The first night in Flores was a very, very rainy one. One of the beauties about Los Amigos Hostel, proves to be one of its flaws as well. Being very open and green, when it rains, the distance from the private rooms and dorms, is completed uncovered so it is a slippery, wet, and cold journey to the bathrooms and back and when you climb back into your bunk, you are completely awake. Looking on the bright side, when you get back into that warm bed, you have never felt so cozy in your life.
Who needs sleep anyways?! I was in Guatemala. I woke up, got some scrambled eggs in me, got down to a bit of work and needed to find an ATM to get out some cash to book my trip to Tikal, the famous ruins in the area. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Tikal, but it was the thing to do in the area, and I love ruins and ancient history, so I planned to do it.
I strolled across the bridge away from the island to the center of the town and kept my eyes open for a bank I recognized.
Travellers Tip: Never take out money from a stand alone ATM in a touristy area. Always, if possible find an ATM attached to a bank, or one that a bank will be responsible for.
As I passed multiple ATM’s I had a flashback to a few years before, when I was in Puerto Barrios in Guatemala, about to make my trip by river boat and van, to Semuc Champey. I was stuck in one sweaty vestibule after another trying my hardest to get money out, but being rejected each time until my Canadian card almost got cancelled. Problem with the Guatemalan bank system, is they claim to be on the PLUS debit system but do not recognize many cards from foreign countries. Also, many of the ATM’s are a separate company not associated with the bank that look like the old Metal Slug arcade game. Colourful buttons, shapes, and icons that look anything but professional, and unfortunately, these 5B ATM’s, are absolutely tragic. I went from bank to bank, to shopping mall, all of which only sporting these blue and gold game console style money dispensers. I needed money and with numerous banks telling me they could not withdraw money, or they only did not have an ATM, I settled on one that was connected to Banco Guatemala. I waited until a man had come out of it, and asked him in Spanish if it worked. He said that it did, so I walked in fingers crossed hoping it would accept my card. Even selecting the broken English is hard and the words next to the button do not line up so you are crouching down and standing up looking to see if you are pressing the right button. Eventually, I selected to take out $200 USD worth of Quetzal’s and waited to see if it would go through. “Please take your cash” appeared on the screen and the rolling sound of the money counters gave me false hope, and I heard and saw my receipt appear, and the flap to the money slot close, showing no money. “Thank you for using 5B services.”
I stood there absolutely infuriated and in disbelief. I tried to open the metal gate with my hand, I looked around to see if somehow, the money had shot out and hit the floor. Nothing. The quiet machine seemed to look up at me and smile like saying “sucker!” I thought to myself, well, no money came out, maybe I was not charged! Of course, as soon as I pulled up my online banking, I had not only been charged for the money, but the service fee of about 5 dollars had been charged TWICE. Normally, if I was home or dealing with my own bank in Canada, a call, and explanation would get the money returned into my account in a day. Not in this part of the world. Between a Guatemalan ATM that had claimed to have given me the money , and my Mexican bank that would be very slow to get around to refunding any money, I knew the next few days would be a hassle.
Being after hours at the bank, I had to wait until the next day to go into the bank, only to have the first person I dealt with essentially shrug their shoulders and say the bank is a separate company. I then sat down at another persons desk and demanded that something be done. You are sharing a building with the ATM, it has your bank name on the door, do something.
Thankfully, this lady has obviously had this situation arise as she got on the horn and called a number she knew off by heart. A few questions to me, asking to view my passport a couple times, and a scribble on a notepad, she had put the wheels in motion of getting my money returned.
It would still be another 2 weeks, 4-5 phone calls, opening a “case” file with my Mexican bank, and a few emails later, until finally, the money was deposited bank into my account.
By the time I had been to the bank in Flores, dealt with my bank, waited out the rain that had rolled in, I had been in Flores for 4 nights and was ready to get moving.