Well, I’ve made it to Latin America! After 4 months traveling around Asia, I’ve grown pretty used to the no-crime lifestyle. For the most part, it was been pretty darn safe, and the thought of scamming anyone is almost unheard of. But I’ve traveled enough around Latin America to know that things were about to change.
One of the great things about this year of traveling through Remote Year is that you have locals in every city who can help you out when you arrive. I was coming late to the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL) in Santiago, Chile instead of traveling with the group, so I had to figure out my own transportation from the airport to my apartment (when you travel with the group, Remote Year completely takes care of this for you). Our local Remote Year Operations Manager gave me a variety of trusted resources, including a couple of shared shuttle companies, TransVip and Delfos. One of my friends had arrived a few days before me and used one of the shared shuttles and said it was super easy, so I decided to go with that.
As soon as I went through Customs, I immediately saw the “Transvip” counter when I walked through the doors. So easy! I gave them the address where I was going, purchased my spot on the shared shuttle, and they pointed me to the exit doors to go through where the Transvip shuttle would be waiting for me. I had a receipt with me with my address and proof of payment that I was supposed to show the Transvip employee.
As I walked away from the counter, a man in unmarked clothing (clue #1) quickly approached me when I was passing by door #3, not door #4, as they‘d said. Clue #2. He said, “you’re with Transvip, right? I‘ll take you to the shuttle.” He grabbed my ticket and then asked me where I was going. Clue #3 because the address should’ve been in their system.
He then said he was going to call the operator to get me a shuttle. A driver was walking past, clearly not headed toward him, and he grabbed the driver and said “this girl is with Transvip and needs a ride.” That guy, who he now claimed was the operator was also in unmarked clothing and had a taxi driver credential (not Transvip credentials) hanging around his neck (clue #4).
The operator then leaves and says he’s going to get the van, while the original guy grabbed my bags and said we had to take a shuttle to get to the van. We got in the free airport shuttle and headed to the parking lot (clue #5). At this point, I was getting pretty uneasy, but I figured maybe we were going to the Transvip stand, and I would see the sign and employees once we got to our location.
We get off the free shuttle at the parking lot, and at this point I’m kind of in the middle of nowhere at the parking lot. Not good. Thankfully, there was a security guard there, so I felt a little more comfortable.
The “operator” pulls up in his minivan that has no Transvip logo on it, and there’s his child’s baby seat in the backseat (clue #6).
The original guy puts my luggage in the trunk (which I never should have let him do, but it was SO FAST). The whole operation was just lightning quick. They were leaving me no room to think and question.
The guy asks me if I speak Spanish, which I now realize is because he wanted to communicate with the operator-turned-driver in Spanish so that I couldn’t understand what was going on. Clue #7. I also realize now I should’ve said no so that I could’ve caught them in their lie. From that point on, he started speaking very vaguely with the driver because he didn’t want me to clue into their scam.
The guy asks me how I’m going to pay the driver. I questioned him, saying I already paid at the Transvip counter. He tells me that I only paid for the reservation fee, and I now need to pay the driver another 20,000 CLP (~$28) for his services to get to my location. Clue #8.
So now I’m thoroughly convinced I’m being scammed and refused to get in the car or pay more money. I told him I have a local contact who told me about Transvip, that it was only going to be ~$10, and that I would be in a shared shuttle with the Transvip logo on it.
Then, they started getting angry. The driver tells me I’m wasting his time and that he could be making money right now. Clue #9. I told them all “fine, you can leave without me. I’m not getting in the van until I call my local contact and have him confirm that this is correct.“
As soon as I get on the phone, they dump my bags out, the guy jumps in the driver’s van, and they leave me there at the parking lot. Clue #10.
So there I am, standing alone in the parking lot. Thankfully, that free airport shuttle I’d gone on previously circled back around, and I took it back to the Transvip counter. I told them what had happened, they radioed everyone and notified security. Then, someone walked me to Door #4, where they’d originally told me to go. And standing there were men in Transvip shirts with iPads with all my info already in it and multiple marked Transvip vans.
From there, the whole process was professional and smooth, and I’d actually highly recommend Transvip as a transport option to getting into Santiago from the SCL airport.
But I share this whole thing as a caution to Not fall for this scam! These guys were taxi drivers. I saw them again when I went back to the Transvip counter and pointed them out to one of the people who helped me. He was furious, and I hope they got in trouble, but I’m honestly not sure what happened to them after that.
Thankfully, I’m a savvy traveler and speak Spanish, which helped in the whole thing, but I was still incredibly close to being scammed. I really hope that the worst that was going to happen was that I would have to pay $20 extra to the driver to take me to the apartment, but these are the kinds of scams you hear about how girls get trafficked.
Moral of the story: If something doesn’t feel right, stick with your gut. If they start getting mad, you’re probably the one who’s right. Do not ever let them convince you to do something you do not feel is correct.