Travel trivia: what do all large cities around the world have in common? As a stranger, you need to be careful.
Today was my travel day. From Santa Cruz to Guayaquil to Quito. So not much to report, but that's not how this works.
I did not plan this part of the trip as well as I should have. I woke up this morning trying to call the hotel in Quito for a safe pickup. You see, a few weeks before we left, National Geographic sends us a letter that we need to be very careful with the yellow cabs at the airport and within Quito. There has been an extraordinary high rate of crime - taxi drivers who hijack you and steal everything you have. Traveling entirely alone, not speaking the language, not knowing if we're going to the hotel or not, I didn't feel entirely comfortable with my no-pickup arrangement, so I tried to call and email the hotel - no dice.
On the way over here, I talk to someone who's traveling with a group, and he had never heard about that situation. We deplane, pick up our luggage, and I run into the guy (Buddy) again. He says that he just spoke to his tour agent, and sure enough, she said it is absolutely true. Even more so: a 21-year young friend of hers was hijacked, beaten and left by the side of the road with nothing. "So be careful, and good luck". Thanks, Buddy...
Coming through baggage claim, there is a guy with a sign "VERKOOIJEN". Odds are, that's for me. He speaks English (two points). Walking out, I ask him where we're going, he says Hilton (three points). He's wearing an official looking shirt (four points) and is walking up to a van (so more people: five points!) where he loads my luggage, I enter, and he closes up to take off - with just me (down to 2 points, radar's up). He then proceeds with telling me that there's a big accident and they will take some back roads to get me to the hotel (negative 5). We talk, I provide little information. I ask him if he does tours, he says he's the exclusive agent in Quito for my travel agent, Lindblad (that's the National Geographic partner). He couldn't have made that up. Too rare. I didn't tell, I wasn't wearing anything to give it away, no NG luggage tags - no way he knew that from me (neutral on points). I pay extra attention to the road signs, and at a split we do (as he said we would) leave the road to Quito and go to (I swear) Cumbaya. A song starts to go off in my head. It makes me feel warm inside, as I go through everything I learned from reading about Jack Reacher (knife: fight in close corners; harderst bone in the body: elbow; forehead is a close second; go for the nose, it'll break, hurt and bring tears to eyes so he can't see; wait, we just past a cop - take notice of your surroundings).
45 minute journey. We take 1.5hrs. But sure enough, we get to the hotel, and I live to tell the story.
It felt weird, and I was on high alert the entire ride. I just wasn't sure if I could really trust him or not. Glad it worked out. Can't wait for Liz to come here later tonight. She, too, got upgraded on the flight, so happy wife, happy life.