Peruvian Nuevo Soles- Are they for real?
13.03.2013 - 13.03.2013 72 °F
Handling money in Ecuador was not a big challenge because they are 'dollarized' and as an American, I know my own money. And having been to Ecuador before, I knew to be careful not to accept any bills that were too worn or had even the smallest tear. The cash I brought with me was also in small bills. Many businesses will not even accept a $20 bill as they are the most counterfeited. The other reason is just practical; the change from a $20 bill might wipe out the till...remember, a lunch might be only $2.00 and a drink or snack even less. The street vender selling candy, gum and chips is literally dealing in pennies; a small bag of chips or more commonly, chifles is .25 cents or less.
Expenses go up in Peru
The economy is a little stronger and everything is a bit more expensive in Peru. Today I had an excellent breakfast of goat stew served with rice, beans and yuca in the local market. This was accompanied by Chiche Morada, a drink made from purple corn, but dressed up a bit with some cinnamon and clove and usually a little fruit juice like lime, membrillo, and pineapple... oh yeah, and way more sugar than is good for anyone! It all cost me 11 soles. If you haven't done the calculations yet, 11 soles is $4.29. My tiny hostal (9 rooms) in Chiclayo is by the central market; the market entrance is just two doors down with part of the market located directly behind my hostal. My room with a double bed, private bath, fan (you just have to ask for one), and wifi is $15.43.
My money is further challenged...
Most hostals and hospedajes are cash only businesses and you usually pay in advance when you check in. When I checked into Hostal Alcoba in Chiclayo, Peru, I paid my 40 soles with a S-50 bill. The hostal staff immediately held the bill up to the light and then snapped it between his fingers. I knew counterfeit money was a problem in Peru and that as a foreigner, I was more likely to have a bad bill passed to me. For this reason, I often had to return a bill to a vendor or salesman in Ecuador and ask for a less worn one. I was their best bet for getting rid of a bill they could not give to anyone else. In Peru, I had been advised that even money from the ATM could include a counterfeit bill though a Peruvian money changer I talked to (see below) denies that is true.
Real or fake?
I took advantage of the hostal staff's expertise and asked him for a lesson in detecting counterfeit bills. Here are some of the tests he shared with me:
Hold the bill up to the light. On the right is a face (usually a famous man). In the 'blank' space on the left with the light shining through, you should see the face of the same man along with an object associated with the man. For example, on the S-10 bill, the man is Jose Quinoles Gonzales, a famous fighter pilot. On the left, his face is repeated and there is an airplane behind him (he is a national hero due to his kamikaze style move which resulted in his death in a war with Ecuador, thus the plane is actually represented flying upside down). On the S-20 bill, the man is Raul Porras Berrenechea; a teacher and historian, his face is accompanied by a book.
The next test is to snap the bill between your fingers...literally snap your fingers with the bill between them. There are some fancier ways this can be done, but this is the easiest to describe and the other ways are really more show-off tactics used by the 'professional' money changers in the street. These money changers are legal by the way and tend to hang out around the central banking area of the city. Many wear a bright yellow vest with money signs on them for identification though holding a huge wad of cash in a Peruvian street is a dead give away. No one else would dare flash cash in a country where I have been repeatedly warned by Peruvians not to walk with a backpack on and to take taxis instead of walking in general due to street theft. The 'snap' test is to see if the bill splits or separates into two proving to be false since a real bill is printed on both sides-- not two prints glued together.
On a S-20, a thumbnail run across the lines of Sr. Porras' coat collar will elicit a bit of a sound. In other words, there should be ink ridges, not flat paper.
About one-third from the left of a bill is the amount in bold numbers with nuevo soles behind it. The number is in a purplish metallic ink. If tilted, the number 'changes' color and becomes a bronze-green.
An additional test, is to take the bill and where there is a concentration of color, rub it on a piece of plain paper, some of the color should come off. This one baffled me. It seems if the color comes off and very many people perform this test in the same spot, eventually you have a worn bill with a hole in it...and you will have reduced it to a bill no one wants even if it is real! However, I understand that the paper has a very high cotton content which might explain the test for loss of color.
Is this information for real?
I decide to check my resources. Maybe one of those guys wearing the yellow vests that hang out in front of a bank. I wouldn't trust them for changing money, but my bet is on them for knowing the fakes! So a few days later, I picked one of the money changes from the street and asked if he can give me a lesson in identifying fake soles. He said that the 10 and the 20 were the most counterfeited and gave me three simple rules to follow:
1. Hold the bill up to the light and check for the identifying face in the blank area on the left.
2. Check that the metallic number changes color.
3. Take the bill in your hand and simply crumple or wad it up. It should not split or tear. He repeated his demonstration several times with a new bill and an old bill and then with various denominations. He felt this was the ultimate test.
He also showed me a few bills I hadn't seen before including a S-100 and a S-200 and some newer versions of smaller bills. I was glad to finally see a woman on a bill even if she was a saint. Later, I found a website that summed up the test as Look, Tilt, Feel and that gave more details about the process. You can check it out at http://www.limaeasy.com/peruvian-money-currency-guide/is-it-real-of-fake. This site also claims that Peru is the Counterfeit Capital of the World!
For those of you that are starting to wonder why I am traveling where the drivers are maniacs, taxi drivers tell you the hotel you want has burned down (and they know a better one), street thieves grab for your cell phones, and counterfeit money is common...let me reassure you that this is not representative of everyone. I think I am getting a lot of warnings from the Peruvians I meet because they worry about me; they don't think I have the street sense that the average Peruvian has acquired. They live here and know what, where and how is safe. But some of it is just common sense in any big city. Living in Mexico City gave me some of that sense and traveling experience did too, but I admit that I can easily forget and let my guard down. I think Peru may toughen me up! I will be talking more about safety and the general stereotypes of other countries as unsafe in the future in hopes of creating a more balanced view.