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Shakedown in Zanzibar


Dan showing off his scooter


While hanging out at our hostel, we learned that we were in a more isolated part of Jambiani and didn’t have as much access to restaurants, gift shops or excursions. But after a few days of lounging around, we heard about scooters you can rent for a day. At first I was weary about the idea of riding around on one of these in a foreign country but was slowly convinced by the people who rent the scooters. I figured this was the easiest, most affordable way to get around Jambiani and Paje for the next few days. It turns out that it costs only $15 USD to get a Zanzibari license for 3 months which is quite the steal.


So one weekday morning Otto, Dan (our Australian friend), and I decided to take them out for a spin to see the southeastern coast of the island. There was a road that went all the way from the top to the bottom so we could just fly without having any issue with directions. The island is very small so it was quite easy to go up and down in an afternoon. We got the hang of riding the scooters pretty quickly and decided to make our way north.


We visited the famous “Rock Restaurant” that was very popular on social media and one of the top things to do on the island. Sadly it was packed and I didn't get the chance to eat there but it was more fun to hang on the beach and people watch. One thing about going to high tourist destinations on the island is the locals trying to sell you different excursions and knick knacks. While sitting there, we got a front row seat to the action. They are hustlers and some of the best salesmen out there, which is something that you can respect. But of course, fair warning to individuals traveling to Zanzibar - don’t be surprised if people stop you trying to sell things.


Low Tide at the Rock


After going all the way to the top, we had no choice but to turn around and head back to our hostel. It wasn’t too far of a drive and you really got to see the countryside of the island which is beautiful. After passing Paje, the town right before Jambiani, we thought we were home free - until we looked in the distance and saw a police checkpoint.


We saw them waving us over and thought they just wanted to see our licenses, which we obtained the day before. When Dan, Otto and I pulled over, we asked what the problem was and handed them our licenses. After they saw our ID’s they all got together and started to speak in Swahili, so we had no idea what was going on. They eventually came back over to us trying to argue that we made an illegal turn a couple kilometers back and that we had to pay a fine. We tried to ask which area it was but that’s where there was some confusion because they didn’t know where it was. This is where I thought that this was some sort of shakedown. They saw three young foreigners and thought these were the perfect people to rip off. They first wanted $40 USD, which we argued was a ridiculous price and said we would pay them 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings (which is equivalent to $4 USD). The bartering went on for a few minutes before we decided to just give them some money so that we could be on our way. This was an hilarious experience because we were joking with them the whole time they were trying to con us. After we drove off, we couldn’t help but laugh at the whole experience. We didn’t feel like a victim or in danger but more like a gullible tourist.


When we got home, we joked around to each other that this was one hell of a day and a great story to tell our family and friends. We weren’t sore about the money because it really wasn’t too much compared to an actual ticket in the United States. It was more important to look at this in a positive way because without this experience, I would have never written this blog post. So for anyone reading this and thinking about renting scooters in Zanzibar, beware of the checkpoints - the shakedowns are nothing like the grateful dead ones.




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