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The planet’s craziest taxi drivers

If you think New York cabbies are crazy, you’ve never ridden in the back of a Bolivian Taxi cab.  Before I moved to South America’s poorest nation, I had no idea that a 1985 Corolla could go from zero to 50 in two seconds.  Throw in the fact that almost none of the roads down here are paved, and suddenly you’re faced with the sort of bone-jarring, automotive adventure formerly reserved for ATV’s on desert sand dunes.

As someone used to Western Transportation, I find that there are so many frightening things about the cabs, that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is the most unnerving aspect.  I imagine that it’s similar to a soldier’s concerns on the frontline of a battlefield.  The concerns are too numerous to count, and if any one of them manifests itself, you’re dead.  As far as the cabs go, my concerns won’t fit on just a sheet of paper.  I need a scroll for the entire account. 

One interesting observation is that every cab is a 25-year-old, Japanese reject.  How do I know these cabs are rejects?  Because in every cab, there’s a huge hole in the right side of the dashboard where the steering column was before they ripped it out and switched it to the left.  This wouldn’t be particularly bothersome, if the speedometer, odometer, or any other gauge on the dash worked properly.  But since nothing else that anyone touched on the dash is still in working order, one has to wonder how well the steering column was reinstalled.  Can you say, “Mechanical failure?”

As if mechanical problems and hair raising accelerations weren’t enough to worry about, there are often social situations that cabbies bring to your attention that are cause for angst.  For instance, the time the cabbie ordered me to roll up my window so thieves wouldn’t reach into the car and rip the sunglasses off of my head.  Or the story about another teacher at the school where I work who decided not to call a radio taxi and was driven out to the country and mugged.

But none of these things come close to being as disturbing as the state of total driving anarchy that I’ve noticed in my three months in Santa Cruz.  From my vantage, the only apparent traffic law in all of Bolivia is not to hit someone, and even if you do, I’m not sure there’s anyone here to enforce it. 

Cabs weave in and out of traffic like a needle through a loom.  Red lights are yield signs and speed bumps an opportunity to get some air.  Stop signs look familiar and dot many of the intersections in the city, but it seems if a cabbie honks his horn, they’re null and void and anybody in the intersection had best take cover. 

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some comforts in the cabs.  Probably 50% of cabs come with a working seatbelt in the passenger front seat.  Some even have working headlights and speedometer that’s accurate to within twenty miles-per-hour.  But once you analyze the severely cracked windshield, rusted out sides, or the large tank of natural gas in the trunk of the car.  And once you consider that trauma care in area hospitals is at pre-World-War I standards.  You unclick that seatbelt, because you realize it probably won’t do you any good anyway, and even if it did, it’d be better to be dead, than spend a month in a Bolivian hospital. 

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  Why ride in a cab if the drivers are nuts, the maintenance forgotten, and your chances of surviving the trip are sub-90%?  Simple answer; entertainment and value my friends.  For less than a buck you can traverse an entire city of over a million people, and there’s nothing quite like the Jesus shrines in the front of every cab in a country that’s 99% Catholic.  If that cab goes up in flames, at least I’ll be in the right company. 

There’s no doubt that New York’s cabbies are crazy.  They drive like Bolivians, weave like Bolivians, and cuss with far more authority.  But I’ve got bad news New Yorkers.  Your cabs no longer hold the title of The World’s Most Harrowing Ride.  That crown belongs to the taxis of Bolivia.  And if you want to earn your title back, you need to trade in those sturdy Crown Victoria’s, and see if you have the guts to drive the same way in a soupped up 1979 Toyota Corolla.

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