“I found a hotel in Chuí.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that. Why the fuck would we stay overnight in Chuí?”
Feng sighed. “Yeah, probably sucks. But it’s gonna take a while to do the exit/entry process and I don’t think we can catch a bus to the nearest Brazilian city on the same day. Hey, who knows? Chuí may be interesting to check out.”
Feng was right. The timing would be too tight to travel onwards the same day—Brazil is a huge country, this is not Uruguay where the next city is a two-hour bus ride away.
“So, we are officially sleeping in Chuí.”
After finding a hotel and getting our exit stamps from Uruguay and our entry stamps from Brazil, we still had some border-crossing business to do. Usually, we start with getting local currency at the bank—it takes a few tries since some ATMs don’t accept foreign cards or simply don’t work (looking at you, Argentina). This time, we were so desperate to get the hell out of Chuí as soon as possible that we started with the bus station—the entire town accepts both Uruguayan pesos and Brazilian reais anyway, which must be a nightmare for cashiers.
The Estação Rodoviária was the creepiest and least inviting bus station I had seen in a long time. Most passengers were waiting sitting outside the concrete shack stuck between two modern gas stations, and I understood why as soon as we stepped in. Picture a dark room, five plastic chairs and a fan, flies flying everywhere and cockroaches on the concrete floor—I would have stepped out too if I had to wait for a bus.
Actually, note to self—tomorrow, wait outside for the bus.
The one and only ticket booth was completely enclosed behind a wire mesh covered with printouts of bus schedules. I asked for tickets to Pelotas to a moody employee who didn’t utter a single word. I’m, not judging, the environment wasn’t exactly conductive for small talk.
When he started writing the ticket by hand, I had to turn around so that he wouldn’t see me laughing.
Hand-written tickets. What century were we in?
Fortunately, the Banco do Brasil had modern ATMs where we withdrew reais without too much trouble.
“How about checking out the duty-free shops?” Feng suggested.
“Be honest—you just want to enjoy the air con.”
He shrugged. “Duh.”
The town is divided by a main street, Avenida Brazil. On one side of it, you’re in Brazil. On the other, you’re in Uruguay.
A couple of blocks from Avenida Brazil, the Uruguayan side looks like any quiet Uruguayan town. There is a small terminal de bus, a plaza, an El Dorado supermarket, and several small businesses selling bread, meat and fruits. You could be anywhere in Uruguay. However, things get weird as you get close to Avenida Brazil. There are shops selling guns and ammo and then, along the avenue, are a dozen of duty-free shops all confusedly named “free shop.”
We stepped into one of them. Suddenly, it felt like we were in an airport, walking aimlessly around the aisles, waiting to board a flight to some fun destination. Shiny floor, annoying elevator music, American brands and overpriced oversized candies—we could have been in YOW, CDG or LHR.
I decided I didn’t need a $70 Desigual tee-shirt or a $20 jar of Nivea cream. When did Nivea start being so expensive, anyway? When I was a teen it was cream 101, the cheapest one you could buy. Okay, this was in France, aka cosmetic kingdom, I know.
We stepped out before Mark could spot the giant Chupa Chups.
Time to go to Brazil. We crossed the street.
The Brazilian side of the avenue is lined up with dozens of supermarkets. Most aren’t your usual store but more like a smaller-scale version of a Costco or Sam’s Club. Once again, we walked around the aisles, both to check out Brazilian products and to find something to eat. We only bought drinks from the cooler. We really couldn’t cook a kilo of pasta.
However, we did need to eat.
Feng had been looking forward to eating Brazilian food, mostly because it offers more variety than Argentinian and Chilean food and because many restaurants offer a “comida por kilo” buffet—it’s a good way to sample a bit of everything. Unfortunately, Brazilians eat early. Lunch is the main meal of the day and at 5 p.m., all the restaurants were closed.
We checked out the side streets. There were dozens of clothing shops but zero restaurants. I found one bakery but the food came with flies. Chuí, the city where buying a $100-dollar bottle of perfume is easier than buying food…
The Brazilian side was shutting down and people were slowly migrating to the other side of the avenue, to Uruguay, where shops close later and where it’s an hour behind. No luck there either, no restaurants.
“Fuck it. Hot dogs it is, then.”
“Wow, that went down fast. You went from ‘I’m so having a huge buffet of fruits and nice cuts of meat to let’s have mystery meat in the street’!” I joked.
I wasn’t much better off. I had bought some bread and empanadas from a bakery on the Uruguayan side but my food was cold and I couldn’t warm it up at the hotel. And since we didn’t have a fridge—usually, we store some butter and yogurt in the minibar fridge—my butter had melted and I would have to throw it away.
The hotel only had a Wi-Fi connection in the common area, which meant the dirty green couch in the hallway. I replied to emails while mosquitoes and other insects had a feast. Our room was too small and stuffy for the three of us, anyway.
“I’m going out for a bit,” I announced around 11 p.m.
“Can’t get enough of this lovely town.”
Now that clothing shops were closed, the streets were easy to navigate. Nothing was open, it was dead quiet on the Brazilian side. I didn’t feel like crossing to Uruguay. I ended up at the nearest gas station—in Brazil, in doubt, always go to the gas station convenience store—when I bought a cold drink.
Feng is used to my late-night walks.
“Yeah… I realized I was walking around in Chuí and then I thought, ‘why on earth would I do this?’”
I took off my clothes and turned the water on in the bathroom. Technically, I should have written “shower” rather than “bathroom” but since the “shower” was just a showerhead screwed on the wall with no curtains or cabin and that there was only a trickle of cold water, screw proper terminology.
I scrubbed as much as I could to get rid of the dust and the grim. I dried. The white-ish towel had turned brown. I scrubbed my wet skin with the dry parts of the towel and went back under the water to rinse again. Spa scrub in a dodgy hotel room.
When I felt clean enough, I didn’t bother putting clothes back on. I made a sandwich using the bed as a table because guess what, we didn’t have any other flat surface available and I ate my cold empanadas.
And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to sleep for a few hours. Trust me, the last thing I want is to miss the early bus out of Chuí.