Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve

This is an exercise in absurdity. Our hotel prefers cash payments due to their electric problems, but also with the bank's electric problems. They cannot always get the credit card to go through. They could do it the old fashioned way of calling it in, but they claim they cannot always get through. Yada, yada, yada. For a large expensive, full service hotel, you would think they had a better back up system to aid the guest. When they do take credit cards, they ONLY take VISA, not MasterCard. So my questions that went unasked are why they do not warn guests in an e-mail prior that they first of all are having the electric problems on the island, which may cause disruptions, second that they would prefer cash, and third that ATMs that work are as rare as the Red Colobus monkeys are on Mars. The worst part of this is that the hotel 236 Hurumzi, is owned by an American who opened it over ten years ago and has expanded it ever since. You would think he would know better by this time how to handle tourism, but he admitted to us that he does not even own a credit card. All well and good for him, but he is not the guest.

My original intent was to pay the bill using my MasterCard debit card on our euro account. This was not going to work if they only took Visa. Being hotter than 6 feet from the sun's surface today, Ron suggested we take a taxi to the Barclays Bank where we knew our MC and their ATM would play nicely together. The taxi took us to the bank passing the People's Commerce Bank along the way, where only Visa is accepted, but they had a line snaking 2 blocks long, none of it in the shade. At the Barclays, I jump out. There is a mob, not a line, but a mob. After a few hand signals from non-English speaking natives, I come to find out they are waiting to get into the bank itself. Only 2 are allowed inside at a time. There were only 4 people ahead of me for the ATM. Jackpot! Well, for 5 minutes it seemed like a winner, but then an armored truck pulled up. The security guard with a big fat machine gun made everyone leave the area. Only the person standing at the ATM in the middle of a transaction was allowed to finish. Ron was sitting the air conditioned taxi waiting. When I popped back in, the driver suggested another bank. That bank had 2 ATMs, but no line. Suspiciously, I approached. No electric on either one. The guard confirmed they were not working. Back in the taxi, we went to another. Same story, different bank. The fourth bank had a line, so that was a good sign. I was number twelve. There were 2 women in there together who were taking so long, the guard went in twice to yell at them. Ten minutes later, they emerged and they were already in there when I arrived. Calculating how long it would take me to reach the machine, standing in the hot sun, watching Ron and the driver sit in the air conditioned car, I put curses on the hotel, Zanzibar, Tanzanian banks, and everyone else adding to my discomfort in the heat. I jumped back in the taxi telling Ron the hotel could take a credit card and like it. This was their fault after all for not warning us. Just by chance, I had the driver take us back to the first Barclay's bank. No truck, only 3 people in line for the machine, I jumped out, told Ron to send the taxi on his way. It had now cost us more than twice the original amount quoted. Eureka! I was able to get the money needed.

Walking back, we went through the big market. I bought another bag of vanilla beans for less than what I paid on the spice tour. I had him through in a bag of red saffron too. We stopped at the Zanzibar Coffee Company on the way. It is not air conditioned, but they did have fans and it was cooler than outside. When we made it back to the hotel, we counted out our money.

After paying the hotel and paying for the New Year's dinner tonight, we had about $6.00 left over for all day New Year's Day. Oh, hell! Originally, we had booked the New Year's dinner here at the hotel, which was supposed to be quite a show with entertainment and multi-course meal, but when we checked in we saw that it was $125.00 per person. There was no way we were going to pay that, so we canceled those reservations right quickly and hoped something else would turn up. With the electric issues, it was iffy which restaurants would be open and who could cook, but we found that the Fort Museum had a buffet and entertainment three nights a week. One of the nights was Thursday, which happened to be New Year's Eve. We booked it for $25. each. 

On the way, I started thinking about our lack of funds, so took the Visa ATM card with us. We went to the bank that has the long lines all of the time, because it was closest. Ron fussed that we could do this tomorrow, but I insisted that doing it after the sun has set was smarter than during the heat of the day. At the rate people were going through the line, he estimated we would finish in an hour. An hour tonight was better than 2 tomorrow. When we were 4th in line, people came out crumbling, all natives. When I asked someone what they were saying, I did not like the response. The machine is out of money. Well, I would not take that for an answer, so while the rest were moaning, I moved forward. Like hitting the lottery, the money spit out. We could eat another day.

At the fort, we bought our tickets. The "restaurant" is outdoor seating at the edge of the historic fort built by somebody to protect their conquered goods from being ripped off by some other invader who really had no right to be here to begin with. The buffet was simple at best, not having 1/2 of what is advertised for other dinner buffets. Rice, chippata, stewed vegetables, beef on a skewer, chicken, fish, and fruit. Drinks were extra. Supposedly an all-you-can-eat buffet, it all disappeared after the first half hour. The entertainment consisted of a drummer, and accordianist, and two female singers who sang to us in Swahili. Grand total, there were 8 of us there for dinner and 2 others who were there for the show only. By 9:30, it was all over. Such a festive New Years were were having.

To work off that one shot at the buffet we had, we walked around the park. It was grounded and the food vendors were there selling their food. Deciding that this year was not going to be as festive as the last two, we returned to the hotel. Outside on the street, three dancers were performing Swahili dances. All the neighborhood came to watch, so we sat and watched also. When they were done, we went to our little cafe for a cup of tea. Moments later the dancers and drummers followed us in and gave us a command performance, but their command, not ours. It was fun, but by 11pm, we were in bed reading and slept through the changing of the years.  

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