Go Travel Money Minder

[Short of time? Read the Haiku review instead]

Drugs on holiday - probably a bad idea, a bit like drugs at home for that matter. I don’t really understand why some people differentiate, choosing to indulge in countries where the punishment could involve being buried up to the neck and used as a quoits post, yet abstaining at home where a slapped wrist is likely all they’d receive. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t take drugs (see review of Garmin eTrex 10 GPS) either travelling or at home. I may be boring but at least I’m consistent.

But if I did, I’d know where to hide them. I own a money belt – an old, frayed thing with perished elastic and dodgy zips. Gerda bought it in Buenos Aries in 2003 and I nicked it off her a couple of years later. The reason I keep hold of this one, rather than replace it with a new-fangled, RFID-proof, sweat-resistant model, is simple – it has a secret pocket. A feature that I have failed to find duplicated in any model I’ve seen since.

A secret pocket? In a money belt? An unnecessary feature, you might think? Not at all. Such is the ubiquitousness of the common-or-garden, black-throated money belt that nowadays every third-world tribesman with even a passing familiarity with tourists knows of their existence. There are locally-embroidered models for sale in the night market in Luang Prabang (Laos) for goodness sake. If a mugger targets you, he’ll go straight for it. But that’s not to say they’re a pointless accessory – no – they foil the casual pickpocket, light-fingered Romany child and all but the determinedly violent thief. If you’re hitting the road, make sure you’ve got one. Another thing generally alluded to as unsafe in foreign climes is hitchhiking. Why this pastime should be more dangerous in the developing world is beyond me. The drivers are generally more reckless than average I suppose, but you’re no safer in a private car or bus, or even in a roadside café. Indeed, if you hail from Birmingham, England, as I do, most places in Africa are probably safer. I’ve hitchhiked everywhere from Greece to Ethiopia and the only time I came to grief was on the northbound M6 near junction 33, but that’s another story. At the risk of totally discrediting my theory, I was trying my thumb on Ko Samui one time when I was picked up by a couple on a moped. As we know, it’s not uncommon to see whole families in SE Asia going on outings to the seaside on their trusty Chinese scooters, I think six is my record, so I was unperturbed when the smiling, long-haired driver shuffled back and offered me a space betwixt his thighs. From this position it was easier for me to operate the handlebars so, essentially, I gave them a lift. As I steered, my benefactor attempted to engage me in a financial transaction involving his cannabis and my money. I explained politely that I did not partake but, afraid that my lift was about to end abruptly, lied that I had a friend who might be interested. Sure enough this kept his attention long enough for me to reach my destination, whereupon he wrote down his cell phone number to give to my imaginary friend. I thanked him and strolled away down the beach, empty at this season, and prepared to delete him from my mind.

Alas, no. As my lift sped away the khaki-clad form of a Thai police officer emerged from a nearby palm tree, behind which he’d clearly been hiding, and called me to a halt. Now I pride myself on the speed of my brain power so after a brief second of flicking my eyes comically between the empty road, the copper, and the tree, I came to an unavoidable conclusion. Obviously his accomplice had, whilst sitting behind me, slipped dope into one of my pockets for this policeman, real or fake, to find during a ‘random’ body search. This is a common scam which I’d always dismissed as unlikely to trouble me, yet now I found myself facing an expensive bribe, jail time or, if the amount was sufficient, life in prison. Shit. “How do you know that man?” asked the officer. My swiftly-calculating mind may have been screaming bloody terror but I remained calm enough to tell him the truth, excepting the discussion of possible future illegal business relations. “He is a known drug dealer,” was his response, “I will have to search you.” “If he is a known dealer then why isn’t he the one undergoing this interrogation?” I could have asked, but in situations like these it doesn’t pay to antagonise one’s tormentor. “Empty your pockets,” he demanded.

This was it. Part of me was in denial, issuing reassurances that this could not be about to happen to me, now, for no reason. The other part though, the rational part, was wondering just what the hell I would find as I reached into my trouser pocket. I recalled a few baht in notes and coins, some scraps of paper, a ferry ticket, my notebook and pen. Definitely no hard drugs. As I dug deep I closed my eyes and prayed that I would find nothing incriminating. Thankfully my fist emerged clutching only the aforementioned items. My relief was painfully obvious to him, as was his disappointment to me. He continued to search me thoroughly – in my shoes, under my cap and from one side of my trousers to the other. Eventually he gave up and let me go – I was not going to prison today. During his examination the policeman had emptied my money belt and shuffled through my passport, plastic cards, insurance documents, cash dollars and spare visa photos, but as methodical as he was he never discovered the secret Velcro pocket, inside which were my most precious secrets. And that is why I will never replace it, RFID be damned!

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