Tuesday, 11 December 2012
It was finally time to leave Venezuela. The advice I was given was that the best way was to get a carrito to Boa Vista as they were about 3 reais (£1) more than the bus, then get the overnight bus to Manaus. Eventually I found one outside the Chinese supermarket but it wasn't ready to go as there was a woman who'd clearly come over from Brazil to do her month's shopping and she wasn't finished. The immigration office shuts from 12-2, so if you need a passport stamp, you're out of luck. So I went for lunch, got a cab and waited for the office to open. It did at 1.45 which was a bit of a surprise. It did occur to me that maybe it was shut 12-2pm Brazilian time and that it was 15 minutes late, but that could just be my suspicious nature.
It seemed a lot of effort for a stamp. He wasn't interested in the form I'd bothered to fill in. Then it was a bit of a walk to the Brazilian border post, where I did the same. It was all quick and easy with no questions and he even fitted the stamp onto an almost full passport page, which was a plus. I'm running a bit low on blank pages.
The town on the other side, Pacaraima, is a small, sleepy place. There was a Banco Do Brazil with cash machines. Using them was a bit of a novelty after 3 weeks as the Venezuelan ones charge you the office 4.3 Bolivars to the dollar rather than the black market 13 Bolivars, so you don't use them.
I asked for R$300 and the machine said it would only give me R$140, so I took them, all in 10s. Then I went to the bus station. The contrast to a Venezuelan bus station was striking. It wasn't grim. There was a cafe with people sitting outside on tables. There weren't any armed soldiers to be best avoided. There was also a very helpful man who volunteered to translate for me as soon as I walked in. Given my Portuguese isn't great, this was appreciated. The advice was to book both the bus to Boa Vista and then onto Manaus there as it would be busy on a Sunday. The 4pm bus was scheduled to get to Boa Vista at 7pm, then there was an 8.30pm onwards. So I asked for that. The price? R$141.65. You couldn't make it up.
So back to the cash machines I went. Then I discovered the reason why I had only got R$140 out. It was empty. So was every other machine in the town. Eventually a guy in a shop gave me a R$2 note in exchange for 20Bs.
The bus seemed to stop everywhere. We got to Boa Vista at 7.55pm, which still gave me plenty of time to discover that all of the cash machines there weren't working either. Still, at least it was slimming. Mind you, all that messing around meant I forgot to get my hoody out and the overnight bus was freezing. It must kill their fuel consumption having the AC that high.
Manaus bus station is a small, poky affair. There aren't many places you can go there by bus. It did have cash machines. And one of them actually worked on the 2nd attempt. I thought about getting the bus, but they looked very full and I have a big bag, so got a cab.
He had no idea where the Hostel Manaus was, but did understand my Portuguese when I told him the street, which was a bonus. 10 minutes into the ride he tried to persuade me that we should go to some other hotel because it was better. This would be better than the place he'd never heard of? Strangely unconvinced, I stuck to my original plan.
So my advice before coming to Brazil? Make sure you got plenty of Reais, because you can't rely on their cash machines, particularly on a Sunday night. I was a bit surprised the bus company didn't take Visa as plenty of other places seem to, but they don't.