You may not be aware of this fact, but the form of monetary exchange most in demand around the world is not the US dollar. It is not the Euro, not traveler checks, not Master Card or Visa. It is, believe it or not, Marlboro Red cigarettes. Ask any sailor and he will tell you that I speak the truth.
The world of merchant shipping is a strange one indeed. One fun fact of which most people are surely unaware is that we have to give bribes most places we visit. Maybe I will post one of my old Suez Canal blogs when there is a slow day but trust me when I tell you that if you attempt to traverse that overgrown ditch without having a few cases of smokes handy you are in for a very bad time.
Bribing officials is just way of life. In some South American countries like, say, Argentina, the officials are referred to as “Black Gangs.” They force the Captain to complete ridiculous amounts of paperwork and put ludicrous regulations on the ship. If any of their rules are not met they fine the ship. Even if everything is in order you will be a long time in clearing customs if everybody isn’t graced with some American tobacco.
It always cracks me up when we sail into some third world country with polluted water and smog-filled air and they demand that all canned food in the galley must be stored at least twelve inches off the deck. That is just one example of many. Still, we jump through the hoops and fill out the paperwork so as to escape with a minimum of gratuity.
Truckin by the Grateful Dead is your song for the night. Miss you Jerry.
When things started getting a little strange in Venezuela I caught a lot of flak for writing a letter where I said I thought the authorities were messing with us just because they were waiting on the appropriate bribe. Well, I was kind of joking. That is what I do. But on the other hand I honestly thought that was the case at first. If the officials down in Venezuela are offended that I would say such a thing then I would suggest they stop walking off ships laden down with free cigarettes and whatever other goodies they can get their hands on.
Don’t let me give the impression that this is unique to Venezuela. It is the cost of doing business around the world. In Ghana they took just about all the canned meat from the galley (we never eat that anyway.) I am trying to explain that when I walked into this “drug search” after my time ashore, I simply rolled my eyes and waited for the Captain to start handing out the donations to the Venezuelan Police Benevolent Association Fund for Widowed Blind Orphans.
I just didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
To paint the picture – the entire crew, minus the Mate, were standing in a small room which is used as the ship’s office. An equal number of undercover guys with different badges hanging around their necks where crammed in there with us. I assumed they were some type of law enforcement because they wore side arms. In the hallway were men in army fatigues, some with doggies. When I inquired about the doggies one of my shipmates let me know they had searched our rooms.
This is where I started getting a little concerned. Not because I had something to hide, although I was a tad embarrassed as my room was pretty dirty just then. Plus, I didn’t want the Venezuelans to make fun of my Sponge Bob Square Pants blanket. What concerned me is that the National Guard (I think that is who they turned out to be) was still wandering around the house, and they were unescorted!! All our doors were unlocked. There is usually a protocol to having your personal space searched and somebody should be present.
I am going to get lambasted here for suggesting the fine officials in Venezuela would plant drugs in our ship. I am not saying that at all. I actually liked most of the people I met down there. But let me ask you this – If you were pulled over in Maracaibo and some undercover DEA type guy asked to search your car, would you walk around the corner so he could search it without you or a representative of yours present? Of course you wouldn’t. Doesn’t mean you hate Venezuelans. Just means you aren’t stupid.
Right about the time things were dying down (say an hour later) another guy showed up and said they were starting yet another search. When the Captain demanded to know why they were searching yet again, this guy tapped his badge and said with a cocky attitude, “I am different authority!!” Different from what, I have no idea.
This lead to a couple of hours of the crew being held in the office and then in the mess hall. Again, at this point it was just a minor inconvenience. It would be over in a few more minutes.
Then somebody claiming to be Interpol said that they had received a tip that our cargo may contain drugs, and they were taking it all off to examine it.
Then they found the guns.
I don’t think we’re sailing in the morning after all.
Next up – “I shot the Sherriff, but I swear these guns are just for self defense.”
Poem for the day
I needed to go through the Suez Canal
It cost me four cases of reds
I bought a hooker for my sailor pal
It cost me one case of reds
I sent a postcard to my favorite gal
It cost me a box of reds
I owe Sprint $2,000 for International calls
But they won’t take no reds
Thanks for visiting my little blog. If you agree that the umpire screwed the Braves tonight, run through the streets wearing nothing but an Indian headdress waving a tomahawk over your head. If we can get this to catch on, maybe Major League Baseball can be brought to justice.