Sunday, March 16, 2008

Border Crossing

Although I don´t have a tourbook with me for Ecuador or Peru (my plans change too fast for my prepartion) I managed to do a bit of research on the border crossing down at Huaquillas. Some internet sites I read called it the most dangerous border crossing in South America...full of thieves. Dangerous...certainly could be I would say as it´s very disorganized and crowded. And walking through a crowd in the heat with your gear by yourself can get a little hairy.

Well, let me back up. Immigration on the Ecuador side of the border is a couple miles from the border itself, on the outskirts of the town of Huaquillas. I waited in a line of about 30 people for roughly 45 minutes before I got my stamp and was ready to move on. A kid had given me a bit of advice and waited for me so I allowed him to drive me on his motorbike into town. He was supposed to drop me off in front of the bridge that goes over the river marking the international boundary. Instead he dropped me off in front of some money changers. I´m well aware of the fact that a lot of these guys are scammers and that lots of fake money floats about...but I decided to check them out anyway. They offered me a reasonable rate for my $20 (not too high, not too low) so I had a look at the 50 sol note they wanted to give me. I have to say it looked pretty good from all angles. Now, I´ve seen videos in banks on how to recognize fake money so I had some idea on how to tell if it was fake or not. The holographs seemed to be there and the money did not tear easily as paper money is apt to do. The money down here is made of some kind of fabric much like ours. Anyway, the money seemed real to me, but I really didn´t like those guys so I didn´t change with them although I was receiving plenty of pressure to do so. I know that you don´t really have to have local money many can use I reckoned I´d just wait till I found a machine.

So I was feeling pretty good about myself after having avoided what I thought was a I walked away from those guys I was approached by another crook...we conversed about things and he told me I was probably right to not fool around with those guys. He offered to take me the rest of the way across the border and over to the Peruvian immigration located a mile or so from the boundary (much like the Ecuadorean side). Things went well with him, for $8 he took me across the bridge, through Peruvian Immigration and over to the nearest town called Tumbes, roughly 20 minutes away. $8 is not a great price for that service but I was tired and wanted to get going and not worry about saving a couple bucks.

So we got to the end of the road and he dropped me off in front of a van that was heading down to my destination of Mancora. As he stopped a bunch of guys start jabbering at me and trying to grab my bag to throw it in their van so I´d go with them. So as I´m fighting them off, I gave him a $20 for the $8 trip since I only had a $5 and a bunch of 20´s in my pocket. He returned my $20 saying he didn´t have change for a $ I argued a bit with him and eventually agreed to give him my $5 and my sunglasses (purchased in Lima 2 months ago for $3). This seemed fair to me so I went over to a different van service, offered to pay and was refused payment in dollars. Thus, I went off to the more ´official´ money changers who then informed me my $20 was fake. Upon was. The bill looked genuine...but what you have to go by is feel I´ve learned. The counterfeits are not going to be printed on fabric like the real ones...they´ll be made of paper and someone of experience can tell. The guy who called it out as fake took all of a millisecond to denounce it as fake. Anyway, what must have happened was my good friend the driver must have somehow switched it when I gave it so him during all the commotion. And so I was tricked and played for a fool. Taken for a $20. Honestly, I think I´d rather lose 1K in the stock market than lose $20 to a scam artist...but you can´t let these things get to you. I reckon I´m luckily this is the first time I´ve been scammed down here. With all the forewarning I got from my tourbook I should have known better, but then hindsight is always 20/20.

As far as the scams and thievings go...I´ve been very preoccupied with guarding my gear and pockets from pick-pockets since I first came to this continent 7 months ago. I generally don´t allow people to get too close to me as a safety measure. But what I think is more common, based on things I´ve seen, heard about, and been a part of, is trickery. Distractions play a big part in somehow parting you from what is yours...sometimes willingly. They also like to get you when you´re vulnerable with all of your gear with you. Between watching your bag, trying to figure out the conversation in Spanish, and dealing with people speaking to you from every direction it can get easy to lose focus on the $$, and that´s how they got me.

Oh well, as far as my new fake $20 goes...I´d thought briefly about passing it on to some other poor bastard. I have no doubt I could get away with it in the States as people don´t really check and just aren´t as aware of it. As I recounted the story to a young woman while I waited for the van, I ended up just giving it to her, as by that point I just wanted to forget the whole thing, and furthermore wanted no part in being a thief like the rest by trying to pass it on. She sympathized with me quite a bit, calling those guys shameless thieves...but then she goes and puts the bill in her purse. When I asked her 5 minutes later what she was going to do with it she tried to tell me that she´d given it to a different lady that had just left, which I know did not happen...she planned on using it herself at some point. Talk about shameless!

At any rate, I finally got to Mancora where I will spend the week. Seems very nice....

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