Accessing money abroad was a routine that for the most part was pretty similar to back home: Walk up to the ATM, check out your surroundings, walk away with the cash concealed. Sure, we had to be more cautious carrying large amounts of cash in countries like Cambodia, but aside from that everything else was the same. Going to ATM abroad really doesn’t deserve any special attention, except when you’re visiting Indonesia.
It was dusk on one of our first nights in Ubud, Bali. We were exhausted and running low on Rupiah we had received in exchange for Thai Baht when we entered the country. A constant stream of motorbikes raced by us, their wheels kicking up dust that hung in the air as we walked on the main road past locals who followed, persistently trying to sell us things. We had tried two ATMs already – both out of cash – and arrived at a “bank,” which was still under construction with an ATM out front illuminated by a single fluorescent light plugged into a power strip in the wall.
A few locals on the side of the street watched as we cautiously approached the ATM so as not to wake the stray dog that slept on the steps outside. Bethany kept one eye on them and another on the dog as I tried to discretely cram a 50-note brick of 2.5 Million Rupiah into my wallet. The Rupiah is valued at about 11,500 (IDR) to 1 USD and almost all ATMs have 1.25 or 2.5 million IDR limits. The highest denomination note is 100,000 IDR, but most ATMs will only provide 50,000 notes.
It’s not easy to swiftly conceal a stack of money the size of a small paperback with tired hands and the perception of a foreigner handling the equivalent of several months income in this part of the world quickly attracts attention. As soon as I forced the wallet to fold shut we quickly left, careful not to be followed by anyone down the quieter side streets toward our guesthouse.