Monday, September 10, 2007
The ATM(s) that wouldn’t give - Episode 7
During my unexpectedly long stay at Dulles on my way down to Miami, I thought that I might just go ahead and exchange some of my cash for some Venezuelan money. I sure as hell trusted the exchange at Dulles more than whatever the hell was gonna greet me in Caracas, so I found the nearest exchange window in the C terminal. The girl was quick to tell me that she didn't have any Venezuelan money (I later found this to be Bolivares) to give me. She said they'd probably have it in Miami, so try once I got down there. 12 hours later, while waiting in the massively long line that was our group, at Miami International, I spotted an exchanged and decided to give it a go. 5 minutes later I had exchanged $50 for 120,000. Bolivares. That was pretty damn exciting to me. Not knowing what kind of money spending situation I might be in, I was pretty sure that 120,000. would most likely get me through the next 10 days (keeping in mind that my meals and such were supposed to be taken care of by the USADSF). The money seemed to last forever. A huge litre and a half of Pepsi was only 2000 bolivares, as was an equal amount of water, and snacks and such were rarely priced over 5000. I began referring to the cash on hand as 1000 (ones), 2000 (twos), 5000 (fives), 10,000 (tens) and 20,000 (twenties). I never got my hands on a 50,000, but I know they exist. I was spending 20's like they were going outta style, and loaned one or two (thankfully got that cash back in hand a few days later). This; however, is not the purpose of my blog, but rather the back story.
Now, once we got in to Valencia there were banks everywhere. Banks, on every corner, two or three of them. You know how when you go to the DMV, and you take a number and you park yourself somewhere amoung the masses and then the little message boards light up with the next number in the que? Ya, well that's how the bank is in Venezuela. Literally........identical set up. Baffling, I know. In addition to this, there are ATMs like mad. Each bank has a row of 3 or 4 inside, and then maybe a few more outside. And infront of each ATM is a line of people going down the steps (this was a common sight each morning). I didn't have much cause to get cash, and neither did anyone I'd been hanging out with...........that was until the lunch.
We were all pretty freakin' sick and tired of the OV. The food, while edible, lacked something to be desired........... with that something being excitement. It didn't matter what you might be in the mood for - you just ate what they served you and that was all there was to it. So around day 5, when we'd all really had about enough, Todd suggested that we have a nice team lunch at an actual restaurant. Prior to this, our only restaurant experience had been McDonald's - and even that was not particularly exciting - interesting as it was. To top off the suggestion that we have a team lunch - he offered to pay..........for everyone. The exchange rate was definitely in our favor, but I was really amazed at the generousity he was suggesting. So, the team agrees that we're going out to lunch. We walk around a bit. Play in some traffic (blog about that topic to come later). And eventually find a "pizzaria" where we decided to eat. After an extreme lesson in ordering your food in Venezuela, we managed to get everyone squared away. This was all fine and dandy till it became apparent that the place didn't take Visa. The plan had been for Todd to foot the bill on his Visa, and since that was no longer an option, he figured the next best thing would be to hit up an ATM. I've used ATMs in lotsa places - even in lotsa places outside of the USA. Only one time, in Scotland, did I ever have a problem with the machine not forking over some dough. This was just not the case in Venezuela. First ATM we went to, it asks a ton of questions, wants to know your passport number and such. Ok, so we get through all that and it won't fork over and dough. Moving on to the next ATM - try things a little differently, still no dough. This process continues through at least 4 ATMs. At this point we think we'll just try for the bank teller - that was until we walked in to find that it was the DMV. Exiting stage left - we ended up walking back down to the hotel to the exchange desk there. Turns out, Todd's got mad cash on him, and can just exchange it for the necessary amount of bolivares. Truly amazing. So, with the 300,000 bolivares in hand, we make our way back down to the restaurant and pay the bill. Quite an adventure really. And, miraculously, no panic ensued (though you should know, I was on the verge).
Fast forward to Saturday - our last day there. I wanted to get a little money to buy some lunch and perhaps a souvenir or two. I'd spent my last few bucks on a couple of beers and, over the course of the week, numerous pastilitos (blog on this topic to come soon). I walk out to the front of the hotel and put my card in the ATM - it won't even go through the motions with me - it just says "no" flat out. So, I move on to the next one. I got a smidge further, but still "no." I can see where this is going and can't find a reason to continue torturing myself. Thankfully I was able to successfully use my Visa at Pizza Hut - otherwise I might have starved to death.
All in all, my recommendation would be to make sure you take care of your exchanges early on when travelling in Venezuela (and probably most of South America). The ATMs are not going to give you jack.