Recently I travelled to Europe with 2 overnight stops in Bangkok and Istanbul. Not a bad way to go from Oz because they're daylight flights and you get to Europe without too much jet leg. On the way back they're night flights so there's
a lot of jet leg but at least you're home and you can take your time.
Since half of Istanbul is actually in Asia I thought I'd relate a most blatant scam perpetrated on me by a…guess who…taxi driver.
I had to admire his skill of a magician with a tricky hand and assisted by the Turkish Treasury making the 5 and 50 lira bills virtually the same colour.
My overnight stay was in a boutique hotel smack right in the middle of the tourist area opposite the Blue Mosque. The hotel was not accessible to vehicular traffic as it was in a small alley in a strictly walking area and you had to lug your luggage 200 meters to a side street where taxis / vultures were waiting for unsuspecting travellers.
The first driver I approached quoted me roughly double the going rate of 35 liras so I gave him a wide berth and moved on. Soon enough I saw another taxi driving down the street and I hailed the driver. He agreed to turn on the meter and placed my big suitcase in the boot. I took a rear seat and off we went. So far so good. The guy seemed like a pleasant fellow with some English so we chatted away during the 20 km trip. A couple of times I glanced at the meter and wondered about the figures it showed as they didn't make sense so I suspected having some difficulty on arrival. Nevertheless the trip was uneventful and no traffic jam and the driver remained friendly and talkative.
As we approached the concourse of the departure area I noticed the driver didn't pull up at the first available spot which I later realised was near a police stand and proceeded further down, finally squeezing in between 2 cars. When he came to a full stop I asked how much is the fare. He replied 90 lira. I said, not on your life, it shouldn't be more than 40 at the most. So he starts raising his voice a few octaves pointing to the meter which actually showed 135 + liras and I just laughed and told him to forget it as it's obviously doctored. This time he was screaming about wanting his money etc. and since he still had my suitcase locked in the boot I was at a disadvantage and just wanted to get rid of him and be on my way. So I told him I'll give him 50 liras and be done with it. I opened my wallet, took out a 50 lira note and handed it to him in the front.
Well, quick as a flash within a couple of seconds, so I reckon he was prepared for this, he comes back with a 5 lira note and hands it back to me saying I made a mistake and gave him a fiver instead of fifty.
To be honest he had me confused for a moment as when I looked in my wallet I saw 5s and 50s side by side and actually thought I had made a mistake. Remember at this stage he had my 50 and I had his 5 so he was 45 ahead but he made it look as if he hadn't got any money yet. Ok, so giving him the benefit of the doubt I hand him another 50, making him 95 ahead at this stage. You guys follow me? Now if the greedy bastard had stopped he would have ended up with triple the correct fare but he wasn't done yet and went through the same trick again of handing me another 5 back and claiming I had made the same mistake twice. At this stage he is 90 ahead but trying the gambit again. The game was up and I knew I was being scammed and this guy is hell bent in exchanging every fifty I had with one of his fives. I thought the Turkish Treasury might have made these notes the same colour to facilitate their people earning a bit extra without the Government increasing the minimum wage.
I knew my priority now was to free my suitcase from the boot and so we both got out of the cab still arguing and he opened the lid of the boot and lifted out my case. Suddenly the tables were turned. I had my stuff in my possession and now I went on the attack. I started writing down his number plate and told him he is in deep shit as I'll report him unless I get my second fifty back. As we stand at the back of the cab arguing with the lid still open he rushes back into the cab and yells out that he's giving me a receipt. I tell him where he can shove his receipt and all I want is my 50 note or else. You see at this stage he can't leave as he is blocked from the front and I'm in the back standing behind the boot blocking him reversing. So he shouts back at me holding some money in his hand and asks me to come up front to settle. No way I'm leaving the back position now as if I did he could reverse and take off. It's a Mexican stand off.
I tell him I ain't moving so he comes to the back with eyes that could kill and hands me a 50. Now he is at a fare of forty which is 10 less than I was initially prepared to give him. I smile at him and turn to leave but he isn't finished yet. Give me my five back now….he says. What five…I ask. The one I gave you?
Give me a Thai taxi driver anytime!
This confusion with the banknotes is a pain! I remember a similar problem when I was in Cambodia not so long ago where there are two denominations of note that are easily mistaken for each other.