Day 309: 'No Passport' Hustle into Zanzibar
Though Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, they like to impress / inconvenience the world by running their own immigration. So passports are necessary even if you're coming from the mainland. Photo: Jon Rawlinson
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
A STRING of run-down offices is lined up in a dipping pit lane for the Zanzibar ferries. Still rattled from the attempted motorcycle jacking, I miss the turn-off.
We U-turn in the middle of the two-lane, one-way road banked by enormous financial buildings on our left, pulling in the wrong way to the pit lane.
The road is cluttered with parked traffic and people. About four or five men come running to us when they realize that we're going to buy a ticket to Zanzibar.
The humid air sticks in my lungs as sweat soaks through my thick black riding jacket and pants.
Mustafa wants me to drive farther down the ramp. I just want to stop.
“Park here, park here,” one of the guy says.
Rafiki rolls to the stop in the shade of a tree.
“You're going to Zanzibar, come here. Come with me,” the man says, before another cuts in and attempts to make the same offer.
I don't know what's going on buy Mustafa seems to be in a daze. Maybe he's not hearing me or maybe I'm not hearing him. My ear still has water in it from yesterday, confirming my fears that I have a festering ear infection.
“Okay. Hey, I'll stay here with the bike and watch our stuff. You go ahead and buy our tickets,” I say.
Mustafa slides off the back of Rafiki and heads back out into the sun to a ticket office he was told was best near the entrance.
“Yes, from Kenya,” I say with a trying grin to the men who haven't shoved off yet.
“Dude, you need to bring the bike there,” Mustafa says, sweat sticking locks of curly hairs to his forehead. “He needs to see it to figure out how much it's going to cost to bring onto the ferry.”
As if leading a procession, I roll Rafiki down the hill toward the office with a ragtag of hangerons, well, hanging on.
I'm nearly out of cash at this point. Baking in the sun, I can't remember why I didn't withdraw money from the ATM at Bagamoyo.
“It's about 48,000 for each of us, but he needs to see your passport and information. I told him mine was packed up and showed him a copy. It's going to be another 80,000 or something for the motorcycle. Do you have enough cash?” Mustafa asks.
“Okay, watch the stuff. I'm going to run to an ATM really quickly,” I say.
“Hurry bro, the ferry is leaving really soon.”
A lanky, old security guard wearing bright orange vest towers over Rafiki.
“Go with him. He'll help you find the ATM,” he tells me, indicating a nondescript Tanzanian crowding around us.
“I know where the ATM is. It's that way. I'll help you.”
The man, with a beanie pulled down his ears, hobbles ahead of me, moving with a strange limp.
Across the street, we walk in the shade of one of the enormous financial institutions, classic Greek columns rising high above us.
“The ATM is there,” he says.
This is a dodgy situation. I have a stranger setting me up to withdraw a huge amount of cash. Let me count the ways this could go terribly wrong.
He stands back at the bottom of the steps, out in the sun, which brings out the soft browns and reds in wrinkled skin across his forehead.
With one hand covering for my active finger, I punch in my pin code for the debit card and with draw a fat stack of dirty Tanzanian Shilling.
Back at the counter, a helpful, older man in a white dress shirt hands me a receipt, which is for significantly less than I thought it would all cost. Maybe I misunderstood or maybe Mustafa bought our tickets and I'm only paying for Rafiki. However, the price seems even a little low for Rafiki alone.
“Okay, here's your change,” he says. “And you're going to want to tip no more than 20,000 shilling to the guys loading the bike.
Six or seven men are eager to help us move the wobbling pile of luggage and Rafiki down to the boat, actually they eager to do just enough to get tipped.
Our bags slide through customs with Mustafa as two men roll Rafiki through the lobby and down toward the ramp to an enormous ferry.
A man in spectacles with Indian or Arab heritage stands at the top of the gangplank, checking receipts. His bifocals slip to the tip of his nose as he scans the receipt.
“You need to pay for the motorcycle,” he briskly informs us.
“But I told the man back there we needed to bring the bike. He said it was paid for,” I say.
“No, this is just your tickets.”
Mustafa runs back to the ticket-master to pay for Rafiki while I follow two men moving Rafiki down a narrow ramp before they heft her up and drag her onto the bow of the ship.
The men start tying her to the railing as a porter helps me lug my bags up to the air conditioned VIP room on the second floor.
Once Mustafa returns to watch the bags, I run downstairs to check to make sure Rafiki is secure.
“Okay, tip?” the men ask, dusting their hands off.
I pull out 20,000 Shilling and hand it over.
“Okay, but what about for my friend?” the one who accepted the money says.
“That's for both of you.”
“But it's not enough.”
Sigh, the concept of tipping doesn't seem to have taken root in any African nation I've yet visited. It seems to be more understood as a flexible fee whether or not services were rendered. I've had men walk up to me on the street and ask for a tip – what on earth I would be tipping them for is unbeknownst to me.
“I was told the loading fee was included in the price we paid for the ticket. I was also told to tip you 20,000 Shilling,” I said.
“But we work very hard and don't get paid much money. Everyone takes some and then we are left with nothing. Maybe add a little more.”
“Sorry guys. That's it,” I say, turning to go back upstairs.
They follow me to the VIP room, again trying their luck for money.
It becomes something of an African standoff.
Mustafa is already curled up on the soft, rubber-cushioned floor trying to sleep, leaving the problem sloughing off these men my problem.
Eventually, disgusted with me, they leave.
There are now five or six other passengers in the glassed-in, air conditioned room. They appear to be a rotund family of Arabs, or at least of Arab heritage, which is no surprise along the East African trading coast.
“I have it!” Mustafa says to me. “I have a plan.”
“Okay, what is it?”
At this point, there is still a high probability that Mustafa will reach Zanzibar immigration – which is all a big dick show – and be put on the next ferry back to the mainland.
“I'm going to say the passport was stolen on the ferry. That I had it when I got on board, but that it must have been stolen or lost.”
“I don't know man, why not just tell them you left it at a hotel or something?”
“No, this will work bro. I know it.”
We come up with a quick scheme for out to play-act searching for the passport, with him running back to the ferry to search and so on.
At least it's a plan.
With that settled, we both drift into a deep sleep on the floor tucked in with a welcome blanket of cool air.
We don't wake up until the ferry is already slapping against the pier.
Theirs a bustle on the bow, which now looks like it might be the stern, unless the boat reversed back up against the pier. Luggage and large boxes are quickly being moved off the ship. Mustafa gets our bags onto the pier while I untie Rafiki.
“Do you need help?” someone asks.
“I'm fine. I'll do it myself. Thank you,” I say, not wanting to spend any more money tipping today.
Rafiki is barely able to roll down the narrow walkway of the boat to the gangplank. Carefully, I ease the little beast down to Mustafa. Once down, we begin repacking the bike and rolling it up toward immigration, housed under a large bright blue, sheet-metal roof.
Covered wooden boats with outboard motors dot the waters around the port. The small boats gently rock with the small waves of the protected industrial bay.
Garish red letters stand on the roof reading: Karibu Zanzibar. Piles of shipping unseemly shipping containers and cranes provide a backdrop for the tasteless welcoming port, all of it encroaching on the beauty of the Stone Town UNESCO World Heritage Site
The tourist port is also an industrial port that encrouches on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Stone Town. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Up the ramp, we're confronted by a quaint glass immigration booth, where a single official sits, flipping through a newspaper.
I slid my passport under the glass.
“How long are you visiting?” he asks.
“A few weeks. I really want to explore the island,” I say with a smile.
Stamp, stamp: I'm officially in Zanzibar.
“Passport?” the man asks Mustafa.
“Sure. Hold on, let me get it,” he says, beginning to rummage through his backpack. “Bro, did you see my passport?”
“Yeah, you put it in your bag when we were on the ferry.”
“I can't find it,” he says, his voice becoming more frantic.
“Shit. Okay, go check on the boat. I'll check your bag again.”
With Mustafa gone, I crouch by his bag slowly sifting through all of his belongings for a passport that's currently in Cairo.
“Maybe it's in the front pocket,” the officer suggests.
It's not. Obviously.
After pulling all of his belongings, I begin to stuff them back into the small day bag. Mustafa comes charging back up the ramp.
“It's not there. Someone must have taken it.”
“Do you have everything else?”
“Yeah, I think it's only my passport that's missing.”
Mustafa is lead away by a uniformed officer to file a police report.
The metal roof above radiates heat that simmers above the pittance of a sea breeze making its way up from the pier. In a roped off area, several men are watching a football match on the television.
That's not a real smile. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Without enough room in my bag, I'm stuck wearing layers of heavy motorcycle gear. The heat becomes more and more intense as my boredom deepens. What the hell is taking so long? The passport isn't even missing or stolen.
Time drags on and on and on.
Finally, Mustafa appears with a shit-eating grin, hidden behind a solemn face.
“Any luck?” I ask.
“Bro, sorry that took so long. I just had to file the report. They said the report was fine for now, but that I should go back to the mainland on Monday and go to the embassy to start getting a replacement.”
“Good, glad to hear that they're taking care of it. I can't believe it was stolen.”
There's a message from Zain, who Mustafa contacted via Couch Surfing. He lives in Zanzibar City, which basically contains Stone Town, and offered to host us for a couple nights.
“He says he's waiting for us outside,” I say. “Want to go out and find him? I'll pack the bike and meet you out there.”
I roll Rafiki past immigration and toward the parking lot out back. A few people are loitering around the exit to the building on this side of a large wall and thick metal gate. To my left is a table piled with large shells: bleeding tooth, lace murex, pear whelk and beaded periwinkle.
A strong hand grabs Rafiki, stopping us in our tracks.
“You have to pay,” says a fat, short man in worn-out civilian clothing.
“What? No. Get let go of my bike,” I say, attempting to push the bike past him.
“No! You have to pay,” he shouts, throwing his weight into Rafiki to push her back.
Two people sitting on plastic chairs in the shade of the building looking on with mild interest.
“Let go of my bike!”
I falter and shudder. Rafiki lurches.
The man's hands fly off the bike as he bounces back, fear of having injured me streaking his face.
Seizing the moment, fain to nearly swoon, letting out a guttural moan. I shake my body.
The man wearily keeps his distance.
A young man in a beige uniform arrives with a name tag clipped to his chest.
“What's the problem?” he asks.
I pretend to catch my breath, trying not smile at the chaos now that clouds seem to be clearing.
“He won't let me leave,” I say.
“You have to pay the wharf fee. He works here he is the wharf master.”
“I'm a tourist. How am I supposed to know that? He doesn't have a uniform. He just comes and demands money.”
“Okay, okay, go over there and pay in the first office.”
The fat man, who by now must hate me by now, leads me to the building, where a middle aged woman sits in air conditioning behind a disorderly desk in a cramped office.
I shuffle through the black binder I carry with me that has all of the paperwork for myself, as well as Rafiki. I present the necessary documents, which I received when I crossed into Tanzania.
The fee is 10,000 Shilling.
I stuff the receipt into the binder and thank the woman.
“Do you know where I can get a permit for the bike?” I ask.
It's too late in the day to secure a permit today. I'll have to square everything away on Monday.
Pushing Rafiki out the gate onto Mizingani Road, I can't but hope our Couch Surfing host is an expat; I want a nice shower and a nice bed and to feel safe.
A young Zanzibari waves to us. Zain wearing bright red jeans straight from a boutique store with useless zippers, rips and fraying edges. Additionally, he's wearing red shoes and a red hat, all of which looks like it was pulled off of some hip-hop mannequin.
He's driving a clean white SUV with stickers on the side that says he's legally allowed to carry seven passengers. As I'll later discover, the stickers are all vehicles registered to be used for tourism, thus squelching the illegal taxi trade.
We all shake hands.
“Let's throw the bags in there and I'll follow behind. Sound good?” I say. Though nervous about driving Rafiki in Zanzibar without the necessary permit, there's no other option.
We cut through Zanzibar City. Arriving without incident on the sandy road of a small neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. High walls lock each home away.
“My friend is coming,” Zain says. “Sorry, I have some Air BnB guests staying at the other place.”
“No worries, we're just happy you guys can help us out.”
A professionally dressed man with toasted honey colored skin and a nice watch arrives in a well-used car. Mohamed gives us big smiles and shakes our hands before unlocking the gate to his modest single-storey home and ushering us inside.
“Make yourselves feel at home,” he says.
The small dark house is filled with the peaceful smell of sandalwood. Though it's sparsely furnished a big flat screen dominates the living room. Down a narrow hallway, Mohamed shows us our room. My entire body relaxes, infested by only a trickle of guilt for having hoped for expat hospitality.
“Sorry I don't have the other room ready, my brother is staying with us right now,” he says. Mohamed's wife isn't home from work, but he explains to us that she's a scientist and often has to travel for work.
Though exhausted, Mustafa and I have plans to meet up with a couple girls tonight. So, we shower, eat and head into Stone Town.