Money for noth­ing and the les­son is free

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - AN­GELA PARR

I MAKE a face at my hus­band as I read aloud from the guide­book’s sec­tion on cur­rency ex­change tricks. ‘‘It’s al­ways im­por­tant to be alert for poor ex­change rates, folded notes and clipped news­pa­per sand­wiched be­tween le­git­i­mate notes.’’

We are in bustling Chipata, Zam­bia, 30km from the Malaw­ian bor­der. The town is ru­moured to have nu­mer­ous for­eign ex­change bureaus and banks with ATMs, but it is af­ter 5pm and all are closed.

We are de­part­ing early the next morn­ing to travel a bonecrunch­ing 140km by road to South Luangwa Na­tional Park. With­out civil­i­sa­tion for the next three days, and with a des­per­ate need to buy sup­plies, we are left with lit­tle choice but to try our luck with the un­of­fi­cial street­based mon­ey­chang­ers.

We are sea­soned trav­ellers so, with a deep breath, I bravely step into a sea of young African males, all press­ing in on us, hands thrust­ing fist­fuls of notes into our faces from all di­rec­tions.

I have man­aged to de­ter my hus­band from chang­ing any more than $US50, and so we go boldly into battle, tena­ciously clutch­ing our one green­back note. The Zam­bian kwacha is roughly worth $US0.0001, so we know we need to re­ceive 10 notes of 50,000 value. Oblig­a­tory hag­gling com­pleted, my hus­band care­fully in­spects the one note prof­fered to us as ev­i­dence of a good deal. Yes it is 50,000 kwacha. The re­main­ing notes are quickly dealt out, un­til he holds a small pile in his hand. Du­ti­fully my hus­band counts. Eleven? One ex­tra?

A slim hand snakes over the top and plucks the top note from the pile. ‘‘This one mine, re­mem­ber?’’ says the mon­ey­changer with a smile. Ah, yes. We hand over our $US50 and quickly leave to find the gro­cery store be­fore it shuts.

As I am stuff­ing the notes into my money pouch, I no­tice their in­di­vid­ual val­ues. We have been given 5000 kwacha notes, not the agreed-upon 50,000. No won­der he took back the top note, as it was the only one of that de­nom­i­na­tion in the pile. Ev­ery­thing un­der­neath it, while sim­i­lar in de­sign and colour, is only one-10th of its value. We now hold the equiv­a­lent of $US5 in our hands.

‘‘Quick! Let’s go back and see if they are still there!’’ I cry.

Of course they have van­ished into the wind. I have vi­sions of the scoundrels spy­ing from be­hind a build­ing some­where, brazenly laugh­ing about us.

They were so slick, so well prac­tised in their art of de­cep­tion. And we (who pride our­selves on be­ing so worldly) clearly still have much to learn.

At ev­ery money trans­ac­tion there­after, I take charge, cal­cu­la­tor in hand, scru­ti­n­is­ing ev­ery note to en­sure an hon­est deal takes place. A hard les­son has been learned. RANT OR RAVE Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive a Cor­ban & Blair Duet travel jour­nal in pink/red and Duet travel wal­let in blue/red (pic­tured; to­tal value $84). The Duet range is made from gen­uine split leather and fea­tures con­trast­ing leather de­tail with a metal but­ton en­clo­sure. More: (02) 9560 0122; cor­ban­blair.com.au. Send your con­tri­bu­tion to: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au.

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