On Thursday night, I shared a cab with novalis and other colleagues. I was at a different hotel, so we dropped them off first. The cab took me on to my hotel. When I tried to pay the driver, he got very agitated and started speaking Portuguese to me, which I don't understand. He wasn't happy with the amount of money that I gave him for some reason. I couldn't figure out why. According to the meter, it was more than enough.
All of the cabs have done something kind of odd here, which is that they pull a chart out from their pocket, look up the number on the meter, and charge you something different (more). Even the Brazilian residents that I've talked to here don't understand what they are doing, but the theory is that it has something to do with the fact that the taxes can change so the meter may not be quite up-to-date. It doesn't seem to be a scam.
Anyway, the amount of money I gave him was more than what was on the card. He called the hotel employee at the curb over, and gave me some change. He spoke to the hotel employee, who looked at me and indicated (without speaking English), that the amount was correct. I guess the driver was trying to prove to me that it was not a scam. The only thing I can think of is that he was mad at me for not having something closer to exact change.
I walked into the hotel. It was the wrong hotel.
Why didn't I notice this earlier? Because it was in fact a Hotel Continental, but it was not my Hotel Continental. I had only been in the lobby of my hotel briefly, once, earlier in the day after coming from my flight when I was tired and confused. I was pretty sure this was the wrong place, but I wasn't positive — maybe there were two entrances and I had come in the other one — so I went up to the desk.
I showed them my key and a piece of paper with the hotel address on it. He confirmed that I was at the wrong hotel. Only for some reason, he had taken my key and thrown it into a pile on the desk. I asked him for my key back. He gave me a different key — with the right room number on it. I tried to explain that this was the wrong key, gesturing toward the pile of keys and even pulling out the phrase book. This caused the attendant to call security. Security spoke a bit of English. There was a somewhat heated conversation between the attendant and Security.
They understood that I was at the wrong hotel, and they were willing to call me a taxi. Probably I could have just left at that point, and just gotten a replacement key at my hotel, but I really didn't want to take any chances.
Finally, at Security's urging, Attendant went over to the pile of keys and pulled out my key. The attendant called the other Hotel Continental and verified that I was checked into that room, and gave me the key back. Attendant and Security laughed heartily. The whole negotiation took easily 20 minutes. We shook hands, they called me a cab and sent me on my way.
I now know what my hotel looks like, and to be very careful to show them the street address of the hotel when I take the taxi.
Despite this problem, taxis here are incredibly cheap and easy to use. I wish we had such a system in Boston.