The Great Bird Poop or Condiment Scam

Ketchup ScamAs mentioned in the previous post, this is the story I wrote for the jacket barter.

This is just one of many travelers’ nightmares that can occur in any major city; most recently, we experienced it in Mexico City. Notice that I said most recently, because it has happened to us in Italy, France, and Spain as well. The difference this time was the protection we had in Mexico City; it was much different from our other experiences.

Mexico City sits at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 feet), think in terms of a mile and a half up in the air. The higher you go, the thinner the air, which for some can cause altitude sickness or just a feeling of lethargy before adjusting to the change. Additionally, the population is 21.2 million. For the unprepared, this could cause some adjustment trauma, making a person extra vulnerable.

Visiting Mexico was our 67th country, so we are well-traveled people who have a number of precautionary tales to share. Even so, having experienced these wayward attempts at ripping us off does not always help us in preventing them from happening again. These past experiences guide us in coping when they occur again. Having this knowledge was beneficial for our Mexico City trip.

Our first week in Mexico City was without any negative incidents. We had a blissful feeling that affected us in letting our guard down. As one walks down streets in extremely populated cities, it is impossible to walk side by side at all times. Inevitably, Ron and I separate momentarily, until one of us notices the other has disappeared with the flow of pedestrian traffic. We do make a habit of turning frequently to check the progress of the other, waiting for the other to get closer once again.

On this particular day we were strolling on one of the major streets in Mexico City trying to move forward like salmon swimming upstream. When I thought to turn to look for Ron, I realized he had fallen behind by about five yards. Standing in place, he was speaking to a man and woman; this immediately raised a red flag with warning fireworks shooting into the sunlit sky. Navigating the crowds, I rushed to be at his side.

As soon as I was near, he spewed out “A bird crapped on me!” This was my cue. He was targeted. It was no coincidence that the man and woman who suddenly appeared as his rescuers were at the ready with napkins in hand to ‘assist’ him in the clean-up process. What foiled their plans was my presence at his side. Their pick-pocketimmediate reaction was to blame “a crazy man on the other side of the kiosk who is throwing ketchup on people”. Though I gave a parting glance in the direction they pointed in I knew there was no crazy person, but if I had examined their bags there would be a container of red liquid within. Of course, the crowds were oblivious to what was happening or they have witnessed it so frequently they just ignore the drama.

A couple of things made this unfortunate situation less traumatic than normal. Ron was wearing his global travel jacket, so the ketchup did not ruin any of his clothing. With ease, the excess ketchup cleaned off the jacket and later when washed, the ketchup residue came out completely. Furthermore, had I not arrived on the scene, the potential pick-pocketing team would not have found anything of value in Ron’s pockets. Securely hidden in the inner pockets of his jacket was anything of value. With the jacket partially zipped, there was no way for anyone to notice there were even compartments under the coat. They would have come up empty-handed had their attempt not been thwarted by me.

These old travel swindles always target individuals while the perpetrators work in teams. One is ‘helping’ you clean up after getting ‘bird poop’ or some other liquid that is squirted on you. One person is a distraction rapidly sympathizing about the injustice what happened. Meanwhile, the other is maneuvering their magic fingers trawling pockets, purse, or bags in search of goodies.

The best defense for this happening it to have the proper jacket that hides the important things and gives you time to say “Thank you, but no thank you!” and walk away.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.