There comes a point in nearly all of our trips where Mr. M & I run into a bit of trouble. Something that makes us pause and think hmmm… how do we get out of this one?
Day #11,054: Today was that day.
After adventure-squared in the Amazon, Mr. M & I had plans to move on to Ilha Grande (pronounced Eel-ya Grawn-jee), a natural gem of an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
For a little intra-vacay R&R, if you will. Normally our trips are so jam-packed that it’s nice to take a few days to Just. Do. Nothing. Besides, I have a nagging feeling that, left to his own devices and without my constant influx of let’s-see-the-world cheerleading, most of Mr. M’s vacations would involve a lot of downtime.
Ilha Grande is a bit off the map, so our island pousada informed us to bring the remainder of our balance in cash (Brazilian reais). No problem, right? Stop at a few ATMs, extract money, done.
We tried getting money from the ATM in Manaus on our way to Rio. No dice. But foreign ATMs are often hit and miss. When we traveled to Italy, we literally had to try TEN before finding one that worked. So we tried all the other ATMs in the Manaus airport. Nothing.
As soon as we landed in Rio de Janeiro, we headed straight for the airport ATMs. Not only did we NOT get cash, we got a printed receipt that said: “Transaction Denied By Institution,” suggesting our bank was the problem, not touchy ATMs.
It was after midnight (and again at like, 5am the following morning) when Mr. M called Chase and was repeatedly read some line about the U.S. government prohibiting the bank from issuing money in ‘countries of concern,’ which apparently includes Brazil. The Chase representative said he hoped we’d brought enough U.S. dollars to change for Brazilian reais at an exchange place. We hadn’t. Who travels strapped with enough cash to carry them through a two-week trip? Plus, many of our lodgings were far enough out there that they would only accept cash.
As the late great Chick Hearn would’ve said: It’s nervous time.
We spent the morning running from ATM to ATM trying in vain to pull money, despite the bank’s warning. We even went to the Santos Dumont airport to look for an exchange center so we could at least use our U.S. dollars. We couldn’t find anything… or anyone who seemed like they could help.
Having completely run out of both resources and time, we ran back to our hotel in Rio just in time to be picked up for our 4 hr trip to Ilha Grande. Without the cash they’d repeatedly warned us to bring, we weren’t sure if we’d arrive and be immediately deported.
Mr. M started to get Very Worried. During the car ride from Rio to Angra dos Reis, he allocated each dollar we had (almost all of which was going toward said transportation from Rio to Ilha Grande). He strategized on how we would return to New York once our dollars had officially run out. I asked him if I needed to worry about trading sexual favors for hotel stays, and he didn’t laugh. I grew concerned because like Liz Lemon of 30 Rock, I’d make a terrible hooker: “It’s 500 for kissing, 10,000 for snuggling. End of list.”
Poor Mr. M. But, I reminded him, we always have these moments on our trips. And they usually make for good stories in the end. So we stopped worrying and started enjoying the ride and imagining how lovely it would be when we experienced it in reverse whilst being deported a few short hours later. :)
At the docks in Angra, we were met by a very friendly man & his little boat to take us the rest of the way to Ilha Grande.
He chattered to us in Portuguese, and I chattered back in Spanish, neither able to understand the other, but all enjoying the sun and sea air.
We cut in between palm treed islands and turquoise waters, and it truly was a spectacular ride.
Our boat docked on a rock jetty, and still lazy from our sea voyage, we were immediately greeted by a beaming herd of South Africans. Before we knew what was happening- or could even process names-, our luggage was swept off the boat to parts unknown, hugs were shared, and we were whisked away on a whirlwind tour of our home for the next two days. Five minutes into Karien’s tour of Vila Pedra Mar, and our collective jaw hit the floor. Oh Lord… please don’t let them send us away for lack of funds. It was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen.
Not surprisingly- because, repeat it with me, things have a way of working themselves out- Karien was unfazed by our monetary dramatics.
“No matter!” She smiled brightly. “We’ll use Paypal! Don’t even worry about it, darling- all shall be taken care of!” And with that, Karien showed us to our room, shut the door, and Mr. M and I took a huge deep breath and sigh of relief. And then immediately freaked out about the Amazingness of the room.
It was beyond words. I was so happy that I’d thrown Mr. M a bone by giving him a few days of relaxation in our normally crazy-busy itineraries.
The immediate threat of deportation alleviated- and a cold on the way- Mr. M face-planted onto the bed and slept the rest of the afternoon.
For a ridiculously minimal fee, Vila Pedra Mar will include half-board (breakfasts & dinners). DO THIS. Riann (Karien’s burly South African husband) was a restaurateur in his home country and produces some of the finest dinners we’ve eaten anywhere in the world. When we came up for air that evening, he put a caipirinha in each hand and sent us up to the roof terrace- where a stunningly romantic dinner under the stars was all set up just for us! They even turned on Brazilian R&B to set the mood.
It suspiciously felt like a second honeymoon- minus Mr. M’s cold-induced phlegminess, which helped to temper the romance- and seemed like the sort of stunt anxious parents play when they tire of waiting to become grandparents. Who’s been talking to you, Vila Pedra Mar? We want names.
As we waddled back to our room, which had also been set on Romantic Mode- mosquito netting drawn around the bed, windows open to let in the sea breeze, mood lighting on- it felt surreal that the morning had started with us thinking we’d be headed home on the next flight.
Mr. M calculated that if we were careful, we’d have just enough cash to get us through the rest of the trip.
Like I told Mr. M as we were running frantically from one ATM to the next (admittedly a bit prematurely because he stared daggers at me)- you need a few bumps along the way to give a trip some character.
To read about the next day’s adventure meeting my girl crush and finding paradise all in the same day, click here!
Details of the Day:
Accommodation: Much more on this in tomorrow’s post, but if you should find yourself in the greater Rio de Janeiro metro area, Vila Pedra Mar on the island of Ilha Grande is a MUST. Sugarloaf, Christ the Redeemer, Copacabana & Ipanema beaches, and Vila Pedra Mar. The amazing, two-balconied room wasn’t nearly as expensive as it should’ve been.
Money: Ahh, the tip of the day. So, my dear friends… we DID eventually find a way to get cash in Brazil. On a tip from our host at Vila Pedra a Visa debit card associated with a Chase account will only be able to pull money from “24 Hora” ATMs and “Banco do Brasil” ATMs or bank locations. These are not omnipresent, so make sure to keep enough cash on hand. Note that the maximum daily withdrawal is 1000 reais. By the way, calling Chase in advance to notify them that you’ll be in Brazil will not help.
Although I didn’t hear much about the problem of accessing money before leaving for our trip, many of the American travelers we encountered here had similar stories concerning the difficulty of getting cash and money transfer.
Of course- as with any international travel- make sure to call your credit card companies before leaving to inform them that you’ll be using them in another country.
Tips & Tricks: “Vegetarian” is not a word that translates in every language or culture. Understandably, some places I’ve visited have been a lot less herbivore-friendly than others, and Brazil falls into this category. Here- as I found in South Africa and Australia- ‘vegetarian’ means you’ll still eat chicken and seafood. If asked about dietary restrictions, make SURE to list each meat that you can’t eat when staying at a lodge or B&B. Despite doing this in advance, I felt really bad when the South African owners of Vila Pedra were completely thrown by vegetarian Me not being able to eat a chicken schnitzel (it’s kinda hard to pick around the meat in that one). My favorite question, asked with eyes wide in disbelief: “Do you at least eat prawns??!”