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Written on: Sunday September 2nd, 2007

A journal entry from: Bolivia, Peru, and the Galapagos!

I arrived in Quito yesterday afternoon and was at my hotel by 1:30 pm. I was exhausted when I arrived so I took a 3 hour nap. I didn't sleep well last night. I'm not sure why, but I do know that while I laid in bed awake I kept itching my sunburned torso. The skin had begun to peel away. Sigh...

After my nap, I visited the ATM near the hotel so that I could withdraw my "local payment" for this new tour. I needed $300 cash that night as well as $100 for the Galapagos National Park fee that I had to pay when I arrived on the archipelago. At this point, I had only 10 Peruvian Soles in my wallet, and the ATM would only let me take out $400 (apparently, my daily limit), so I effectively had no money that I could spend on dinner unless I stayed in at the hotel (they had room service, so I decided this was a good plan). One interesting thing about this ATM stop was that the bank had installed a 24-hour armed security guard in a secure booth to protect the ATM. I wasn't sure if this made me feel safer to have the extra security, or less safe because the ATM must have surely been located in a bad neighborhood to deserve such extra security. In any case, the hotel was just 20 yards away, so I figured I had a very short distance to run!

After the ATM stop, I met most of my new group along with a tour company representative in the hotel restaurant. This new group was much more diverse than my past group. I'm not sure if that's because of our final destination, or because its September and all the teachers have gone back to work. In any case, the group is now made up of: an Irish mother/daughter couple (turns out the daughter is in her third year of law school at Boston College), a Canadian couple who work in pharmaceutical regulation (woman 40, man early 50's), a retired American couple from New York (late 50s), a retired Irish man (late 60s), a mid-30's Australian woman, a 29 year old physical therpist woman from Canada, a mid-20's American woman from New York, a mid-50's American woman from California who had retired in Costa Rica, and two retired Canandian woman (late 60s) that were each traveling solo. After our meeting, I went up to my room and settled in for room service and an early night.

This morning, we had a 7:30am shuttle to the airport to catch our flight to the Galapagos. At the airport, the first thing we were required to do was to put our bags through a scanner. They then attached a tag to it that said it had been "inspeccionado" and then we walked it across the lobby to the ticket counter to check it into our flight. The process seemed a bit out of order to me. Next, I went in search of money. Our tour leader had told us that we could visit the ATM before departing, and also we could exchange travelers checks for a reasonable rate (4% commission). I went to the first ATM I spotted and attempted to withdraw the last $90 out of my checking account (I had lost the ATM card for my other checking account, which was still full, but now out of reach). The ATM thought about the transaction for a while and then told me that the operation had timed out. This was a weird message from an ATM, but since we had had troubles with ATMs in South America many times before on this trip, I didn't think much about it. I moved onto the next ATM which then told me that I didn't have enough money in my account, and upon checking my balance it said I had only $5. Yikes! What happened to the other $90 that was just there moments ago?? I still have no clue where it went as I write this journal entry as I didn't have time to call my bank to sort it out before I caught my flight. Instead I rushed to exchange travelers checks.

Now I have several valuable lessons regarding money and traveling abroad, and I am glad I was prepared. First of all, ATM cards are great and they give you the best exchange rate, but split your money between two banks. Then, if you lose one card, you still have access to cash with the other bank card (your bank will obviously not mail you a replacement card in South America!). Second, bring travelers checks. The ATMs in South America frequently don't work (or steal your cards or money), and these checks will be a savior in that case.