We liked our driver Gaudence. A lot. So much in fact, that we did something very, very stupid. We gave him all of our money. All of it.
On our last morning in Tanzania he picked us up after another beautiful Chem Chem breakfast. They’d made us sack lunches to take to the airport full of sandwiches, fruit, deluxe brownies and cookies, drinks, etc. They even included notes. It was like going off to school!
We were terribly sad to leave Mongoo the mongoose and the Chem Chem crew, but also excited about arriving at the Manta Resort. All that stood between us were two previously scheduled (and paid for) flights. We wanted to give Gaudence a generous tip, so we asked him to take us to the ATM in Arusha. He did, and we took out exactly how much we wanted to give him. Then, because I just loved him soooo much, I gave him that money and all of the rest of the money in my wallet.
We could always get more at the airport I thought as we hugged him goodbye.
There is no ATM at the Arusha airport. But even if there was, it wouldn’t have helped us. The Arusha Airport Scam would have happened whether we’d had money or not.
So here’s what you should know if you are taking a puddle jumper from Arusha to Zanzibar: They will rob you blind.
Luckily Dane hadn’t given all his money away, so when two porters demanded a tip (not just for the guy who grabbed our bags, but also for his friend who just stood there demanding “tip, tip” refusing to leave until we gave him something), Dane was able to give them a few bucks.
This already annoyed me. I hadn’t even wanted help with my bags, but he’d literally taken them out of my hand, even as I protested. Then he demanded a tip. He’s lucky my husband doesn’t like awkward interactions.
When it was time to check in for our flight, they weighed our bags (which we had already paid for) and demanded 60 USD. Not the equivalent of 60 USD in Tanzanian Shillings or Japanese Yen, but 60 USD. Now don’t even get me started on the fact that we were being double charged for bags that had already been taken care of. No, that wasn’t what made me so angry. It was the way they played us with this airport scam because they assumed we were coming from America, when in fact we were coming from Japan.
The man at the counter wouldn’t even make eye contact with us. “60 dollars or your bags stay,” he said waving us away from his desk. We offered to pay with a credit card. Nope. “Dollars only,” he said looking down at his computer.
“We aren’t carrying dollars,” we told him.
“Then your bags stay. Next.”
There were only 12 of us on the flight, and we were the last to check in, so there was no line behind us. He said “next” only to punctuate that he was done with us.
You catch more bees with honey, I reminded myself.
“Sir, where is an ATM?” I asked him. The honey dripping off my tongue. “We are happy to pay you, but we need to get out cash.”
“There is no ATM. Your bags will have to stay.”
“That is not an option.” I told him. The honey was gone.
We asked him to call our travel agent. He refused. We asked him to call our driver, who had just left. He just shook his head. There was no internet and no payphone. We looked around for help, but every man in the room just glared at us and eyed our bags.
Dane offered to take a taxi to the nearest ATM and get shillings.
“You are from America, yes?” he asked us. “No shilling. US dollar, or your bags stay.”
Everything about our trip had been so magical thus far. Now… I hated everyone and everything around me.
“We are from America, but we live in Japan,” we told him. “We literally have zero American dollars.” We opened our wallets to prove it.
“Then your bags stay,” he shrugged.
I can’t remember ever feeling so stuck. We couldn’t make money appear and there was no where to get money. We couldn’t use a credit card. We also couldn’t leave our bags. It was absolutely not an option. There seemed to be no other choices.
“Go ask the Americans,” Dane said shaking his head. Dane hates to ask for help.
While we’d been eating our sack lunches earlier, we’d heard a couple talking to one another in American accents. I did not want to approach them. What was I going to say?
“Hi, you don’t know me… and this is crazy… but we’re in trouble. Give us money, maybe?”
As it turns out, that’s just about exactly how the conversation went. At first they looked at me like I was crazy. Who the heck travels in Africa (or anywhere else for that matter) without emergency money? But, even though it was a little crazy, they came through. Americans helping Americans. Love it.
They handed me three twenties and I wired them the money via paypal. I triumphantly returned to the counter and forked over the 60 USD. The man glared at me, but reluctantly allowed us to take our luggage to the plane with us.
We didn’t get a receipt. We didn’t get a new luggage tag. He just folded the twenties and put them in his pocket and called it a day.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.
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