So you want to change some money eh?

Day 116, stage 89, 133km

Start, Provenance Camp, Noordoewer

Finish, Municipal Camp, Springbok, South Africa

We were up and out of camp early. We had a border to cross, not a long day but not a short day, and over 1500 metres of climbing to do. We were also worried that there might be a head wind. We were heading more or less south west and a south west wind was common in these parts. As it turned out the wind was on a carrousel all day, changing directions and being quite fickle – great when it was behind us, which it was for a while, less great when it was on our nose, which it was for a while; but for the most part it was varying degrees of cross wind and more or less benign.

I cycled to the border with several others and then cycled the hills into lunch with Vince and Bridget. They were probably relaxing but it was a good stiff pace for me. We made it into lunch in really good time and enjoyed a couple of fantastic kite rides down long hills (what goes up must come down) with following winds. I lingered a little longer at lunch that Bridget and Vince – the race was still on and they had to think about time – and then cycled on my own for most of the rest of the day.

We arrived at Springbok fairly early and Vince and I wandered into town. It was like a small Midwestern town in the US: a main drag with big grocery stores, car dealerships and chain restaurants.  We have become quite jaded now. We can walk into a well-stocked, air conditioned mega grocery store and think nothing of it. Gone are the days in the deserts of the Sudan when finding a small packet of chocolate cream biscuits, two years past its sell by date, in a small, tin-roofed, road-side kiosk were a source of joy, wonder and rabid consumption. We could now have a coke any time we wanted, in any size we wanted – 200ml, 340ml, 500ml, 1litre, 1.5litres, 2 litres – and in any type of container that took our fancy – glass disposable, glass returnable, plastic screw top, tin. We could also choose from any number of local knock-off competitors; my favourite was something called Iron Brew that tasted sort of like a cherry coke. But there was also every variety of cream soda and fizzy fruit drink. The coconut and pineapple blend was really good. We were becoming very sophisticated consumers again. Oh dear. We also stopped at a Nandos and had some chicken wings (actually Vince had a stir fry and rice – not enough – and then a half chicken and chips – lunch had been a couple of hours ago and dinner wasn’t for another two hours) and they didn’t have to run out back to catch and kill the chicken first. Amazing.

We also had to get some Rand. I used an ATM – slick, efficient, no hassle. Vince just had $40 he wanted to change for some pocket money. The first four banks we went to wouldn’t do it – a variety of excuses. The 5th agreed to do it and asked to see Vince’s passport. He didn’t have it with him of course but I had mine still on me from the border crossing that morning so I took over the transaction. It was banker’s extortion at it slickest and sickest. Vince’s $40 at a crap rate came to about 345 Rand. Ok then. They then said there was a commission. OK then. But the commission was 115 Rand. Holy shit. But we hadn’t finished. They then charged valued added tax on the commission! What value did they add you might ask? This brought the costs to over 130 Rand.  This brought Vince’s return on $40 to a grand total of 225 Rand. The published exchange rate in the papers that day was $1 = 9.18 Rand. $40 should therefore get you something just over 360 Rand. So Vince had given the bank over a third of his $40 for the privilege of changing currencies. When I asked the clerk on the other side of the barred, bullet-proof glass who conducted the transaction if she didn’t feel just a little bit guilty for the exorbitant fees, she simply said ‘No sir’. Take me back to the Sudan where I can haggle behind the brothel with a guy in a dirty galabia for a small portion of the dirty stack of notes he pulls out of his countless hidden pockets.

The bank was ABSA by the way.

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