It was 9:45 at night. Arturo (my international partner) and I were down in Pinas, Ecuador, 20 miles away from his house in Zaruma. We had just finished up at the processing facility and had all of the 100-pound sacks of coffee organized and ready for shipment the following morning. Like normal, Arturo and I flagged down the nearest taxi. We got in the car and began chatting with the driver. Arturo asked me if I had a business card that a specific driver had given me two days prior. I took my wallet out of my back pocket, checked for the card, but never found it. I sat my wallet on the seat to my left.
As we arrived in Zaruma 30 minutes later, there was a huge party going on in the street. Zaruma does not have an Independence Day– they have an Independence Week. Instead of dropping us off outside of all the ruckus, the taxi driver drove into the middle of the party. Arturo turned to me and said, “Do you have cash?” I immediately responded that I didn’t because I’d used it to pay for the last 100-pound bag of coffee earlier in the day. Arturo told the driver to wait. He wanted to run into the local restaurant to ask for the $7 we needed. Meanwhile, cars were honking at the taxi as we had completely blocked traffic. I saw Arturo in the restaurant, and he waved for me to come in. Without thinking, I ran into the restaurant, and Arturo handed me the money. I sprinted out to the taxi and handed the driver $7 dollars. He left.
I finally took a minute to breathe. I made the short stroll to Arturo’s place for the money to pay back the restaurant. I got to his house and walked up to my room. As I got there, I tapped my back pocket. My wallet was gone– along with my passport! I had my return flight at 9 o’clock the next morning!
Panicking, I raced into the kitchen where Arturo and his wife, Anita, were preparing a late-night snack. I told them that I’d left my wallet and passport in the taxi. Arturo glanced over his left shoulder with wide yet immensely determined eyes. He didn’t hesitate. He told me to grab a coat.
As we scurried through the town center and down the steps that lead to the Catholic church, Arturo called his nephew, Gabriel, who lives in Pinas to ask him if he would get the central taxi facility to announce the mishap over the radio. Gabriel agreed to do so. Meanwhile, we trekked through the streets to the central hub for Zarumian taxis. We waited and waited but to no avail. Most taxis that passed us were occupied due to the festivities taking place in the park. The few vacant taxis we did encounter weren’t willing to take us to Pinas and justifiably so. The money was in Zaruma.
Twenty-five minutes later, push had come to shove. Arturo and I began flagging down every vehicle we could find that was southbound. We asked ten different people if they were heading to Pinas before we finally found a small family heading that way. Arturo and I got into the back of the truck and began the 30-minute ride.
I asked Arturo if he could call Gabriel to find out the latest. Arturo took out his phone, clicked the contact icon, clicked on Gabriel’s number, and boom… His phone died! I quickly pulled out my phone, clicked on my home button, but it wouldn’t click. My phone was dead as well.
I hung my head as negativity pervaded my train of thought… What else could go wrong? Arturo sensed my worry immediately. He told me that we were going to find it. He told me to button up my coat.
“Can you tell the drivers that a passport and wallet was left in the back seat of a car?”
“The administrator already has. No one answered.”
“Can you do it again? This is serious.”
“Most taxis have stopped for the night.”
Arturo was furious. It was as if the taxi drivers in Pinas had no interest in helping us. So Arturo and I scrambled up to the central park looking for someone who knew the location of the taxi center. Since it was midnight, there were only a handful of people out (Pinas is a much different city than Zaruma). Thankfully, Arturo found one of his childhood friends sitting in a nearby vehicle.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the taxi headquarters. All the lights were off. There wasn’t anyone around. We walked up to a gate that blocked a set of stairs leading up to a two-story building.
Arturo shook the gate. It was locked. He scurried around to the front of the building, found a rock, and tossed it up towards a double-paned glass window. He missed. Arturo found another rock and tossed it. It gently tapped the window. A young lady appeared.
“How can I help you?”
Arturo asked whether she was the one working the taxi control panel. She was. He explained the situation and asked her to radio the taxis. She agreed.
Ten minutes later and still no response from anyone. She poked her head outside the window and asked us to describe the taxi driver. We gave her a description and mentioned where he lived. Luckily, the taxi driver made a quick stop by his house before taking us to Zaruma earlier that night.
The young lady thought about it for a moment. She knew exactly who it was. She mentioned that the driver had stopped for the night. She said that the driver wasn’t the actual owner of the vehicle. The owner lived 20 miles due south.
Calmly, Arturo smiled. He knew that this was a night for the ages. He politely asked the young woman to call the driver’s cell phone and to plead for his help.
A few seconds later, she stuck her head out the window and said, “He will be here in 45 minutes.”
The 45 minutes passed, but there was no taxi in sight. Arturo couldn’t take it any longer. He asked me to walk with him down to the local convenience store. He needed a cigarette. We’d been working on his smoking habits for the past year but to no avail.
On the way to the convenience store, I couldn’t help but get anxious every time a car passed. With a cigarette fuming in his hand, Arturo signaled a return to the station. We found an empty Johnnie Walker bottle laying on the ground. Arturo picked it up, chuckled, and said, “This is a symbol of our night.”
Over an hour and a half later, the taxi driver finally arrived. I got into the back of the taxi cab, and there it is– the wallet and passport. I thanked the driver for returning and assured him I would adequately accommodate his honesty.
At 2:00, Arturo and I arrived at his house for the second time that night, this time with my wallet and passport in hand. Arturo takes the Johnnie Walker bottle and placed it on the dining room mantel. He told me, “It’ll never move.”
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