We like to think of ourselves as backpacking “vets”. We’re not rookies, we’ve been travelling a long time, we know the ways of the world and we know what to do and what not to do, right?
We had this humbling experience while trying to cross by land from Malawi to Tanzania. It was supposed to be about a 4-5 hour travel day, but of course, everything took longer than expected! We had been travelling all day, from 10:00am to 7:00pm, through many dusty towns, switching transportation more times than we’d like to count. Two of the vehicles we were in literally ran out of gas and we had to walk until we found another form of transportation – being in Malawi during the fuel shortage was not ideal.
We arrived at the border, exhausted, sweating, starving and totally fed up with the travel days we’d been having lately. We were going to change our Malawi Kwacha for Tanzanian Shillings at the exchange booth, but figured we could get a better rate on the black market.
As soon as we arrived in Tanzania, the money peddlers could smell us coming. We were swarmed by about 10 guys all saying “I’ll give you a good deal man” “Change money, you have USD?”. We said no. They dispersed. Then one guy came back and we figured…how bad could it be dealing with just one guy?
We counted out our money, Nick had his calculator out, we agreed on a rate (one that was really good) and prepared to do the swap. When we handed over the money, we were swarmed again by all sorts of guys offering motorbike rides, food, money exchange, places to sleep, etc. Basically they were just there to be a distraction and mess with our minds.
The man we had given our money to said we didn’t pay him enough and the deal was off. We were both 100% sure that the guy didn’t give us the right amount of money we were expecting either. So, we both swapped our money back and just like that, everyone was gone.
What was left was me and Nick standing there as if we’d just been hit by a tornado.
We counted the money and realized that we were short about the equivalent of $40. The guys had such an amazing sleight of hand that he was able to fold our money up and pocket some of it right in front of us! They were perfect at distracting us and basically, we just got duped! We just stood there totally in awe of what had just happened.
We know better than that! What were we thinking? This was probably the most disastrous entrance into a country that we’ve ever made. In the end, we’re glad it was just $40…but when you’re backpacking, $40 is a lot of money. It could have been worse though, they could have robbed or hurt us.
We had changed money on the black market before and it had worked out in our favour, but not this time! Note to self and other readers, if something seems shady or too good to be true, then it’s probably best to walk away.
Have you ever been scammed while traveling? Share with us below!
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