Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | May 18, 2012

The Last of the Euros

N 14° 27.69′   W 60° 52.25′

Marin, Martinique.

We are leaving the land of the Euro soon. We like to keep a few coins handy to make purchases from the street vendors and other places where credit cards aren’t accepted. Otherwise we are trying to avoid having extra Euros when we leave Martinique, the last of the French islands on our itinerary.

Learning the local currencies has been an interesting part of visiting new places. The Bahamas was easy, since 1 Bahamian dollar = 1 US dollar, with a fixed exchange rate, and the paper bills and coins look similar. Then there are places like the Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands that use US dollars as their official currency. Easier still! Dutch Sint Maarten, while officially using the Netherlands Antilles Florin (NAF) or Guilder, made it easy as vendors dealt in US dollars too. I don’t remember ever seeing a Guilder the whole time we were there.

The Dominican Peso, used in the Dominican Republic, is currently valued at 1 peso = .0261097 USD, or about 2 ½ cents. Our first trip to the ATM in Luperon offered choices with many more zeros than we were accustomed to seeing. I didn’t do the math correctly and ended up with the equivalent of about $26 when I was trying for closer to $100. Taking out units of thousands of pesos just seemed like too much.  The good part was that $26 lasted longer in the Dominican Republic than it would have back home.

The French Islands (St. Martin, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, Martinique) use the Euro, which has a variable exchange rate, currently about 1 EUR = 1.27 USD. The other Eastern Caribbean countries (Barbuda, Antigua, Dominica, and upcoming St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada) use the Eastern Caribbean dollar (XCD), with a fixed exchange rate of 1 XCD = 0.370370 USD or 37 cents. Lots of coins are used here, including a 1-euro coin, a 2-euro coin, and a 1-Eastern Caribbean Dollar coin instead of paper bills for those denominations.

Vendors in some places accept US dollars but you often pay a premium. Credit cards have been widely accepted thus far and those transactions are usually easiest for us so we don’t have to worry about carrying a lot of the local currency. The credit card company will make the conversion on the statement. Switching to a bank that does not charge international transaction fees has been a plus. The only problem we had with credit cards was in Guadeloupe where some European credit card scanners wouldn’t accept our cards.

Shopping where the metric system is used along with the different currencies further complicates decisions since multiple conversions are required. Meat and produce are sold in kilograms, fuel by the liter, dockage by boat length measured in meters. If a piece of meat is priced at 6 euros per kilogram, what does that really mean to the American cook used to shopping in dollars per pound? What about fuel at 3.28 XCD per liter? Or a boat slip at $.25 euros per meter per day? On-line conversion calculators are helpful when we have internet and I set up a spreadsheet to make those two-step calculations when we are off-line. Doing math in my head was never a forte. Given limited shopping opportunities in some places, if we truly need something, then we have to pay the going rate regardless of the conversion. It’s still nice to know the damages though!

Our generation spent a lot of time in school studying the metric system with the warning – “It’s coming!” Changing the way you think about things is hard. Like many people I was just as glad when the metric system never became mainstream at home. The US is now one of three countries in the world that has not adopted the metric system, with the other two being Liberia and Burma.  Despite the country’s historical interest in going metric as early as 1875, with the signing of the “Treaty of the Meter” and the “Metric Conversion Act of 1975”, there was too much public opposition and the Act was repealed. We travelers are getting some payback for resisting a change that makes a lot of sense.

Checking the exchange rates for some of our upcoming destinations, 1 Colombian Peso = 0.000557103 US Dollars. Yikes. That means that if we want to carry $20 in our pockets we will need 35,900 pesos. Sure hope they don’t use a lot of coins there.

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