Ripping off locals: a handy guide

I swear one of these days I’ll stop writing, probably when my fingers get chopped off by some corrupt African cops, though at that point I bet you I’d try and just stump-stump some entries so you folks can still receive enlightening advice that all intrepid adventurers can use during their endeavors. Yeah, that’s it – it wouldn’t have anything to do with me stuck in a small African hellhole town on an obscure island off the coast of that same continent, bored out of my skull as I can’t even find a decent god damned beer as half the population is Islamic and the other half is so hopped up on local juice that they can’t even tell me where in the hell to get some: they just shrug, give me that half-toothless grin that the Africains like to give, drool a little bit, and get me pissed off.

Yeah, par for the course. If I didn’t like the local color (ha!) then I should have never have come, but you know, I’m a vagabond wanderer, and occasionally you get stuck in these small stupid towns with names you can’t pronounce and the dude running the dala-dala dirka-dirka shared taxi-bus-matatu ride the next morning is nowhere to be found. So you find the local flophouse, harass the one dodgy and loose woman in town, and start smoking some local cigarettes and sipping that “Belgian” scotch you had smuggled in with your luggage. What can I say, I’m not different than the others.

But I’m not telling you anything new. You’ve all done it before, been there done that, gotten bored, got the “mzungu” t-shirt and picked a few tourist pockets yourself while hanging out in the African market. Hey, things do go both ways in these places, damned straight, and it’s worth your while to understand that the local yokels can be hosed out of their money just as effectively to them as they do it to you. My good old friend George W. Bush used to call this a “pre-emptive strike” or something to that effect, but I just call it by that good old fashioned British English word, pragmatism.

Excuse me while I sip some more cheap scotch and brush the small ants off my arms, stuck in this squalid room, listening to the occasional motorbike and squeaky oxcart outside rattle by, locals just down the hall mouthing off at the telee over the football game between two countries no one cares about. Hell, there’s little else to do, but I tell you back in that last town I had to get out quick. Real quick. Damn, ants are biting, get off!

Thing is that most of the local touts see it as a one-way experience, take you to be some rich asshole who just is wholly entitled to hand over more cash than usual, or even more cash than is unusual, for the opportunity to visit their blessed one-horse shit African (or Asian) town by God’s grace of allowing your crappy bus service to just ditch you in the middle of town unceremoniously until another claptrap with wheels (or legs) shows up. But I’m not bitter or anything; hey, it happens, and it’s a good chance to hide in the shadows and check out the local’s pockets intimately. (Not like that, you perverts! You go to Arabia for that!)

So sit back and relax and dilute your “orange flavoured drink” to just the right taste to suit your own, because I have plenty of sound advice for my loyal readers on that ever so elusive topic on how to, in fact, effectively rip off the locals. Profit before people, right? Who says you can’t feed off the urban wildlife and keep yourself going?

We can start with the easy stuff – jumping out of a taxi. Can work in big cities, but you have to know the neighborhood and what direction to run in. Don’t assume he knows the city better than you do – though he probably does – but just bolt. When that “idle” conversations comes up in the cab, always give a fake hotel address, fake name, fake nationality. Just fake it all, he’s not asking you for your benefit: he’s asking in case he needs to call up his brother in law’s cousin to break your kneecaps because you bolted before paying. Simple stuff, really, and this effective method of ripping off the locals is a good way to get some practice.

Step two, the old switcheroo. But let me swat these mosquitoes off my shoulders first, it’s tough with this level of girth to keep yourself bite free in tropical backwaters I tell you. Try pouring that “orange” drink on your bites if they do manage to nab you, it makes a great sterilizer.

Anyways the method is this: get him to give you the money, give him your money, give him back your money. Keep going around like this, negotiating the price, saying he needs change, on and on, around and around. He’ll get confused with his third-grade education, and eventually you’ll have both piles of cash in your hand, at which point you agreeably agree to his agreeable demeanor, shake his hand, and walk away. He or she will feel pretty good about the transaction for an hour or so, at which point he’ll get quite shit-crazy. Therefore I recommend fleeing by taxi, and following the advice I mentioned in step one.

Finally, there’s the old standby of the “free” hotel, or free as can be. This is advanced ripped-offedness so it’s important to practice the last two beforehand. Sure, when checking out you can play the money-swapping trick, or the taxi-jumping play, but it’s much easier to simply get up early and bolt. Seem too dumb? Fine, jump out the back window, see if I care. Do it around four in the morning before even the muslims are up and you’ll have plenty of time to get down to the dirty bus station and say “hey mans, you need need NEED to put me on that next dirka-dirka outta here!”

Yeah, it can be that easy. And of course there are other more exotic ways of ripping off the locals – feeding your tour guide to the animals, shoplifting, slipping cockroaches into the food at restaurants, but you’ve probably already done those or can figure them out for yourself.

I say it’s a good way to extend your vacation, by extending the same genuine hospitality back that they show you, and of course to get some cool free stuff. But excuse me, I need to go shower myself with some orange drink.

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