Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Warning Regarding Taxis in Managua

September 30, 2006

This is not meant to scare visitors away from Nicaragua. Outside of the capital, Nicaragua is filled with splendid greenery, culture, natural and historic places.

But Managua is not a pleasant place and I advise skipping it if possible. If you absolutely must spend time in Managua, then be very careful when choosing your transportation.

I’m writing about taxis because I was assaulted and robbed in a taxi yesterday. But knife-point robberies are said to occur on buses.

The typical Nicaraguan taxi picks up more than one passenger at a time. Whoever gets in second or third may have to go out of their way before reaching their destination, but the price is correspondingly reduced.

Yesterday I got into a taxi that already had a passenger in the front. The man was counting his money and, I assumed, preparing to pay and get out soon. I sat alone in back, behind the driver, where I (mistakenly) felt more safe. After we started off, the driver locked the door behind the passenger, which I thought was strange, but figured he must be doing it for safety. Robbers have been known to enter cars, especially when stopped at stoplights. My door, however, remained unlocked.

Not long afterwards, and with incredible speed, the passenger jumped back on top of me and began punching me in the head. He pulled my shirt over my face to keep me from seeing and I found myself in total blackness, trapped in a car with two strange men, and being beaten. The second I saw him flying towards me with a grunt, I began to scream, a loud, insistent, instinctual scream of terror. Not knowing what they would do to me, nor if I would even survive, I was truly terrified.

He yelled at me to shut up and beat me harder. I remembered my unlocked door and tried to find and reach the handle in the blackness, but he’d trapped my left arm and I couldn’t move.

He began to ask what I had – how many dollars, cordobas, did I have a cellular phone. I had all that – plus more – a camera, an ipod, an electronic dictionary, souvenirs, a backpack. And I was unusually loaded, as I’d planned to treat my colleagues to dinner that night and needed to change money for my upcoming travels.

At this point, it seemed their main motive was robbery which was a comparative relief. I’d give them everything to not touch me or to take my life. I told them, from under my shirt and under the weight of his body what I had – begged them to take it all, to let me out.

It became clear the robber and driver were a team. They told me they were taking me outside the city, said I needed to keep quiet and cooperate if I didn’t want to be killed.

The robber, who said he was from El Salvador, and asked where I worked, gave the driver directions. He also said, to my relief, that my body didn’t interest him. The driver gave the robber instructions – Take her shoes.

He pulled off my shoes and my watch, felt for rings or necklaces, felt for money hidden elsewhere on my body. I understood they would probably clean me dry, then dump me somewhere. I imagined a remote rural area, a dangerous barrio. I imaged they’d roll me out while moving at full speed and again the terror intensified. I asked them to please stop before pushing me out.

They did slow to a near stop and did push me out onto the road. I was barefoot, my shirt over my head, shaking and disoriented. I had nothing but 10 pesos (about 50 cents) I happened to be holding in my right hand.

When I staggered up to a security guard watering the lawn, he told me where I was. Luckily, it was a decent area. And luckily, I came across the guard first, because the next figure I saw was a guy walking down the street with a baton.

I told the guard what happened and he helped me to get another taxi. He told me when he’d first seen me walking towards him, he’d thought I was crazy.

I had no money, no key to my home, no cell phone, and no ones numbers memorized. If I hadn’t been on my way to meet colleagues for dinner, I don’t know what I would have done. Since they were waiting for me, I was able to take a taxi to them, ask them to pay for the taxi, and ask for their help in canceling my credit card, getting shelter, etc.

In summary, it was a frightening and miserable experience. When in Managua, it’s preferable to have a car and driver. If that’ s not possible, ask anyone you know there for names and numbers of known, trustworthy drivers. Or, use only radio-controlled taxis offered by a reputable hotel – which will cost more, but are reliable. Barring any of that, never get in a cab in Managua with other passengers, and tell the driver you want express service (which will cost a little more). This means he can’t pick up other passengers while you are in the car.

Ideally, especially if you are alone, it’s good for someone to walk you to the taxi and to note the car number. In case of last resort, choose cars only with the newest taxi plates (3 horizontal stripes) and note the taxi number before getting in.

The risk is real and for your health and safety, Managua is a city in which one must take precautions.


chanchow said...

MY GOD!!! I'm so sorry to hear this. I'm glad you're okay.

Anonymous said...

Stupid ass poor assholes from El Salvador, first they smuggle drugs in to Nicaragua now they BEAT and ROB people.. I'm so sorry about what happened to you, but those piece of shit salvadorans are to blame not the friendly Nicaragyans