And, about 6 months later than we expected, we are finally crossing into Brazil. The good news is, exiting Uruguay and entering Brazil was a pretty painless process. The Uruguayan officials are so laid-back, that it reminded us why we liked the country so much. And, we even saw our Westy buddy again – he’s a teacher in Chuy and has to come through this checkpoint every day.
The town of Chuy (Uruguay)/ Chui (Brazil) is a market town, and contains some duty free shopping on the main street that divides the countries. Interestingly, the entire town(s) is between the migration offices for each country. It’s a no-man’s land. We had been without Uruguayan pesos for a few days (there are no ATMs from La Paloma to Chuy), knowing we were about to cross into Brazil. Not a huge problem, but we were ready to refill the pantry and get some fresh food. We were down to the canned stuff. So, we sent Jason off to the ATM, while Bode and I manned the bus. He was gone an unusually long time, and Bode had been eyeing the pancho stand near us and I’d promised him one when Jason got back with some Brazilian reales.
When he finally returned, he had the bad news. He was unable to get any money. He went to 3 banks and tried maybe 8 different ATM machines inside the banks*. Each time he got different errors: ‘unable to process’, ‘communication error’ and one machine even went blank and reset itself. Finally, he got ‘denied’. We pulled out the laptop and found that we actually had a wi-fi signal so we immediately checked our bank account. About $400 dollars had been taken out of the account. We called our bank, and although a withdrawal showed up in our account, it hadn’t fully processed, so they weren’t able to do anything. But, they helpfully informed us that we would now be denied on subsequent attempts because we were over our daily limit. Now that we had some time to think about all the attempts and the weird machine behavior, we started to get nervous. We decided not to try my card and we would wait it out and go to the next town. Luckily, we had some US dollars with us and we exchanged those. The first time on the trip the emergency stash was necessary.
We had high hopes of finding all the little things we needed really cheap here. But, nearly all the shops carried the absolute lowest quality crap. The only decent store was an airport-quality, fancy-pants duty-free shop at the end of the street. I think there may have been good deals on LaCoste clothing, perfume and makeup, but no car batteries or motor oil. We didn’t have much money anyway, so we spent a portion of what we had on a bottle of Jim Beam (which we haven’t seen since the duty free in Punta Arenas, Chile), Bode’s hot dog (he wasn’t going to let us forget that), and gasoline (we are thrilled to be spending only $6 USD/gallon now) and took off for the Brazilian immigration.
Our Brazilian visas, obtained six months ago, are still valid. Whew. We were actually a little worried about that – we had heard stories. The officials were nice, and one spoke some English. Getting the car in was a breeze – just the title and driver’s license was required. Again, we had heard stories of problems. And, there was no food inspection (or any inspection at all). As Americans, we get 90 days. We can request an additional 90 days at any Federal Police station. Apparently, 180 consecutive days per year is the absolute maximum time we’re allowed in the country. If anyone knows ways around this, please let us know.
Then, we were off to the next sizable town – Cassino.
This gave us a few hours to build up anxiety over the ATM deabacle. We were eager to check our accounts again. We opened up the Brazil guidebook and found this little unhelpful nugget:
One of the biggest scams to watch out for is people hacking into your bank account after you use an ATM machine. There have been many reports of this by travelers throughout Brazil.
– Lonely Planet guide.
Spotting roadside capybaras took our mind of of it for a little while. Later, we found wi-fi in Cassino and learned that Jason’s account had been suspended due to ‘fraudulent activity’.
We passed a couple of closed campsites (still off-season) before we saw a guard inside one of them. I got out and asked (in Spanish) if there was camping. Well, I learned the hard way that the Brazilians do not like you to speak Spanish to them. He gave me the business. Something about, “If you Uruguayans are going to come here, you need to learn the damn language. Jackasses.” Something like that. We told him we weren’t from Uruguay. “Argentina?” No, Estados Unidos. Since we weren’t one of the two major offenders, it softened him up a little, and he told me to learn Portuguese and gave us directions to an open campground.
By the time we got there, we were deflated. Our first day in Brazil, and we’d already been scammed (maybe) and scolded in Portuguese. This is the kind of night you’ve just got to pull out the Ramen noodles and go to bed. Tomorrow’s plan: deal with the ATM card mess, get money, buy real food.
*we’ve consistently only used ATMs that are physically inside a bank for 3.5 years with no issues until now.