Cuesta Cinco Quetzales

Just a quick comment on one aspect of how things work here in Guatemala. Zach, Mikhail and I went up to the track at the sports complex yesterday morning to run an interval workout. The cost to use the track is five Quetzales (about $0.65). No problem. We have the money, we’re ready to pay, we’ve done this once before… but…

Here’s how it usually works: When you enter the Complejo Deportivo you have to turn in an ID and get in exchange a visitors badge. Just around the corner from the entrance is a little office, where you go to pay the 5Q fee and are given a nice ticket to use the track:

Ticket

You never actually have to use this ticket for anything, but it’s probably a good idea to pay the fee and keep it in your pocket just in case.

Here’s what happened today: we went in and I handed over my driver’s license as usual in exchange for the visitor’s badge. No problem. Just as we were turning to head for the office, the second guard asks us if we want to use the track. We say yes, and he says, “Cuesta cinco Quetzales.” It costs five quetzales. I’m not really thinking (it’s early, all right) so I just go to hand him my 20Q to pay for the three of us. The first guard says that he doesn’t have any change. The two of them go into a little act like they aren’t going to get any change and just expect us to pay 20.

At this point it occurs to me that they are trying to execute a pretty simple scam. They’re the ones responsible for checking tickets, so it doesn’t matter if we don’t have them. They’re just trying to get our money. We would still pay 5Q each, so for us it really doesn’t matter. Doesn’t hurt anybody, right? Except what really happened is they got greedy, we clued in, and walked the 10 feet over to the office to pay the guy there and get our tickets.

It struck me as interesting, that’s all. Such a simple little scam that they would never try to pull on a local. And the fact that we almost fell for it even though we’ve been here a while. Maybe I should just pay the guard next time, he probably needs the money more than the local government does.

Incidentally, the sports complex here in Quetzaltenango is really nice. A newish track, a couple football fields, a baseball diamond, an indoor swimming pool, basketball courts and more.

3 Comments

  1. Adeel said,

    October 8, 2009 at 21:18

    I had dinner once in Kyrgyzstan with four strangers that I was traveling with: three Kyrgyz and a Swiss guy. The total for five people was about $5. She pointed at me and said $2, and pointed to the Swiss guy and said $3. He was kind of upset at paying $3 for a meal that was obviously worth about 75 cents, and thought she was ripping him off. I pointed out that nobody else had even paid, so she was simply charging us for their meals. We swore at everybody in English with smiles on our face and continued on our way.

    The world of small change scams is amusing for just how low the stakes are, kind of like what Henry Kissinger said about student politics (they’re vicious because the stake are so low).

  2. Adeel said,

    October 8, 2009 at 21:26

    HOLY FUCK! LOS ANGELES TO MEXICO CITY BY GREYHOUND? I’D RATHER WALK AROUND BAGHDAD IN A MINISKIRT. YOU, SIR, ARE THE KING OF TRAVEL.

  3. Sean said,

    October 9, 2009 at 9:08

    No way man, just Eugene, Oregon to LA. Also, the buses in Mexico are WAAAY better than the ones in the states!