Today we were stupid gringos
** As you read this story, you have to put into perspective the fact that we still don’t fully understand Spanish so the language barrier made this situation more difficult to discern. **
This morning, Bobby & I left the kids to play at a friend’s house and we headed to Quito to teach a children’s ministry workshop. On a busy street not far from our house, several different people on different sides of the road – different blocks kept pointing fervently at our tire and trying to tell us something was wrong. We pulled over and were looking at the car when a man approached us dressed in mechanic’s clothes and said he saw the tire wobbling badly. He began to look at the interior side of the tire and pulled out a plastic part that was broken. He told us he was a mechanic and could fix this for only $2 but that it was a very urgent and serious problem.
So he got into the truck with us to take us to his shop. All the way he kept telling Bobby to drive slowly and carefully (furthering our panic over how “dangerous” this problem was with the car). He took us to a place about 4 blocks away from where we started out but it wasn’t a business, just a spot on the side of the road that wasn’t so busy. He ran to the corner to get his tools and another person to help.
They lifted the truck with our jack and the new guy started working under the truck. He had Bobby turn the engine on and keep turning the steering wheel different directions, etc. After a couple minutes, he had Bobby get out and look at the problem. One of the bars for the steering system (connecting the tire to the main bar) was loose. They kept asking us if we’d hit a pothole or something. Well of course, you can’t drive 2 feet here without hitting a pothole so that was a rhetorical question. The new guy said the whole bar needed to be replaced and showed us the problems, etc. He said it should cost $20 and he would go buy the part and show us the receipt, etc. Now we were sitting without any ability to drive away because that bar had been removed – so we agreed.
The man returned with an “engineer” from the parts store who was dressed REALLY nice – his coveralls had all the appropriate logo patches, etc. This man had with him a box with the new part we needed. He showed us every little part … the bolts, the washers, the whachmacalits… all had the stamp showing they were made in Japan, etc. He gave those to the guy who was doing all the work and that guy began putting the new parts on our truck. During this time, they kept telling Bobby to keep the brakes pressed and told me to sit in the car also to balance the weight. The “engineer” began talking to us and writing up the receipt. He wrote down each little part of the apparatus and then began saying each little piece was like $80 … totaling up to $800!!!!
Well, of course, we knew that was insane so we began fighting with the man (all the while the other guy is finishing the repair work). He eventually gave us a “discount” to $600. At this point we called a taxi driver friend to see if he could come and help us. We didn’t know what street we were on so we asked the men to tell us. They told us an incorrect street name sending our friend to a completely different section of town.
The man finished the work and we were still fighting with the engineer. We were asking one of them to go with us to our mechanic that we know and whatever price our guy said was justified, we would pay. But we were not going to pay them anything without verification. The engineer tried to get us to leave a deposit with him, etc.
Eventually, I walked ahead a little bit and saw a street sign and realized we were lied to so we called our taxi driver friend and got him pointed in the right direction. We continued to maintain our ground and not pay anything. One by one, the men walked off to do this or that and when our friend arrived, the 3 men were nowhere to be found. Our friend informed us that we had been tricked. They didn’t change ANYTHING on the car. We looked underneath and sure enough all they had done was clean up our parts and put grease all over them. So we just drove away and went to our regular mechanic. In all of the banging to show us the damage, they actually DID damage something, but it is nothing major and can be repaired for $20.
We were very blessed that God protected us in that these men were only scam artists and not more violent criminals who would harm us and/or take the truck.
Of course, looking back, we can now see the whole elaborate scheme and cannot believe that we fell for it – but we DID. We thank God for protecting us in our ignorance. I think if we had fully understand the language we would never have fallen for this – but we did! This group was VERY organized with at least 5 different people in on the scheme and VERY well dressed.
Eventually, we made it to our workshop – 2 HOURS LATE – but everyone had waited on us and we ended up having a great day.