Day 318: Fear of Losing the Magic
We climbed into a dhow, Lila's treat. Photo: 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.
WE WERE afraid the magic would evaporate in the hot, tropical sunlight of another day spent together. Lila and I didn't know it for a fact, but once the decision was made, we were both unease as we walked down the white sand of Paje beach toward Mr. Kahawa Cafe.
“Something feels strange, right?” I ask Lila.
“Yeah, I'm not sure what it is, but it feels like we're missing something about making this decision.”
Lila is a sailor at heart and in skill. As she comes from a well-to-do Connecticut family, I presumed it was in her blood, but it's not. She's picked it from her doctor neighbors and summer camps. Now, over the summer, she teaches it.
Given that her pulse races at the thought of leaning way out over the water as she catches a sail full of wind and skims across the ocean in a tiny one-man sailboat, it's no surprise that she was starry-eyed near sunset last night, as we watched dhows' off-white sails billow at sea breeze.
“It feels like we're doing it all backwards,” I tell Lila as we march down the beach in the morning. We're to leave Paje after enjoying a short ride on a dhow.
What feels backwards is that the boat trip is Lila's treat. Shouldn't I, as the old man on a long tropical holiday with a young woman, be the one to foot the bill? I'd covered my costs for the paddle boarding yesterday, but had to draw the line with the sail boat today – simply don't have enough money
“I like it this way. I want your company out there,” Lila says.
Captain Mike hails us down after he spots us buying a bottle of water from one of the beach-side resorts.
Our sailing trip is not supposed to be organized by Captain Mike. In fact, Lila booked the trip with a kite surfing school down the beach, where it was going to be 20 dollars per person. However, when she checked back with them this morning the price jumped to 50 dollars per person if we also wanted to go snorkeling.
Now, however, the worn, friendly face of Captain Mike flaps about, bending our ears.
“When I'm not working at the resort, I'm a captain. I take people sailing. Do you want to go?” he asks
People are regularly pitching sales to us on the beach, mostly the Masai wanting to show us handicrafts made by their families back in Arusha or at the base of Kilimanjaro. Lila is prepared to blow past Captain Mike, but I hesitate.
“How much?” I ask.
“Ah, to sail out and then snorkel, it's twenty dollars per person,” he says, before quickly talking himself down to 15 dollars per person.
I look sideways at Lila, she shrugs, neither of us feels particularly loyal to whoever we've already booked with, given that they were hassling her this morning about not confirming the boat by text last night, which she had.
“Okay, sure. Can we go now?” I ask.
“Yes, can. I'll get Capt Mwanzi to set up the boat. What sizes flippers do you need for snorkeling?”
Even though I'm not paying for any of it, I feel pretty chuffed that we've managed to save 25 percent and are also getting to go snorkeling.
“There's a steady breeze, this should be fun,” Liz says as we wait for our captains to arrive on the dhow.
A dhow is more of a multi-hulled canoe with a mast a single sail, rather than what one might think of as a sailboat. We climb into the narrow hull, which a wide-hipped mama would struggle to squeeze into. However, we don't sit inside the boat, but rather on the wooden edge. Extended to each side are rough-hewn branches attached to supporting floats to keep the boat from turtling.
The sail is opened and tied into place, filling with a steady breeze as we begin to move out across the shallow waters. The Zanzibar azure blue shallows run out for nearly a kilometer and a half before taking a dive into a deep blue.
It's a narrow-hulled boat. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Lila's eyes are on the sail.
“I wonder if they're going to jibe or tack,” she says as we run with the wind.
“What?” the terms are familiar from some sailing course I took out on Lake Monroe as a child. However, I spent no time on sailboats in Phuket.
“I think they'll jibe, which is turning away from the wind. This way the sail swings around the mast instead of coming across the boat. If they tack, it looks like they'll get the sail caught.”
Our captains chill while we got snorkeling. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
After about 20 minutes, the sail is pulled down and Lila and are told to jump – with masks, snorkels, and fins of course.
Kicking along, heads down, snorkels up, we gently hold hands. Lila pulls me toward an African red-knobbed starfish. It's perhaps my favorite animal that we've spotted so far. There were plenty of familiar friends down there: wrasses, peacock fish, and Indian sea cushions. However, Lila wanted to see an octopus. Shortly after making the request, I pointed to a tentacle dangling out from under a rock. Though the more I thought about it, the less I was certain that it was actually part of an octopus.
After the better part of an hour of floating through the bleached corals and some vibrant forests of green sea flora, we make our way back to the boat, where it's necessary to turn around and catch the wind back to shore.
Lila's prediction is correct: we jibe. The Captain Mwanzi releases the sail, which Captain Mike pulls through, dropping the line on the other side of the mast, where Captain Mwanzi can grab it and then tighten everything back up.
The wind gives out within a 100 meters of shore. Lila is unphased. However, as I am not a sailor, it's hard to be patient this close to our final destinations. There's lots to do on shore: back to our room, pack, drive to Stone Town, and put Lila on the ferry to Dar es Salaam.
“This is just an idea, but what if we stayed another night?” I say once we're off the boat.
“I was thinking the same thing. But I don't know if I could afford the room.”
“Of course, I'd cover it tonight. You've already paid for so much,” I say. I was already thinking that maybe I should be splitting the room costs out here in Paje. When we were in Stone Town, I had my Couch Surfing host's place to crash for free. However, out here I am relying entirely on Lila's room.
“That could work.”
There are some logistical issues that Lila needs to get sorted before we commit to the plan, as she was supposed to meet up with a few people to help someone at a hospital in Dar es Salaam. It's not essential that she goes, but it was part of the plan.
It's at this moment, once we've decided that we'll try to make it work that a subtle dread settles over us: the feeling of sand slipping through our grasping fingers plagues our frontal cortex.
Holding hands as we walk, we agree that it feels like we're forgetting some factor in the equation. That there is something that still justifies rushing back to Stone Town right this minute.
The dismay deepens at Mr. Kahawa Cafe. We split a platter of hummus and a sandwich, as well as a coffee and a yellow shake. While waiting for the food to come I produce a deck of cards and we begin a new game of cribbage. Much to my chagrin, Lila continues to stomp me.
Despite the feeling of cards between my fingers and finally getting the lead on Lila in the match, our uneasiness doesn't recede.
“It's kind of amazing that we've managed to spend every single moment together for so many days and not feel the need for alone time,” I say. This is actually not a huge deal for me, as I rarely need alone time and often have no idea what to do with it outside of masturbating. However, I think the point could be valid, at least for Lila.
“Yeah, it's just so comfortable. I don't feel like I have to put anything on for you when we're together. It's relaxing and undemanding,” she says.
We finish eating, then make our way back to the room. The logistics are confirmed, we're staying another night.
“Cold shower?” I offer.
Cold showers and naps seem to be a central part of our relationship in Zanzibar.
The sky is going orange and dark blue outside our thatch-framed window when I wake from a nap.
The feeling, the one picking on us earlier, has been blown offshore.
We needed food. We needed a nap. We needed to not worry about the magic disappearing like a white rabbit – because the rabbit never really goes anywhere.
We have a quick dinner of a pile of chips with mango sauce, shredded cabbage and a couple skewers of bone-rich chicken chunks accompanied by a mug of sugar cane juice on the main road – the only tarmac in town.
As is our habit at this point, Lila and I wander to a rasta bar on the north end of the beach, not far from our room. The mattresses that are usually slung over the twine netting of the queen-sized bunk-bed style lounger are missing, but the guy behind the bar is happy enough to put them up for us.
Tonight, we don't even split a cocktail. Instead, we order a bottle of water and curl up together under the stars. The trees look like they've been cocooned by silk worms in this light. I wouldn't have noticed them if Lila hadn't pointed them out the other night, but now I see their ethereal beauty.
The harsh naked white lights hanging from nearby trees kills the darkness of the sky above us, but there are still plenty of stars above us to contemplate.
I wrap Lila up with one warm, enjoying her leaning in for dozens of little kisses before returning her gaze to the stars.
The bar boys are playing the same set of music that they play every night. It's mostly thug rap, which I admittedly enjoy. There's also some Justin Beiber and a few other artists that don't fit the genera.
“So how old are your parents?” I ask.
Lila's father is in his 60s, her mother in her 50s.
“I always say they are ten years apart, but my mom is actually in her late fifties. How about your parents?”
“Yeah, about the same,” I say.
Lila struggles with the idea that our parents are about the same age. I point out that we're both at the end of the family spectrum. She's the youngest by far, while I'm the oldest. In fact, I'm not much older than her eldest brother.
“It just seems strange,” she murmurs. It seems a bit odd to me as well. However, neither of us steer away from talking about our age difference, I find it too uncomfortably amusing to let it be.
Tonight, our heads are pointed toward the sea, instead of our feet.
“Dick, boom,” I confidently say for no particular reason, pointing directly at a dark spot in the sky above us. I am no stranger to gibberish. However, at this particular moment, I'm in sync with the universe.
Right where I'm pointing, split seconds after my finger reaches out to the sky a shooting star brightly blazes through Earth's atmosphere.
“Wow, did you see that one?” I ask.
“Yes, it was amazing. But what were you pointing at?”
“The shooting star before it caught fire.”
“What?” Liz says, not believing me for a moment.
“Yeah, it takes a lot of time and practice, but if you look at the sky carefully enough it's possible to spot shooting stars before they light up,” I say, before leaning over to gently kiss her.
“It's also possible you just pointed up there and there happened to be a shooting star.”
“What's the likelihood? I've not been pointing up at the sky all night. What's the likelihood that exactly when I pointed and where I pointed there would be such a beautiful shooting star?”