Monday, October 28, 2013

Hotel from hell

I work on a freelance basis for a variety of clients. I do translation work, fact checking for DR travel guides, write articles for magazines, get copy marriage certificates for those who married in the DR and have lost their certificate, and I also work for some doing what I used to which is marketing.

My biggest client lives in the capital, Santo Domingo and whilst we communicate by email, Skype and phone, every few months we meet up for the weekend to work. We now have a system in that one time I go to him and the next he comes to me.

When I go and see him it is easy as he owns a luxury boutique hotel in the Colonial Zone which is not only a lovely place to stay, but it has everything we need such as internet and peace and quiet to work in. Obviously when it is his turn to come and see me it isn't quite as straightforward with my iffy internet and crazy house, so we decided to stay in an hotel, nearer to me than him.

The hotel is five star and is also used to train hotel and catering students in a live setting. As my client runs a hotel and is fanatical about excellent customer service I checked that there were no events going on and that it would be nice and peaceful. They also guaranteed that they had excellent service. Lying sods.

I should have realized things would not go smoothly as driving to the hotel I had yet another puncture. This time on a road  where there is no phone signal and very little traffic. Usually when you have a puncture Dominicans will stop straight away, but not on this road as it is known for people pretending to break down and then robbing their rescuers at gun point. So, not a good place to have a puncture. Also I had an elderly lady in the car who I was giving a lift too. She fearlessly walked into the middle of the road and held up the traffic until a man on a motorbike and a man with a truck full of bananas stopped and helped us.

Off we went again and I dropped her off and went to wait at the bus station for the client. Suddenly Danilo turned up as someone had seen me from a passing bus when I was stranded trying to stop elderly lady from being run over in the middle of the road, called him and told him what had happened. He had left university, checked to see if I was at the hotel, and was checking at the bus station before driving up the road to see if I was still stranded and rescue me. You can’t do anything here without everyone knowing about it!

So eventually I picked up the client and we went to the hotel on the Thursday night and the area by the pool was full of students having their pictures taken for graduation. I queried why they hadn't mentioned that when I asked about events and was told that wasn't an event, it was photography. Every time the photographer took a picture his flash blew the hotel’s electricity and all the power went off. He took a lot of pictures and the power kept going off. Never mind, we got into the lift to go to our rooms – just as well we didn't need the second floor.

The client had no towels and his fridge didn't work – he needed it to keep medicines in. There was no hot water and worst of all there was no internet. Went to reception and complained and they said would fix it. They didn't until the following day and even then it kept going off. Thank goodness we both travelled with internet usb sticks.The fridge was never fixed nor was the water. Maybe they tried to fix the water as it went off totally for a day.

The next morning went down for breakfast and the buffet was remarkably uninspiring, so we asked for an omelette. No problem and what would we like in the omelette. Mushrooms and bacon the client said. Yes we can do that. My mouth was watering at the idea. The waitress then reappeared and said there was a problem. No mushrooms? Yes we have mushrooms. No bacon? Yes we have bacon. Oh my God, no eggs? Yes we have eggs. The problem was that the ‘free’ breakfast included in the room rate only included the buffet. The client thought the budget would stretch to two omelettes so that was fine. Until they arrived. They did have bacon and mushrooms – but they also had cheese, onions, tomatoes, potatoes. Client doesn't eat cheese ever nor onions for breakfast. He explained that he asked for a bacon and mushroom omelette. Waitress explained that an omelette was eggs plus everything else. No one would think an omelette was only eggs! The issue of being served with food you had not asked for continued. The chicken sandwich which the menu said had chicken and salad came with ham, cheese, slathered in mayonnaise and without the chicken. Having sent it back 3 times it eventually came out right.

We had planned to work by the pool but it was impossible as the photographer was still there – along with hundreds of graduates.

In the end the hotel gave us a meeting room but only for a few hours. Discussions with the manager proved useless – when the client wanted to swim but couldn't as there were so many people, she said that if you go to the beach there are a lot of people. He pointed out you didn't pay nearly RD$3,000 a day to go to the beach. She promised that the photographer would finish at 4 pm. He did. She didn't mention he would start again at 6 pm and go on most of the night.

The following day we went back for breakfast again. The buffet table was empty. We enquired where the breakfast had gone and the waiter pointed to a table of 10 Dominicans. He explained that they had taken everything off the buffet table and put it on their table so they wouldn't have to keep walking  to the buffet. I asked what we could have for breakfast and he suggested instead of getting our breakfast from the buffet table, which had nothing on it, we just walked over to the table of Dominicans, leant over them and took it from there.

I assume you are getting the idea! The staff tried their best and some were quite good but the level of customer service from the management was appalling. The photographer had finished but on the Saturday a group of 50 students arrived. During the afternoon the manager and the marketing manager were singing off key and very loud karaoke in the restaurant. We couldn't eat lunch or dinner in the restaurant as the students were eating there and we were told it was private and to go and find somewhere else to eat. On our last night we were told to come back when the students had finished eating which should be around 8 pm. Goodness I should have realized that the students were more important than paying guests.

Never have I been so grateful to return to my little place in the mountains. Until I saw the barbecue.

Remember the plan to build a barbecue. Danilo wanted to have it finished by the time I returned but he had told me he had run out of materials. I didn't understand it until I saw it.

I think I will rent it out as a house when we are not cooking, or Hector can move into it. The hole where the spit will go is about 7 foot off the ground, so Danilo said he will build some concrete steps up to it so the person in charge of turning the spit can actually reach the spit.

Anyway the barbecue should be finished this week all being well. Bet you can’t wait to see what it looks like when it is done.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Building a barbecue - sometime

The issues with technology continue - this time the internet. Remember the man came and made the aerial even taller and changed the system so that each computer was registered individually. And it made no difference at all? Well he came back again and decided the problem was the modem, so he changed that and reconfigured everything. Worked brilliantly for 2 days and then nothing. A call to him and he said that a tower had fallen down but it would be sorted by 2 pm. By then it was 2 minutes to 2. I asked if it would definitely be fixed by 2 pm and he guaranteed it. I then asked where he was. He said in his house. I asked where the tower was and he said 20 minutes away but that he was about to leave, so no idea how he was planning to get there and fix it in two minutes. Beam me up Escotty maybe? It was fixed by 4 pm, but is still iffy and Danilo's kindle won't connect at all so he is supposedly coming back here today. We will see.

We have an American visitor coming for a week in December and she wants to barbecue or grill as the Americans say. We don't have a barbecue so I asked Danilo to sort it. I was just thinking of a few bricks and a metal grill on the top. Something like this.

Unfortunately he has a different mindset to me and he was thinking of something like this:

Not much of a difference really. Anyway a few discussions later, I think we are going to end up with something like this.

The metal bits are all being made including a spit to turn the pig on - if we ever barbecue a pig. However, he then decided that it would be nice if you could sit out in the garden near the barbecue, to eat. Hence we needed to build a park near the barbecue, modelled on the traditional Dominican parks which every town has in the centre. A bit like this.

The essential components are trees, flowers, benches and I hope we don't need a bandstand in the middle. Chivirico said people eat ice cream in the parks so we need an ice cream shop next to it.

I was duly dispatched to buy cement, sand, gravel, metal bars (not sure what they are for) wood, a shark tooth saw and nails.
The cement comes in bags so that was easy enough - five bags. The sand and gravel are apparently sold by the metre and I was told how many metres to buy, however when I ordered them, the man said that here they don't sell in metres, they sell in wheelbarrows, so you say how many wheelbarrow loads you want, but there was no conversion from metres to wheelbarrows. He said they also sold by the lorry load, a full load, half load, quarter load but didn't know how big the lorry was! Anyway I approximated and bought a quarter of a lorry of gravel and half of sand.
The metal bars are sold by the quintal. In India and Albania, the quintal is equivalent to 100 kilogrammes.  In France it used to be 100 pounds but is now 100 kilogrammes. In Portugal a quintal is 128 pounds and in the Dominican Republic 100 pounds. I was told to buy a quarter of a quintal. The nails as well are sold by the pound - not by the number. Clear as mud really.

Anyway I bought it all and went home waiting for it to be delivered. As usual in the afternoons here the heavens opened so when the men arrived they had to wait for the rain to stop before they unloaded - or they would die I assume.

Eventually the rain slowed a bit and they unloaded the stuff

You will note that although the lorry was indeed lorry sized, its sides were only a few inches tall hence not a lot of sand nor gravel.

This was a few days ago and so far it is all still sitting in front of the house with no sign of barbecue nor park. The cats are happy as it is a litter tray made in heaven.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Trying to get a telephone - still

Another interesting week in paradise.  It has been stormy and raining every afternoon, but is worth it for the rainbows.

And great news on the book front. It is now available from Apple ibooks, Nook from Barnes and Noble and Kobo. It will shortly be rolled out to a range of regional e-books formats such as Kalahari in South Africa and Whitcoulls in New Zealand. Also I had a nice interview here which I hope you enjoy.

But there were no rainbows with the saga of the telephone. We decided that as Orange would not work, we would stick with Claro, even though the signal here is not good, so back to the Claro office it was to get the new phone. Bear in mind I have 2 phones in my name with Claro and have had for 8 years plus internet. Unfortunately being an existing customer means nothing at all. Found the phone we wanted and handed over my cedula to do the contract.

The cedula is the national identity card and all Dominicans and resident foreigners have one. Mine is out of date, as are those of 99% of Dominicans. Claro then told me it had been cancelled as it was out of date. I have been using it out of date for ages with no problems. They said go the the Junta, which is the electoral office, and all they needed was a piece of paper to say I was the same person as that on the cedula which the Junta would give me. I said well I can prove that here. Look at the photograph, that is me. Look at the signature, that is mine. Here is my British passport with the same name as the cedula. Ipso facto that cedula is mine and I am me. Oh and here is my up to date residency with the same name and cedula number on it. Did that work? No. Go to the Junta and get a piece of paper saying you are the person on the cedula. I pointed out that I was a foreigner and the only Junta office which dealt with foreigners was in the capital, Santo Domingo which is 4 to 5 hours away. No they said. The local one will give you the paper. Don't worry they will do it in a jiffy and you can come back and get your phone. So off to the local Junta we went. Long queue which meant very long jiffy. Eventually we met with a man who said that he couldn't give me a piece of paper to say I was the person on my cedula. I had to go to the capital. What a surprise. We went home. Then I had the bright idea of asking a neighbour who works for the Junta in a different town. Often here knowing the right people makes all the difference. She was at home but she called her office and told me, no worries, yes they will give you the paper, just pop into the office and pick it up. Drove to the office. No, they said, can’t give you the paper as there is nothing wrong with your cedula so you don’t need the paper. I nearly lost it then, but managed to scream inside rather than opening my mouth. They told us to come back the next day when the head of cedulas was in as she was at a meeting. Next day the neighbour went to work telling me she would sort it. Her husband was at home, and came round to say she had called and yes she had the paper and would bring it home that night. We decided to go and pick it up, but called her beforehand when she said no she didn't have the paper as I had to go to Santo Domingo to get it. Speechless. So I gave up, and have decided to get off my backside and become a citizen instead to save all of this messing about. That should be an interesting process.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The good, the bad and the ugly

The Good

Chvirico was here for the weekend, and as usual wanted to keep busy. He cleaned the fridge.

In doing so he came across all sorts of pots which I had forgotten I had and he insisted on tasting them. Strawberry jam and golden syrup were both hits but Marmite was spat out immediately!

His next job was to help Hector to build a fence all around our land, to try and stop the neighbours' chickens walking in, where they face certain death from the dogs and cats, and to stop the dogs getting out to get at the neighbours' chickens, which may lead to a sticky demise for them too.

He was hilarious as he is well up to date with all the workers' customs telling me he would charge RD$300 for the day and I had to provide a constant supply of ice cold drinking water. Lunch should be served at noon on the dot, to make sure it was rice with something and he would not be coming into the house to eat as workers didn't eat with their employers.

The fence will be nice when it is finished - probably at least 6 months to go though.

The bad
Our internet comes from a local chap, as the signal from Claro is not strong enough for me to use the usb stick I have. Well the stick works, but painfully slowly. Said chap fitted a 10 foot high aerial on the roof with a modem and wifi and hey presto super fast internet throughout the house - at the beginning. Over the last couple of months it keeps stopping and going off for hours at a time. In fact every day after 6 pm and every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening.

Danilo and Hector decided it was because all of the neighbours were using it as somehow they had got hold of the password. I doubted this was the problem but the Internet chap was called, got rid of the password and then insisted the best way was that each computer was individually registered on the system. He put on mine and Danilo's kindle, and before he could put the cell phones on he casually mentioned that the price would go up from RD$500 a month for all, to a basic RD$500 plus RD$100 for each additional machine! We declined to have any others registered. He then said the problem with the internet cutting out was due to the trees in the wood next door which had obviously grown, as trees do, so the signal was being interrupted. I pointed out that the system went down in the evenings and weekends and I doubted that the trees grew then, and then shrank during the day, but he insisted on increasing the aerial to 20 feet high. Another RD$500.

The result. Super fast internet when it works. The neighbours are royally pissed off.  And no change in that the internet still goes off in the evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Sticking with technology for a moment, as I mentioned the Claro signal here is not good, and we cannot really use the cell phones as they are with Claro. The contracts are for 18 months and if you cancel before then you have to pay a fine, so we are waiting till the contracts end before changing to Orange which is the only company which has a signal here. Danilo's phone contract is up, so we went and cancelled it, and trotted off to the Orange shop to get him a new contract. We had phones with Orange years ago, but cancelled them due to the appalling customer service. He chose the phone he wanted, and the contract type and then the woman in the shop announced he could only have that phone if he had a credit card and a bank loan. He has neither. I have both so we decided to put it in my name. All was going well until she looked up from her computer and announced we couldn't have it as I owed Orange money. "Really," I asked, "I don't understand why as I paid off everything when we cancelled the contracts. No worries, tell me how much I owe and I will pay it." "I am not allowed to tell you," she said. "You have to go to Santiago to the main office and ask them and pay there." Santiago is hours away, and I doubt it is more than a few pesos, and no way are we going to go there. So now he is phone less until we decide what to do. And Orange customer service still sucks. If they had told me how much and let me pay they would have had a happy customer and more money. Idiots.

The Ugly

I spend a lot of time at my computer, and next to me is the waste paper basket which gets filled with rubbish. Sitting here the other evening, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye next to the waste paper basket.

Please note the beer bottle was one that had a mosquito coil stuck it in, not that I swig beer while working. I wasn't sure what to do as I wanted to be a long way away from it, but I had to keep an eye on it in case it ran away and hid somewhere like under the bed, and then would crawl all over me in the night. So I stayed where I was and as I was alone in the house I asked for advice on Facebook and received a variety of comments, ranging from sweep it out of the house to capture it in a broccoli strainer!  In the end I sat rooted to my chair and waited for Danilo to come back from walking the dogs to dispose of the little brown furry tarantula.
Life in paradise.