• Scott Montgomery

Homestay with my Taxi Driver's Family and Getting Robbed in Piura

My taxi driver invited me to stay the night with his family after I’d missed my bus. Even though I almost got robbed by one of their neighbors, making the decision to stay with this local family was one of the highlights from my travels in Peru.

Delays on arriving to Piura and I missed my bus

“Don’t worry we’re on our way,” the driver of the van reassured me yet again. He continued loading the shared van and I looked at my watch: it was 2:55 pm and I was on my way to catch a bus from Piura that was due to leave at 5:00 pm. According to all accounts, the trip from Mancora to Piura takes 2 hours, no more and no less. “But maybe,” I thought to myself, “with a rushed driver, and favorable traffic conditions, we can still make it.”

After another 20 minutes waiting for the van to fill, the driver frantically ushered us into the car, waving and screaming, “come on it’s time to go. The gringo’s paying for the extra seat.” My fellow companions meandered into the car, taking their places three to a row, and we were off, accelerating into the seaside expanse of flat desert, lurching nearly to a halt before endless speedbumps, swerving along looping switchbacks that traced along ravines and cliffsides of the jagged hillsides stripped of vegetation. Entire hilltops were bulldozed into tabletops where into the horizon stretched the rusted machinery from hundreds of oil wells.

In the distance from the passenger side of the car was the vivid blue ocean below, shrouded by mist, which we eventually veered away from and traveled farther inland towards Piura, a city that most tourists pass by but rarely stop to visit.”Get in, get out,” was the advice I heard from several locals in Mancora.

I get stranded in Piura and my cab driver invites me to stay the night with his family

When we got to the outskirts of Piura, I jumped out of my van and I flicked down the first cab that I saw, which was a beaten up four-door sedan which I was reassured that was actually a taxi because of the checkered painting along the side. I was loaded down with an expedition backpack on my back, a day pack on my chest, and a musical instrument under my arms. On seeing this, the driver got out of this car to help me with my things. He was a young man no older than 20 years old with freshly cut, jelled, and spiked hair. He then offered me the front seat of the car, and before I could catch my breath or could explain that I was in a hurry, he started asking questions. “Where are you from?” “Why are you traveling in Peru?” “Do you have children?”

“I’d love to talk, but I’ve got a bus that’s about to leave. Can you take me to the Cruz del Sur office?” I asked him, but only received a blank stare. He clearly didn’t know where the office was located. After 20 minutes of driving around the city, he pronounced that he was lost. By this time I knew that the bus had long since taken off without me, meaning that I would have to spend a night in this strange city before the next bus left for Tarapoto.

By this time, we’d already chatted up a storm. He had learned that I was backpacking across Peru, and was on my way to live in a rustic jungle healing center, that I was writing a book, that I was not married, and that I had a masters degree as a creative writer. I had learned from him that he was in school for psychology, that he came from a Christian family, and that when he wasn’t studying, he moonlit as a taxi driver by leasing his uncle’s cab. I got a feeling that he was an honest and friendly person, and it, therefore, didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to take him up on his offer to stay the night with his family instead of going to a dumpy hostel.

“You can come to stay with us! My mom is an amazing cook. She is a very humble, respectful person and I only live there with my two cousins. You’ll be our guest, You can sleep in my room and I’ll sleep on the sofa in our living room, and you can make yourself at home. ” he assured me.

I arrived to stay with my taxi driver’s family

And so we drove to the outskirts of Piura. In the process of our drive, the pavement ended and Deryls had to slow down in order to avoid the numerous potholes. We approached his house, which was located inside of a small convenience store that his mom and his sisters ran the store when I entered was bustling with women. It was clear that this was a hub of the neighborhood and an important space, not only for people to buy provisions for their house, but also community space. My friend ushered me to the back of the house into his room, where he cleared everything off of his bed, and he grabbed his necessary supplies helped me take my backpack off my back. He then left to complete his taxi shift, not returning until late that night.

Half an hour later, his mother came into the room. She was very short and wore a smile a gracious smile. After knocking softly on my door, she carefully opened it in order to hand me a freshly cooked meal. After speaking with her for several minutes, I learned several interesting things. She told me that she wakes every morning at 4 am to clean and to open their convenience store before heading to the city market in order to fill their family cab with packaged goods, a garbage bag of meat, bags of vegetables, and basic fruits.

She explained that their family moved from the mountains about 10 years ago so that Derlys could have a better education than in the rural community they once lived in. Shortly after they made the move to Piura, other family members followed. Sarita, Deryl’s cousin, is going to school on weekends to finish high school so that she can go to college to become a nurse.

I got robbed

I woke up the next morning and I was excited to explore my new surroundings. It was a place that had never been, and I felt emboldened by recognizing that 99% of travelers to Peru don’t get to have this sort of experience of having an impromptu homestay with the taxi driver that you meet on the way to your bus stop. And so I took out my Sony mirrorless camera. Not thinking twice about there being any safety issue, considering that the neighborhood was bustling with people walking to and fro, it felt safe because there were people all around. And so I put my eyes to the eyepiece of my camera and snapped a photo of a passing car when I was suddenly seized from behind. With brute force, he tried to pry the camera from my hands while smothering me from above. I collapsed to the ground in an attempt to guard my camera.

I held on to the camera by its strap with all of my might screaming “no, no, no!”, but he broke the camera free from the strap and I watched as he ran off with my prized possession. I was so shaken from the encounter that my shoes had been thrown from my feet, which didn’t even matter. I took off running after him screaming “thief! thief!”

Luckily to my surprise, he turned the corner and ran right past the house I was staying at, where one of the daughters of the family had emerged just when he was approaching. While shooting him a piercing glance, she screamed at him. “Carlos! What are you doing? He’s family! Give me the camera!” It was her stern glance, the tone of her voice, and her dominating tone and stature that was no match for him. He immediately broke from his sprint, bowed his head in shame, handed her the camera, and continued walking, disappearing around a corner.

During the rest of the morning, women from the neighborhood entered the shop to make their purchases, expressing shock at what had happened. “I thought people were just playing,” said one woman. Another explained to me “that just happens around here if people don’t know who you are. Don’t go out unless you are with somebody who lives in the neighborhood.” Yet another woman let out a sigh of exasperation while muttering under her breath “Shameful, shameful. Bandits!” A few minutes later, one of the thief’s friends came to the shop to apologize and to explain himself. “We didn’t know he was family, excuse me! how were we supposed to know?” he told to the women at the shop.

Surprisingly, this encounter didn’t taint my experience of living with this family. They still treated me as a guest, and on the hour before I was to leave for my bus, together we prepared ceviche and shared one last meal together. I learned about the importance of being spontaneous and about the importance of bridging connection. And this, to this day remains one of my most memorable experiences while living in Peru. Before I we parted ways, Deryls gave me a giant hug and said to me “you know when something happens to you that you don’t realize will change your life? Meeting you and becoming friends has been like that. Let’s stay in touch.”

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