Racing around Roseau with No Money: The Curious Case of the Taxi we Never Booked

I stared back at the minivan with a look of startled horror. The silver bus which had carried myself and Lewis for over an hour jiggled around as its ancient engine worked away under the hood.

Surely they couldn’t just leave us here?

I looked at the barbed-wire fence behind the van, the pile of rusty equipment behind it and then turned my attention to the large steel buildings which craned high around us.

Just then, a man appeared out of a smaller building which I hadn’t immediately noticed. It looked almost like a petrol station, glistening and new, wedged between two large industrial buildings with a stream of cars under a steel canopy, in various states of repair. It was like a little oasis.

He smiled as he approached. “Ella?” He asked.

Oh, thank goodness. We hadn’t just been left to die in a back-alley in Dominica.

This journey was proving to be a whole rollercoaster of emotions. One minute I was on a high, embracing our journey to a new country. The next, I was trying my best to conceal my utter panic as yet something else went wrong. Now, my mood was boosting once more.

This is where the taxi dropped us

The man (who was from the car rental company) was pleasant enough and looked thoroughly pleased to see us. I apologised profusely for what happened previous day.

Our flight had been cancelled and he had waited for us at the airport for hours as the rental company didn’t immediately pick-up my email. The disappointment the company had felt as a result of that situation had meant they were reluctant to pick us up from the airport today.

I had been given two options: one was having the car dropped at my hotel or the second was grabbing a taxi to pick-up the car. I had responded, requesting option one and had never received a response. Instead I was just bundled into a minivan at the airport with no idea who was picking me up and where we were going.

“You need to pay the taxi.” The car rental man announced.

What?

I didn’t say anything but inside I was pretty frustrated.

The price I was being quoted for the taxi was extortionate for a shared taxi ($200 Eastern Caribbean dollars which equates to roughly £60). I also didn’t choose to order a taxi. They booked the taxi for me on my behalf, without me even knowing.

I had expressed my interest in having the car dropped at my hotel, like they had offered. If they didn’t really want to do this, it would have been courteous to tell me and also give me the option of organising my own transportation.

So, in short, I was being charged £60 for something I never ordered nor expressed any interest in.

There was another issue.

I hadn’t had chance to gather my thoughts at the airport and had assumed the car rental company were the ones picking me up. Therefore I didn’t withdraw any cash. So now I had no cash to pay for a taxi.

I could hear the van juddering behind me as the driver awaited payment.

But I didn’t have any money.

“I don’t have any cash.” I announced at last.

The man from the car rental company seemed confused at first, unsure what to do. Eventually he responded. “OK. I will settle-up the taxi and will take you to an ATM after.”

He wandered over to the minivan and I supressed a wail of despair. How had I ended up in this situation?

I swear I learn from my mistakes but there does seem to be a bit of a theme here. I never seem to have enough cash. It was an issue in The Gambia too. I spent most of my time there racing around trying to get enough cash to pay for my rental car. Now it appeared the same thing was happening.

Our rental car had been prearranged so that was all settled-up. We just needed to find an ATM so I could withdraw cash for the taxi and also a local driving license.

We were shown around our rental car before he handed us the keys.

The car rental guy smiled at us. “You ready to follow me to the ATM?” He seemed completely unphased by the journey we were about to embark on.

We jumped in our car, a black Mazda Tribute 4×4 which enjoyed greeting us in Japanese as we turned the engine on. The screen was also in Japanese.

We started following the vibrant blue car which the car rental guy had jumped into. We bumped down the graven-strewn track and back onto the main road.

He pulled off at an airstrip which was in fact Cane Field airport. It felt ironic to be at an airport at the complete opposite end of the island to the airport which we arrived via.

The airport was deserted. It was tiny with neatly-manicured grass surrounding the airstrip and the glistening ocean just behind. There was a small drop-off area which could fit a handful of cars.

I made my way to the ATM which was carved into the green outer-wall of the terminal and pushed my card in.

Input pin, select the amount I want and withdraw.

I clicked the yellow button. The ATM flashed up with a big sad face and a barely comprehendible message. Before I knew it, the message had gone and no money came out.

That’s odd… I’ll just try again but maybe with a smaller amount.

The yellow face appeared, seeming to reach into my soul. My card popped out and the screen went back to normal.

I tried again but still no luck.

I waved my arms in the air, exasperated before letting a gentleman who had been waiting patiently behind come in front of me.

The car rental guy peered out of his window looking concerned.

“It’s not working.” I called, my voice cracking slightly.

Lewis came bounding over. “Let’s try mine.”

Lewis tried two separate cards and both of them experienced the same issue. Yet I knew the ATM was working as a man had just withdrawn some money.

The car rental guy came over and we showed him the issue. He appeared just as stumped as we were.

“It’s OK.” He responded cheerily. “I’ll take you to the bank instead.”

He just seemed to have endless patience and I admired it. If only I was feeling as patient.

As we followed his blue car through the town to a bank, Lewis and I sat in silence. It was too quiet. Although Lewis hadn’t complained yet, I could tell his patience was wearing thin. I was anticipating an explosion at any point.

Lewis and I both leapt out of the car at the bank. I glanced warily at our car which we were leaving parked up, knowing it was housing all of our belongings.

The car rental guy was standing beside his blue car, seemingly keeping watch over both vehicles. Still, leaving my bags unattended by neither myself nor Lewis made me feel uneasy.

We pushed the glass doors and entered the bank, feeling the stifling air at once. Before us, a queue of dozens of people snaked round the bank and I exchanged a miserable glance with Lewis. We joined the end of the queue.

Time was passing and the queue was moving incredibly slowly. Every few seconds I glanced out of the window towards our car, just checking that it was still there and intact.

I was boiling, melting under my clothes as time seemed to stand still. All I could hear was the whizzing of an incredibly weak fan and the tapping of fingernails against a keyboard.

More and more people were entering the bank until we were sandwiched within the winding queue, unsure if we were ever going to be seen to.

After half an hour of standing within the scorching bank – now with a throbbing headache – we were finally called forward

At last!

We could finally withdraw our cash and our relaxing exploration around Dominica could begin.

I handed my card over to the woman at the desk. She frowned and spun it around in her fingers.

“Nope.” She announced, sliding the card back to me across the desk.

My heart dropped. “Sorry?”

Her gaze was steady as she responded. “We don’t withdraw from cards with a chip.”

I was well and truly lost. So because my card was chip and pin, they couldn’t withdraw from it? I thought all cards were chip and pin?

All of our cards were chip and pin so after over half an hour of melting and risking having all of our belongings nabbed, we were forced to leave emptyhanded.

“Any luck?” The car rental guy asked, surprisingly upbeat as per usual.

I shook my head. “No. They said they couldn’t withdraw from our cards.”

He didn’t look upset. How did he not look upset? Was he not getting even slightly frustrated now? How was that even possible? He almost seemed to be enjoying the experience.

“Never mind.” He thought for a moment. “I know!” I watched his eyes light up. “There’s another bank in the city. I think this one will work. It’s a special bank that can take any card.”

Once again, we got back in our car, listened to its Japanese chimes and began to follow the blue vehicle.

We were heading towards the capital city of Roseau which was just south of Canefield. The main road ran along the coast and I watched the peaceful ocean out of our window. We passed a great ship which sat at an awkward angle in a dilapidated state just beside the road.

Ahead I saw numerous buildings and before we knew it, we were venturing deep into the island’s capital.

I try to avoid driving in capital cities at all costs. They’re chaotic and I’m not the most confident driver. But yet, here I was, sitting feebly behind the wheel of our car, following a bright blue hatchback as it weaved in and out of narrow streets.

I couldn’t lose his car, whatever it cost, so I was determined to stay as close as possible.

He barged through a junction and I followed, grimacing slightly and silently praying that no one would charge towards me.

The traffic became heavier and the time spent travelling through the city seemed to stretch on and on. I wondered how much of our day had been spent on this wild goose chase.

Finally, in a parking bay beside the ocean, the car rental guy pulled over. We followed.

He spoke out of his car window. “The bank is just across the road. In there.” He gestured with his hands.

I ventured across the road and up some stairs to an enclosed area which was the entrance to the RBC bank with a logo I instantly recognised. I started to feel hopeful.

Just outside the bank was an ATM built into the concrete wall. I placed my card in and hoped for the best.

Success!

I could have danced on the spot. Finally! I had withdrawn the cash. I could have kissed the ATM.

I approached the car rental guy who, as usual, looked hopeful.

“How did it go?” He asked cheerily.

“It worked!” I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

“Excellent.” He responded.

I counted out the notes and gave him the $200 for the taxi ride plus an extra $50 for the driving license. He smiled, nodded and then in no time at all, drove off.

I stood beside our car feeling bewildered after the ridiculous experience I had just had. I couldn’t fault the car rental guy. He had been friendly and incredibly patient. Besides, he hadn’t been the one in communication with me via email so I doubt he knew that I hadn’t requested a taxi.

The sea breeze ruffled my hair and the smell of numerous car exhausts filled my nostrils. I gazed at the colourful terraced buildings in front of me for moment, composing myself for the next part of our trip.

Now we had to make our way out of the busy city and drive all the way into the interior of the island to our accommodation. I wasn’t looking forward to the long drive ahead of us.

After the hectic travel day we’d had, all I wanted to do was curl up and rest. But we couldn’t. Evening was drawing closer and our hosts were expecting us. I fired off a text to them to let them know we were finally on our way and jumped back into the car.

Lewis took over the driving whilst I attempted to navigate down the narrow city roads. He was profusely expressing his frustration over the entire situation – first getting caught up in a tropical storm and now the ludicrous hoops we had just had to jump through to get our car. I have a bit more of a ‘try to keep calm and carry on’ attitude so kept trying to reassure him.

We somehow took a wrong turn and found ourselves squeezing past colourful stalls. We seemed to be in the centre of a market, likely down a road that was meant to be closed-off to cars. As we rounded a corner (and very narrowly missed toppling over a store), we came across a dead-end. Now what?

Lewis had no choice but to reverse back round the corner through the tight network of stalls. Stall-keepers watched on in horror, probably fearing for their trolleys of produce.

Back on normal roads, we began our lengthy journey. We travelled through Canefields town once more, stopping for some petrol along the way, before we voyaged into the mountains, leaving the coast behind us.

It was nearing 4pm now. Which meant we’d landed in Dominica over 4 hours ago! The entire day had been spent faffing about.

“I recognise all this.” Lewis laughed, almost sounding manic.

“I know.” I murmured.

“I can’t believe we have to retrace our steps so much.”

“I know.”

We passed dense jungle and small settlements. We crossed river after river after river. Every few moments we passed some form of landmark that we recognised. I was as annoyed by the situation as Lewis was but I didn’t want to moan. It had happened now. Being stressed wouldn’t change the past.

“Today has been a nightmare.” He proclaimed. “In fact, the whole trip has been a disaster.”

“I know but it’s going to all be uphill from here. We’re going to our accommodation now. No more planes. No more picking up cars. We now have cash. We’ll just drive in and can relax. What could possibly go wrong?”

Exactly.

What could possibly go wrong?

I must have been tempting fate because the most ridiculous travel day in existence had one last trick up its sleeve.

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