My husband and I have a love/hate relationship with the transportation professionals in this area. He can never get taxi drivers who carry even R$5 in change; we've lost count of the number of times that the local taxi stand has given him a free or discounted ride because they were unprepared to do business with people who don't walk around with a wallet full of R$2 bills. They also have a nasty habit of parking at the taxi stand and then disappearing, or arguing with the other guys about who should take the fare...because they're not really in the mood to work. It's fascinating when you're not in a hurry. I'm not sure how they make any money at all. On the other hand, seeing a line of taxis as you are rapidly approaching being late for work and knowing that there's not a soul there to drive them because they're all having a beer or a coffee at the bar down the street is rather disheartening. I usually take buses, though when I'm lazy or late I do succumb to the appeal of an air-conditioned taxi.
The other day, impatient for my bus to arrive, I jumped on a different bus which I thought was going where I wanted to go. Of course, it only went part of the way, and by the time I realized my mistake, the bus driver wouldn't let me out...and ten minutes later when we'd arrived at the next bus stop (hello, traffic jam!) , I was too far away from where I wanted to go to walk and get there in time. So I hailed a taxi and discovered that my horrendous mental mapping skills are still better than apparently three out of four taxi or professional drivers. (At least that day!)
The first gentleman who picked me up opened the door and greeted me by introducing himself by his full name. Very Victorian and chivalrous. I told him where I wanted to go and he immediately began driving in circles.
"Why are you going this way?" I asked. "I need to go to the canal road."
"Oh…well, we have to go this way anyhow." Since he's turned down a one way street that's inconveniently angled to move in the opposite direction of where I want to go,
I highly doubt this.
"Take the next left. Turn back. You're heading the WRONG WAY. It's this street, do you know it? Not the canal street at this end, I could walk there...it's the one between Ipanema and Leblon!"
He muttered and stuttered and finally did what I asked him to. It doesn't seem like this guy is trying to take me for a ride on a running taxi meter. No, he's just CLUELESS as to where he is. The Zona Sul is not hard to navigate, so this baffled me.
I finally arrived at my destination, had a great time at cooking club (more on that in a later post) and was offered a ride home by one of the ladies who has a personal driver. It took no less than 3 phone calls, 20 minutes of saying goodbyes and 10 minutes waiting by the side of the road before he managed to find the major road we are on. My brain whirs. Are we in a time warp? Am I speaking Klingon? There are only three conceivable ways one can arrive in Leblon via Copacabana...and all of them intersect with the road we are on! Yet somehow, the driver is lost. Argh!
We do manage to make it to Barra, and other than actually getting the driver to find us, the lift was pleasant and without incident. I'm super grateful that I didn't have to sit on a bumpy, sweaty bus for an hour! But with a doctor's appointment later in the afternoon, this time at a medical center in a major mall down the way, I just couldn't bring myself to drag my pregnant self to the bus stop in the sweltering heat. So I flagged a taxi. As my luck goes, the man doesn't know where the mall is. At this point, I am tempted to question my own sanity. Am I hearing him correctly? Should I get out of the cab?
"Barra Shopping. It's the big mall on Avenida das Americas? You can't miss it."
"Never heard of it."
WHAAT? Maybe my Portuguese is broken. Even, deep breathing. Relax.
"Just get on this road. Go straight. I'll tell you when to turn." I knew I should have taken a bus!
The last taxi of the day picked me up outside the mall. I gave him my address and he knew exactly where he was going. Glory! Then we had a long and heated conversation about Brazilian politics, corruption and Rio's crumbling infrastructure. As we neared my place, he said "You should put yourself on the ballot. Brazil needs new blood."
Flattering...but…"Well, I can't really. I'm not a Brazilian citizen."
Ohh. Flattery. I get out with a grin and breathe a sigh of relief. After a day of starts, stops, misdirection and confusion, it was nice to know that I could, in fact, communicate intelligently and coherently in Portuguese. And not only that, but I can do a fairly decent job of back-seat navigation!