Saturday, July 24, 2010

Make Money in the Third World Part 3: The Toll Road

This is the third part in a series on ways to make money in the Third World. All anecdotes in this series are true. You can read the entire series here.

The "toll" road - In lots of third world countries there are only a few main "roads" that connect one region to another. This makes these roads extremely important, and since these nations are poor, the roads are often in terrible condition. If a mudslide or storm washes out the road (common in the tropics), it can create a major problem for the cities along that road. I've seen potato prices go up by a factor of 10 in just a few weeks when a storm washed out the only road in the region. Truckers loaded with potatoes and sugar cane were stopped for over six weeks waiting for a road to open. During that time the only food they had was their cargo. So the truck drivers stranded in the mudslide ate good while the city starved. Such is life in the third world.

Well, in these kinds of societies there are lots of opportunistic people. On more than one occasion I've seen roadblocks set up at key junctions leading into major cities. These aren't just ordinary North American roadblocks either, with a few red cones. Cones don't stop truckers. No. These people would cut down several enormous trees and lay them across the road and set them on fire. I'm talking about a bonfire with 20 foot high flames. They would throw tires on top. One time they dug up the road and used it to create a mound of blacktop, rubble, and dirt. They dug all the way across the road, about a 10-15 foot deep trench, the entire width of the road, and about as wide as it was deep. With all the rubble they collected, they erected a large mound. On top of the mound were flaming tires. This particular roadblock was set up so that a narrow passage around the road was just barely possible to drive through. The roadblock served to slow traffic down to about 1 mph. As the vehicles slowed down, people would jump in front of them and demand money. If you didn't pay you got flaming tires rolled in front of you and you had to back out. If you did pay, you went on through. They only charged about the equivalent of .50 cents per car, but traffic was backed up in both directions for over a mile, and I'm sure they made a lot of money. After about a week they put the fires out, dragged the trees off the road, and shoveled the rubble back into their trench and went away. I guess they had made enough money. This kind of thing is pretty common, and is not regarded as criminal. Its considered to be a legitimate way of doing things. Usually police will come and stand around in case violence breaks out, but they don't stop the actual blockage.

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