When we came back from Vieques, I had made arrangements for our previous cab-guy, Luis, to meet us at the somewhat remote ferry station in Fajardo. Luis had gotten us at the airport (by random position in the cab queue), and he was personable enough that we made tentative arrangements to give him another $80 (yes, $80) to come fetch us when we returned, five days later.

The cab situation in San Juan is a little crazy. The place — like so many places you just look at on the map — is quite a lot larger than I thought. And there is seemingly no other way to get from the airport to the ferry station than to take an $80 cab ride. (you can take a puddle-jumper but it’s even more $$).

Luis was chatty and friendly and full of cheer and observations, during the hour ride through San Juan traffic mayhem — both the freeway and in-town versions. And beyond that, dude had gone to LA for Michael Jackson’s memorial service. On his own. Without friends in LA. I know, right?

So — flash forward Gave Luis a call the night before our return and he happily agreed to meet us in Fajardo, proudly indicating that he would arrive a half-hour early and wait for our arrival. Nice.

I was curious about the ferry ride back. It’s apparently the beginning of the “high season” on Vieques, so we knew the ferry to the island would be full. But on a Saturday, we guessed that the ferry back to mainland PR would be sparse. We were kinda wrong. It was fairly well attended, and we waited an extra 15 minutes while a salsa band loaded on, which was fine.

Fajardo ferry stationAn hour and a half later, when the ferry docked in Fajardo, we were greeted with what we’re coming to understand is typical PR mayhem. Lots of people, hustle, bustle, etc. This is kind of funny because Luis (probably as a shrewd businessman) had previously painted a portrait of remote abandon, insinuating that we might be marooned in Fajardo if we didn’t arrange for transpo ahead of time. Heh. Funny thing…

Stepped off the boat to taxis left and right, solicitations, etc. Plenty o’ cabs, that was for sure.. But where was Luis? In the hubbub, he might be around the corner, but I dialed him up and learned that there was “some sort of accident” on the highway, and he was glad that I called, because he was going to have to turn back, and we should probably just get another cab. Hookay! Really, not a problem, just a surprise.

We immediately found another dude, who spoke little to no English, but offered us passage to our new digs, Numero 1 Guest House, for $75. New guy didn’t have anything like the personality of Luis — in fact, we were totally ignored, probably just due to the language barrier. Also, we quickly picked up a couple of extra riders, locals, I guessed and maybe friends of our driver? It was hard to say. It was all very murky, but I was kind of tweaked because I wondered if our fare should be full, if others were riding too. Wasted energy, I know, but still, that’s where my mind was.

Probably because my mind was already there, it was a crazy, endless cab ride that Lucy and I increasingly couldn’t wait to be done with. Almost no conversation and over an hour with a driver who:

  • talked delightedly with the two other peeps, while we sat quietly 2 feet behind him.
  • had the most amazingly distinctive and exasperating cell phone ringtone (a kid from a cartoon, I think, maybe playing “train” going “Choo-kah-choo-kah, CHOO-kah, choo-kah! Choo-kah! CHOO-KAH! WOO-WOOOOO!” which rang about every five minutes and he would answer flatly, “Buenos Tardes.”
  • Ultimately had no idea where we were going — including a trip down a dead-end alley that we practically had to back out of — and thank God for my iPhone, because I actually got us there.

There was a point of cultural hilariousness, though, that inspired this post: Our cab was a passenger van. After we departed, our driver fairly immediately picked up another rider, a similarly aged man in his 60s, who was invited to sit in the front passenger seat. Ten minutes later, without fanfare, we picked up a mid-60s woman, who climbed in, ignoring my salutation of “hola!,” and sat in the row behind us.

About 20 minutes (and much joyful chatter between the two gentlemen) later, the one fellow got dropped off (with his large, nearly-empty suitcase? For work? For what?). After he sauntered off, the woman, once again without fanfare, climbed out from behind us, and out the side door … just as the driver began to pull away. She literally had one foot out the door and we began rolling.

Somewhat alarmed — as our highly-developed American sense of caution has taught us to be — Lucy and I both kind of sounded off as did the woman who was about to be dragged by a moving vehicle.

The driver looked back… a glance of recognition passed between he and the woman (we were once again ignored completely) — and they both began roaring with laughter, as he came once again to a complete stop, and she relocated to the front seat.

It was a nice reminder that alarm and concern are shades that vary in hue from culture to culture. And the weirdest moment of our weird cab ride.

Thank you, Numero 1 Guest House for saving us.

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