Location: Conakry, Guinea.
We’re officially three weeks in. To date, I’ve had more scams and cons tried in West Africa than I have in my entire life; corrupt police, hustlers and thieves. Some of their sinister attempts have been very elaborate indeed. Here are my top three…
3. You broke my phone!
Walking down the road in Bissau, a nervous looking guy is walking my way. He bumps into me, and his phone falls on the ground. He looks at me with sorrowful eyes. The automatic reaction is to bend over and pick it up.
Fail: At the last second I hesitate, my gut tells me something is up. I remember reading about this before. I keep walking. He follows me down the street and starts waving a broken phone in front of my face. My reaction “Fuck off.” End of story. Luckily I was in front of some army dudes so he didn’t get violent.
2. The Bill please…
After finishing our drinks at a nice restaurant, a rather spiffy looking gentleman sits down beside us. “About your bill…” he began. He told us he was the manager. He asks for the correct amount. There is no dispute. Anyone would have happily paid the man.
Fail: Only problem was – we had only just paid the bill! He had obviously knew the price and been monitoring how many beers we had had, but failed to observe the payment. Our friend Harry (British ex-military) got in his face. “Fuck off.” His aggression saw the guy quickly exit. Had the guys plan went correctly… I might well have fallen for it.
1. Super Con
Yesterday, we frantically drove around Conakry looking for an ATM that had money in it – apparently on Sundays the banks run out of money. Our ordeal was shared by another gentleman we met at an ATM in the center – a tourist from Senegal. “Dam, This is a nightmare. I’m in trouble if I can’t get money out!” he said. “Me too!” I returned.
“I know another bank up here” he indeed. He was middle aged and spoke perfect English; sporting respectable attire and nerdy glasses. He asked if he could he share our taxi. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.
Him and my friend strike up a conversation in the back seat. He reveals he is a diabetic and needs to buy a (rather expensive) pen to inject his insulin. He even shows the vial.
After driving around the whole city, we have no choice but change some Euros. Unfortunately for our Senegalese friend, he has no currency! He asks us for a loan of some cash. He’s desperate, he needs his medicine! He might go into a coma. Any decent human being with an once of compassion would help the guy out…
Fail: My friend knows alot about diabetes. He smelt for keytones on the guy’s breath, inspected the vial (out of date by two years, duh!) and quizzed him. He picked the wrong guys to fuck with. I already thought something was up, but put it down to being paranoid. The guy claimed he didn’t know the area, but knew exactly where to change the money. He told us he already tried cash advances in the hotels and other banks. But more than that, my gut was telling me something was wrong.
When we got back to the room to get our Euros, we shared our suspicions, we were certain a scam was afoot. When we returned to the taxi, the guy dropped the “Can you lend me money?” line. I told him we only had 20 EUR to our names. It wasn’t long before he fucked off. He wasted a good two hours on the hustle. A good game plan, but he picked the wrong players.
You really got to keep your wits about you when traveling…
Postscript: We had to pay our first bribe today. The processing time for our Sierra Leone visa jumped from three days to one. It took $50 to make it happen. To quote the guy behind the counter… “If you want it hot, you gotta drop it hot.” Hopefully I’ll be in Freetown this time tomorrow…
How many people do you travel with?
@Trippo: There is currently two of us.
Are they worse than the scam artists in Egypt? I was surprised in Egypt to see how virtually every deal had to be carefully monitored and second-guessed, because there was hardly a transaction when the guy at hand wasn’t trying to screw you over.
@Sid: I’d say Egyptians are far worse in general…
It seems your friend knows his stuff because many people would have actually believe the con artist was a diabetic. I think that’s great you are on top of the con artists. Your stories here should help others when they are traveling to countries that have corruption.
I my limited experience, Africans who approach you in foreign countries speaking perfect English and claiming to be from Senegal are really Nigerian. “I’m from Senegal.” “Wow, why is your English so good?” “My mother is American.” I’ve gotten that one before. Nigerian.
Its really bad like this is Morocco too (especially the north, not so much the south). I had mulitple guys literally following me around the streets during broad daylight and me telling them repeatedly to fuck off.
The trick I learned with Egyptian men is just to be as obnoxious, gregarious and stubborn as you can be. I started doing that in Luxor, a city where the men are even more aggressive and slimy than they are in Cairo. Just approach them, be fickle, laugh at their comments with your friends, and walk off in a pouty fit, and they’ll beg you to buy their goods for a 1/5th of what they initially offered. After awhile, it gets to be really fun because you’ve fucked with their shit tests, so they respect you. I’m not sure how that’d work along the West African coast, though.
I’m American, but my Irish grandmother taught me the ways of being unreasonable and stubborn. 🙂
This shit is a must bookmark for any aspiring traveller out there. Great post nomad.
Do you recommend bringing a wing man with you? I am a blond guy with blue eyes, would this attract the wrong attention or jealousy from local males? Are you worried about high HIV rates there? What is the safety factor on a scale of 1-10? Did you ever feel threatened or in danger there? Finally, how many white people did you see there? What was the general reaction to you being there?
@Rod : A wing helps. Local guys are fine. HIV rates in West Africa relatively low compared to those in Southern Africa. Safety factor with 1 being very dangerous and 10 being very safe; 6. Never really felt threatened actually, it’s all rather relaxed here. You see virtually no white people. The reaction is mixed, many of uneducated classes harbor racist sentiments, but it’s easy to disarm them with a cheeky smile.
for those of us adventurous to go there, where should we stay, where should we avoid? Tell us about the local women!
What do you for healthcare? Do you simply try not to get killed?
Thanks, interesting scams, and not in the Lonely Planet (or the Bradts) i believe.
Interesting you say you got more scams and troubles in West Africa than in the whole rest of the world – that is just my own feeling (i don’t have your mileage, but been around many a hot country).
I wonder why West Africa is so desastrous – and why we come back anyway? Why not go to Thailand?