Africa and the ATM

Jan 9, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Maria Ruiz, Travel

by Maria Ruiz

Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.

“Your transaction cannot be completed.” The ATM machine refused to spit out any money. “Why?” I whined to the clerk at the

“You need a local account,” she responded.

We were having problems finding a machine that would work in Kenya. That afternoon we talked to our landlord about the problem and he said “You need to open a bank account here. But you need to have someone recommend you in order to get a bank account.”


“I don’t know. But if you like, I can recommend you to my bank.”

That’s how we finally opened an account in Nairobi. We were issued a plastic bank card and were told “This will work anywhere in Africa.” That’s what we wanted. For awhile our new card worked at the few and sparse ATM machines we could find. Life seemed to be going according to plan.

Then we went to Tanzania and needed to get some local currency. We inserted our card and it didn’t work. We tried one of our other cards and got the same response. Your transaction cannot be completed.


Roadside Refreshments

“Now what?”

Down the street we saw a Forex place, a money changer. They would take a commission but at least they gave out money. While we were waiting we asked the clerk why our new platinum card for an African bank wouldn’t work. “Oh, that’s because there is so much fraud that no card works outside of the country where it is issued.”

“How about my debit card on a bank in the U.S.?” I asked. “It’s worked all over the world.”

“You can try. Maybe some of the machines will work.”

That’s the start of our money problems. In Dar es Salem, the capital of Tanzania, we managed to find two or three ATM’s that coughed out some cash. Usually the machine would work once, and then start to give us the message, “Your transaction cannot be completed.” Our bank card that was supposed to work all over Africa, didn’t work even in the next door country!

By the time we got to Zambia with our new friends, the ladies from Germany, we had borrowed the one hundred dollars for the visa plus the bus fare to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. I went with one of the ladies to find a bank where we could get a cash advance or money out of our account. Ted stayed with the other two at the bus station.


Goat market

After eight banks and five ATM’s, I returned to the bus station empty handed. No cash and no plan for the night. The bus to Livingston wasn’t until tomorrow and by now we were exhausted, dirty and very hungry. The bride had told us they were staying with a group of nuns that were her mother’s friends. She called them and they extended the invitation to us. Gratefully, we joined the ladies and a van drove us over.

On arrival, the nuns, Sisters of the Holy Cross all came to us, gave us big hugs and kissed our cheeks. We felt like we were honored guests. We were shown to our room with a wonderful bed. Quickly we used the shower and could have stayed there all night with the hot water beating down on our tired bodies.


Sisters of Holy Cross

Dinner was a delight. Most of the food served had been grown on their large garden. Some of the nuns had arrived in Africa in 1948 from Switzerland and all were nurses, assigned to different places most of the time but come back regularly to the mother house in Lusaka. They shared stories with us and soon we retired to one of the best night’s sleep we had for several days.

The next morning we were fed a wonderful breakfast and armed with a packed lunch, the nuns waved us off and we boarded the bus for another four hours of travel. Arriving in Livingston we found a Forex and quickly withdrew enough money to pay the German ladies back. We decided that we would figure out how much more we would need that evening. We found the youth hostel, Fawlty Towers, and signed in.


Livingston Faulty Towers Double Room

Youth hostels are great places to stay. Most of them come with kitchen facilities in addition to the bedroom. Most have shared bathrooms and the close proximity to other travelers makes a pleasant evening. The hostel included a camp ground and we watched a village of tents spring up. We met a group of teen age kids from England whose parents had each paid eight thousand dollars to leaders to take their kids to visit the falls.

maria falls

Victoria Falls

Early the next morning we went back into town to visit the Forex place. Much to our horror, being that it was Saturday, it was closed, would reopen Monday at 8 a.m.

Oh dear, after paying the German ladies, the hostel and dinner, we had $3.60 to last for the weekend. Ted checked and the hostel would accept the card. Also, visiting the falls and a boat on the Zambezi would accept the card. Unfortunately, none of the restaurants would. One guest told us that about a mile away there was a modern supermarket where they would.

We made arrangements to be picked up for the ride to the falls and then walked to the supermarket. Armed with mayonnaise, bread and lunch meat, plus drinks and chips, we were set for the weekend. We also bought a small Styrofoam ice chest to keep things cold.

The trip to the falls was amazing. The ticket included plastic ponchos and we donned them before heading down the path. The spray from the falls soaked all the onlookers. The falls are magnificent and the noise from them could drown out conversation. There is a bridge from Zambia into Zimbabwe that was completely drenched. We could look toward it and as far as the eye could see, the falls continued. Everywhere we looked, the scene was breathtaking. Pictures of them do not convey the true size or the amount of water that falls every minuet. Ted kept filming with his video camera but I didn’t want to ruin my digital. It took three days to finally dry his out.


Zambezi Speed Boat

After the falls, we enjoyed an evening dinner and boat ride down the Zambezi. We had a choice of large dinner boat called the African Queen with waiters dressed in tuxedos, or a smaller faster boat that included drinks. We chose the smaller boat and as we pulled away from the shore ahead of all the others, were glad we did. The little boat was able to go down smaller inlets where we watched families of hippos and a large male elephant who swam the river and came out on an island. We could see what looked like a cloud of fog on the river but it was the continual spray from the falls. We stopped at an island for some snacks and examined a huge termite mound. By then, the effect of the free drinks was considerable and we found it to be endlessly fascinating.


Zambezi Party Boat

Early Monday morning we were at the Forex place. After getting enough money to insure our return to Tanzania and back to the Kenya border, we said goodbye to the ladies from Germany, boarded the bus and began the trip back to Dar es Salaam. From there we would visit Zanzibar and go on Safari to the Serengeti before returning to Nairobi, a month long trip that started out as a weekend jaunt.

Maria Ruiz was born in Santa Barbara, California; her family had been there since the Spaniards first converted the Indians & created small towns. She graduated from the University of San Diego State in 1972 & taught for 8 years before starting her own business. After retiring she began a ten-year odyssey to visit and live in 57 countries around the world. She just recently relocated to California. Her book, I’ll be in the Fourth Grade Forever, can be ordered on Smashwords & Amazon. Her blog can be found at


  1. Fascinating! ! Felt like I was there with you. More, more, more!!

  2. After reading Maria’s short account of some encounters in Africa I dug out my book of her partner Ted Druch’s book “African Odyssey and re-read it again. What fun they have on their travels.
    I love the description both Ted and Maria give these interesting characters they run into.

  3. Wow, Maria. What an adventure. Lots of highs and lows. Yet you got to stay with the nuns, the hostel, and the falls. Something you will never forget.

    • Marie, your stories are so amazing. I bet you’ll always remember these gifts of hospitality. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Wow!!!! Thanks Maria,
    You took me with you on your trip! Also, the pictures are very interesting.

  5. Great


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