Thursday 21 September 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Money Exchange

    Discouraged by Panajachel, the next morning I had pretty much decided I was going to catch the 10:00 bus out to Antigua, so after my breakfast of toast and tea, I walked to the bank to exchange some money.  (I hadn’t been able to pay for my hotel room yesterday because I was out of Guatemalan cash.)

    In front of the bank I discovered a line up of fifteen other Gringos, all sitting on the curb waiting for the bank to open at 10:00.  I took my place sitting on the curb, at the end of the line.  I figured I wouldn’t be catching the 10:00 bus.

    When 10:00 came around and the bank door opened, the group of us “touristas”  all went in, only to be told that the bank was not going to cash any Traveler’s Cheques or exchange any money that day.   We would have to wait until tomorrow.  “Shit, now what?” I wondered.

    Back on the street, dejected, and wandering back toward my hotel, I was approached by a boy who asked me if I wanted to exchange money or cash a cheque.  “Si,” I replied.

    He secretly led me into a barber shop where this big guy comes out of a door with a big wad of money.  The bank rate for exchange was 2.7 for American dollars, at the barber shop it was 2.6, but it could be done immediately, so I cashed in a US $50 and received 130 Quetsals.  While I was at the barber shop, no one came in for a haircut, but there were plenty of customers coming in for the black market currency exchange services.

    My money matters being taken care of, I wandered down to the shores of Lake Atitlan to take some photos.  The lake had recovered nicely overnight and the sky was very clear and breezy.  I was snapping away with my camera when I was approached by a guy who asked if I wanted to go to Santiago, a Mayan village across the lake, the boat was about to leave.  Price was 5 Q ($1.85 round trip.)  How could I refuse?

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