Brazil… Kind Of

Well I was determined to get out of Uruguay and into Brazil today, and I achieved my objective — kind of.

After an uneventful 4 hour bus journey from Punta del Este, I finally made it to the border town of Chuy. Following the advice of my Rough Guide to South America, I got off the bus at the Uruguayan customs checkpoint 3km outside the town and got the necessary exit stamp in my passport before walking into the town proper. Chuy is not the most attractive town I’ve been to in South America, despite it’s claims to be a “centro turistico todos el año.”

I was pretty hungry by the time I got here, so I spent my last 150 Uruguayan pesos on a cheese and ham omelette and a beer in a pleasant parillada (where I also got to watch some pre-pubescent gymnasts do amazing stunts on the parallel bars at the Athens 2004 Olympics on TV), and crossed the town’s central street (Calle Brazil/Rua Uruguay) into Brazil. I may have been imagining things, but it seemed slightly more colourful and lively on the Brazilian side; actually it reminded me a lot of another border town, Tijuana in Mexico, near the U.S. border at San Diego.

After a bit of wandering around (wearing a backpack and looking like a dork), I eventually located the bus station on the Brazilian side and realized that I had missed most of the buses for the day. I decided that the best option would be to get the 11:30pm bus to Porto Alegro, in order to make some serious headway into Brazil. Unfortunately the folks at the bus station wouldn’t take either US dollars or Visa, so I had to go in search of an ATM to get some Brazilian reals. And this is where my problems began.

I quickly found a Banco do Brasil with several cash machines inside, but none of the machines would acknowledge any of my cards. Changing strategy, I went in search of a “Cambio” exchange place to change some dollars, but found that, at 3:30pm, they were all closed. Every single one, on both sides of the border. I walked up and down the streets, crossing back and forth between Uruguay and Brazil several times, with the same result: no luck getting money out of ATMs, and no luck finding anywhere to change US dollars into Brazilian Reals. Eventually I tried a duty free shop, and they referred me to a guy selling cigarettes out of a battered old van on the corner. He couldn’t change my (last) $50 bill, but directed me to a casino (i.e. room full of slot machines) on the corner on the Uruguayan side, and thankfully they changed my 50 bucks into some kosher Brazilian money. They didn’t even rip me off, the exchange rate was pretty much right. What a relief! I was starting to think I’d have to sleep in a fleapit hotel in Chuy for the night, which might have left me with insufficient funds for the bus fare anyway!

After getting the money changed, I went straight back to the bus station and bought my bus ticket, then found a truckstop cafe to hang around in for 5 hours until the bus was due to depart. Unfortunately the truckstop was little more than a caravan with a tent outside, and it got too cold to sit there after a while, so I came BACK to Uruguay in search of a warmer bar, which was how I stumbled across this warm cosy Internet cafe. Now I just have 2 hours 50 minutes to kill (hopefully somewhere warm!) before catching the overnight bus to Porto Alegro.

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