Day 313: Forced to Face Rising Tide of Dice Travel Insecurities
The young men leap toward the cement pier to see how close they can come without hitting it. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
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.
THE budding bromance with my Egyptian friend came to an end today, killed by early frost. He's headed north, while I'm going to link up with Lila for a couple days when she arrives on the ferry tomorrow.
“So are you going to stay around here for a couple more days?” he asks, now working under the presumption that his passport with his South Africa Visa will arrive, giving him only ten days left in Zanzibar.
“Yeah, though I guess I never thought about coming north right now,” I say. It hadn't occurred to me that maybe I could drive up to the top of the island and spend a day there before coming back down to meet up with Lila tomorrow.
I'm looking forward to Lila arriving.
I'm tired of rolling around by myself, but not alone.
For a while, Mustafa and I had fantastic chemistry, which I presumed would lead to all sorts of antics and mini-adventures on the island as we shot the show An American and Terrorist Go To Zanzibar. However, the reality is that Mustafa is struggling. The chest pains that kept him up the night before was his asthma acting up, most likely to some foul smell in one of my bags; his stomach is still out of sorts; his South African Visa is in limbo; and his family keeps wanting to know what the hell he's doing by quitting his job and traveling.
He's constantly buried in his phone and unresponsive, not to mention a blank slate when it comes to proposing something fun to do. I know it's timing and circumstances, but it sucks to have burned through money at Firefly Lodge by delaying my stay there so as to ensure we could arrive in Zanzibar together, only to now end up with him being about as exciting and interactive as a lump of coal.
“I was just thinking to leave my bags here if you were going to be around,” he says.
Oh, that wasn't an invite to come north – that was my man in need of a logistical favor.
I'm fairly sure I'm getting on his nerves and he's happy to have Lila as an excuse to bail out of our travel buddy situation. It's a strange balance between trying not to take things personally and being self-aware enough to recognize whether or not you're bad company. The fact that I borrowed one of his black t-shirts four days ago and have worn that same shirt every day since – it still doesn't smell as rank as mine – is probably one of many things that irritates him. The clicking sounds of me on my computer late last night – I didn't go to bed until 5:30am – for sure irritates him, as he mentioned something. I tried to type more quietly, but I doubt it helped much.
“Yeah, the whole point was coming to the beach. I don't want to get stuck in Stone Town the whole time,” he says, though he is the one who lined up the nice Couch Surfing room in Stone Town for us.
“Totally understand, I was just hoping to get the filming we needed here done,” I say. “You want to grab food?”
I'm packed and ready to go, but wait five or so minutes for him to get ready.
“I really want tea and chapati,” he says.
I don't, but I'm flexible in order to keep company. However, the place we find only sells chapati, no tea. He gets his to go. The flat, fried pieces of bread are handed to him rolled up in a piece of newspaper.
“You coming back to the house?” he asks.
“No, I'll just go straight into town after eating.”
We shake hands, with him mumbling something about Lila probably wanting to go to the north because that's the touristy area and about us keeping touch.
It's a long walk into Stone Town after lunch. I'm not sure why I walk instead of jumping into a dalla-dalla, but I do. I almost roll the dice about whether I have to walk or not, but figure with the tropical sun beating down on me I don't want to be trapped by the Die's Will on this one.
My shirt is a wet dish towel by the time I reach the buffer zone to the UNESCO World Heritage site. I finger 500 Shilling, ready to chug a mug of cold sugar cane juice at my usual place before heading to Stone Town Cafe – my other usual place – to set up shop and wait for the day to cool off.
Am I losing touch with the Dice Travels project I wonder?
It's always a painful thought process. It starts with reviewing all the choices I made without the dice, encouraging the roots of a dreadful sense of failure to find the soft soil of my insecurities and take hold.
Did I roll about coming to Zanzibar, no?
Did I roll about joining this permaculture commune, no?
Did I roll about meeting up with Mustafa, no?
Did I roll about hanging out with Lila, no?
The rolling stabilizes me, which, even as I see the words on the screen as I type them, is an unsettling realization.
I'm hoping Lila will be down to roll with me and explore the island.
I want to stay in Zanzibar for the month not only to stretch my funds but because it is an island with a deep, complex history that possesses countless treasures that no doubt allude the average traveler.
Is that justification enough to push it outside the 40-60 percent range? I think so.
I check my phone, there's a message from Flora, an Austrian woman I met on Tinder who works at the permaculture commune. The commune is listed on WorkAway, but unresponsive. If I hadn't managed to connect with Flora the entire idea of volunteering there would be out – I'm not sure I would be able to even find the place.
She and her friend Emilie, who also volunteers at the commune, are the two women we met up with our first night on Zanzibar – the reason I need a clean t-shirt. We met at Tatu Bar, across from 6 Degrees South. They were with two local guys on the top floor of the narrow ocean-side building. The locals guys, friend's of Emilie's were not impressed with Mustafa and I cramping their style – which seemed entirely reasonable.
The bar was pretty dead – dead as a disco, is how I believe Greg would have put it. So, we piled into one of Emilie's friend's cars and checked out another dance club on the outskirts of town. It was also dead. But we hit the dance floor and danced. It was a good night. Not a great night, but a good night.
“I think you would be a good fit, but it's not me who decides. There's not really space for more people, so Em thought you could come to have a look before,” she writes.
That explains why both she and Emilie have been so vague in their responses when I asked if I could join the project. I'll have to drive down to Kizimkazi tomorrow morning, before Lila arrives, and see if I can't make a good enough impression to at least secure space to set up a tent.
The day fades, leaving me wandering Stone Town after dusk.
It feels appropriate that the dice order a spice tea on one of the legendary Spice Islands. Baboo Beach Cafe is nice. Not nice in the way an Italian restaurant is nice, but nice in a different way. It's a smattering of chairs and tables with candles on them that appears to be set up illegally beneath a tree's large, waxy leaves. However, the candle lighting romance is washed out by strips of fluorescent lights coming from the kitchen.
Away from the protected sound that made Unguja island a central player in the spice, slave and ivory trade, there's the melody of the ocean. There is an unbelievable silence afforded to the coast in a safe harbor. In the sound, the only water music that plays does so when a large boat sends small waves to lap against the sand. Here, however, the small wind waves roll up into the sand, their tiny voices filling the restive silence around me.
Earlier, the afternoon faded into a glorious sunset at Forodhani Park, where the local boys assured me it was safe to fly the drone.
There's been this relentless fear about so much since I arrived in Zanzibar. A fear that the drone, which I'm becoming more and more reliant on, would be confiscated. A fear that I would be pulled over on the motorcycle and extorted. Even a fear that I wouldn't be able to find a place to legally park Rafiki, which was in part why I walked into town today.
The young men at the park are fearless. The stone-walled water-front is only a meter or two high.
The young boys and men played with pure joy in the ocean. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
When the camera rolling a few of the boys take jumping to the next level. They dive bomb the concrete edge of Floating Restaurant, which juts out like pier into the sound. Their hands remain flat against their sides, heads sailing toward what seems to be an inevitable, bloody death. Over and over again they jump, their unflinching heads narrowly missing the platform, much to the glee and cheering of their peers.
It was after this. And after a chicken shwarma. And after watching the cats in the park, thin and matted, carry off a discarded meat skewer. And after the die sent me down a road I'd yet to walk in search of Tamu Gelateria. And after the die passed on the hibiscus gelato and I passed on the ginger gelato and we both agreed that the chocolate gelato didn't have enough cream and was too old. And after the die refused to let me go back to the house that the cube set me down among the cluster of chairs at Baboo Beach Cafe to listen to what the ocean had to say.
I move between my phone and my book The History of Love – it's another sad book; it seems all I read anymore are sad books.
A young, pretty woman I noticed when I walked by the first time is not hunched over a book as I had romanticized, but instead, is hunched over her phone. Two other young American women with thick wavy hair talk at a table next to me.
How nice would it be to fall in love with a pretty girl engrossed in a book in some small cafe? It doesn't seem so outlandish. I'm sure there are plenty of people who want to fall in love like that.
The small tea pot doesn't seem to get any lighter as I pour myself a second cup of tea. There's nothing fancy about the pot, but it's volume, when compared to that of the cup, is deceptive.
I'm drinking the tea with a little too much sugar, a little too sweet, because it tastes nice this way.
The bare, fluorescent lights of the cafe, like squid lights on a Thai fishing boat cut through the darkness and the ambiance, yet have their own beauty.
The sea smells like the sea, which is nice. People who think that the only smell of the sea should be of salt and a distant storm haven't spent enough time breathing in the ocean. There is supposed to be the smell of life and death mixed into the air when you inhale.
This is the sort of solitude I can enjoy, because it isn't lonely. There are no expectations of socializing, which allows the conversion the ocean is having with itself to be enough talk for both of us.