Spot the difference

Spot the difference, real vs fake (hint: bottom 2 are fake)

Learning to spot the difference between real and fake bank notes in Colombia is an easy but important skill to have.

Regardless of how easy it is to spot the difference (and it is very easy by feeling the thicker paper and the pixelated print job), there’s a degree of difficulty added in. You can be awesome at knowing the difference and seeing the difference, but then environmental factors come in to play, which actually means you can get it wrong and end up losing money. Which is what happened to me today.

You see, when you are distracted or are just trusting, or naive, you are much more susceptible to falling victim to the bank note switcharoo.

Here’s how it happens.

You get to your destination and pay the taxi driver the fare. In my case, the fare was $6,900 and I handed over a $5000 and $2000 peso note, said thanks and then glanced down at my bag to pick it up and depart the taxi. I’d performed the transaction in a manner of ‘keep the change’.

Then the driver says, “This note is not good, please give me another one.”

I looked at the $5000 peso note he was giving me back, and sure enough, a single glance tells me it is fake.

I am surprised. I received it as change from Juan Valdez, and cashiers in stores are very vigilant about receiving fake notes. I don’t have another five thousand peso note to give him.

I then give the taxi driver a $20,000 peso note. He takes it and then says “Ufff, can you give me something smaller.” This is not an unreasonable request, although most taxi drivers can change a $20,000 note. I start looking in my purse and take the note back and shove it in.

I say I only have $4000 pesos. Taxi driver says “That’s okay, just give me that.”

I’m a little dubious about him accepting well below the fare, but give him the two $2000 peso notes and leave the taxi.

I was meeting friends for coffee so I showed them the fake $5000 peso note “Look what I got today!”

Later, as we were paying, I took out a $20,000 peso note out of my purse and as soon as I unfolded it, I knew it was fake too.

Scammed! I felt so silly and couldn’t believe that I’d gotten two fake notes totalling AUD$11.30 (a day’s minimum wage in Colombia).

In essence, the taxi driver had switched both the $5000 and $20,000 notes I’d given him for fake ones. He fooled me twice over, first by pretending I’d given him the fake fiver, and secondly by pretending he didn’t have change for a $20,000 note and switching my real note for a fake one.

I’ve only received a fake note once before, a couple of years ago when I got a $2000 peso note, also from a taxi driver.

Mistake #1 – taking a taxi in the street. Immediately upon doing this, you should pay a lot more attention to what’s going on. If you use a taxi app the risk of being fleeced is minimised and you can make a complaint because you have a record of the driver’s details. I should have taken note of the licence plate of the taxi I got in the street.

Mistake #2 – believing that I’d given him a fake $5000. No sir, that was not the case. You know when you have a fake note in your wallet. While you might not notice it when you receive it, you always spot the difference later when you go to use it for a payment.

Mistake #3 – not being on alert when the taxi driver handed me back money a second time after the first “this is fake” pass and paying closer attention to what was going on. Each time he only handed back one note so there wasn’t anything to compare between a fake and a real one.

Mistake #4 – thinking I’d been given the fake notes by a chain store (that had also given me a pamphlet about the security features of the new $50,000 notes about to be introduced, how ironic). If this kind of thing happens in a taxi, it’s far more likely that’s the origin of the fake notes.

So the take home lesson is be alert, be vigilant, and doubly so if you are a foreigner. It’s 78 days until Christmas, so robberies are going to go up and there are probably going to be more fake note scams going around. Keep your cash safe people!


15 reasons I´m excited about moving to Bogotá

In my second big announcement of 2013, comes the news that we are moving to Bogotá!

I´ve had an iron in the fire for a position since mid January and will finally be starting very soon.

Am I excited? You bet! And let me tell you why (in no particular order).

  1. I fell in love with Colombia in Bogotá
  2. I have an amazing new job that I have dreamt about for a long time
  3. We will finally be living on our own in our own apartment
  4. Bogotá has so many cultural activities to participate in and enjoy
  5. Bogotá is a crazy, creative city
  6. I get to wear nice clothes (and leave the shorts and singlets in Santa Marta)
  7. No more sweating 24 hours a day (unless I am sick)
  8. I get to wear boots again!
  9. No more earning minimum wage
  10. Getting to choose (and prepare) the food I want to eat
  11. Spending time and reconnecting with my friends there and making new friends
  12. Drinking water out the tap, no more boiling for 5 minutes or getting up in the middle of the night to find someone has drunk the last of the purified water
  13. Having professional work colleagues
  14. Having more travel destinations (Colombia and beyond) accessible to us for weekends or short breaks
  15. Crepes and Waffles!

Are there any other reasons you think I should be excited to move to Bogotá?

Travel fantasy – erased

I’m not sure when exactly I stumbled upon the fantasy of owning a hostel, but I’m pretty sure it was either on my lap of South America in 2004 or soon after when dealing with the travel come-downs back home.

I fantasised about how cool it would be to welcome foreign backpackers into my hostel and make a place where they would feel at home and where I would meet amazing people from all over the world. I would put on barbecues and have a plethora of information on activities and local sights. They would smile and share travel stories. In my fantasy it would be amazing.

Mi novio and I have just finished a 10 day stint hostel-sitting where that beautiful little fantasy was shattered. How can it be so bad in just 10 days you may ask? Well on this green grassy side of the fence I never considered the following:

* You are chained to the property. Travellers don’t have weekends off. (Actually they do, but that’s from their work or whatever, not from your property.) You need to be there all the time, and if you’re not there, you need someone trustworthy to be there. Mi novio described it as being in a cage, or rather a prison, even more apt when considering the front gate with padlock that requires opening and closing for the inmates – oops, sorry, for the guests – at all hours of the day and night.

* Utilities are essential services and when they don’t work, you’re in the bog. Here in the land of Colombia everything is possible but nothing is certain. This includes water and wifi services. When there isn’t a permanent connection to a water service and you rely on the water company to release water to fill your tanks every week and it doesn’t arrive when you have a full house of guests and the reserve tank is empty you start to panic. Same when the wifi goes on the blink or decides to be super slow and all you can hear from the guests is a bevy of complaints about the internet connection you start thinking you’ll lose them all to the competition.

* Ah yes, the competition. Taganga is pretty much chock full of hostels, guesthouses and the like for people trying to find a piece of Caribbean dream. So how is this Colombian family run hostel staffed with people who have never backpacked in their life supposed to compete with the neighbouring resort of a hostel that provides everything a traveller desires. It can’t. Like mi novio described so accurately, it is one of the little fish that always hangs around the bigger fish to feed off the leftovers. When the neighbouring hostel is full, this hostel starts to get some lodgers.

* Sex, drugs and party time. They’re carefree and miles from home, but does that mean they can leave used condoms and smoked up joints on the serene rooftop terrace? No one wants to hear 3 different couples having sex in the one night. No one wants to open the door to a guest who is having sex in the morning light in front of the hostel. They may only be here for a night or two, but this is where you live and work.

Add a 6 month old pitbull that lives in the hostel and likes to go marauding in the middle of the night, eating Christmas decorations, remote controls and ripping open bags of rubbish to spread up and down the hallway and a complete lack of reservation and accounting system and we landed in the middle of complete chaos with a bang.

After 10 days of running a hostel we realised that despite meeting some great people and feeling good about helping them with their questions about things to see and places to go, we are not cut out for this lifestyle. In the 10 days we were at the hostel mi novio spent about 3 hours one night sleeping with me, all the rest were spent in the hammock in reception ready to open the door to all the party-goers arriving back at all hours of the morning. Both of us were well and truly ready to head back to Santa Marta and sleep uninterrupted in our own bed.

One of the best things I’ve come to realise though, is that we make a great team. I bring a number of ideas to the table and mi novio is the go getter who executes them. We think along the same lines and have the same philosophies when it comes to running a business but we have different skill sets. I think any business we have and put our energies into will succeed, it’s just a matter of finding the right opportunity.

However, I am now taking my hostel fantasy, wrapping it in threadbare hostel sheets and throwing it in a big garbage bag. It’s not my problem anymore if the dog gets to it.

Do you have a travel fantasy? Has it ever turned to reality and was it as good as you imagined?

Making a dictionary worth its weight in words

When I was packing my bags to move to Colombia my hardcover Collins Concise Spanish Dictionary was on the yes list. Then on the maybe list. And ultimately ended up in danger of landing on the no list.

At 1.977kg on the kitchen scales it took up a decent portion of my luggage allowance. I started out adamant that it would be coming with me. I wasn’t going to buy a new you-beaut dictionary in Colombia that would cost a bomb and run the risk of not being as good (as discovered in a previous experience buying a not-to-be-trusted, inadequate dictionary in Latin America). I had also decided that my He-Man novio could do me the favour and carry it; it would be useful for him too and help to tone his muscles.

After seeing the mountain of belongings I was taking begin to grow like the local rubbish tip, I panicked about how much everything would weigh and started to think up weak reasons for not packing the dictionary.

Only at the final hour when everything was packed and weighed did I find I had both the physical space, and a spare two kilos for the behemoth. And so the dictionary joined us on our international journey and breezed through the airport check-in.

When we changed our plans mid-journey and decided to forgo our plane tickets, we suddenly had a much tighter (and stricter) weight limit to take on the bus. On our international bus trip we had to pay excess baggage, twice. Whoops! Suddenly the dictionary of my dreams was a dead weight, costing us money to keep it on the journey.

Cut to 2 months later and I’m now grateful I decided to bring the world’s weightiest dictionary with us because I’ve landed myself a gig updating some translations in a tourist guide to Santa Marta and I need to get the words right. At first I thought pobladores meant villages, but after confirming with Señor Diccionario, discovered it means settlers. It’s tricky little words like this and aledaña (outskirts) and the one I always forget destacar (to emphasise or stand out) that mean my dictionary is now worth its weight.

Hooked up my first meeting

I’ve kind of been putting off the app side of things here, but today was the day I had to get stuck into it and start telling people about them.

With our film shoot out of the way, it was time to pay attention to lifestyle apps. On my second call to a business I managed to set up a meeting to show them some of the apps we’ve been involved in producing previously. It was a small win and confidence booster and only helps to make the calling process easier, although it took me almost all day and a packet of Oreo’s to get there.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, check out the Cheese & Wine app on the App Store (it’s in the What’s Hot section and on the Australian store it’s App of the Week). If you’re in Australia, check out the Beer Buddy app. These are the types of apps we can do, so if you have an idea for one you’d like to make, let me know. Shameless promo I know, and I apologise, but it’s all part of the journey.

My first film set

Saturday dawned my first ever film shoot and my first day on set. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly. Here I have jumped straight out of a regular everyday career in Australia and onto a more uncertain path in a brand new industry that I know not much about.

Filled with excitement, trepidation and a whole bunch of worries about getting in the way, I packed up the muffins and quiches I’d made for the crew’s breakfast and drove to the shoot location at 7am.

I busied myself with setting up the catering table, aka craft services. I filled the urn, brewed coffee and popped up the menu for the day. Meanwhile, as crew started to arrive, so did more equipment. Boxes and boxes. There was tech equipment for the Camera Department, Lighting Department (where you will find the gaffers), Grip Department (the guys that set stuff up and do rigging) and Sound Department (home of big furry microphones and teeny tiny radio mikes).  There were props and set dressing items coming up for the Art Department props and racks of clothes for the Costume Department. It was a full blown flurry of activity as our 16 crew moved in and set up.

Our two stars, Rachael Taylor and Josh Lawson, arrived together, and after they’d been driving for a while looking for a park, one finally came available right out in front of the apartment block so I raced down two flights of stairs, out the front door and bolted across the nature strip (which was currently being watered) to stand in the space to reserve it for our cast members. As could only ever happen in the movies, when our leading lady got out of the car, the sprinklers magically switched off. So Rachael was able to step out of the car looking stunning while I stood on the footpath with wet sprinkles all over me.

I kind of milled about for a while in a nervous knot until it was time for the camera to roll. We were given instructions on where we could stand so we didn’t get in the way of the lights to cast shadows, and then quiet was called for. My eyes widened and my ears pricked up. I think I held my breath. I heard Ricky say “Roll cameras” and then “Action” and we were off. I was fascinated, watching Michele’s script come to life before me. Bits that sounded a little odd on our read throughs became natural when acted out. We did a few takes where they altered the delivery slightly, and then the same scene was shot from a different angle to provide plenty of footage for the edit.

For the second scene I watched the monitors which show what’s being captured on the cameras and that was a whole other field of ‘wow’. It blew my mind away to look at the whole scene before me, and then look at what was on the monitor. All the lighting, camera angles and close ups came together to make a stunning end product. That was super exciting. After I saw the monitor with those views, I felt so immensely proud to be part of this project and my awe of my friends’ talents swelled. Until I saw the real deal, all I could imagine was a little home camcorder video. I know it’s exceptionally silly for me to have thought that’s what it would be like, but I guess when you are presented with new and foreign concepts, you always relate it back to what you know, it’s just human nature. Now I know better. Now I know my own little videos are going to be forever pitiful.

Aside from offering snacks and drinks between scenes while gear was being set up for the next angle and putting in the lunch order for delivery, I had not much else to do. And so my boredom grew. I grew restless from having nothing to do and feeling totally useless. Sure it was fun watching the filming, but it is also watching others work while you twiddle your thumbs. That made me feel lazy. So I jumped at the chance to make some fake beers for J. Part club soda, part apple juice, part vinegar poured into an empty bottle and we had some fizzy, frothy fake beers to serve up to our cast.

After lunch I got to relieve my boredom as I had to make a trip to pick up some sound gear for the second day and that took over two hours. Whilst there was also a lot of waiting around for the equipment to be ready, I had a fabulous in-depth conversation with the receptionist. It was one of those great chats that make your day. She was awesome.

Not long after I got back from running errands it was wrap time (finish time). As much as I wanted to go home to lie down, I had to do another supermarket shop, make the breakfast again and whip up a pavlova. So after another 2 and a half hours in the kitchen I could finally go to bed for a few hours.

In a moment of utter restlessness on the Saturday I had thought “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.” I doubted my ability to stand around and do nothing while others worked. My work ethic really kicked in and I needed to be busy, or at least doing something at 10% productivity to keep me from idleness. However Sunday dawned a completely different day. I was so much more comfortable on set, I knew what to expect, I knew the crew and kind of what their roles entailed and that I’d be standing around a lot. I was properly prepared.

In addition to some fulfilling conversations off set with people, including a guy in a car telling me I was pretty as I walked past in my red polar fleece and asking me for my number, there were more moments of seeing the film come together beautifully. So I was sad when it was called a wrap on the film (except for the fact that I didn’t want to make more breakfast quiches). We had such a great team of people involved who willingly gave up their weekends to come and volunteered to be part of our team. I have a good feeling that something amazing is going to happen and that we’ll all be working together very soon on the feature length version. But, I shan’t get ahead of ourselves. Ricky has to cut and edit it into a film first. Then you can expect Ricky, Michele, Gin, Devoir, J and I to all go nuts.

And as far as my on-set role as caterer went, it was a success. Compliments flew around. The pavlova was a smash hit with the Americans. But most of all, Rachael commented on what a great spread we had on our craft services table and how it beat what was offered on some of the other, far larger productions she’s worked on. Yay! I guess that makes all the waiting around worthwhile.



A really big day

Okay, so from the title it looks as though I’ve got lots to write today, and I do, but you’ll have to wait another day.

It was my first day on set today as we shoot our short film and I am plum tuckered out. I’ve finished off my commitments for the day, which include cooking muffins and mini quiches for breakfast and a pavlova for afternoon tea. I’ve also typed up the menu for tomorrow, so people know what to expect.

As for today, it was all interesting. There are lots of stories to tell. I learned a lot.

So until I can describe it all in detail to you, I will leave you with a photo of Michele and I in front of a fake pillar. The story behind the pillar is that it creates depth with camera angles. I think its primary purpose today was to fool everyone. I think at least 10 of the 16 people on set were tricked by it and leaned on it, or assumed it was a solid building support at some stage of the day.

Pity it’s the day after April Fools.



In front of the fake pillar
We weren't fooled by this fake set prop



I’m the caterer

Okay, so I have the far more official title of Production Coordinator for our short film, but my duties have extended to catering.

Today was the last pre-production day before we start shooting tomorrow. Which meant that everything needed to be locked down, picked up and delivered to our location. While Gin and Devoir were picking up lights, cameras and maybe some action along the way, J and I were at the supermarket. Three supermarkets actually. I was shopping for catering supplies to feed 16 people for two days and she was getting art department props, stuff like apple juice to be pretend beer and baking soda for pretend cocaine.

We went through the running order for the shoot and where things would be. All this new jargon floated around as they ‘blocked’ the scenes and called out code words to each other which maybe one day will make sense to me (just not today).

Then it was back to the ranch for me to finish on the breakfast items of little egg & spinach filo tarts, muffins and the cupcakes for afternoon tea. I ran out of time to make the pavlova, so I hope to have time tomorrow night to do that. I’m sure people could do without it, but it’s such a lovely Australian touch for our new American friends who have come on board to help us make this film.

I’ve just printed out the lunch menu, for which we are ordering food to be delivered, so I think I’m about sorted. Now I just need a good rest before I have to leave the house in 7 hours for my first day on set.

Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, I’m scared. I have no idea what to expect. But none-the-less it’s going to be exciting. And very cool to be on set with my buddies making a movie.

Esmeralda is back!

Esmeralda's bits
Esmeralda's broken bits. They have made way for strong, new bits that won't break.

I got to pick up Esmeralda from the mechanic today and the reunification was so sweet.

My excellent mechanic, Vicente from European Motors, was just lovely. He showed me the bucket of bolts that came out of Esmeralda and all the broken bits she had replaced. He then told me to take it easy for 500 miles and then bring her in so he could check everything over and make sure that everything was sorted. I asked for a definition of easy, and he said nothing over 80 miles per hour. I then asked what the speed limit is (because even on the freeways I pretty much hover around 55 – 60 mph) and he said that it is 65 to 70 mph.

No fear Vicente, I will not be going hard on Esmeralda like that. That and the fact that I do not need a speeding fine to add to my car expenses in the US.

Tools of the trade

I’m typing this post on my brand new MacBook Pro that arrived yesterday.

It’s taking some adjustment as I transfer from my faithful old Toshiba to this crunchy Apple. I’m discovering things I like and things that I don’t like. I don’t like not knowing how to do simple things, but I guess that’s part of the learning process and I just need to play with it.

Google is proving to be a godsend. Despite there currently being four Mac users in my household, none of them could help me in my lament over the loss of the forward delete button on my PC (the Del button). Thanks to a search, I found a forum that answered my question. Whilst it is less efficient with having to hold the fn key at the same time as the delete key, at least I can still forward delete which is essential in craft of wordsmithing. My housemates thought that was pretty cool.

One of the best things about my new computer is that my blog looks sensational on this screen. The colour saturation is amazing and it looks so crisp. However, I am going to miss the mousepad on my Toshiba with its light tap sensitivity. It is a truly amazing feature. On my MacBook I have to press hard to click on the trackpad, which isn’t as convenient to my semi-double jointed fingers and I feel it could bring on a case of RSI.

I’m thinking of keeping my Toshiba to one side to check emails without interrupting my work on the Apple. Or maybe that’s just because I haven’t figured out how to get my emails to appear on Mac Mail…

Follow up note Wednesday 9 March:
So my friend Ricky came over today and commented on my shiny new computer. He then proved his worth by showing me how to set up the trackpad as a tap to click. So now I have one of my favourite features of my pc available on my mac and I guess it renders one of my gripes above irrelevant.