International Writers Magazine:
- A Word Of Warning
one of the most famous and most visited cities in the world. It
has a night time skyline that ranks with London or New York, a
collection of mosques, churches, and museums that will blow your
mind, and a history so rich, wild and fascinating that even the
most knowledgeable scholar will be left short of breath. Its
also home to a growing number of conmen, thieves, liars, cheats
and rip off merchants. Most of them drive a taxi.
is no good says the taxi driver and hands a crumpled note back
to the little old lady in the front seat. Beryl is 79 years old, and
confused. She was sure she gave the taxi driver one of the nice new
50 Lira notes she extracted from the cash machine earlier that morning.
Still, she hands over another 50 Lira note. The driver hands over some
change. And drives away. Having switched Beryls original good
fifty for a fake, the driver is now 50 Lira richer. And Beryl, has paid
60 Lira, almost thirty pounds sterling for the five minute taxi ride
back to her hotel.
Each month, leading an overland tour from London to Damascus, this is
just one of the increasingly typical stories I hear from my clients
during our two day stay in Istanbul. Of course, you can be diddled our
of your cash anywhere in the world, and Ive come across attempts
at note switching and other petty scams in South America, South East
Asia, and the UK. But never with the frequency with which it seems be
to occurring in Istanbul.
Taxi drivers are the biggest nuisance. If theyre not switching
notes on you, theyre over charging, or over driving, turning a
five minute trip in to a full tour of the surrounding areas and therefore
a hefty cab fare. My clients are no fools either. Usually well travelled,
embarking on an overland journey of this nature requires a certain adventurous,
savvy spirit. Beryl for example is no novice, she has just spent the
last month in Africa.
If you just happened to be passing through and you got taken for
a ride , youd be forgiven for putting it all down to experience,
down to one bad apple, in a city of otherwise honest individuals. But
regularly coming back you start to sense a conspiracy. Of my group of
ten clients, two thirds of them were diddled by unscrupulous drivers
in their first day (despite my warnings.) Going out for dinner that
evening, I had to stop 5 taxis before I found one person who was prepared
to actually use his taxi meter. Its not that everyone that drives
a taxi is a crook, just that all the crooks seem to drive taxis.
On one occasion, taking three clients to the docks for a ferry ride
on the Bosphoros, the taxi driver began ranting when I gave him the
5 Lira note that I knew it cost. He got out of the car this is
an insult he said, threw the note on the floor and stormed off
cursing in Turkish. I think I even saw a tear welling in the corner
of his eye. My clients were shocked and wanted to give him some more
cash. I insisted they didnt. Moments later, thinking we were gone,
the driver returned. Picked up the cash from the floor and drove away,
seemingly satisfied with his Oscar winning performance. A complete contrast
to the furious, insulted man he was only moments ago.
Another scam involves taking the long way. When a driver
will find the longest route possible between two points in order to
extract the most cash possible from his fare. Again, not a trick unique
to turkey. But in Istanbul, instead of taking you the wrong way down
the high street for example, the drivers are perfectly prepared to drive
you 30 minutes out of town, and back to a destination that was only
ever five minutes away. This is something they do to me on a journey
I might have made a hundred times. When I protest, the driver will always
play dumb, or suddenly forget how to speak English, or occasionally,
It seems this is not just happening to tourists. One of my Turkish colleagues
from Ankara also detests working in the city for the very same reasons.
And the overcharging isnt just restricted to taxis. Ive
heard of corn on the cob, cooked and sold on the street for a whopping
5 quid a pop. In Kumkapi, the fresh fish district (well worth a visit
by the way), the menu portrays a list of mouth watering sea food dishes
at very reasonable prices. However, the waiter will bring a tray of
fish (of the same variety as the menu) to the table, and ask you to
point out the tuna, salmon, snapper of your choice. When the bill comes
youll find youve paid 4/5 times more than the menu prices
because those prices only refer to a fillet of the same fish and the
not the whole thing. Of course its not strictly a con, but its
certainly misleading, and night after night customers leave the restaurants
feeling deceived and unexpectedly out of pocket all to the complete
ambivalence of the staff.
Pickpockets are also nuisance in the city. If youre ambling through
the main squares or photographing major site, be very aware of whose
around you, and if you are part of a tour group, whos tagging
along. During some of our city tours, wed find we had inadvertently
adopted a Turkish tourist, complete with shades, an I love Istanbul
t-shirt, and a camera dangling around his neck. He would follow the
group, engrossed by what the guide was saying, looking away only briefly
to deftly dip his fingers in the bags and pockets of my clients.
And the crime isnt just restricted criminals. Driving across the
border from Bulgaria into turkey, my bus driver had to bribe no less
that five different police officers and border officials just to get
across. At each successive checkpoint, the officer in charge would have
him off the bus, and a few Euros out of his pocket quicker than you
could say EU membership.
There may be those of you that consider yourselves too travel smart
to fall for these basic money extracting techniques, and they are of
course relatively easy to avoid. Use the menus, learn the metro system
(easy AND cheap!) have a map and know where youre going, convert
prices back to your own home currency before handing over wads of cash,
check the notes are good, basically.. use your brain! Its simple,
obvious and common sense. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to
know that a fiver is too much for a charcoal singed vegetable. But the
point is, it gets very tedious and extremely draining when day after
day you have to watch your back. Most travellers are happy to pay the
going rate, and no one wants the locals to lose out, but when you are
continuously the subject of attempted cons and underhanded tricks, it
leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.
No one can dispute the grandeur and majesty of one of the worlds
most historically and culturally compelling cities, but what makes a
place truly special are the human interactions one encounters. In a
country otherwise filled with warm and hospitable people, the Istanbul
experience is being tarnished by a generally accepted attitude between
taxi drivers, street vendors, petty criminals and even some police officers
that tourists and foreigners are fair game, and that the contents of
their wallets are up for grabs.
© Tariq El Kashef
06 December 2006
"Tariq El kashef is the author and editor of www.alternativeegypt.com.
The Online Egypt Guide for the Independent Traveller"
Travel in Hacktreks
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.