Chuy is like Tijuana with no ATMs

Trip Start Oct 09, 2008
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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Thursday, November 13, 2008

Prepare yourselves for a big shock: the government employees at the Brazilian border are on strike! Couldn't have predicted that one! This reinforces two things I've learned about South America: 1) always expect the unexpected; and 2) there are few things South Americans enjoy more than a good strike. 

This latest act of coordinated disobedience would greatly complicate our entry into Brazil. We had to hop off our bus early to go to one office and "check out" of Uruguay. Then we'd have to hop on a bus from the Uruguayan border town of Chuy and ride it 45 minutes into Brazil to go to an immigration office in St. Vittoria, wait three hours, then hop on an overnight bus heading north up the coast. Heidi from the El Diablo Tranquilo hostel had given us a map and directions that were almost comically complex.

We arrived in Chuy and managed to check out of Uruguay with no problems. But when we got to the bus station and tried to buy tickets, it turned out the tickets were several times more expensive than we had predicted. So I had go venture into the center of Chuy to get more pesos from the town's only ATM machine. It should come of no surprise that I found the ATM out of order. With darkness starting to fall and with certain shifty-looking locals starting to size me up as a potential mark (just my overactive imagination, perhaps), I started asking people where I could exchange some American dollars for Uruguayan pesos. Everyone I asked kept saying that I could go to the casino and get change there. I walked into the casino and asked if I could exchange money there and they gave me a firm no. I left the casino and tried to decide on a course of action. Just as I was about to go back into the casino to ask if they were sure they didn't exchange foreign currency, I noticed a shady gentleman loitering a few feet away from the casino entrance. Long story short, when everybody in town was telling me to go exchange money at the casino, it turns out they were pointing me towards this enterprising individual who conducts his business on the street in front of the casino. I should have known it wouldn't be so cut and dry. Surprisingly, the guy gave me a favorable exchange rate.

So Mikeo and I hopped the bus to St Vittoria and hopped out at the last stop. It was now dark and we were in the middle of a residential neighborhood with no street lights and where every home had bars on the windows. Our bus driver had directed us to walk four blocks further into the neighborhood (turn left here, turn right here, etc), and just as we were starting to get concerned, we found the inconspicuous office and got our passports stamped. We had to walk six blocks back into the "center" of the town, where we found the little bus station closed. Unlike Chuy, this place had no ATMs whatsoever. And we had no Brazilian currency. So we couldn't buy food at the market, nor could we take shelter at the bar across the street. So we camped out on the curb outside the bus station and prepared to wait three hours until the bus arrived. I beat Mikeo in five consecutive games of travel Connect Four, while he clutched his pocket knife and, with each passing pedestrian, muttered things about different self-defense tactics he learned in the Marines that he would happily apply to anybody that decided to "test him." This was plenty to keep me entertained until our bus arrived. And besides, what did I have to complain about? After a six year absence I was back in the world's greatest country...

Reading: The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
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