The Quest for Functioning ATM’s in the Philippines

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Ferry boats I used to get from one island to another in the Philippines.


Cash is king. Credit card usage is usually non-existent for accommodations or restaurants in small towns or small islands in the Philippines.

Even booking a room with an international agency as and paying with my credit card to reserve the room online does not guarantee that you won’t be expected to come up with the cash once you reach your destination. This has been my recent experience while traveling for a month in the Philippines. This is usually not a problem as ATM’s are prevalent just about everywhere I’ve been, but here, between “brownouts” when the town has no electricity for a few minutes to several hours or the entire day,  this can be slightly challenging or frustrating depending on my mood, which has a direct correlation to how much sleep I got, or when I ate last. Like my mood was on my recent 24-hour transit from one island to another, sleeping on metal benches at the ferry terminal because I couldn’t make the connection from the last ferry and had a 4 a.m. departure for the next one. Sleeping on the metal benches is common practice here, as people from all over use these massive ferries to transport themselves, cars, and supplies from one island to another. By my 4 a.m. departure rolled around, all the above boxes had been checked; hungry, tired, and cranky the eternal quest for an ATM that actually gave me money was wearing thin. The owner of the Dive resort where I was staying had told me to go to the mall in town, I took a cyclo to get there, where I was directed to the one and only ATM outside, easily found due to the line of people behind it. My turn came and I tapped English on the touch screen, typed in my pin and requested 8,000 Phipilline Pesos about the equivalent of 150.00 USD, waited as the icon spun on the screen, and then read sorry, no large bills, only multiples of 100. Huh? What does that mean? Could I only get 100 Pesos out? That was the equivalent of less than 2.00 USD. I waved to the woman behind me and with English as her second language, she translated; it meant I would have to get my 8,000 pesos in increments of a hundred. Ok, understood.  I only requested 4,000, as I was concerned I may not be able to get that large of the amount of cash at one go. So out popped 4,000 in 100 peso denominations, quite a roll of bills. The line continued to grow while I did my transaction and I was concerned about holding up the line. I politely went to the back of the line after that transaction and patiently waited for my turn again. By the time I got to the front again, the woman before me and I were having a friendly chat. She went to the screen and did her transaction, waited for her money to come out or at least her card. Nothing happened. She called the security guard over and he stared at the screen with her. At that point, I was nervous about it eating my card too. After what seemed like a long time, her card finally popped out, but no money. The machine was empty of money, another common occurrence here! Oh no, due to my politeness, I missed the opportunity to get more money to pay my bill at the dive resort. I asked someone in the line if there was another one and she recommended an ATM near City Hall close by and also a resort quite a distance away. The Philippine people are so friendly, helpful, and polite. The driver took me to the first one and I asked him to wait. No luck there. He didn’t know where the resort was, but I knew it was near the beach; he asked another driver and then a 20 minutes drive later I recognized the neighborhood, then I recognized the road. It was around the corner from where I was staying! In the hotel, there was an ATM next to the reception. Cha-ching! It gave me the money I needed. “They fixed it today,” the desk clerk told me. I questioned the owner f the dive shop who sent me on the wild goose chase to the mall.  Why didn’t you just send me around the corner? “Because it hasn’t been working for ages,” he told me. “Well, it was fixed today,” I told him. He laughed and said, “Yes, that means they put money in it, that’s how they fix it!”

I get to practice patience all the time while traveling, it’s never been my strongest quality, but I’m getting much better at it.

Inside the ferry, sleeping bunks and fresh air.

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