Wednesday, April 19, 2017

who wants to be a millionaire?

Consider me your life line -- or your call-a-friend. Either way, I am here to help you stuff your pocketbook and stop those blasted creditors from ruining mealtime.

In just four easy steps, you can join me as a member of the millionaire club. Here is how.

1. Buy an airplane ticket to Colombia. They are amazingly inexpensive.

2. Drive to the closest ATM.

3. Request the standard debit card limit of $500 (US).

$. Stand back. You will have over $1,000,000 in your hand. $1,435,600 to be exact. What a country!

Congratulations! You are now a millionaire.

OK. It is in Colombian pesos. But you still have over one million of them. And they are yours.

Before I arrived in Bogota, I knew the dollar-peso exchange rate would yield a lot of pesos. But not even my experience in Mexico prepared me for the size of bills I would receive.

I checked the current rate on my telephone when I arrived at the airport. Each US dollar would yield me over 2,800 pesos. Because I needed to enter the requested amount of pesos on the ATM screen, I tried to do the arithmetic in my head. All of those zeroes eventually overcame my calculations. I settled for a preset $700,000 (CO).

Over the next few days, I withdrew enough pesos several times to top the million mark. It felt good.

It felt good, that is, until I started spending them. $25,000 for a taxi. $362,000 for two nights in a an incredibly comfortable hotel. $20,000 for breakfast for the three of us.

That appears to be a lot of money. It isn't. In US dollars that is just $8.72, $126.24, and $6.97 respectively. Once again, is all of those zeroes.

And I should not have that zero block. I have traveled in lots of countries where the exchange rate results in as many or more zeros. For one dollar, I can get 22,724 Vietnamese dong. Or over 32,463 Iranian rial. And then there were the pre-Euro days when Italian lira would stuff your pockets. Now, very little stuffs Italian pockets.

But there is something about all those extra zeros that makes calculations difficult. I carry a piece of paper in my wallet with some common dollar-peso comparisons.

Colombia has tried to dump three zeros from its currency several times -- as have quite a few other countries, Mexico being one. But the Colombian congress has never approved the reduction. Colombians are concerned that when the zeros go, so will the value of their savings. There is some historical support for that if the change is not done properly. The Kleptocracy of Zimbabwe is a perfect example.

But, Colombia being Colombia, a clever solution was devised. New bills are now being issued that take off three zeros and substitute them with the Spanish word for "thousand." A $50,000 (CO) note will now offer up an elegant 50 mil, instead. It is still a $50,000 (CO) note, but it looks like a $5 (CO) note.

I talked with a couple of younger Colombians. They said they were accustomed to the old notes, but the new ones are far easier to read. I suspect older Colombians may not be so sanguine.

For me, the new notes are perfect to use -- and to spend. "50 mil" is the equivalent of just less than $20 (US) That makes figuring out equivalent prices quite simple.

As you may have noted above, visiting here is not very costly. That breakfast for three for the equivalent $6.97 was not a typo. I cannot eat that inexpensively in restaurants in my Mexican village.

But, I am on a trip. I have had no problem emptying my wallet of a million pesos here and a million pesos there. With apologies to Everett Dirksen, it isn't pretty soon that I am talking about real money. Because real it is.

Now, you have no excuse for not jumping on a plane and joining me in my not very exclusive millionaire club. 

Better yet, do not come for the money. Come to visit this delightful South American country for its own sake. Think of the million as icing on your trip.

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