Ok, I hate to be a complainer. I really do. But that’s what this post is. A big vent session.
For all of you who think traveling is all fun and games, leisure and pleasure… read on.
I had a wonderful time in Punte Del Este, Uruguay – but that post will come next.
Argentina is an interesting country financially. They don’t trust the banks here, so most places (aside from grocery stores, drug stores and more high end restaurants) only accept cash. And the only thing better than cash here, is American cash. Argentinian’s are convinced that the American dollar is so much stronger than the Argentinian peso. For this reason, there is an incredible and widely known about black market for cash. Depending on where you are you can get 11-13% extra on the dollar for trading in your American money. (fun fact to know if you travel to Argentina)
Anyway, for this reason, I was frequenting the ATM – taking out Pesos to pay for things in cash (I unfortunately did not have American dollars on me). That’s when it started. Declined. So I tried a different machine. Declined. Of course I immediately start to freak out. It’s Saturday, the banks are not open and I cannot contact the bankers that I know. I am in a foreign country with no other way to get cash. Without cash I cannot pay for my hostel, or for my cab to leave Buenos Aires tomorrow. I have credit cards that do not have pin numbers.
Luckily, I was able to resolve the situation without TOO much hassle. After my immediate state of panic, my dad helped my find a phone number to call. I downloaded skype so that I could make international phone calls from my computer. After answering a few simple questions everything was resolved. For some reason, they had chosen to ignore the notes on my account stating that I was traveling through South America (after I’d already been here for a month), and cut my card to prevent fraud. No major deal. Altered my plans for the day a bit and stressed me out – but not too much was lost from this.
Until about a week later. I had been in Uruguay for almost a week at this point with no problems. And then it happened again. Same general thing. I went to an ATM, this time to get American money to take back to Argentina with me. Declined. So not as stressed as I was the first time but far more irritated, I went back to my hostel to call my bank from my computer.
This time, the results were different. This time, answering a few simple questions was not good enough. This time, they would deactivate my card completely in a week because I have been flagged for fraud. They already shipped me a new debit card to my home address in NYC. (Thanks amigos).
Imagine the scene. In a foreign country with few English speakers. No permanent address for receiving mail. No idea how long it will take for a new card to be mailed to an unknown destination in South America. Realizing this will probably happen again even if I get my hands on a new card. Realizing if I don’t get my hands on a new card in time – I have no way to get money. Fear of being stranded. Anger that maybe I need to cut my travels short because my bank can’t seem to get their shit together. How the hell do other people manage to travel for extended time periods without these problems?
After much worry and anger on the phone, my card is temporarily reactivated only to be shut off at an “unknown but soon” future date. They agreed after discussing with management to raise the $200 a day limit that was now placed on my card, so I can at least take out cash to hold me over.
So that nightmare is still around, but at least on hold for a bit. Fast forward to the following day. I take a 2.5 hour bus ride from Punte Del Este to Montevideo. Montevideo is were I need to catch a boat back to Argentina. The bus station, which is attached to a mall is quite far from the boat terminal, so I need to catch a cab. I spent all my Uruguayan pesos, stupidly, because I wanted to get rid of them before I got to Argentina. So, once again I find myself at an ATM to take out just a small amount of pesos to pay for my cab. Again, delicined. These machines were polite enough to tell me in Spanish, “Please retire your card”.
No panic. At this point I am just plain mad. Didn’t I deal with this bull shit yesterday?! I just need wifi – but… oh no, my computer is not charged, my phone is at 18% and I can’t find wifi anywhere in the bus terminal or mall. Crap.
So I begin wandering every corner looking for wifi. I found a spot where wifi worked in some random little back section of the mall. I was able to text with my brother, pleading for help. He was wonderful and as helpful as could be. He helped me get in touch with the banker I know in Michigan, who made calls for me and tried to help. Unfortunately, she did not help – but not for lack of trying. They are “resetting your card” she said. Wait a few minutes then go try an ATM. The ATM’s are on the other end of the mall, of course. And I am now at 14% battery on my communication device. So back and forward and back and forward. Eventually we uncover the knowledge that my card will now only work at CERTAIN ATM’s – and I should not use it at ANY stores. Excellent.
Well, I have American dollars – maybe I can ask a cab driver to accept that. This Thankfully, plan works. Thankfully, the boat terminal has functioning wifi. Thankfully, I can use my card again – as I have tested it at the ATM at the boat terminal. Temporary relief, at least for rest of the night, right?
Wrong, of course wrong. Murphey isn’t done with me today. I enjoy a quiet and peaceful 3-hour boat ride back to Buenos Aires, Argetina. The ferry is very similar to an airplane, customs, checked luggage, the whole bit. Maybe a bit more pleasant because you can walk around, and shop in the duty free store if you get bored.
So what happens when I debark the boat? My bag doesn’t show up on the conveyor belt. Of course I am immediately concerned. It is now 10:00 at night. I have a plane to catch at 7:30 in the morning tomorrow. This can’t be happening. I am informed not to worry. There was a slight mix-up and some bags were on the wrong boat, and the next boat would be arriving in 10 minutes. More time goes by, more people pass by, more bags roll along the conveyor belt. But not mine.
It is now closer to 11 pm. I am completely at a loss. The people working at the terminal in Buenos Aires were sweet, and as helpful as possible. But there really was not much they could do. The terminal in Montevideo, Uruguay was closed for the night. The took all of my information and told me they would email me when they know more.
I get to my hostel tired and upset. Now I have to deal with cancelling my flight for the morning. I am supposed to take off at 7:50 am – and the first boat from Uruguay won’t even arrive in Buenos Aires until 1 pm. I cannot call from skype because my computer is not charged, and my Argentina adapter is in my missing bag, accompanied by ALL of my clothing. All I have on me is my electronics and my book – thank god for that! Then I discover I cannot call from the hostel either, because despite being a local call, their office is closed at this hour.
So what do I do? I wake up stupidly early and go to the airport for the sole purpose of changing my flight. This appears (notice the italics here) to go smoothly. I leave, and go back to my hostel for a couple more hours of sleep.
I make a point to be at the bus terminal at 1 pm, hoping my bag made it on that first boat. It had not. However, my bag has been located. It is in Colonia (why? I have no idea) and would be arrive on a boat at 5 pm. I leave the boat terminal feeling extremely relieved that my bag was found at all. I treat myself to a very nice lunch to celebrate, knowing that I still had to change several other flights. I now needed to push back my next several flights all by one day, since I lost today along with my bag. But I can deal with that later. Should be easy, right? HA! Murphey still hasn’t finished with me.
I make my way back to the terminal around 5:20, hoping to find my bag waiting for me. It was not. I almost punched someone when they asked me “are you sure this black bag is not yours?”. Seriously? Again, I am getting upset. A team of people speaking English, Spanish and something in between are surrounding me all with dumbfounded lost looks on their faces. Finally around 6:30, after losing all hope, a guy approaches me holding my bag. My mood shifts immediately. I all but leaped over the counter to hug everyone. I shouted “Te Amo” (I love you) with a giant smile on my face. Everyone was now smiling and relieved and life was going to be ok again. I was so happy to see my bag, I actually found myself talking to it on my way back to the hostel. Like it was a pet or something. Man, oh man, I am really looking forward at this point to a hot shower and clean underwear.
I get back to my hostel. But before I am ready to shower and completely relax, I have to deal with this plane situation. So I call to change my reservations. And what do I discover now…? I know you are on the edge of your seats. There seems to be a problem with the 1 plane that I was able to change this morning (the one I was supposed to be on this morning). I had asked to be re-booked for tomorrow morning, April 1. Somehow the brilliant minds at the airport booked me on a flight for April 3. Problem 1. Luckily, it was a simple solve, and they were able to remedy this fairly quickly over the phone. Which leads to problem 2.
I then asked if I could possibly push back my next 2 flights by 1 day. This was not possible, because my lay-over included a change of airlines, I would have to contact my “booking agent”. My booking agent is “CheapO Air” dot com, of course. I wish that name was a joke, but you get what you pay for, right? They had record of my first flight, that I had already taken care of. They had no record of my next upcoming flights. I would have the call the airlines directly to make changes. Both airlines insisted they cannot make changes because of I am taking flights from 2 different companies that day. Why does this make any sense? I have yet to conlude.
It took well over two hours of begging, pleading and getting angry on the phone with multiple people and companies before someone finally located my airline records and managed to help me.
Deep sigh of relief. We are not thinking about the impending doom of my debit card right now. We can save that stress for a day near in the future.
Did I forget to mention that through all of this I also am fighting off a cold? That’s right, sniffles, sneezes, itchy throat. Lovely.
I have finally showered and put on clean (ish) clothing.
Iguazu falls better be freaking awesome.
Thanks for following my vent session. I am relaxing now and going to bed soon.
I apologize for any typos and major grammatical errors – I am just too worn out after all this stress to proof read.