*Disclaimer: Please don't judge this post on the basis of my love for mediocre romance films. Thank you!*
Anyone who knows me knows that while I love the beach, I'm not really a beachy person. I get restless sunbathing, I'm not the biggest fan of the ocean, and I despise seagulls (oh god, I'm getting a flashback to that horrible day at the Ferry Building in SF with Brit when a Seagull landed on my head and snatched my $5 waffle right from my hands). So while I was happy to welcome a week of relaxation, I also needed a little adventure.
Lucky for me, locals claimed the beach day in and day out selling all sorts of excursions, anything from scuba and snorkel trips to reef walks and scooter rentals. Since I had been itching to see some other parts of the island, I talked Brian into renting a scooter for the day. Remember when I said everything is negotiable in Africa? Well we had locals trying to sell us one hour on a scooter for $20 USD and a snorkeling trip for $50 per person. Since Brian is too nice to say no to anyone (except for me apparently), I put on my Priceline Negotiator hat and scored us a full day scooter rental plus a private snorkel trip with our new pal, Mago, for the following day all for $60USD! Brian was impressed 😃 This, however, would come back to haunt us.
So there we were, two really happy and excited tourists and our scooter, La Dame en Rouge. I watched while Brian stalled out several times on the beach trying to get comfortable shifting and discussed our plans with Mago, the local guy manning the excursion station. I told him we wanted to drive the scooter up to Nungwi beach on the northwest side of the island and he confirmed that was fine while giving us directions. The only other bit of information he offered us was that once we got on the main road, we needed to wear our helmets (which were disgusting). No big deal, safety first! They didn't even ask for our drivers license or passports. We figured it must be a small boutique hotel that doesn't bother with those minute details. Later, we realized, the scooter belonged to someone else and ol' Mago just rented it out to anyone who was dumb enough to rent from a person vs. a hotel. Those people were us.
Once Brian finally got the hang of things, we scooted along the beach for a bit and then hit the open road. They told us it would be an hour or so ride, something I was used to since Brian insisted on taking Shadowfax, our beloved scooter in SF (RIP) to places like Pacifica and Muir Woods (for those of you who don't know, that is a LONG scooter ride). A good ten minutes in and whaddya know, the rain started! And you know what else? We drove in the wrong direction for over twenty minutes. We only realized this because I decided to check the GPS curious to see how far we had gone and noticed the little blue dot heading in the opposite direction. Damn you blue dot!
Onward we went, and we were loving it. If you aren't an experienced scooter/motorcycle driver, then I definitely wouldn't recommend driving through town (stick with the beach). But if you are, do it! It was so fun scooting through the villages while getting away from the same scenery for a bit. So fun until we were ten minutes from our destination, the turquoise waters within eye sight, when we saw the security check point ahead of us. We weren't that concerned. I mean, no one else was getting stopped, and at the end of the day, Brian did have a motorcycle license (and there was always the help of ol' Benjamin Franklin...who am I kidding, we are talking Lincolns and Washingtons over here). Anyway, as soon as we approached, we were of course pulled over even though we had done nothing wrong, it's definitely scary being pulled over by a police officer in a foreign country, especially in a country where everyone knows how corrupt the law enforcement is. The officer asked for our passports, drivers license, and permit. Not sure what he meant by permit, we nervously handed over our passports and Brian's license. Once again, he asked for our permit. Confused, we asked what he meant and he proceeded to tell us that in Tanzania, it is an offense to drive a scooter without a permit. An offense!?
We quickly explained that we rented the scooter from a hotel in Matemwe, and the only thing they gave us were helmets and told us we needed to wear them on the roads (which we were proudly still wearing). Luckily, we had taken Mago's phone number down, so we immediately called him and handed the phone over to the police officer who proceeded to have a five minute conversation which felt like an eternity. This is when we found that that we didn't rent from a hotel at all but from a stranger on the beach. Sh*t. Next, the police officer told us that he would be taking us back to Stone Town for the night, and tomorrow we would be tried in court for our offense. HOLY CRAP.
I looked at Brian and saw the fear in his eyes and instantly lost my cool (not that I had any to begin with). I completely broke down. I'm talking Claire Danes ugly cry over here (circa Romeo and Juliet, only the best movie ever). The officer kept repeating himself over and over again, "This is an offense. But tell me, how can we settle this in a friendly manner?" I'm talking nonstop. Nervously, Brian offered him money hoping that would work, and when he laughed in our face, I started hyperventilating. The officer tried to calm me down by telling me not to cry, (he must not be married) and I tried explaining to him between catching my breath and sniffling that we were just two tourists who wanted to rent a scooter and see a different part of the island (it sounds so Notting Hill when I type it out, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love me!" Man! Another gem!). I explained (I think?) that if anyone had told us to get a permit we would have, and if it would help, we would happily turn around and return the scooter immediately. After ten minutes of this back and forth, "friendly manner" business, he finally let us go, without seeing the beach. WHAT A DISASTER!
I've rambled on too long so I'll give you the quick version of what happened next. We returned the scooter and demanded a refund. Of course they wouldn't give it to us telling us to go back and give the guy money! HAH! We told them we tried that, and we would be crazy to go back without a permit. Since they wouldn't refund the full amount we told them they had to secure a legal permit for us, and we were going to take the scooter out again at no cost. Two days later, we set out on the same adventure only to get stopped again at the same checkpoint but a different officer. This time we confidently handed over the permit only to then be asked to present the registration for the scooter as well. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Brian and I felt completely defeated. Ready to give up and turn around a second time, we looked around and found something resembling a registration while swiftly slipping in 40,000 Tanzanian Schillings (20 bucks) and finally we succeeded! We were on the scooter driving towards the beach faster than a kid running downstairs on Christmas morning and ended up having a wonderful day exploring a new beach. On our ride home, our trusty steed, La Dame en Rouge, broke down on us seven times. Locals drove by pointing and laughing as the two Americans, still wearing their helmets of course, desperately tried to kick start our engine back to life. While everything ended up working out, let's hope that's the last time we encounter law enforcement on this trip, but let's be honest, it probably won't be!