Cashless.

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This blog entry about the events of Friday, April 30, 2004 was originally posted on May 11, 2004.

DAY 195:  On Easter weekend, I found myself stranded in Livingstone, Zambia without any money because all the in-town ATMs only accepted Visa/Plus/Electron-based bank cards and my Citibank ATM card was on the MasterCard/Cirrus/Maestro network.  It’s true what the Visa company says in their ad campaign:  Visa.  It’s everywhere you want to be.  (However, I’m told MasterCard is accepted in more places than Visa in Southeast Asia.)

Of course I found myself stranded in another NMCZ (No MasterCard Zone) and on another bank holiday too; the first of May is Labour Day in most countries around the world.

THE ORIGINAL PLAN BEFORE I discovered the bank holiday was simple:  wake up and drop off my unneeded items at Tony and Ted’s flat and go to the Tin Tin Tours office by eight, so Freddie could take me to the bank or exchange bureau.  There I could get a cash advance off a credit card in order to pay for my Mount Kilimanjaro trek to leave right after that day. 

The first part of the plan was easy; I took a cab to Tony’s to drop off my things and hang out for a bit to watch CNN while my batteries recharged.  Tony directed me to a taxi which took me to Tin Tin by eight.  Freddie got a guy named Sammy to drive us around town in a jeep to places where we could get some cash.  Despite the fact that it was Labour Day, Freddie figured that in a tourist hub like Moshi, things would be open anyway.


MY PARENTS GAVE ME AN EMERGENCY CREDIT CARD, and while I originally had no plans to use it, it was my only Visa card on my person.  In our family we’re not accustomed to knowing the PINs for credit cards (only ATM cards), but after the Easter weekend ordeal, my parents were in the process of getting it for me.  Sammy drove us to an international calling center where I could call to find out, but during a $16 call, my mother said that Visa didn’t send them a PIN — only an application for a PIN.  The process of getting the actual PIN was still going.

Calling your mother in New Jersey to see if she received a PIN (and to wish her an early Happy Mother’s Day):  Cashless.

We drove over to the Standard Chartered Bank to see if there was a teller available, but the security guard said they were closed for the holiday, despite Freddie’s guess.  For kicks I used the Visa-only ATM there, but I only got an error saying that they weren’t able to connect to my network.

Visiting the local bank on a bank holiday:  Cashless.

So the bank wasn’t open, but perhaps the one money exchange bureau in town that could charge off a credit card would be.  Moshi was a tourist hub, right?  Wrong again.

Going to a closed money exchange bureau:  Cashless.

“What are my options?” I asked Freddie.  He too was surprised at all the dead ends on the first of May and had a really dumbfounded look on his face.  Sammy then had this idea; he said there was an old man in town that would help out tourists and that maybe he would loan me the money.  Yes, we had resorted to loan sharks, but it was worth a shot.

Sammy drove us to the old man’s big house, which was surrounded by a tight security perimeter like he was The Godfather or something.  We pulled up to the gate and knocked on the door.  A minute later a woman opened up.  Sammy asked if The Don was available in Swahili.  She went into investigate, closing the gate behind her.

Would there be interest if I borrowed money from this guy?  I don’t even know him.  He doesn’t even know me.  Would I have to return a favor to this guy sometime down the line, i.e. would I have to rub somebody out?

We waited for a while until the woman came back with the bad news:  her boss was away to take care of some business.  What that business was I dared not ask.

Knocking on the door of a loan shark (and possible mob boss):  Cashless.

Freddie was fresh out of ideas so we headed back to the office to consult with Mr. Kimario.  On the way I had the bright idea that maybe I could wire the money to myself using the Western Union website at an internet cafe and the local office in town.  Upon arriving at Western Union, we discovered that it too was closed.

Trying to use the company claiming “the fastest way to send money”:  Cashless.


MR. KIMARIO AND FREDDIE had a brainstorming session back at the Tin Tin Tours office.  Their business, like many other tour agencies in town, didn’t take credit cards themselves; usually banks and bureaus were open so they wouldn’t need to.  It was just a coincidental predicament on an unlucky date of the calendar.  In the end, the conclusion was that the only way to get money that May day was to go to the more touristy city of Arusha, about 88 km. away.  With one hour to get there and one to get back, we were cutting it close; we had to be back in Moshi by one if I was to get to the national park gate in time to hike the three hours to the first base camp up the mountain.

We only had about three hours to get the money and the race was on.  Freddie and I left the streets of Moshi (picture above) and hopped in a public shared minivan headed westbound.  (With high gas prices, it wasn’t worth Sammy driving us back and forth in the jeep.)


A CROWDED ONE HOUR AND TEN MINUTE RIDE LATER, we arrived in Arusha, a place more likely to have open money services with its international hotels and presence of the United Nations’ HQ for the International Tribunal for Rwanda War Crimes, prosecuting the international genocidal criminals of 1994.  From the minibus we got into a taxi, which took us to the Impala Hotel.  Freddie led me to the in-house money bureau.

“How much do you need?” the woman working there asked.

“Fifteen hundred,” I said, placing my MasterCard on the desk.  “In dollars.”  I explained that I was taking out such a big amount all at once to avoid multiple service charges.

The woman was about to process it, but decided to be honest with me.  The office’s rate was really low and she didn’t want me to get more ripped off than I already would be at any exchange office.  She referred me to an office with a better rate at the Arusha Resorts.

Visiting the first open money exchange bureau in a new town:  Cashless.

The rate at the other office was a lot better (TSh 1000 = $1 USD, instead of TSh 800) and the guy there set it up for me.  For some reason, I was only approved for $600 instead of the $1500 I thought I had a maximum of, but I just took the six million shillings and ran.

Time was running out and Freddie and I rushed back in the taxi to get to a bus bound back for Moshi.  The crowded bus made frequent stops though, costing us time we couldn’t afford to waste.  At one point on the way the bus just stopped for a long time to unload goods, and we just hopped off and jumped into a minibus.  We thought that would have been faster, but it too stopped almost every five minutes.  Once we got into Moshi town limits, we just jumped out and paid for a taxi back to the office.

I paid Tin Tin Tours the TSh 6,000,000, which I thought would cover the $600 USD fee for the trek portion of my package; I forgot to factor in the actual rate of TSh 1140 = $1 USD, and I barely made it with the extra pocket cash I had.  Tin Tin Tours wouldn’t let the fee slide any portion since more than half of that $600 went towards national park fees, to be paid at the gate — the other money was needed for supplies.  I rented a sleeping bag, rain pants and gloves on good faith and then hopped in the jeep to go to Mount Kilimanjaro, cashless again.


MY GUIDE WAS A NICE GUY named Jimmy, and along with porter Waka and cook Rama, we hopped in the jeep bound for the Marangu Gate on the southeastern corner of Mount Kilimanjaro, Sammy at the wheel.  Jimmy handled the park fees while I rented additional equipment at the nearby shop:  another rain shell and some gaiters, both suggested because of the rainy season.  By 3 p.m. we were at the entrance of the trail, just in time to trek the first leg before nightfall.  Jimmy and I hiked three hours on the roughly 7 km. trail through the rainforest of the lower mountain, passing little mountain creeks and waterfalls, up to the first base camp, the Mandara Huts, at about 9,000 ft. (2720 m.) ASL before the sky went dark.

After the runaround all day to get cash, it was a great feeling to finally have made some progress on my big African mountain trek.

Finally reaching the first base camp up Mount Kilimanjaro: Priceless.*


* “priceless” excludes $373 (USD) in national park fees






Next entry: Harder Than They Say

Previous entry: And We Clik!




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Comments for “Cashless.”

  • first!
    oh man i have smoething to read all morning at work!  that trek up mt kili looks pretty rad

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/11  at  04:21 PM


  • oh oh oh - I want to be there!  The vegetation around the waterfall looks so lush and nice.

    Posted by Liz  on  05/11  at  05:48 PM


  • i think you should write an email to the visa company, and see if they would sponsor the rest of your global trip for commercial endorsements of how widely accepted they are. =P

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/11  at  08:14 PM


  • NMCZ!! i love it!  acronyms rock!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/11  at  09:22 PM


  • Dude - that’s a good idea Alice had…
    The pictures are gorgeous for the first day! Thanks!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  12:31 AM


  • I agree, ALICE has the right idea. Yeah you’re busting chops, but why not clue-in visa & mc and see who would step up to the GT2004 plate! I’m thinking of Mr.Macy and Mr.Gimble in “Miracle on 34th Street” competing with each other on who could offer to buy the Dr. a new x-ray machine. And there was our cheerful hero, Chris Kringle, arranging everything.

    Erik… can you say “Ho-ho-ho”?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  01:05 AM


  • ALICE / CHRISTY:  Sounds like a good idea, although I’m sort of in AFRICA right now…  perhaps The Fellowship of The Blog could start an e-mail petition or something?  (Don’t make it look like a forward!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/12  at  01:04 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


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Harder Than They Say

Previous entry:
And We Clik!




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