That Sinking Feeling, We Are Being Kidnapped

Outside the Puerto Vallarta airport was a sea of taxis. Tired and sweating drivers stood around with rumpled collars. Again, a field of eyes turned on us.

Getting a taxi at the PV airport is a racket. A young lady approached us with a kind of ticketing booklet and asked if we needed a taxi. “This is how we do it here,” she explained. “I write you an order for a taxi. Then you pay at the taxi kiosk and you are assigned to a driver.”

“How much to get to the Hilton (about 3 miles),” I asked.

“350 pesos,” she said. I didn’t yet know how to quickly convert dollars to pesos, but it seemed like a lot.

We sat down in an airport café like fugitives. Having had just narrowly avoided one major scam, it was clear that before us lay an obstacle course designed for rich American tourists. I had an idea. I called the concierge at the Hilton.

“What’s the best way to get from the airport to the Hilton?”

“You can take a taxi.”

“There’s no Hilton shuttle or anything?”

“I’m sorry sir, there is no shuttle. But you can also take an Uber. It will be cheaper.”

“You have Uber here?”

“Yes, it works just like in the United States.”

“Perfect!”

We went out seeking where the Uber pickup was. There was a policeman. A blink of hesitation and I asked him where Uber was. Speaking excellent English, he said that, like American airports, rideshare services are not allowed on the airport campus. But there was a skywalk off the airport to the closest street. He pointed in the direction.

A surge of victory! Our first success in finding the secret passage out of the world of exploitation of the newly-arrived-American-tourist-who-doesn’t-know-any-better. Instead of $20 US we would pay about $4 US. Now that’s more like it!

The process was all familiar. A young man pulled up as we stood waving, recognizing his license plate number. He didn’t say anything, just lifted our bags into the trunk. His collar was rumpled too, and jaunty Mexican music played softly on the radio. He wasn’t the usual Uber chatterbox. Thin cloth curtains were mounted across the backseat windows concealing us from outside.

From the wide, open six-lane road we were on, our driver suddenly turned off into a network of narrow, single-lane streets. Trina and I looked at each other. My neck hair stood up. I almost said in his ear from behind, “Qué pasó?” but I feared even more a hasty response that I couldn’t understand. The little car accelerated through what seemed like a labyrinth of cobblestone roads, darting left and right, high walls on either side and men standing around expectantly as we passed, their mustaches heavy, their tee-shirts dirty and not completely covering their big bellies.

My heart was in my throat. I expected our car to stop in front of one of the shanty houses, to be hustled out at gunpoint. Were we being taken to a dank concrete room to be tied to wooden chairs, a flip-phone shoved in our ear with one of our children on the other end? If we were lucky! What if we were being taken to a chop shop to have our kidneys removed and sold?

How could we have fallen for it? Uber was a just front for a Mexican kidnapping ring! and stupid tourists who refuse to pay the taxis mafiosos put in the tank. And that cop was in on it too! We had been fish in a barrel, easy prey.

The car started breaking rapidly. This is it, I thought. But we were pulling up to an intersection to take us back onto the 6-lane road…going the other direction, into town. I saw that there are no U-turns on the road. The only way to turn around was to use the traffic light at the intersection.

Realization dawned on us. Our shoulders relaxed.

In ten minutes we were deposited with little ceremony (or conversation still) at the welcoming open check-in desk of the Puerto Vallarta Hilton, where we were treated like royalty.

[More coming]

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