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June 2004 Vol. 30, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cozumel Taxi Mafia Holds Tourists Hostage

from the June, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As unlikely as it sounds, Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Cozumel for years. Undercurrent subscriber Jeff Janek of Roanoke, TX, has been attending the week-long event since 1989 with friends, mixing diving with partying.

For the past two years, his group has stayed at the Reef Club, 15 minutes from downtown San Miguel. Each year they schedule a party in town, and in 2002 the Reef Club chartered a boat for the short trip. But last October the water was rough, so the Reef Club arranged for the group to go in four trucks configured like military personnel carriers.

"We all thought this was pretty cool," Janek recalls. At least at first. "About 80 of us piled into these carriers and headed off to town for a good time." But about half way there, taxis surrounded his convoy and forced it to a stop. "At one point," says Janek, "our driver had to hit his brakes hard enough to throw all 20 of us in my truck on top of each other! Our guide and drivers were all yelling in Spanish at the taxis. Pretty soon the police came and escorted our convoy to the police station. We were detained in the trucks for over an hour." Eventually they demanded to be released and then finished their trip into town on foot.

Cab fare from the Reef Club to the town runs about $14 per person, and Cozumel's infamous Taxi Mafia was upset that they were not getting that money. According to a local dive tourism insider (who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from the cabbies), it is against local law for taxis to block or impede other vehicles. But often they do it to discourage anyone else from providing transportation to tourists, "and nobody seems to do anything." Even though, in this case, the hotel had requested advance approval from the authorities (which is probably how the taxi drivers found out about the convoy in the first place).

Janek's experience should serve as a clear warning to visitors. Competition for the Cozumel tourist dollar is so fierce that the taxi drivers offended and inconvenienced 80 people, many of them hard core repeat visitors, just to make a point. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. But when in Cozumel, don't tick off the Taxi Mafia.

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