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All Quiet On The Western Union Front

Western Union, Gazin, BonitoBREAKFAST HERE AT Posada do Peralta became my lifeline. A tasty buffet that set me up for the day and, by making a couple of rolls and tucking them in my jacket pockets, kept me going through dinner time until the next morning. Sometimes I was the only one there and, secure in the knowledge I wouldn’t go hungry,  I quietly planned my day over a few cups of coffee. I could get by with no money but at the same time, I felt vulnerable with none on me.

Despite the optimistic weather forecast, the morning sun was obscured by a grey blanket of cloud and I retreated to the tent with my stolen dinner to see how much foreign currency that I might be able to change.

Camping at Pousada do PeraltaChickens scratched around the lawn for food around my tent while I scratched around inside for cash. I found a wad stashed in a document wallet that I keep all my stray papers: Colombian Pesos and Peruvian Soles. More than was reasonable since it was before I managed to estimate my budget better whenever approaching borders. I folded it best I could inside my passport and zipped it in my fleece pocket.

Rain tapped its arrival on the fabric of the tent. I’d wait until the shower passed before riding into town and checking with the Police Station. The rain continued all day while I sheltered in the tent and so I lost myself in cyberspace instead.

One of my close friends back in the UK called up on WhatsApp and offered to help after I’d put an update on Facebook. She initiated a Western Union transfer, which appeared to be fast and successful. There are three Western union locations listed in Bonito and it was Friday evening. Two were banks and closed at the weekend. Saturday was indicated to be open at Gazin so I was all set for trotting down to the agent at the Gazin store with an optimistic spring in my step.

Gazin, Bonito, BrazilA wet Saturday morning dawned into a muted greyness. I gave up waiting for the rain to stop and ventured out during a drizzle break to ride down to Gazin. Yes, the store was open, no the Western Union desk wasn’t “Come back Monday at 11 am.” was as much Portuguese as I could decipher.

Meanwhile, I nipped to the Police station just around the corner, in hope rather than expectation. An English speaking policeman was a nice surprise and he took some notes and offered to fill in a report for my insurance. No need, I don’t have travel insurance. He said he’d let me know if the wallet turns up…

Policia Militar, BonitoThe weather had killed life in Bonito and Saturday had been drowned on its glistening silver streets. The drizzle had upgraded itself to rain ready for my journey back to Peralta, I returned empty-handed and with a quilted jacket that had gained three times its weight in water along the way.

Sunday. It didn’t matter that the rain had stopped. Bonito is closed on Sundays. “Hang Tough” was a phrase that came to mind. It wasn’t raining but the temperature plunged to the low teens. With nothing to do, it was difficult staying warm. Bonito’s weather resembles one of those cheap showers that you can adjust too hot or too cold but rarely just right for a sustained amount of time.

The shock of losing of the wallet had worn off after the first 24 hours. I had given up shuffling through my belongings mumbling “I don’t believe it.” That attitude clouded my mental vision. Now I could see how much worse this situation could have been. I still had my passport, vaccination certificate and bike documents. Indeed I was lucky that I had lost the wallet where I was currently camping, as the bill for food and lodging is only settled on departure. I had shelter, food, power and WiFi. Three of which I’d be short of out in the wild. Had I been in Bolivia, postage would also have been a concern.

Banco do Brasil, BonitoThe next day, Gazin’s computer system was down. Banco do Brazil was on Western Union’s list as an agent only four blocks away. I went there to try my luck.

I took the ticket from the dispenser from the bank’s machine in the lobby before squeezing the contents of my bag through a transparent flap in the glass partition protecting the main office and passing through a rotating security door. I took a seat. My ticket was ‘A44.’ the screen Bradesco Bank, Bonito, Brasildisplayed A38. Two hours later, ‘ping!’ A44 and was swiftly instructed via Google translate that Banco Do Brazil could only release funds either to their own customers or Brazilian residents, surely I deserved more time than that after a two-hour wait. Bradesco bank told me similar but faster and less security ritual.

I returned to Gazin. Yes, the system was back up. No, I couldn’t have the money. The excuse was lost in translation… and I retreated to regroup for the next day. The battle was lost but the war was still on…

Options then: Keep hacking at the claws of Western Union’s grip on my cash at Gazin; have replacement cards sent to this hostel; settle the bill using Bank Transfer, Paypal or Transferwise and make a run to a border town with more facilities? I still had the currency in my pocket although I hadn’t needed cash so far, even after so many days.

WU EmailChecking my email, my original Western Union transfer had been reviewed by support and cleared. I had a new reference number to play with but, looking closely at the details, the email receipt specified “Bank Account or Mobile Wallet.” What? Cash was omitted from the selection. What was the use of that? Brazil runs on 1. Cash, 2. Card Payments, and I possessed neither.

Running around Bonito, I had attracted a couple of contacts: Isaac, an English teacher, who stepped in on his own initiative when I was struggling with communicating with lobby staff at Banco do Brazil; and Luiz Antonio, a lawyer parked next to me on his BMW R80. He was curious about the little Yamaha with the Peruvian plate and gave me his number should I need help after shooting a short Youtube interview on his phone.

I texted Isaac the very next day, asking if he could meet me at Gazin to translate. Ten minutes later we were at the Western Union desk. Isaac relayed to me that they could only release funds when the sender’s credit card bill had been paid. The thing is, it had been paid using debit card… We all looked at each other and some of us shrugged…

They make it up as they go along, I swear…


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