Sunday, December 27, 2009

Money Woes Is Me

Thunderstorms this morning, making the air feel like we are swimming around the room. Humidity does not begin to describe it with the oppressive heat. Last night, we left the screened windows open for air; the ceiling fan was working overtime too. When I peeled myself from the sheets, it was obvious it had rained in. Luckily, my computer and camera were on the shelf under the closed window.

By the time, we made our way down our 2 flights of stairs, across the hotel and then 4 flights of stairs to the breakfast room, artificial resuscitation would have been welcomed. These stairs are not really stairs, they are like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Each one takes a contortionist movement of the legs to reach the next step. A Slinky going down them would give up in disgust and refuse to go further than 2 steps out of fear of heights. Though, the staff run up and down them like they were nothing, but the staff is mostly under 25 years old too. 

Armed with umbrellas that we never needed, we went to explore the city. A walking tour is offered, but we did not make it in time to book it, so we hoofed it on our own starting at the seaside and working our way through the maze of streets. With the electric problems, customers need to shop and plan out where to eat early in the day or there may not be as many options past 4pm. Sunset is at 6:15pm every day and by 6:45pm, it is dark. We were told this is because of the proximity to the equator. It was the same in Kenya, too. If you are looking for a glorious sunset, don't sneeze or you will miss out. 

One of the shops we came across has a number of batiked items, jewelry and hand woven scarves. Many of the products support the Masai Women's Collective to aid them in being financially independent. One of the things that attracted my attention were wonderful lounging pants, one size fits all. The skinny salesman/artist showed us how they work for keeping them in place. I had the idea of getting 2 sets for each of the bedrooms and one for each of us. Guests can use them for lounging or to come to breakfast before showering and then we just launder them when they leave us. They are wonderful 'hang-around' on a lazy day type pants; my kind of clothing. We picked out other things we wanted to buy as gifts, but without cash could only promise to return. Supporting a women's collective and young artists makes me feel like my money is well spent.

Our next venture was to the market. Stall after stall, it was not much different than Cairo or Morocco, but smaller. Everyone has a bargain; everyone wants to sell you something. The items of choice are vanilla beans and saffron. Both are dirt cheap here. In CA, the supermarkets used to keep both under lock and key due to the expense and theft. Here you can buy either for $2.00 a pod for vanilla or a packet of saffron. I will stock up before we leave. At the market and everywhere else people are hawking bags of cashews, spices, or DVDs of Swahili top ten hits. Not that I am interested, but I am curious if there really is a DVD of music in the wrapped cover they offer.

We decided we had better find an ATM and get some cash. What we had was wearisomely low. When we found the bank, there was a long a block long to use the machines. Where these due to the electrical problems or just a run on the bank? I stood in line for over thirty minutes while Ron tried finding another bank. When I finally found the machines in eye sight, I saw the Visa logo only. This was a concern since our bank ATM is a MasterCard. Sure as there is a death at the end of life, the machine would not accept my card. But, it did not inform me of this right out. We played cat and mouse with false hopes before it flashed "REJECTED, cannot make this transaction". Two blocks away was a Barclays Bank, so we went there. Suspiciously, there was no line. We went in the door, it was air conditioned. We could have stayed there for longer if the "We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this machine is currently not working. Please try again later" message flashing on the screen was not so discouraging. Now fear was creeping in. Most places do not take credit cards, but even if they could, without electricity then cannot run the cards. They have not learned or don't want to bother calling it in the old-fashioned way.

Diagonally from Barclays a half block down was another bank. I went there, but no machine at all. The bank had closed down.  With cash concerns, we returned  to our room to think things out. Some of my best ideas come when I am on the computer and sure enough, I remembered while uploading some posts that our other bank card was a Visa debit card. This is not the account I wanted to draw from, but if push came to possibly having to steal to get money, we would do it. First, we returned to Barclays. It did say to check back later and this was later. Now the damn machine was not even lit up. Someone must have shut off the generator. Back to the other bank, with fingers crossed, it swallowed my card and spit out cash. Hope of shopping trips returned, not to mention eating another meal after the provided breakfast. 

Now feeling flush, we went to the Old Fort where there is an old fort, hence the name, but also a tour booking service and tourism information. We booked the Spice Tour for tomorrow. As luck would have it, three Swedish people from our hotel arranged the same tour and requested an air conditioned van or they would  not go. Thank you Swedes.

Across the street from the fort and on the waterfront is a large park that was refurbished and reopened this year. By 6pm, it was filled with food venders cooking on grills and selling their foods. One such was grilling a root type vegetable which we had never seen before.  There was a young couple eating one nearby. I took a chance they were tourists and asked about it. It is called a maniok (we are not sure of the spelling). It is similar to a potato, but a bit different taste. We tried one and it was good, especially hot off of the grill, but not as good as it could have been slathered in butter. Another foodsmith nabbed us to show us all of his offerings. He could have been named Neptune; he had every type of sea creature ready to grill as well as potatoes, sweet potatoes (African are a bit different from what we are used to), chicken or beef on a stick, falafel, and coconut bread. After his whole speech, we turned him down and went to our cafe next to the hotel.

The soup of the day was pumpkin with coconut milk. Could I resist? No! It was delicious; so good in fact, I could have forgotten about a main dish, but I had a chicken fajita, also recommendable. Tomorrow night, we may just may attempt the food on the go, in the park, for dinner.
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