We were in Manila, close to a park dedicated to Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, when we were approached by a man driving a horse led carriage. I never take these sort of things, as I rather walk at my own pace. Here, everybody seems to find it outrageous when I say I wish to walk. It’s like I should wish to be driven everywhere. I hold my ground though, as I find walking helps me to see things I would overlook otherwise. Yet, my cousin who was accompanying me didn’t want to walk, I was talked into hiring this driver. As I feared, this turned out to be a mistake. Tourist traps are not called traps without reasons.
First, he couldn’t speak English apart from his selling pitch – normally I wouldn’t mind, except if the service offered is geared at tourists. Pinky explained that this was why it was less expensive than the other carriage (mind you not that much less expensive). I would later find out that Pinky wasn’t fluent enough in English to feel comfortable translating for me. So any explanation he gave (not that he gave that many) were for her ears only.
Second he lied about his fees. He pointed to a circuit and said 250 php for 30 minutes. Well the circuit didn’t last only 30 minutes and he forgot to mention it was 250 php per person. Even worst, we were in his cart for two hours and he argued that we had been there for three. That brought the bill to 3 000 php… Almost the price for a return ticket to Palawan! It’s not just about the money though. I understand, they own less than we do and they think all foreigners are rich. In their situation, I would probably also lack the perspective to see the reality of the travelers. I wonder if they think we are all like Picsou, taking baths in pools of golden coins…
Despite understanding their situation, I am still bothered by the whole underlying principle. As if their situations justified lying to tourists and cheating them. So I stood my ground on principle and asked that he stick with his first quoted price. I gave him a 1 000 php and refused to give him more, because I hope this will make him realize that he should be honest with other tourists and that being dishonest will not gain him anything. This time he couldn’t pretend the mistake was due to lack of understanding of English, as I had a girl with me who spoke Tagalo. I would rather they state a higher price, with no hidden trap. I would then be able to make an informed decision about hiring him or not.
Finally, if you come to Manila and want to hire such a carriage to travel around historical landmarks, I would suggest you pay the little extra money to hire the higher end service. This should provide you with a guide who can speak English, who will fill you in with relevant facts and who will offer overall a better service.
Also, now when you hire a driver, you know to ask if the price is inclusive of everybody or on a per person basis. You also know to ask how much time or distance the trip should take, and how much the final bill should be. You should also track time or distance to ensure the right data is used to calculate the final bill. Finally, you should ask if there are any other extras to pay for before hiring the transportation (this one I learned on another occasion).