Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Thu 16 Dec 2010 13:13
We are now in the world of Monopoly Money!
After Europe with the Euro, we started in Morocco with the Moroccan Dinar which, at 12.7 to the pound sterling is very roughly the same as the South African Rand, so we didn't have too much difficulty converting costs.  Also, there were reliable ATM's in most towns so we didn't have to raid our stash of Euro cash which we carry in the safe.
Then came the Mauritanian ouguiya at 30 to the Moroccan Dinar or 340 to the Euro and everyone in the street wanting to change Euros. Every time we stopped the vehicle we were besieged by guys wanting to change money. We didn't try ATM's but they were available in Nouakchott. Coming in to Mauritania we offloaded our remaining Moroccan Dinars for oogs and then changed a few Euros for oogs in the street. 
Next in line is the Central African Franc, or CFA - pronounced "seefah".  At 655 to the Euro this is really in the Monopoly league! On leaving Nouakchott I thought it would useful to have a few CFA in hand, so while we filled up with diesel I tried to negotiate a purchase with a trader at the gas station.  He wouldn't quote a rate but just asked how much we wanted to change.  i told him 20 Euros and he quoted 7,000 CFA (official rate 13,100) - I kept refusing his offers and telling him to go away, (all the time keeping an eye on the guy filling the diesel to check he wasn't short-changing me) as we went up 8,000, 9000, etc until he finally agreed on 13,000 - all this in French!.  However, it then turned out he was a second tier trader and didn't actually have any CFA and had to go across the road to his mates to buy CFA.  Then the whole deal fell apart when he found there wasn't enough margin for all of them to make a profit!
We finally arrived at the Senegal border and needed lots of CFA.  No banks, only money changers who at that stage knew I had a problem to which they were the only solution. Poor bargaining power!  I wanted to change 60 Euros and managed to beat the rate up to only 640 per Euro (official rate 655).  We agreed on that and the trader multiplied this rate by 60 on his cell phone. The result looked rather light to me so I checked it on my calculator and found that he had accidentally? tried to short-change me by 5,000 CFA.  You have to keep your wits about you in this game!
Yesterday we found some ATM's in St Louis and managed to build up a stack of  a quarter of a million CFAs in a series of transactions limited to 50,000 each!
Fortunately, the CFA is the currency in 7 more countries on our route so we have a chance to get used to it and also that limits the number of cross-currency transactions in which the traveller is always the loser! This is very much a cash society and we haven't made a credit card transaction for over 3 weeks.