Saturday, May 21, 2011

Currency on the Black Market

Daryll writes:

After spending 6 nights along Lake Malawi, it was time to leave tranquil Malawi behind us and cross into Tanzania.  Our last campsite though along the lake proved to be another amazing site where we were the only ones – we did luck out again.  The downside though was the 4km of sand, deep only in some spots where I walked the bike through.  I almost lost it getting to the campsite, but managed to keep the bike upright.  We had some Quecha (Malawi currency) left over and desperately tried to change it into Shillings (Tanzania currency) at various banks at the last town before the TZ border.  The 3 banks we stopped at didn’t have any Shillings and suggested that we change it at the border on the black market.  While in the parking lot at one of the banks, we met a group of 4 English overlanders in a landrover that had just entered into Malawi.  They had tried to enter Libya in February and were turned bank and had to backtrack to Italy and take the ferry directly to Egypt to continue their trip south.  This option is becoming more and more the plan for us once we get to Egypt as things aren’t looking good in Syria at the moment.

At the Malawi border, once we processed ourselves and the bikes, we needed to change the Malawi currency that we had.  Even though the banks that we had visited earlier in the day had suggested us use the black market at the border, it is still illegal and the police that patrol the border keep an eye on the suspected money changers.  We discreetly spoke to a few guys while standing at the bikes and settled on a rate for the exchange and then had to walk down an alley to a small shop where we will do the transaction.  I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen.  Ang stayed with the bikes while Dom and I went down the alley passing little shops and everyone looking at us strangely.  It was stinking hot, but I kept my riding jacket on as I had cash in various of the pockets, so I was dripping with perspiration.  When we got to the little soda shop – yup that’s all they sold, I had to pretend to buy some water as a policeman walked by – really, he just thought that these 2 tourists walked all the way passed all the other shops to buy a coke.  Dom literally had my back as we did the transaction as a groups of guys sat around the shop watching us.  The guy that I was dealing with went to another guy who pulled out a wad of cash from his sock and started counting the money out.  We were almost done and they had owed me a remaining 6,000 shillings and gave me 600 shillings instead.  it was so obvious that they were trying to rip me off and I said no.  He apologized and said it was a mistake and gave me the correct money back.  Really, they do try to rip you off point blank.

Once we got back to the bikes, it was time to get to the Tanzanian side which was the easiest so far.  The border officials were joking with us and it was pretty quick for us to exit the border and stop just past the gates to sort out our insurance.  I ended up getting the COMESA Insurance (Yellow Card) that will be good till we exit Egypt.  Dom had decided to use the guys that had surrounded the bikes to change a bit more money and all hell broke loose.  The guy that he was using was shorting him 90,000 shillings and counted really fast and was rushing Dom.  With the heat bearing down on all of us, Dom handed me the cash and asked for me to re-count.  I came up with the same figure and we were still 90,000 shillings short.  I was starting to loose it.  I had more guys yelling at me and trying to convince me that the amount was right.  I shoved the money back to the changer and said that we aren’t going to change our money with him.  As soon as I did that, the crowd seemed to have disappeared and then another guy handed us cash to count.  Dom agreed on a rate and we counted it out and it was correct this time round.  Dom handed him the US currency and we started to put our gear back on.  The money changer came back to us and said that we owed him change.  More guys started approaching us and started shoving the US currency back to Dom.  We stuck to our guns and continued getting ready to leave.  It wasn’t looking good.  Dom asked Ang to start her bike and get going and we will follow as we weren’t sure if they would chase us down.  We continued saying that we had agreed on a rate and refused to give them the US currency back said that we were going to leave, started the bikes and hit the road.  The guys didn’t follow us, good thing.

Gang of money changers

As we rode into Tanzania, we climbed to an elevation of 2200m.  The temperature dropped, so much so that I was forced to zip up all my vents while riding and then descended to about 1700m onto a plateau of tea plantations.  There was tea growing as far as the eye can see. From the research we had done, there wasn’t any formal camping near the town of Mbeya, the first town we would have got to after the Tanzanian border.  There was however a mission (The Karibuni Centre) that offered camping on the lush grass of their volleyball court for a small fee.  The downside was that it was right next to the Church so we got the full effect of the church service both in the evening and in the morning.  The singing was good though, so I shouldn’t complain.  There were lots of foreign missionaries busying them around the property; I greeted a few, but they didn’t reciprocate – possibly bikers were associated with Satin.

The Karibuni Centre

From Mbeya, we were making our way to Dar Es Salaam but had to stop midway for the night.  It wasn’t a particularly exciting day.  We were in the saddle for most of the day covering 475km with lots of rest and fuel stops in-between.  We passed through several small villages where the speed limit dropped to 50km/hr and after my ticket in Malawi, I slowed right down.  There were speed humps on either side of the villages and there would be police with radar guns every so often, so we were forced to slow down.  More good luck when we arrived at our camping spot for the night in the middle of a Boabab forest.  We were the only ones there yet again.  After eating our own dinner, the staff made us a fire and we spent the rest of the evening around a campfire. 

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles

 New photos added to the Malawi photo album.
Digg this

No comments:

Post a Comment