You’ve got to keep your wits about you when travelling. Especially when you visit a poorer country, as a tourist you are a walking wallet. When the average local earns roughly a hundredth of your wage, you can’t really blame them for occasionally trying to relieve you of a few coins. I’ve thrown together a few of the various backpacker scams I’ve come across on my travels. I’d love to say I was too witty and wily and outfoxed the devious local populace but… come on. It’s me. I’m a half wit.
Con: The ‘No Mister, You Count Wrong’
Did I fall for it? Nah
I’d read a lot about Cuban scams before arriving, so I was ready for this one. At the currency exchange, I handed over £330. The teller counted and handed me a wedge of Cuban Convertibles, and a receipt. I checked the receipt, and she’d apparently mistaken my £330 for £300. Hmm. After a brief nattering, she re-counted (twice) and finally agreed she made a mistake. You’ve got to get up very early in the morning to get one over on me, Cuba.
Con: The ‘Hey Man Let’s Have 15 Margaritas at 10am’
Did I fall for it? Sigh… Yes.
It seems Cuba took my advice and did get up very early in the morning, because hours after the currency exchange debacle I was robbed blind by a gold toothed street hustler. As I wandered around Havana like a baby gazelle, the eagle eyed Cuban spied me a mile off and scooped me up, whisking my grateful tourist self through a tour of very expensive cocktail bars, innocently requesting I pay for his drinks too, as he’s just a poor Cuban with a family. 8 margaritas, 2 packets of cigarettes and about £50 later, I collapsed sunburned and hammered on my hostel bed, wondering where the hell the last 3 hours went, and why my wallet was empty.
Con: The ‘Hold My Coconuts’
Did I fall for it? …yes.
Oh look, it’s a tiny Vietnamese man hobbling past with a bamboo pole slung over one shoulder, bowed with the weight of the buckets of coconuts hung off each end. Isn’t he cute. Oh, he looks tired. He’s asking for help! Well, I don’t want to be rude. Here, tiny Vietnamese man, allow me to take your burden while you have a drink. Oh no, nothing for me thank you. Oh, he’s making me a coconut drink anyway. Please stop sir, I don’t want- oh, he’s already sliced the coconut open, and I can’t resist because I’m crippled by the weight of his coconuts. How the hell was he carrying this? Look I don’t want the damn coconut – oh god this is heavy, please take it off me – no – oh fuck it just give me the damn drink here’s some money.
Con: The ‘Entirely My Own Fault’
Did I fall for it? Duh
Staggering through San Antonio with the previous night’s two bottles of wine sloshing in my stomach, I was in dire need of the Golden Arches. Seeking directions, I approached someone on a street corner, who turned out to be a homeless man. He offered to lead me to McDonalds if I gave him a few dollars. Sigh. Fair enough. Turns out McDonalds was literally 10 metres away, and I had simply failed to notice it through my bloodshot, sleep deprived eyeballs.
Con: The ‘Toss My Net’
Did I fall for it? …a bit
Sailing down the river on a chugging boat in Hoi An, we were taking in the pretty views when we caught sight of something magical. Two fishermen stood on their precariously floating boat, tossing their nets into the waters, sun beating down on their conical straw hats. We watched, enraptured. We waved to the fishermen. They waved back warmly, and began to punt their boat across the river to us. They pulled alongside, and beckoned me aboard. In a smiling, wordless exchange, they handed me an armful of netting and invited me to cast it into the water. I slung the net, and the weathered old fisherman jovially chastised me on my technique. He showed me the right technique, and I tried again, with more success. Laughing, I stepped off the boat and bid them farewell, turning my back.
Con: The ‘Get In My Basket’
Did I fall for it? Hook, line and fuckin’ sinker
We’d been in Saigon for an hour, and the roads are an unrelenting torrent of fume belching motorbikes. Terrified of crossing any road, we had simply walked in a square, around the block of the hotel. Two elderly Vietnamese man saw us, and rode over on their cyclos, tricycles with wicker seats strapped to the front. We said we just wanted to find a bar, and they offered to take us to one nearby, free of charge. Endlessly grateful, we hopped in and they whisked away into the thunderous traffic, eventually dropping us at a bar.
After we finished our drinks, we emerged into the sun, and realised we were totally lost. But wait! Would you believe, old cyclo man and his pal were still there, ready to take us home – although this time, of course, it require a small payment. “15”, they quoted us, which I assumed meant 15,000 Vietnamese Dong; about 50 pence. I agreed, and even planned to tip a few thousand Dong. After taking us the very long way home, though, it turned out he had actually meant… 1,500,000… about £50. Ah. Marvelous.
Con: The ‘Phantom Drug Dealer’
Did I fall for it? Obviously
The most bloody cheeky of all, and my favourite con for exactly that reason. What a tit I am.
On the beach, I sat with a friend and about 6 locals, sharing a bottle of rum and some weed rolled up in a leaf. After I took a drag, one Fijian, Timo, leaned over and whispered “smoke weed”? It would have been hard to claim otherwise, with the smoke curling out of my nostrils. He offered to get me some, for 20 dollars. He said if I gave him the money, he’d go pick it up for me the next day and meet me in the same spot, same time, the next evening. Cool, I shrugged, the rum and the sea breeze clouding my judgement.
I spent an hour slumped in a hammock the next evening, nursing a hangover and keeping my eyes peeled for a ganja-toting Timo strolling down the beach. He never came. His friend wandered past at one point, and tutted in shame at Timo’s wrongdoing, before giving me a ‘that’s life’ shrug and wandering off to the bar. It wasn’t long before I gave up, and shuffled off after him.
Damn you, Timo. One day, I shall find you, and I shall take what is mine. £6 worth of marijuana.