There I was! I took my first few steps out of the airplane in the Santiago airport in Chile. The emotions taking over my way of thinking. I was nervous. No, I was excited. No, I was ready! Or so I thought.
I had just got done talking to a nice Venezuelan family who was visiting their daughter and their grandchildren who have professional careers in Chile, when a man approached me asking if I needed a taxi somewhere. In most cases, I would say no, because people who approach you at the airport usually have some other intention of some sort. However, with the mix of emotions that completely took control of me in that moment, said “yeah sure, okay”. What happened next left me in the first and biggest lesson to be learned, and it was a tough one.
The man was friendly and complimented my Spanish, my personality, and appeared to be genuine (stupid me). We talked, and I told him I needed to exchange or obtain Chilean Pesos. He showed me to an ATM on the second floor, and I proceeded to take out some money. I took out the smallest amount possible from the ATM, which he assured me was the lowest fee and was the smartest decision instead of exchanging my dollars to pesos, because it was a “smaller” fee and a “smaller” amount.
Now, I want to assure you, that I read up on places, scams, and things to watch out for when I go places, and generally I am able to take up the hints and warning signs. I always thought that I could not fall into a scam, because I would be able to recognize the signs of these given situations. First lesson:
Anyone can fall into scams. Please do not be naive like myself, please learn from this. Do no trust anyone in this regard.
So, I asked him how much I just took out from the ATM. I took out 100 mil pesos. Do not look it up. Wait until the end of the story ;). I figured that it was not worth too much, because it was the lowest option in the ATM. So, he walked me over to his taxi, he told me that the driver would take me where I needed to go, and so on.
I asked the driver how much it would be. He kind of just avoided the question and told me it would not be too much because the hostel I was staying at is pretty close. I do not know why I accepted this idea, maybe it was because they were so friendly, but I got in the taxi and we started to drive.
He asked me if I wanted to go through the city to look at the scenery, or go through the highway which was significantly faster. I chose the highway, because I knew I was going to have the whole week to explore. We talked to the whole way to my hostel at EGALI in Providencia. He seemed friendly and nice – I figured it was because I was white tourist with money. That idea became an understatement.
We pulled up to the hostel. Now, I asked how much it cost. He spit out some number I did not quite understand at the time. So I looked for my post it note conversion chart that I previously made so I would not get scammed. Gone. I could not find it. I panicked a little inside, because I had no idea how much $1 was in comparison to a Peso Chileno. I asked him again how much I owed him… He told me it was 80 mil pesos – (80,000 pesos). Okay, why not? Right? I paid him the 80 mil, and then he told me since we used the autopist (high way) it was another 20 mil pesos for a grand total of 100 mil pesos. I put all my trust in this guy, because I had no idea…For the grand total of 100 mil pesos =
80 mil + 20 mil = 100 mil pesos ~ $160
I did not know it at the time, but I just spent 160 dollars for a 20 minute taxi drive. I did not even realize it until later that night when I was doing some conversion. I thought there must have been a mistake. I started second guessing how much I gave him, how much I took out, and whether or not I had just got scammed 160 dollars…. Well, in fact I did.
It made me sick to my stomach. It made me want to puke and punch a wall, and scream. It left me sick for about two days when I figured out I lost 160 dollars to a taxi driver. I thought how could I be so stupid. Then I realized the bigger picture.
I am alive and well. I still have money in my bank accounts. I am not harmed. They at least were nice and did not threaten me with anything. Lastly, I am going to learn my lesson ASAP about taxi drivers and about a better knowledge of understanding the currency.
To be honest, I did not want to share this story as it does give me quite a bit of shame, but honestly, it is more important that I share these moments with you for the following reasons:
- Traveling requires for you to be highly alert
- I do not want this to happen to you
- We all make mistakes, no matter who we are, and I want to share with you it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.
- This provided a HUGE learning opportunity for me that helped me realize more important things than losing 160 dollars
I read article after article, testimony after testimony about people getting robbed, tricked, scammed, and their money taken away after falling into similar schemes such as the one I have just told you. I honestly thought that this will not ever happen to me, and I am smart enough to know the difference. Here I am, with this big mistake, but I learned – that is the most important part.
It is is so so so soooo important to be okay with making mistakes sometimes, even if it makes us upset, uncomfortable, or sad but we need to learn from them so we do not continue making the same mistakes. In this case, I learned this and never made this mistake again in the rest of my trip, and here I am sharing these experiences with you in hopes that you do not encounter something like this.
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading about my first 30 mins or so in Santiago, Chile! I hope you have a better head on your shoulders to avoid this situation – just go buy a bus ticket that costs like 5 dollars to the city (it just takes a little longer).
I would love to know if this helps you, or if anything like this has ever happened to you?!