Over my many years as a more or less observant itinerate, I tried to learn all I could about scams and petty theft. Like getting lost, watching such things in real time brings a satisfying adrenalin rush. For example, I always sat in the back row of buses in Mexico City so that I could watch the pickpockets at work. Still, there were two places where I was very careful about what I did and where I went: one was the entire country of Guatemala and the other was the entire city of Bogota, Colombia.
Except for once. That was when I found myself walking the streets of downtown Bogota because of a layover between Peru, where I was working, and Medellin Colombia, where I had a meeting, and a fellow in his early fifties, really thick glasses and a full head and shoulders shorter than I, stopped me. He asked if I was a foreigner and said that there were problems with terrorists and counterfeit bills in Colombia (there were) and said that the police wanted all foreigners to come in to have any money they had exchanged checked so that they—the police—could close in on the counterfeiters. He said he worked for the police and would take me to the nearest police station to check any money I might be carrying. It was an interesting proposal that I was about to turn down when another fellow—same age, same height, same glasses and same rumpled suit—came up and asked if we knew where the nearest police station was because he was from Ecuador and had been advised by the hotel where he was staying to check with the police concerning any paper money he may have exchanged.
My first friend said that he was about to take me to the police station for the very same reason and told my second new friend to come along.
There are a couple of other things that I had learned over the years, like for example, that an Ecuadorian accent in Spanish in no way, resembles a Colombian accent in Spanish, and that if somebody is lost and has stopped to ask for directions, he doesn’t lead when he doesn’t know the way. Fascinating, I said to myself as Friend # 2 took off first for the police station. I wanted to see just what the scam was so I followed, assured that all I needed to do in case of trouble was to knock their glasses off and they would spend the next four days trying to find them.
A couple of blocks further on, my two new friends were chattering away about whether the weather in Quito was like the weather in Bogota, when they stopped and Friend #1 said, “Look, there is going to be a long line at the police station. But if you give me the money you exchanged and your passports, I can go to the head of the line for you.” Friend #2 hesitated a moment, fumbled for his wallet, took out some crisp, new bills and then he took what looked like an official passport from his coat pocket and handed all of it to Friend #1.
They both waited, looking at me. I said nothing.
“Do you have any money?” asked Friend #1.
“No, I haven’t been to the embassy to get any yet,” I answered—which was a lie since I had oodles of dollars in Peruvian soles, scads of dollars in Ecuadorian sucres, a bunch of dollars in Bolivian pesos and a whole lot of dollars in real dollars, all stuffed into my boot tops.
“Are you sure you don’t have any money?” asked Friend #1. “You can trust me. Friend #2 here trusts me” he added.
“No, I don’t have any” I repeated, “And, no I don’t trust you and I don’t trust your buddy here either.”
They looked at one another, they looked at me, they looked at one another and said, “Okay, we will be on our way” and as they left they both nodded hello to a smiling old guy sitting on the corner.
Three days later I was reading the Medellin morning news at breakfast and there, on page three, was a report of a tourist in Bogota who had been scammed by a scam that was very much like the one my two friends tried to pull on me. My conclusion, that I have saved all these years just for my kids in a large volumn called “Father’s Files” is: “Folks can think up any number of ways to separate you from your money. Some work on some and don’t on others. Be careful out there.”
Now, I know this has nothing to do with your search for Forrest Fenn’s treasure, so let me leave you with a bit of news on that subject.
Over the last week or two, I have received a couple of comments from a new friend, Tommy Gregory, wanting me to check his web site (www.nmtreasure.com). He thought I might find it interesting. I did check and I do find it interesting; I made a screen grab of it for you.
Be careful out there,