You know you’re in tourist country—or at least somewhere trying to be—when there are horse carriages on every block ready to sweep you away on a romantic frolic around town. Manila, Philippines is no exception, and I would estimate that the horse carriage to tourist ratio is probably somewhere close to 5:1. You can probably guess that meant that every single one of ‘em seemed to be following us around Manila, waiting for that moment when we would magically decide we wanted to climb on.
That moment actually did come, but it wasn’t because we suddenly fell in love with horses; rather, it had more to do with the fact that sometimes we’re a little too cheap. And it almost backfired on us.
We had just finished up taking a few pictures of the Manila Bay sunset and decided our next destination would be the Mall of Asia. We weren’t interested in shopping, but thought we might as well check it out since it is the 3rd largest mall in Asia and 4th largest on Earth. Now that we’ve been we can honestly say that unless you are seriously trying to burn some holes in your wallet, there’s not much point in going. Okay, but back to the whole horse carriage business. We were at the Manila Bay, assessing our cheapest options for getting to the mall. We knew it was a little ways down the boulevard we were on, but we didn’t know exactly how far. We quickly ruled out walking since the sun was down and we didn’t know the area. The next option was a taxi, which seemed like a reasonable choice since we weren’t quite sure how to catch a jeepney headed that direction. But of course, that was the moment when the carriage driver saw his opportunity and jumped on it.
“Ma’am, sir, where are you going? Intramuros? I can take you there.”
“Oh no, thank you, we’ve already been there. We are headed all the way to the Mall of Asia,” was our answer that probably came out a little bit too sarcastically.
“Mall of Asia, no problem. I’ll take you there, only 20 pesos.”
And that was when we thought twice. 20 pesos? That’s only 50 American cents…there is no way that can be right.
So we asked, “Only 20 pesos? Are you sure? Not 20 American dollars but 20 pesos, the whole way, both people?”
“Yes ma’am, only 20 minutes, 20 pesos. A very good deal.”
Ummm yea that sounds like a good deal…a little too good of a deal. We were still hesitant. If a taxi driver ever offers a deal that good it means he is probably going to drive you straight to his buddies in a back alley where they can all mug you. But this was a carriage on the main road in Manila surrounded by people, traffic and shops. Worse case scenario we could just get off, right? Then we started listing off excuses. Maybe the Mall of Asia is just a block away and won’t take anywhere close to 20 minutes. Maybe the guy has had a long day, watched us turn down all his fellow drivers, and is now making us a deal we can’t refuse so he can at least make a little bit of money. Kind of like a horse ride on clearance?
Well, whatever rationalizations we made, we decided to go ahead and get on. And things went splendidly for about 15 minutes.
“Ma’am, to your right is the American Embassy. Sir, to the left is a popular Filipino restaurant, very good traditional dishes,” he narrated throughout the trip.
But then the Mall of Asia came into view, and the driver said we should go ahead and pay him. So we did. We passed forward the 20 pesos, just like we had clarified before embarking.
With a little smirk on his face, he faked astonishment and cried, “Oh, you thought only 20 pesos! No, 20 THOUSAND pesos of course!”
That was when we couldn’t help but laugh. Really, 20,000 pesos now? That’s around $500 American dollars. That’s more than we had even brought with us for the entire weekend! Obviously we told him that wasn’t happening, and we would just get off now. He quickly bounced back, this time with a better offer.
“Okay, I give you special discount. 200 pesos!”
That price definitely sounded more reasonable, but we didn’t want what seemed funny to escalate into a problem. We had already paid the 20 pesos we agreed upon, so we quickly just stepped out of the carriage while saying goodbye. We saw the driver try to hide a little laugh, obviously realizing that we weren’t going to let him hustle us out of our agreement. But it didn’t take long for us to feel a little bit guilty, too. 20 pesos just didn’t seem fair for the service he had provided us, and we should probably have paid him a little bit more. Were we just furthering the stigmatization that Western tourists travel to developing countries to take advantage of cheap prices with no consideration for locals?
So what would you have done? Never gotten on in the first place? Paid him a little bit more? Stuck to the 20 pesos originally agreed upon? We would love to hear your opinions, and if you have ever had a similar encounter!