the middle of nowhere scam
You are waiting in a market for a bus. A friendly local strikes up a conversation with you. “No need to take a bus,” says the local. “I’m waiting for my friend who is a taxi driver. He’ll take you to Granada after he drops me off.” You get in the back of the taxi, and your local friend gets in beside you. Then, the taxi driver picks up another person, who gets in the backseat on the other side of you. You are driven to an ATM and forced to withdraw money…usually at knife point or sometimes by gun point. Then, you are forced back into the taxi, driven to an isolated spot, beaten and sometimes raped, and thrown out of the taxi.
I really hate to scare you, but these incidents have happened often in Nicaragua. In both cases, JUST SAY NO! Walk away. Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right…just say NO!
7. Get the directions in Spanish
You will be lucky to find a taxi driver that speaks English. If your Spanish is poor, always get the directions to your location in Spanish. Most hotels and hostels have brochures or business cards with their addresses printed in Spanish. Grab one and stick it in a safe place. After a night out on the town, you can simply hand the taxi driver the card or brochure and tell him to take you there. If you want to do a day trip to another place, ask your hotel or hostel employee to write the directions for you in Spanish and you can hand it to the driver.
8. Ask your hotel, or a local friend for recommendations for a taxi driver
Hotels and hostels want customers to return, so they will usually have taxi drivers available that they recommend. Always ask them for recommendations. The only bad experience we had in this area was my last trip back from the states. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel across from the airport in Managua and Francisco was to return to pick us up. My flight was canceled at the last-minute to Nicaragua, Ron was waiting for me in Managua at the hotel, and his Spanish was poor. So, he asked the desk attendant at the Best Western to call Francisco for him and tell him to pick us up the following day. The desk clerk called Francisco, but he told Francisco that my flight was delayed and not to pick us up. Ron wasn’t aware of what the desk clerk told Francisco and the desk clerk was hoping for a commission from his taxi driver. The next day at 11:00am we were waiting for Francisco. Thirty minutes later, Francisco wasn’t there, which was very unusual. A few minutes later, the phone in our hotel room rang and it was Francisco. He asked me how we were getting back to Ometepe because the desk clerk told him not to pick us up. I was furious. Francisco arrived an hour later and I told the desk clerk about the incident and said he just lost two good paying customers. We will never stay there again.
Overall, we are fortunate to have found a wonderful and trustworthy taxi driver in Nicaragua. I consider him to be my friend, as well as my taxi driver. I hope these tips are helpful and I haven’t scared you. It’s always better to be knowledgable about the taxi service in Nicaragua or you could be in for a wild ride!
Below are a few interesting links to articles about taxis in Nicaragua.
“That’s the thing about lessons, you always learn them when you don’t expect them or want them.”
― Cecelia Ahern, If You Could See Me Now
Crimes of opportunity. We should have known better than to leave our Brazilian hammock swinging on the second story porch of our casita. Rain pounded on our tin roof muffling all sounds, our hammock swayed lazily in an unprotected and dark area, our dog too was sick to bark at intruders…all were signals for an opportunistic ladrón (thief).
We should have known better. In a three-year period, we’ve lost a bunch of bananas (over 50 pounds of bananas), a long hose snaking through Ron’s garden, a sharp machete, Ron’s new hiking boots, an iPhone, and now our Brazilian hammock. These petty crimes of opportunity make me want to cry!
Though, we should have known better. We installed a bright light on the casita porch, took down our rope swing hanging from a mango tree, rolled up the remaining hose, and stored assorted rakes and our kayak on the gated porch of our main house….a real fortress. “What about this old mop and the broken plastic bucket?” I asked Ron. “Debbie, if some thief wants that old mop and bucket..let them have it,” he laughed.
I’ve followed trails of bananas and washed out partial footprints in the sand…all leading to a dead-end. I’ve warned all the neighbors that a ladrón is in our neighborhood. They have all had experiences with petty crime, too. In a way, it reassures me that we aren’t targeted because we are foreigners. Yet, it infuriates me that a stranger invades our private property.
The advice from the locals is to: get a mean dog or two or three, lock everything up at night, and spotlight the property with bright lights. It won’t help to install a high razor topped fence around our property. First, it is too expensive, and second, if a thief wants something bad enough, they’ll find a way. If they can easily shimmy up a coconut tree, a fence will not deter them.
We should have known better. But, we got lazy and didn’t expect a ladrón. That’s when things happen…when you least expect them. Lesson learned…again and again. It could have been worse. I won’t live in fear, but I’ll sure keep everything locked up tightly in our house from now on.
I still want to cry. The hammock was given to us as a gift when we visited Brazil. In Zeebra Designs and Destinations this week, Lisa quoted Kahlil Gibran, “I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”
I’m working on learning to be grateful for these lessons…but, sometimes you just gotta cry.
A friend sent me a picture she took of her toddler when she laid her down for her nap. Her expression is priceless and demonstrates the feelings I had last week. I’m practicing sketching hair..I still have more practice to get it lifelike. YouTube had some excellent lessons on drawing hair.
It is the season of hope and thanksgiving…the time we profess to care..to love others…to offer help and encouragement. I’ve stepped beyond the words. I’ve lived hope…breathed understanding…and walked a compassionate path. Love is a verb…an action. It requires that we DO something to show our support…our concern…our love for our fellow human beings. Yet, today in the season of hope and thanksgiving, I feel abandoned and betrayed…as if everything has been lost in translation.
My words of hope are swirling out of control…my actions are tainted with a bitterness that is difficult to swallow. I could blame sickness on my feeling of depression. I’ve been sick most of the month of November. It could be Dengue, then again, it could be a horrible case of the flu. I just can’t shake it. It leaves me exhausted, questioning my sanity, and wondering why I am still here.
However, I believe the real cause behind my feeling of despair centers around my loss of faith in people I have trusted on Ometepe Island. In a year of posts, I’ve written about the importance of cultural immersion, humorous daily life with our neighbors and local friends, and living a simple, carefree lifestyle. I debated whether to write this post and click ‘send’ because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a whiner…generally I’m not. If there is one thing I’ve learned while living in Nicaragua, it’s to keep a sense of humor and have the patience of a saint.
I scoffed at expat statements: “Don’t get too chummy with the locals.” “They are expert con artists.” “They will patiently groom you and pretend to be your best friend, then rip you off… zooming in for the kill before you know what happened.” Instead, I believed in the goodness of people. I thought we could transcend cultural differences by understanding our similarities. I thought we could form lasting friendships that sliced through cultural norms. I was wrong in one situation.
What do I do when the dawn brings lies..when I awake to a realization that I was used because I am a gringa, not because I am a trusting and compassionate friend? I wanted two things at the same time; I wanted revenge and I wanted to rise above the situation and offer forgiveness to the people who wronged me. But, I could do neither because I saw half-hearted forgiveness as coming off as condescending in my present frame of mind and revenge would only make me feel as bad as the people who hurt me…who took advantage of my kindness and generosity.
Believe me…I am NO saint. I sent the threatening guilt-laden text messages…”I am contacting a lawyer.” “I am going to the police.” You should be ashamed of yourself for lying to us.” “You are no man, you are a thief.” “May God have mercy on your soul.” Everyday, for two weeks, I sent the horrible translated text messages. It took me hours to translate and pitifully punch in the letters one at a time. I wouldn’t win any prize for texting rapidly. Punch…punch…punch…anger…anger…threaten..shame…shame…shame.
Everything was lost in translation…there was no response. I was a tormented texter…a vile victim…a grief stricken gringa. So, how could I get out of this rut and the feeling of betrayal and emotional pain that accompanied it? Well, I’m still working on it, but here is some advice from a slowly recovering expat realist…me.
1. Never lend money. As an expat living in an impoverished country, the local people are always going to ask for money. The little kids in the barrio down our street are trained by well-meaning tourists to say, “Dame un dollar.” It must work because tourists take pity on them and hand them a few coins. Instead, offer them food or a job for a day or two. Once walking back from town, I was carrying two heavy grocery bags, when one of the kids asked for money. I handed him my heavy bag of groceries and asked him to help me carry it home. Then, I paid him for helping me carry my groceries.
We usually never lend money, but in this one circumstance, after a relationship for two years, we thought that we could trust this family. We had the father sign a notice of debit and made an installment plan for paying back a little money each month. Unfortunately, he lied about the reason for needing the money and has left the country…probably never to be seen again.
2. Face it. It is going to happen someday. You will be ripped-off and betrayed by people you thought you could trust. When it happens, stand back and gain some detachment. View yourself as the helper and not the victim…if only for your own sanity. It’s important to grieve and to feel the pain of betrayal, but chalk it up as a learning experience and move on with your life.
3. Living abroad is challenging. Communication is difficult. Cultural immersion is still a very important part of my life, but it is important not to lose myself, my own cultural norms, values, and traditions. I am a foreigner, I will always be an outsider. I will probably never completely understand or fit into the Nicaraguan culture, nor do I want to be a Nicaraguan.
4. When chaos ensues and you feel like you are spiraling out of control, or homesickness blankets you with melancholy, or a tropical bug bites and infects you with some weird disease, or the heat becomes unbearable, seek a confidant..someone who has survived the same betrayals, illnesses, or homesickness and has come out the other side.
5. Work for a tomorrow that will be better than yesterday. It is all too easy to become fixated and obsessed with being wronged. The obsession and need for revenge can turn a loving, caring person into a bitter, paranoid, and very angry person. Who needs it? Life is too short, there are still many seasons of sweet mangoes to pick.
6. Live in the present and don’t idolize the past. We worked hard to fulfill our dreams of moving abroad. I am blessed with an abundance of beautiful sunsets over the lake every evening, lovely neighbors, and a friendly safe community. I simply won’t let one betrayal or one nasty bug bite, or one day of chaos destroy my dreams.
In the end, forgiveness belongs to those who know how to love in the first place. Nicaragua has shown me much love and once I come to my senses again after this bout with illness and betrayal, I’ll be walking the compassionate path in this season of hope and thanksgiving…living hope…breathing understanding…and offering help and encouragement to others.
Thanks for listening to me..it’s not my usual style of writing..but sometimes, I have to express my vulnerabilities and my fears…my naked truths of living on an island in the middle of a huge lake, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America.
Mitt Romney’s faux pas during the second Presidential debate would NEVER be understood in Nicaragua. When he claimed to have been presented with “binders full of women”, my only thought was of the plight of Nicaraguan women. There are many dusty binders of Nicaraguan women stacked on police officers’ shelves, only they are full of reports of domestic violence, abuse, exploitation, and sex trafficking…certainly not women’s resumes.
How do I explain equal rights to my impoverished neighbor with three children under the age of three, who washes dirty diapers by hand in the lake, cooks every meal over a fire, while sweeping the trash from her dirt floor into the street, and tending to the needs of her invalid father-in-law? Adioska doesn’t have a clue about resumes or equal pay in a country where the average take-home pay for men is $100 a month. She lives in survival mode daily… from one crisis to another.
What can I tell her? It’s your duty to fight for women’s rights? Last October, a 12-year-old girl, who was raped and impregnated by her step-father, gave birth to a five-pound baby boy. “According to the Strategic Group of the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion, 1,453 of the young girls (ages 10-14) who were raped in Nicaragua last year were forced to give birth due to Nicaragua’s total ban on therapeutic abortion.” See article here. Under Nicaraguan law, the 12-year-old mother was denied access to a therapeutic abortion, becoming a poster child for the Sandinista government’s ban on abortion in all circumstances.
Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Nicaragua. Poverty, close family ties, and a lack of basic education contribute to thousands of victims’ inability to escape abuse and exploitation. Although the majority of Nicaraguans oppose gender-based violence (including men), the challenge is what to do once the abuse has occurred. But, not all remains dire in the binders of Nicaraguan women.
On January 26, 2012, the Nicaraguan Parliament unanimously approved a Comprehensive Violence Against Women’s Act. This law recognizes femicide ( killing of women) and other violence against women as criminal acts and punishable under Nicaraguan law. The government established a commission, strengthening government agencies that provide services for women and children, as well as providing training and information for all government officials and the general public. Female police officers specializing in domestic violence are available in every department of Nicaragua. We even have a trained specialist in our little port town of Moyogalpa! Of course, funding for human service programs is a universal problem.
Domestic violence safe houses are popping up in local communities. The Solidarity House, a shelter for women and girls, is located in San Juan Del Sur. It is one of five shelters in Nicaragua that provides assistance to women and young girls. The other shelters are in Managua, Waslala, Ocotal, and Puerto Cabezas.
It is a fledgling beginning. Meanwhile, the little 12 year-old who gave birth to her stepfather’s child, is living at home. Her mother lives with the rapist of her daughter, as if nothing happened. She has been robbed of her childhood…her self-esteem…her life. Adioska continues to nurture and care for her family. She’s too busy to attend the rallies advocating for women’s rights, but she is aware and encouraged by the attention and focus given to women in Nicaragua.
There is still a long way to go before women’s rights are fully recognized in Nicaragua. Yet, the binders are slowly filling up with new laws protecting women and children. Maybe someday, we can hope for binders full of women’s resumes, instead of reports of violence. That’s my wish for Nicaraguan women and children. Poco y poco.