When traveling abroad, you may need a driver, translator, negotiator, and guide; here's how to hire one
Hiring a fixer without a background check has hazards, though, as Wright discovered. In India, she engaged a cab driver who at first seemed reliable and professional. Up until lunch, when he got very drunk. “It was pretty hairy. He was speeding down the road and trying to molest me. I was going to hit him with my Nikon, but it was new, so I had to really think, Do I really want to ruin my Nikon? Also, I could have killed him with it. Finally, I jumped out of the moving vehicle—and he ran after me and tried to kill me with a rock.” Several bystanders managed to subdue the cabbie, who was later jailed.
But sometimes the stars align. Travel and nature shooter Ethan Welty was wandering around Fès El Bali, Morocco, when he was approached by a young man. This turned out to be the son of one of the operators of a local tannery, where Welty shot the photo pictured in our photo gallery. “The Berber tannery is fairly hard to get into. This chamber was deep inside the complex. I definitely owe it to the chance encounter with the young man.”
As for payment, there may be a set fee, but often it comes down to negotiation with the fixer. “You can’t bargain effectively if you don’t know the proper value of a service,” says Haddad. “Ask your concierge for average prices. Research local firms that offer guided tours and services.”
Our shooters recommend fairness—within the realities of the local economy. “I don’t want to be paying American rates and making it difficult for the next person,” Wright says. All urge that you tip at the end for particularly good service, perhaps two days’ pay.
Payment can take other forms. Welty says it became clear that the Moroccan family was uncomfortable with taking money. “In Berber culture there is a huge emphasis on hospitality. So we wound up going out with the family in the evening and buying a whole bunch of food at the market, and had a big couscous feast.”
Even with the best fixer, you’ll have to practice the fine art of give and take. Wright recalls the three weeks she spent with her Ethiopian fixer, Alex, during which they became fast friends. He drove her nuts, though, by playing the same three songs by the singer Aster Aweke repeatedly on the car stereo. So at the end of the trip she gave him a full set of Aster’s CDs.
“ ‘But I already have all of them,’ Alex told me,” Wright recounts.
“You’re kidding me. Then why did we listen to the same three songs over and over?”
“ ‘Those are my favorites.’ ”