Thursday, September 10, 2009


Here is the story of how we chose to take a 5 hour bus ride to a city that sells towels with images of enthusiastic-looking naked ladies on them.

(Click to enlarge; NSFW.)

Last week, on the day our Brazil visas expired, we reluctantly boarded a bus to leave the country. (OK, that's a lie; we'd just spent a very rainy day in Puerto Alegre and were pretty psyched to swap the glamour of playing cards at the bus terminal for another 12 hour bus trip.) During our preliminary immigration check with the bus company we were asked about slips of paper that we were supposed to have filled out when we entered the country, not to mention stamps in our passports - neither of which we had received. The woman at the bus company assured us that we'd be fine.

Cut to: 3 a.m., the border crossing at Chui, Brazil, also known as Chuy, Uruguay (both pronounced "choo-ie"), at which time we were asked to step off the bus and explain the deficiencies in our passports. In Portuguese. Or, in my case, in Spanish with very poor Portuguese pronunciation.

After about 20 minutes of "explaining" to the Brazilian Federal Police that we hadn't received anything when we crossed the border, we were asked to write down our parents' names--never a sign that things are going well. A few minutes later we were handed forms. Mine read, in Portuguese, natch, that Gillian Gutenberg, daughter of [parents' names witheld to protect the innocent], committed the heinous crime of not having her passport stamped. (Thank god they didn't catch me smuggling coconut chocolate bars out of the country.) After a half-hearted attempt to read the forms, we signed them, which may mean that we'll be on an upcoming episode of Locked Up Abroad. We were also instructed that should we desire a Brazilian visa in the future (...duh), we would need to pay fines of $93 each.

Obviously the Brazilian Federal Police are not familiar with Monk Mode.

We arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, about 5 hours later. The next day, after a fruitless attempt to pay our fine at a bank, we hit up the Brazilian Consulate, where I had the following conversation (in Spanish; illustrated here in BASIC) with a woman working there.

10 Me: We need to pay this fine. Do you know where we can pay it?
20 Brazilian Consulate Woman: You have to go to a Banco do Brasil, in Brazil.
30 Me: We can't go back to Brazil because our visas have expired. And we can't get new visas until we pay the fine.
40 GOTO 20

After a few rounds of this, an Orange Alert was issued for levels of annoyedness, and another woman came to speak to us. At that point Ken took over, and we learned that we could go back to Chui/Chuy and pay at the Banco do Brasil there.

And so, on Tuesday morning we boarded a 7 a.m. bus to Chui/Chuy to give the Brazilian Federal Police $186 to be allowed back in the country. We found the Banco do Brasil in Chui/Chuy with minimal effort and after some hijinks involving various metal items in my purse, I waited by the ATMs (and under the careful watch of the security guard) while Ken went in to pay our dues.

He came back out a few minutes later and reported that we needed to pay with Brazilian reais, not the Uruguayian pesos we'd brought. Please note the irony of this situation: We could buy a naked-nurse towel (click to enlarge; NSFW) using either Uruguayian or Brazilian currency, but we couldn't exchange our money at the bank. It was then that we learned that the ATMs at this particular bank didn't work with any of our banks' networks. Visa, apparently, is not everywhere you want to be.

We walked back about four blocks to the money exchange center, exchanged pesos for reais, then went back to the bank, where I waited, again, by the ATMs and the security guard, while Ken went into the bank, again, to pay the fine.

Ken came out a few minutes later to tell me we hadn't exchanged enough to pay the fines. Math is hard! Let's go shopping! We walked back to the exchange center (again) and back to the bank (again). The security guard watched with equal parts suspicion and amusement.

I was starting to think we liked Brazil more than it liked us.

Fortunately, third time's a charm: We left the bank with our precious receipts and made our way back to the bus terminal (which was really just a row of bus company offices on a street) to catch the next available bus back to Montevideo. Unfortunately, the next available bus was with a company that didn't accept non-Uruguayian credit cards, and we'd used all of our precious cash paying our fine. We were directed to another nearby bank, where we tried, using various combinations of bank cards and ATMs, to withdraw money. Guess what happened?


We walked back to the row of bus companies and found the next bus departing Chui/Chuy, at a different company. One that, thanks to all that is good and pure in the world, accepted MasterCard. We rejoiced quietly, then retired to a café across the street to drink coffee and play cards until we could bid farewell to the fabled land of naked-lady towels (click to enlarge; NSFW) and giant skewers of meat.


Benjamin Pollack said...

Well, did you at least buy the towels then?

Candace said...

It's just killing me that you now have a nakedladytowels tag.

I'm glad you made it out of there!

Lisa said...

First- I hadn't noticed the header change. I love the umbrella! Very pretty! Where is it from?

Then- oh my darling, this sounds so frustrating. I would probably break down in tears a few times. Like, what can you do... but still.