Today I travelled to the Royal Mail sorting office in Chippernam to collect a parcel that contained foreign currency for my trip to the Andes. Unfortunately it wasn’t the currency of lovely Peru. Instead it was the currency of the United States of America because, despite the mess that America has got itself into as part of the global economic downturn cock up, Dollars are the spendy things that the fiscal fannying finance folk around the whole world still regard as safe and secure. Have they not heard of mattresses?
The merchant bankers may well be right but Dollar notes look a bit dull and sterile to me. So the requirement to take American money to Peru and exchange it for the local Nuevo Sol when I get there has deprived me of one of the really exciting parts of the build up to an overseas jaunt. I have always loved getting my hands on exotic foreign bank notes; the more political looking, the tattier and the more hundreds or thousands of them to the pound the better. When I was a merchant seafarer, way back in the mists of time (I’ll tell you more about this one day, once the penicillin has done its work) we always used to call the local currency in foreign ports ‘Bimbats’ and it’s a word I struggle to discard from my vocabulary, even today. The lady in our local Tesco Express has come to understand exactly what I mean when I throw a loaf of bread on the counter and say, “Bimbat . . . how many?”
I will get some Peruvian dosh eventually, but not until I get to Cuzco. It will be my first ever experience of Latin American Bimbats. I’m sure it will be worth the wait as each and every note will have a story to tell and will be steeped in the blood of revolutionary bravados, the sweat of rugged Andean farmers, the wares of heartless drug barons, the spit of woolly alpacas and the salt and vinegar of fat English tourists.
The main problem with having to bring Dollars into the holiday money equation is that, after performing two mental conversion calculations, I’m never really sure what I’ve got in my wallet and often have to ask shopkeepers and restaurateurs to help themselves to what they want from my wadge, just as my elderly customers with arthritic fingers do to me when they can’t get their purse open or fiddle around with small coins and flimsy notes when they are paying me for the treatment I have given their feet.
The exchange rate I got for converting my Pounds to Dollars was 1.58 and there are supposed to be 2.64 Nuevo Sols to the Dollar which means that a Peruvian Bimbat is worth about 24p and, in my opinion, a disappointingly civilised value so I’ll expect extra alpaca spit to render them suitably mysteriously Hemingwayesque when I first make my presence know at the Bureau de Change.
But to be honest, I don’t care what the money, spit, blood, drugs or anything are like in Peru as long as the weather is better than it has been for the last month here in Britain. Despite the fact that the Government has declared that three quarters of the country is officially in a state of drought, it has been cold and wet and shit and, if it wasn't for the fact that I am escaping for a fortnight, I would by now be deeply down in the dumplings. I spend all of the autumn and winter looking forward to the spring and summer so it’s a bit of a pisser when we get to what are supposed to be the good seasons and find them blighted by the weather of November. So dear Inti, Inca God of the Sun, please let it not be slashing it down every day in Cuzco and in return I will promise to put a bit more effort into following your religion than I did with Roman Catholicism . . . which shouldn’t be difficult!
Drought Striken Chippenham.