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Voyages of los Testigos - Part 9, Page 1

Rags to Ricos

The next morning found the four travelers on CA 1, the principal highway connecting the five mountainous countries of Central America. Having finished the first leg of their midwinter vacation, they had boarded a bus in Tegucigalpa at 3 AM, and disembarked at the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. After passing through Honduran customs, they stood on an empty road separating the two nations.


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The road showed signs of wear, but since Honduras was providing the Contrasenemies of the new, popular government of Nicaraguawith a military base from which to conduct a US proxy war, no road reconstruction crews were expected soon. Bus service between the two countries had been eliminated, and with the exception of an occasional eighteen wheeler, traffic consisted of pedestrians desperate enough to walk the three kilometer netherworld where the group stood.

"How much did you get on the exchange rate?" Medio asked. Since their Utila giveaway, he and Nuco had lost all credibility in making financial decisions and when the group had been beseiged by a small army of money changers before leaving Honduras, the BigGuy had taken on the task of working the black market. After all, he was the group's only M.B.A.

"I got six hundred Cordobas to the dollar," said the BigGuy.

"How much is the official exchange rate?"

"Seven Cordobas to the dollar."

Medio whistled his admiration. "Let me tell you, Señor, you are a formidable economic opponent."

"We are going to live like kings in Nicaragua!" the BigGuy enthused.

Medio held out the giant wad of Cordobas. "What do you think, Capn?"

"Are you sure carrying this much money is okay?" Capn asked, wiping his brow. At nine in the morning, the sun had already raised the temperature to toaster oven level.

"No es problema," the BigGuy replied. "The money changers said just don't tell anyone that we have Cordobas."

"That does me a lot of good," Medio said. "I can't hide all these."

"What do you suggest?"

Medio's eyes fell on Nuco. Before leaving the US, his friend had purchased several pairs of stylish, nylon "parachute pants". In addition to being made of lightweight material, each pair had eight zippered pockets. "Hide it in your pockets," Medio said, handing the giant wad of contraband to Nuco.

Nuco took the money and began stuffing it into pockets already containing a pocket knife, bottle opener, medicine, cassette tapes and ganja, all items he considered necessary to carry them through the Contra War zone. By the time he'd finished concealing the money, he resembled a turkey that had been prepared for roasting by jamming the stuffing between the skin and the drumstick meat. "Vamonos," he said, and the nuevo rico associates resumed their stroll down CA 1.

As the group approached Nicaragua, a Sandinista Army patrol appeared on the road in front of them. Nuco, recognizing them as the guardians of the new government, smiled broadly. After greeting the gringos, the lead soldier asked, "Llevan Ustedes dinero Nicaraguense?" A long, effusive conversation followed, while the soldiers glanced repeatedly at Nuco's bulging drumsticks. His companions waited quietly in the sauna-like heat, looking for openings in the foliage crowding the road. If Nuco got searched, they'd need an escape route.

A half hour later, the soldiers bid the group adios. Once they had disappeared from sight, the BigGuy asked, "Did he say anything about the money?"

"Yeah."

"What did you tell him?"

"I asked him where was the first place we could get a cold cerveza."

"Brilliant diversion," the BigGuy said, his voice a balance of admiration and disbelief.

"What else did he want to know?" Capn asked.

"We were talking about The Revolution and how it's going," Nuco replied. "He said the American government was buying Nicaraguan currency at an inflated rate to devalue it and to prevent their government from getting the dollars it needs to pay its bills."

"Economic sabotage," Medio said. "I'll bet they didn't teach you that in business school, Señor."

"It's against the law to bring Cordobas into the country," Nuco added.

"Did you tell him we had any?" Capn asked.

"I said we only had a few."

"No question they thought you were carrying," Medio commented.

"But they were too polite to ask," Nuco said.

"Unlike your thugs in the neighboring countries," Medio said.

"You're right," Nuco agreed. "These are professional soldiers, not fascist thugs."

"Good bluff, Señor," the BigGuy said.

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