A Scam Round Every Corner

I don’t think it matters how seasoned a traveller you are the chances are you’ll still get scammed at some point, annoying and costly at points it seems to be something to factor into being on the road.

Having lived in Turkey for quite a few years you would have thought I would have a good handle on what to avoid there….nope put me in Istanbul and I’m as vulnerable as everyone else.

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Istanbul taxi drivers take scamming to a whole new level, I always check that the meter is running or make sure that we have agreed a price before getting in and we’ve still been caught out! My first encounter came in the Sultanahmet area, the old quarter as it is known, having agreed a price we set off admiring the views as our driver sped through the streets. Arriving at our destination Jo realised that she only had a fifty lira note which as soon as she had extracted it from her purse was grabbed, the agreed fare was thirty five, the driver smiled at us, thanked us and then exited the vehicle and into a side street, leaving us slightly short on the change front. Mammoth Tip: Carry small notes and change and always give the right amount so you don’t have to wait or ask for change. Although we were still in the taxi it left us slightly uncertain as to whether to wait or whether to leave, after five minutes of waiting we gave up and put our loss down to experience.

A second trip a few months later found us bouncing our way through the city towards the castle (nope don’t bother it’s a few walls and a large taxi fare) the taxi meter was getting close to the hundred lira mark as we pulled into the side of the road and the driver pointed towards some ancient walls, being prepared to pay Jo had already retrieved a hundred note out of the purse but made the stupid mistake of holding it in front of herself, as the driver pointed to the walls and I looked in that direction the note had gone, faster than an magician. The driver then asked for his money, I pondered for a mere second when out of the corner of my eye I could see our note in the storage compartment of his door, it was defiantly our note as two of the corners were turned down.
Jo says – This is an annoying habit that the mammoth has but for once I was grateful for his annoying ways. I pointed towards the cash and told the driver that he had already taken the money and started to get out of the cab. Mammoth Tip: Keep your money close to your body and don’t wave it around.
The driver got cross, Jo repeated that he had already taken our money and again pointed towards our note, for good message she repeated this in her basic Turkish. This seemed to make the driver angry and he started to scream threats at us in Turkish (the tone gave that away not my ability to understand his words), we quickly whispered about just paying, again, it but I gulped down a breath and told the girls to exit the car and that I would follow. As my paws reached the pavement the crescendo of abuse increased, Jo at this point decided that it might be an idea to look slightly more proactive and having retrieved the travel phone she held it up and said ‘Polis’ and made to use it at which point the driver put his foot to the floor and the vehicle headed off in a cloud of dust.

Slightly shaken by the experience we sort refuge in a small café and sat for a while enjoying our cay and recovering from our experience, before setting off to see if there was anything to the castle. The road was steep and in front of us was a man walking slowly holding a shoe shine box (the Turks are big on clean shoes), a brush dropped out of his load which he appeared not to notice so my friend sped up, picked up the brush and raced to reunite the owner with it. The man was delighted and thanked us profusely offering to clean our shoes for our kindness….yep you know it’s coming and so did I…. the women wear hiking boats and my paws are furry so after a twenty minute brushing and a number of tales of his disabled daughter and how he is trying to raise enough money to take her for treatment, we moved our feet out of his vicinity and started to thank him. He put his hand out and knowing that we were being conned we reluctantly handed over a twenty note and turned to walk away, he wasn’t happy and started to shout abuse at us as we trotted into the distance, as soon as we were at a safe distance I turned to watch him again, a couple were walking behind him and before I could shout a word of warning the brush was on the floor and the charade was about to be played out again! Mammoth Tip: It might seem mean but if something is dropped leave it where it is unless of course you really do want your shoes shinning.

Istanbul is a place where you will encounter (like thousands of other places) begging, we personally never give money to beggars but will buy them a coffee or something to eat if in a situation to do so. One scam we had been warned about in the city was of child beggars who are dressed in hardly any clothing and sit on the side of the pavement looking frozen and forlorn, it pulls on your heart strings to see, what you don’t usually see though is the Father who is parked across the road in a nice warm and usually expensive car watching them and waiting for the donations to be handed over. Child cruelty at its worse and sadly by giving to the poor victim it will mean that the practice continues Mammoth Tip: Don’t hand over money to beggars, if you want to give make it food or a drink instead, at least they benefit and not the owner of the BMW!

The Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

India proved to be fairly easy on the scam front for us until we reached our last destination, Kolkata. Having walked miles and got lost several times we had just enjoyed admiring the Victoria Monument (well worth a visit) and still had one destination to go to before heading towards the airport and our onwards flight, we decided on a taxi. The drivers closet to the tourist area all strangely had broken meters…..which is a scam in itself… so we walked slightly further on and managed to summon one.

Mother Theresa’s Coffin

Having asked to be taken to Mother Theresa’s Mother house we climbed in and asked for the meter to be put on, unknown to me, Zoe had put google maps on as we knew it was maybe a ten minute walk, as the taxi headed into the traffic my eyes started to see numbers rolling at a huge pace on the meter and the bill was already into the tens of thousands of rupee’s, I nudged Jo who poked Zoe in the side as we realised that we were in fact heading gin the opposite direction to our destination, panic seeped in and I gritted my tusks before opening my mouth and shouting ‘stop’. Jo picked up the cry but in a louder voice The driver continued and my voice grew louder, nothing for it but to open the cab door and hope that jumping out at ten miles an hour wouldn’t hurt us too much. As the door opened the vehicle finally stopped, to tired and to stressed to want to try and argue we shoved a two hundred rupee note towards the man and made to get out of the car, his door opened and he started to threaten us with the police, Jo nodded happily and went for the phone holding it up to show her intention of ringing on his behalf, within seconds he was gone. Mammoth Tip: Agree a price before getting into a vehicle, watch the meters if there going fast then get out.

The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Thailand and more precisely Bangkok, appeared fairly scam free….for us…. But watch out for taxi drivers at places like the Grand Palace (a must visit), they will tell you that they have no meters. We did a bit of checking on this and found out that it’s against the law for them not have a meter, the advice we read said to take a picture and report them to the tourist police Mammoth Tip: Check out local laws and if you’re not sure take a picture and report it

St’ Mark’s Basilica

Venice in Italy is an incredible place, although pricey to stay in, there are so many places to see and top of our list was St Mark’s Basilica. The queue was huge and as we stood in the baking sunshine, we like many others muttered away about long waits. After half an hour or so a lady approached us offering a guided tour for twenty euro’s each with a fast track to get in, although expensive it seemed like a good idea and would mean we would get around all of the places on our days list rather than just stand and wait, we followed her to the steps. Another couple were already there and we joined them as our guide told us that she would be back in five minutes to start the tour, during the ten minute wait Jo started to take pictures and moved towards the entrance to get a close up of the carvings which was when she noticed the sign saying that it was free to get in! Having passed the information to the other people around us we re-joined the queue and made it in for nothing twenty minutes later Mammoth Tip: Watch out for touts charging for tours of free places and be prepared to wait rather than pay for something you don’t need.

The following day we had set off on foot to explore more of the wonders of the city, every turn holds a treasure and having navigated our way through tiny streets we found ourselves in front of the incredibly impressive Santa Maria della Salute. Climbing the steps, I immediately spotted the sign telling us it was free to enter and Jo and I started to admire the interior which was when we heard Zoe telling a lady quite sharply to leave her alone. We hurried over to find that the lady was trying to tell her that she needed to pay, the old women was clutching onto Zoe’s arm so Jo being the motherly type at times, removed the fingers that were digging into her daughter, pointed at the sign saying that it was free and marched us out of the building. It was quite scary and Zoe was visibly shaken, not a nice experience. Mammoth Tip: Don’t be intimidated and don’t hand over money unless you want to or there is a proper place to pay.

The Stari Bridge, Mostar

Mostar is defiantly one of my favourite places and during our week long stay we spent many hours admiring the bridge and waiting for men to jump off it. Many countries have rights of passage but in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 16-year-old boys must plummet about 24 meter’s off the Stari Most bridge, into the chilly abyss of the Neretva river at 80 km/h in three seconds. Locals say a man will be a complete failure at life if he doesn’t take the plunge — he can forget about a job and a girlfriend, sounds harsh to me. This like many things has now become a tourist attraction and older locals spend there days in skimpy swimming attire balancing on the walls along the bridge whilst asking for money to do it, by day five we had yet to see someone actually go into the water and having nothing much else to do we found a convenient café and sat down to await the dive. Three men were at work that day and as the hours passed, they collected money from the tourists who stood waiting patiently for the main event to happen, three hours later and we were still waiting! Mammoth Tip: Keep your cash in your pocket and wait for one of the tourists to take the challenge as this is the only way anyone is going to get wet!

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Animal cruelty is something that I abhor and is certainly not something to be encouraged. Our time in Yangon was wonderful and we could not speak more highly about the kindness of the people of Myanmar with the exception of what we called the ‘bird ladies’. These are women who carry cages full of birds and ask for money to release them, Jo and I did some reading about these jailers and found that the birds were (in a lot of cases) trained to fly back after release so they could be sold again and again. Not something that we would want to perpetuate for the future. Mammoth Tip: Don’t pay for something that is cruel no matter how much it tugs at your heart strings.

Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque , Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka had been our first experience of SE Asia and during a trip into the nearest city of Colombo we found ourselves in a different type of scam.
This excerpt is taken from the blog from that day (the full blog can be found on the link provided).
As we moved away from the Mosque Zoe spotted a likely shop for the repair of her sunglasses which had lost one of the screws holding the nose piece in place. We popped in and having been told that they couldn’t help decided to continue towards the bus station and a drink.
Woolly says – We had only gone ten paces when a man rushed towards us telling us that he had seen his brother in the shop who couldn’t help but that he could, we followed behind him until we reached his own shop which was strangely closed, ‘one moment’ he said and taking the sunglasses with him disappeared into the crowds swarming around the pavement. I looked at Zoe and she looked at Jo, ‘Well’ said Jo, ‘the worst that can happen is you’ve lost your shades’. Having checked the time, we decided to give him five minutes and leave them, six minutes later and the man jogged back into view with sunglasses as good as new. ‘Thank you so much’ said the youngest in our party ‘How much do I owe you?’, nothing the man replied, I am a Buddhist and if I can help another human then I am happy. Wow I thought a very nice person, ‘Have you seen the Tsunami Temple yet’ he enquired, the three Muppets shook their heads as one, ‘come follow me, I will show you’. Up and down roads we went until Jo finally stopped the group explaining that we were tired and could have a look at it another time, no problem said the man it will be only moments in a tuk tuk, as if by magic one appeared…. Yes, I know your all going, ‘well of course it did!’.
We got in, but I wasn’t best pleased, it did however seem rude after he had helped us, I signed to Zoe (both of us have some basic British Sign Language from my teaching days), ‘this is going to cost us, the meter isn’t on!’
Woolly says – I was having a great time bouncing up and down as the road was so bad it was the equivalent of having my own trampoline, I heard Zoe ask the gent who was paying for the tuk tuk, ‘No worries my friend, there is no charge’, we all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. A further five minutes passed, Jo had by now told me off, so I was getting bored when we pulled into a side road and bumped along towards the sea. Piling out of the vehicle the man showed us the area that had been affected by the huge wave that had engulfed parts of the country in 2004 and pointed out the temple that had been built after the devastation had been cleared. Not a bad temple but Jo hadn’t even got the camera out, so I knew she wasn’t happy, she climbed back into the tuk tuk followed by the rest of us and off we shot along the dirt tracks and ditches once again.
Ten minutes later and the city was within our sights, as we pulled up by the docks the man jumped out and said, ‘I leave you now’. ‘That’s great we will get out as well’ I replied, ‘Yes he said you pay the driver’. You just know it’s coming don’t you, we explained most politely that we had asked about the tuk tuk payment and that he had told us there was no charge, that apparently had been only to get us to the Tsunami Temple he said and that we hadn’t asked about coming back!
Woolly says- I don’t think the driver or the man was very happy when Zoe thrust a small note (about £2.50 GBP) at the driver and Jo told them to take it or leave it, they spluttered away and started to shout, ‘your scamming us’ said the wiser one of the women ‘and you can have this of go without anything’, at this she went to retrieve the note which the driver held onto and taking hold of both me and Zoe led us away from the large commotion still going on behind us…. Time for a beer maybe!’ Mammoth Tip: Don’t trust anyone, sad but true

We consider ourselves lucky that we have encountered only a few experiences where the word scam comes into our vocab, keep vigilant, stay safe and try not to fall for the obvious ways to take your money and never be afraid to ring the police of that country as these individuals give a bad name to tourism and that’s the last thing most of the wonderful people of that place actually want.

Happy Travels