“Did you buy the bus tickets?”

“Yes! There was a long lineup again at Tres Cruces but I got—”

“… Bad news.”


“The hotel cancelled on us.”

“What the fuck?”

“I just received the email.”

“But… but they can’t do that!”

“Wanna call?”

“No, but I guess I have to.”

We shushed Mark who was very unhappy to lend “his” tablet and we dialled a +598 number on Skype because this is apparently Uruguay’s area code— if +1 is the country code for both Canada and the US, Centre of the Universe, Uruguay is in a galaxy far, far away.

After arguing in Spanish for fifteen minutes, it turned out that no, you can’t just cancel someone’s confirmed booking like that but tough luck, adios.

I can’t convince Mark it’s really best not to jump around while eating, so it comes at no surprise that I can’t persuade a random Uruguayan landowner to honour a booking for a place that’s already rented out.

“Big deal, find another place, then!” you’re probably thinking.

Sure, we could have, if we weren’t going to Punta del Diablo, aka middle-of-nowhere Uruguay, where affordable accommodation options are scarce. We can’t show up without a reservation. Think spread out town, dirt roads and tons of Brazilian and Argentinian tourists who rented anything available so that they wouldn’t have to sleep in their car.

We don’t even have a car to sleep in.

But we did have tickets for the 9:40 a.m. bus from Montevideo to Punta del Diablo now.

“Let’s call Booking.com,” I suggested.

From the hotel room in Montevideo, Uruguay, we listened to a menu in British English before being connected to a call centre employee in Michigan, US (current temperature, 57ºF she mentioned—I assume she meant Fahrenheit…)

Booking.com was somewhat helpful and we found a solution. Great teamwork! It’s not that often that Feng and I call a 1-800 number and take turns talking to solve an issue. Awesome!

We were about to award ourselves a “Best Problem-Solving Skills as a Couple” trophy.

Yes, Mark, you can have the tablet back.

Four hours later, we realized the solution found wasn’t that great and we started arguing. See, from Montevideo, there were two possible routes. I won’t bother you with the details because unless you grew up in the area or have Google Maps handy, it gets a bit technical. But there was Route A, my pick, plan A until the hotel booking was cancelled. Feng didn’t like it much and was in favour of Route B, the easiest and more straightforward.

We argued until 2 a.m.

The following morning, we changed plans and went for Route B. I wasn’t super happy with it but hey, on the other hand, Route A was becoming difficult.

This is where Montevideo turned into “Hotel California”—the “You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave” part.

We extended our stay in Montevideo for a day—lucky us, the room wasn’t booked—Feng made arrangements for Route B, which include buying plane tickets, and we were all good. We even walked back to Tres Cruces, Montevideo’s bus terminal, and had the $60 tickets to Punta del Diablo refunded (minus 10%, fair enough).

One Subway sandwich and some grocery shopping later, we were finally back at the hotel. It was around 9:30 p.m. when Feng received a first email saying the tickets couldn’t be issued, blah, blah blah, credit card details had to be verified, blah, blah blah.

Feng called the bank, no issue there.

Then he called Cheapfares.com—remember the name, because this website is a scam—and the agent made him repeat the info a million times. Feng was looking at me helplessly as I was making yet another ham-and-cheese sandwich, listening to the conversation.

“’Q,’ as in… ‘question.’ ‘J’ as in ‘John’…”

“As in ‘Jorge’” I offered, trying to help.

“The call centre is in India,” Feng whispered.

Right. So, I wasn’t helping.

Fifteen minutes later, everything was fine, we had three plane tickets confirmed.

Twenty minutes later, Feng received another email saying the tickets couldn’t be issued because credit card details had to be verified. He had another frustrating conversation with a call centre agent—“’Y’ as in… ‘Young’…”—and we were told plane tickets were issued.

A confirmation email followed.

I worked for an hour then I went to take a shower. “If you need the computer, go ahead, now is a good time,” I told Feng, grabbing my towel.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

You guessed it, Feng was checking his bank account and he had just noticed the plane ticket purchase was pending, and then was being refunded.

By then, it was 1 a.m.

“Okay, Mark. Just go to sleep. And if you hear mommy and daddy yelling at someone, don’t worry about it. Good night!”

So, this time, the call centre agent—“’o’ as in ‘one’…”—made no sense whatsoever. Two tickets had gone through, he explained, but not the third one, so the entire purchase was refunded.

“Can we please have the tickets issued?”

“Unfortunately, the flight is full now.”

I lost it.

“How is that my problem? We paid for tickets, you issue the tickets! We have a confirmation email! We’re supposed to be flying 24 hours from now!”

Calling on Skype from a tablet is awesome for a two-against-one argument, by the way.

“Now, we do have other tickets available for a much higher price…”

“So, basically, you’re a scam.”

The agent took offence. “Of course, not!”

Of course, you are. You’re offering tickets for a price, don’t issue them and then get customers to purchase other tickets for a higher price.

We hung up.

It’s 3 a.m. right now.

We have no bus tickets, no plane tickets, and no hotel room.

Route A is no longer an option.

Route B is no longer an option.

Wish us luck!

Sorting the laundry on the hotel bed in Montevideo at 1 a.m. while Feng is calling scammers on Skype
Sorting the laundry on the hotel bed in Montevideo at 1 a.m. while Feng is calling scammers on Skype

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  1. Martin Penwald January 24, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    Hey! Hitchhicking!

    It’s weird, but I don’t say a place is in the middle of nowhere if it is on a coast. Maybe because I was born on a coastal town.

      1. Martin Penwald January 25, 2018 at 9:43 pm

        I see what you mean. Small towns in Texas back country could look like that, but without the activity and the appeal.

        1. Zhu January 25, 2018 at 10:05 pm

          Uruguay in general is pretty rural. Roads are good but there are few stops practical for travelers without a car to sleep in.

  2. kiky January 24, 2018 at 10:14 pm

    my heart pounds now…

    1. Zhu January 25, 2018 at 12:37 am

      To be followed soon!

  3. I Say Oui January 26, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Traveling: not for the faint-hearted! Thanks for taking us along.

    1. Zhu January 28, 2018 at 10:15 pm

      I can’t complain though, I love it 🙂

  4. Pingback: Jumping into The Known Unknown – Montevideo To…

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