A Week of Problems

Travel is supposed to be fun right? So far, Brazil turns out to be a challenge.

Problem 1: The flight

It all started with the flight from Beijing which got diverted to Rio de Janeiro. Initially, it left Abu Dhabi with two hours delay, so our estimated arrival in São Paulo would be after dark. Originally, we would arrive during daytime which makes it a little easier (and safer) to navigate.

Then, one hour before landing, the plane had to circle awaiting clearance to land as a thunderstorm rolled in. Because of fuel issues the plane could no longer circle, and was forced to land in Rio de Janeiro.

Initially, the captain told us to stay put, as the plane would refuel and depart. Yet, after three hours of waiting, we were not going anywhere. Finally, Etihad Airways decided to transfer everyone to a hotel in downtown Rio. In the midst of night (it was already 3AM), taxis drove on and off between airport and hotel. Needless to say, the taxi ride wasn’t the best introduction to Brazil: downtown Rio looked sketchy, and the taxi driver anxiously ran all red lights.

Luckily, the hotel was nice and all inclusive. After waiting for news the next day, our flight to São Paulo would finally resume that night. This meant another night without sleep, but at least we got where we wanted to be.

Problem 2: The bus

After São Paulo, we planned to visit Paraty and Ilha Grande, two popular tourist destinations. To get there, one takes a bus from São Paulo. However, foreigners can only book these buses in person at the bus station. Because January is high season here in Brazil, we were worried our flight delays would leave us stranded as bus tickets sold out fast. Calling our hostel was fruitless, as the staff was unwilling to help.

Despite being in São Paulo only for one day, we rushed to the bus station to buy tickets. We managed, and even got time left to actually see the highlights of São Paulo.

Problem 3: Money (1)

Before heading to Paraty, we decided to stock up on Brazilian Reals as the island of Ilha Grande does not have any banks or ATMs. Therefore, we had to bring enough cash to last us for three full days. Here, problems started again: VISA repeatedly denied our attempts to withdraw money. Calling back and forth with the bank yielded little result: every next withdrawal attempt would just block the card again.

At this point, we were down to our last 15$. We considered going to Rio de Janeiro directly, hoping things would be better there. In the end, we decided to just go for it, and hope things would figure itself out once in Paraty. Luckily, VISA apparently considered São Paulo more sensitive to fraude than Paraty, as our cards worked fine and money was flowing again.

Problem 4: The ferry

The only way to reach Ilha Grande is to take a ferry from the mainland. On the way to Ilha Grande, everything was fine: we took the local bus from Paraty, and the government operated ferry to the island. One snitch however; the local bus dropped us of directly at the ferry terminal. This sounds perfect, except that we didn’t arrange a bus ticket to Rio de Janeiro yet, which could only be bought in person at the bus station two kilometers away. This meant we could get stranded in Angra dos Reis, the town from which the ferry left for Ilha Grande. Not a great place to be.

Luckily, the problem solved itself when our hostel on Ilha Grande offered a door-to-door transfer to Rio for a decent price. In the end, this worked out pretty well, but it got our stress levels up again.

Problem 5: Money (2)

Coming back from Ilha Grande, we again were low on cash. But, another big city, so VISA decided to deny all our withdrawal attempts once again. Unable to do anything, or pay the hostel, we had to call the bank yet again. We tried several ATMs at several banks (big mistake, see next point), but no result. Luckily, we had an emergency card which is not VISA, and this one worked fine. Granted, the card has more fees and gives you less bang for your buck, but at least we could enjoy Rio.

Problem 6: Money (3)

Knowing fraudulent transactions are common in Brazil, we kept monitoring our cards for suspicious behavior. Unfortunately, it turned out our primary card (low fees and excellent foreign currency exchange) got cloned somewhere in Rio de Janeiro. A 9.11$ charge at a gas station somewhere in Rio. As fast as we could we called the bank, cancelled the card, and made sure no additional funds were at risk. We suspect the card got cloned either when swiping the terminal to open the bank doors to the ATM, or at a specific ATM of a bank which we don’t like.

Long story short, getting a replacement card while on the move is not easy. Moreover, this theft happened on a Friday, and the next Monday is a public holiday so banks are closed. Moreover, we will be switching cities and countries quite often over the next two weeks (Patagonia!), so it is hard to stay put somewhere to wait for our new card. Anyway, it currently looks like we will be going without our primary card for the next two weeks. These will be two weeks of not spending much, avoiding ATMs (especially in Brazil), and being careful. We still have access to money, and if we encounter more problems I am sure we will work those out too.

Don’t get us wrong; we saw the beautiful side of Brazil also. Yet, the problems we went through were not only annoying and stressful, but also time consuming and expensive (ATM fees, foreign currency exchanges, phone calls). We really hope from now on we will be in clearer waters.

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We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.

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