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Friday, April 21, 2006
Out of Iraq

Michael Totten's continuing series on his Iraq trip comes to an end, but not without major hassles. Definitely worth reading.

He pointed at himself and held up five fingers. Then he pointed at Sean and held up five fingers. Then he pointed at me and held up five fingers and said “No problem.” Then he pointed at himself, held up six fingers, and said “Problem.”

I knew what he meant. Each person could carry five cartons of cigarettes across the border without any problem. No one was allowed to carry six cartons. He wanted me to carry five cartons and he wanted Sean to carry five cartons.

“No problem,” he said again.

But it was a problem.

“Problem!” I said.

Many years ago I was vacationing in Acapulco. It was during one of Mexico's currency devaluation crises. The official exchange rate inside Mexico was 70 pesos to the dollar, but on the street you could get as much as 105 pesos to the dollar (because the market exchange rate in the US was 118). So if you changed your dollars into pesos at the official exchange rate, you'd only get 7,000 pesos for $100. But there was one problem; apparently the Mexican government recognized that the tourists would be angry if they got back to the US and tried to exchange their pesos back to dollars at the 118 to the dollar rate. So they had set up a special bank just past customs to change pesos into dollars at the 70 to the dollar rate.

So I'm going through customs and the guy looks around and says in a whisper, "Senor, you will change pesos into dollars for me?" Of course, what he wanted to do was give me, say 7,000 pesos, get those changed back into 100 dollars, and then he would turn around and convert the dollars back into pesos on the street, ending up with 10,500 pesos. Not bad money if you can get it.

But I'd heard bad things about Mexican prisons and I certainly had no desire to get any first hand experience. So I said no. The guy actually started wheedling with me, saying it was alright, everybody did it, so I said no, a little louder. Fortunately by then another group of people were coming up behind me so he probably decided to try another person.
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