It's 9:45 at night, Arturo (my international partner) and I were down in Pinas, Ecuador - 20 miles away from Arturo's house in Zaruma. We had just finished up at the processing facility; we had all of the 100-pound sacs organized and ready for shipment for the following morning. Like normal, Arturo and I flag down the nearest taxi. We get in the car and begin chatting with the driver. Arturo asked me if I had a business card that a specific driver had given me two days prior. I take my wallet out of my back pocket, check for the card, and never find it. I sit my wallet on the seat to my left.
As we arrive to Zaruma 30 minutes later, there is 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 drives into the middle of the party to drop us off. Arturo turns to me and says, "Do you have cash?" I immediately responded that I don't because I used it to pay for the last 100 pound bag of coffee earlier in the day. Arturo tells the driver to wait; he wanted to run into the local restaurant to ask for the $7 we needed. Meanwhile, cars are honking at the taxi, as we are completely blocking traffic. I see Arturo in the restaurant, and he waves for me to come in. Without thinking, I run into the restaurant. Arturo hands me the money. I sprint out to the taxi and hand him the $7 dollars. He leaves.
I finally take a minute to breathe. I make the short stroll to Arturo's place to get the money to pay back the restaurant. I get to his house and walk up to my room. As I get into my room, I tap my back pocket. My wallet is gone, along with my passport. I have my return flight at 9 o'clock the next morning.
Panicking, I race into the kitchen where Arturo and his wife, Anita, are preparing a late-night snack. I tell them that I left my wallet and passport in the taxi. Arturo glances over his left shoulder with wide yet immensely determined eyes. He doesn't hesitate. He tells me to grab a coat.
As we scurry through the town center and down the steps that lead up to the catholic church, Arturo calls 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 agrees to do so. Meanwhile, we trek through the streets of Zaruma and halt at the central hub for the Zarumian taxis. We wait and wait but to no avail. Most taxis that pass us are occupied due to the festivities taking place in the park. The few vacant taxis we encounter aren't willing to take us to Pinas and justifiably so. The money is to be made in Zaruma tonight.
25 minutes later, push has now come to shove. Arturo and I begin flagging down every vehicle we can find that is heading south bound. We ask 10 different people if they are heading to Pinas before we finally find a small family heading that way. Arturo and I get into the back of the truck and begin the 30-minute ride.
15 minutes in, I ask Arturo if he could call Gabriel to find out the latest. Arturo takes out his phone, clicks the contact icon, clicks on Gabriel's number, and boom. His phone dies. I quickly throw my hands into my right front pocket, pull out my phone, click on my home button, but it doesn't click. My phone is dead as well.
I hang my head, as negativity pervades my train of thought - What else could go wrong? Arturo senses this immediately. He tells me that we are going to find it. He tells 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 is furious. It's as if the taxi drivers in Pinas have no interest in helping us - So, Arturo and I scramble up to the central park, looking for someone who knows the location of the taxi center. Since it's 12 o'clock at night, there are only a handful of people out (Pinas is a much different city than Zaruma). Thankfully, Arturo finds one of his childhood friends sitting in a nearby vehicle..
20 minutes later, we arrive at the taxi headquarters. All lights are off. There isn't anyone around. We walk up to a gate that blocks a set of stairs that leads up to a two-story building.
Arturo shakes the gate. It is locked. He scurries around to the front of the building. He finds a rock and tosses it up towards a double-paned glass. He misses. He finds another rock and tosses it. It gently taps the window.
A young lady appears. "How can I help you?" she asks.
Arturo questions whether she is the one working the taxi control panel. She is. He explains the situation and asks her to radio the taxis. She agrees.
10 minutes later. Still no response from anyone. She pokes her head outside the window and asks us to describe the taxi driver. We give her a description and mention where he lives (Luckily, the taxi driver made a quick stop by his house before taking us to Zaruma earlier that night).
The young lady thinks about it for a moment. She knows exactly who it is. She mentions that the driver has stopped for the night. She says that the guy driving the taxi is not the actual owner of the vehicle. The owner lives 20 miles due south.
Calmly, Arturo smiles. He knows that this is a night for the ages. He politely asks the young woman to call the driver's cell phone and to plead for his help. She agrees.
A few seconds later, she sticks her head out the window and says, "He will be here in 45 minutes..."
45 minutes later, there's no taxi in site. Arturo can't take it any longer. He asks me to walk with him down to the local convenience store. He needs a cigarette (We've been working on his smoking habits for the past year but to no avail).
As we walk down to the convenience store, I can't help but to get anxious every time a car passes. With a cigarette fuming in his hand, Arturo signals a return to the station. On our walk we find an empty Johnnie Walker handle laying on the ground. Arturo picks it up, chuckles, and says, "This is a symbol of our night."
Over an hour and a half after the young lady told us the driver was coming, he finally arrives. I get into the back of the taxi cab and there it is, the wallet and passport. I thank the driver for returning and assure him I will adequately accommodate his honesty.
At 2:00 in the morning, Arturo and I arrive 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 places it on the dining room mantel. He tells me, "It'll never move."