What would you do if you rocked up to this tropical slice of Galapagos paradise with enough cash for a hotel room, a drink and absolutely nothing else? Panic? Or trust life?
I bought my ticket for the boat that would ferry me from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz to Isla Isabela at 13:55PM, ran to the marina and made it with a minute to spare. We should have left at 14:00PM, but time ticked by and my breathing returned to normal as we sat bobbing around watching boats load up for inter-island trips.
At this point I should have gone to the cashpoint. I didn’t. But not to worry. There was an ATM on the island of Isabela, supposedly. All good. I could get some out when I got there.
This is where fancy free travel, last minute decisions and lack of research come undone. Of course there wasn’t an ATM.
‘You don’t take cards?’ I ask Fabricio at Tropical Adventures when I went to book a US$60 tour to visit some volcanic tunnels and craters, ‘Oh, okay… where is the cashpoint’. He looked at me and smiled. ‘No ATMs. There is no a way to get out money in the town. Well, maybe it’s possible’.
Together with an older couple I took to the streets of Puerto Villamil, the main habitation on Isla Isabela. They needed money too, and they needed me. Their Spanish was terrible. I should have charged for my time, been entrepreneurial. I needed the money.
Our first stop at a minimarket proved fruitless, only accepting cards from Banco de Guayaquil or American Express. They sent us on to Hotel Albermarle. Why? Who knows. Maybe because the woman there spoke English.
‘There is no ATM on Isabela, no way to get cash out ‘, she said, ‘but you could try MoneyGram or Western Union’. Both instant money transfers carried hefty fees but to regain my independence and address my complete helplessness it was going to have to happen.
I tried to do a money transfer but it was declined, possibly because I tried to send money to myself. Maybe, however, it was because a few days earlier the fraud squad at my bank picked up that my card may have been copied in Bolivia and had since placed restrictions on my account. Oh travelling, oh South America. Either way, it wasn’t happening.
I stopped for a moment and thought about my options. I didn’t even have enough cash to leave the island the following day, let alone stay another night, take tours and see the place. How totally silly.
I did what I never wanted to do. I emailed my dad to bail me out. Oh, the shame.
Next I went to cancel my place on the tour before joining a Swede and a French guy for dinner. ‘What would you like?’ asked the waiter. I’d studied the menu and my mind. ‘Just a small beer’, I told him. It was cheaper than a juice and would leave me with 20 cents. Let the alcohol numb my frustration. I watched the other guys tuck into seafood feasts.
Back in my hotel room I was so glad I’d brought along yesterday’s leftover pasta. With no cutlery I squeeze-ate it out of its plastic storage bag. The height of glamour. Dessert was a packet of Oreos that had been squished in my bag for a week or so, but let’s keep things in perspective, at least I had dessert. A little bit of luxury.
I spent a restless night wondering how I was going to get out of this mess, whether the transfer would work, and the next morning I Skyped with my family. After an extended process including phone calls to India and the US, £300 with a £25 fee was transferred to Ecuador. But I still didn’t physically have the money and I wasn’t confident that I’d get my hands on it.
MoneyGram in Puerto Villamil was situated in a convenience store where, typically, the cashier was out on business when I showed up. I’d have to return in an hour or come back later in the day.
But wait a minute! Fabricio at Tropical Adventures had done me a huge favour when I’d tried to scrub my name off the tour list the previous night. ‘Don’t cancel’, he said, ‘I’ll see you at 08:30AM, okay?’
I had a few minutes to make up my mind. In a predicament where I wasn’t confident that I could get the money but where there was definite potential for a withdrawal later in the day, would I gamble and go on the trip?
Hell yeah! Trust life, trust it will work out.
8 responses to “Why didn’t I think this through? Reality kicks in”
Great to read about your South American adventures we start our 11 month trip in Rio in a fortnight! We’re hoping Galapagos will be a real highlight.
11 months in South America? That sounds amazing and you’ve given yourselves a really good time scale so that you’re not too rushed. Enjoy, and check back for more Galapagos stories! – I look forward to reading yours too 🙂
ha, this has happened to me so many times (most importantly RIGHT NOW), except i’m way too broke for it to happen in the galapagos.
Oh no! I hope you manage to work through it somehow! I’ve found working for accommodation a good way to catch you breath and take stock if you’re broke – HelpX or WWOOFing are always good options (the bonus is you meet some interesting people and get a different perspective on your worries). You tried either of these before? Regarding the Galapagos – I wrote a post back in October 2011 after I made a decision not to visit the islands for a few reasons (primarily financial). Since I’ve realised that there are definitely cheaper ways to visit them – I’ll put together a blog post about costs and benefits of independent Galapagos travel. Good luck with your finances…!
yup, i’ve tried both those things in the past. i have a place to live, i just ran out of cash yesterday and the nearest ATM is far and i haven’t really eaten since. gonna make the trek to my monies now!
Good luck with your mission. Sounds like you know what you’re doing 🙂
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