I approached the owner of our hotel and asked, "Why are there no Christmas decorations?"
It just seemed odd.
Not a strand of lights or a star to be seen.
Everywhere else in Zanzibar, people have been ramping up for the holidays. There are Christmas trees everywhere, decorated with bright bulbs, strands of shells, flowers... Some places were embellished with the traditional red & green, while others took a more seaside approach to their decoration.
When I made my legitimate inquiry, Claudia, the owner of the Simba Lodge, just shot me a blank look and almost without hesitation, replied, "People come here to escape Christmas."
I was completely stumped by her answer. Honestly, there are so many answers I would have accepted, ranging from Covid to hard times to Muslim tradition... but her answer was nothing but cheap bullshit.
I didn't like it.
Had she said something that was remotely justifiable, I could have been appeased... and I would have walked away with a certain amount of empathy...
BUT... instead, she gave me the escape Christmas excuse?
I replied, "Yes, sure... some people escape Christmas at home... but I came here to celebrate Christmas."
I didn't come here to get away from Christmas... I came here to experience Christmas HERE. In Zanzibar.
"Well, all of my guests don't want to celebrate."
I'm your guest.
Throughout this ridiculous dialogue, 8-year old Hannah was by my side, with an equally disheartened look on her face. She couldn't understand why there was no decoration and why the tree stood so empty.
I had more questions.
If we are not celebrating Christmas, then why has the rate increased significantly over the holiday season?
Why is there annoying Christmas music?
*In all honestly, I think we'd all rather forget about Christmas music as opposed to the actual holiday.
And the BIG question... why are you charging us a ridiculous amount of money for a Christmas feast?
Seriously... throw up a couple stars... hang some lights... put up some stockings. It's easy. Had she given the girls the job of decorating, they would have absolutely lapped it up. Hannah had spent the previous day on the beach collecting shells, ALL DAY. She and she would have happily strung them together to add to the festivities.
It came down to one thing.
Claudia is horrendously cheap and every day we get a little bit more of a glimpse into her frugal extremities. She seems to be under the impression that doing the bare minimum is good enough. It's a very surprising approach, especially at this time of the year, because she's German, and so many of her guests are here from Germany... FOR CHRISTMAS.
Yes, the Simba Lodge is very lush and comfortable... and it's been a fabulous place to hang out for a week. It's close to both the beach and the main shopping strip, and I have absolutely adored every moment I've spent here. But along with the marvellous and tropical, comes much neglect. The rooms are often not cleaned. It took me 5 days to get my sheets changed and my one damp, stinky towel replaced. The light fixtures don't always work as they should. They randomly remove things for no apparent reason, like my soap & garbage can, or come into the room and randomly turn the fan off. Nina says the place is full of termites that are slowly destroying the structures, but that, I do not know. I've definitely seen my share of ants and other assorted ghastly bugs.
There are just little things that could be done to make it more hospitable... things like offering guest beach towels or even more towels, pool toys, floatation devices, mirrors in the room, paintings on the walls... but she opts not to, so what do you do?
Every morning, I desperately try to get a little bit of work done and I try to make a wee dent in the course work I have signed up for... as well as catch up on my blog writing... which is also a full time commitment! The other day, somebody asked me if I was an author, and for a fleeting moment, I was really tempted to answer, "yes." I thought about how much I craved a full time globe-trotting, travel writing career... and just how easy it would be to suddenly just recreate myself. Although it is something I work towards on a daily basis, I figured it might be bad karma to falsely represent myself.
The day will come. I can feel it.
I have really fallen in love with Paje. Each day, on my way to the beach, I try to walk through the poorer parts of town, so that I keep myself grounded. It's a good way to really self-reflect and count my blessings, as well as become aware of what is actually behind the scenes. I think of it as an obligatory initiation, and a trek everyone should have to make before being treated to the tropical & luxuriuos lifestyle of a tourist. From there, I love slowly wandering my way along the palm-lined beaches, diving into turquoise waters for a refreshing sunshine dip or escaping into a beach bar for a fresh & refreshing juice when I feel my knee is giving out or the Maasai have become much too aggrivating.
In Paje, you can sit and people-watch for hours.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I like to watch the tourists, especially the single women, interact with the Maasai. It's always entertaining seeing their varied responses. The Maasai have the ability to invoke everything from disgust to rejection to inquisitive to admiration.
There is always a lively game of football (soccer) on the beach, and it's fascinating how everyone gets involved, regardless of cultural background or language barriers. Football truley is its own internation language. Have ball will travel. It's true.
I have been eating such crap... and I know I shouldn’t, but I continue to do so. It's an addiction. Me and crap food. I wish I was addicted to vegetables, but alas... I am not.
I have the most incredible talent of binging on things that have the ability to competely bypass the inner workings of my stomach system. Of course, the repeating, the regurgitation and the frequent time spent on the toilet is something that never ONCE occurs to me until I have completely finished shoving it all into my mouth.
What are these culinary delights, you ask?
Oh, the list is long... but some of my flux favourites have been;
Garlic eggplant bruschetta
Beet Hummus, falafel & onion chapate.
Avocado & mango mayonnaise wrap.
Brie, honey, pecan and butter sandwich.
I think I need my own portable toilet. And a lifetime supply of Loperamide.
I usually like to top these doozies off with a Piña Colada or something that falsely claims to be a chocolate milkshake.
Speaking of food and my gastrointestinal tract... I went to The Rock on Christmas day! It was meant to be a very special experience for me. Christmas Day. I made the reservation months ago... and dreamed of this magical moment for months.
The Rock was situated just off the coast of Pingwe, and about 13kms from the Simba Lodge. I had already made my mind up that I would walk one way, but had not really determined which way it would be. Nina, the lady from Germany, had expressed interest in tagging along, and I did write to inquire as to whether I could bring a guest, but the answer I received was a firm no. I expected it. After all, it was Christmas Day and this was The Rock...
I was fine going on my own.
I had made so many friends at Simba, and had been spending every moment with them, so I was looking forward to a little me time.
Our Christmas weather wasn't great. The skies had turned to grey, it was windy and the rain had moved in... Due to the poor conditions, Nina kept an eye on the the online reservations, and as soon as there was a noon opening, she grabbed at it. She booked for the 2 of us immediately, cancelled mine and off we went.
Taxis here are expensive. If anyone tried to tell you differently, they have too much money.
Maybe it's because I'm white and there is always wads of American money falling out of my pockets... but holy moly.
No taxi today! I was tired of spending money... and I was on my way to Zanzibar's most expensive restaurant. Dala dala, it was to be! In other words... the bus.
Nina had never taken a dala dala before, and she really had no choice but to follow me! I had my 1000 shillings ready, and I jumped aboard as soon as it came to a stop in front of us. It was packed. Packed with people. Packed with bananas. It was standing room only for a few kilometres, and every time it pulled over to pick someone up or drop someone off, Nina would ask, "Is the Rock?"
I finally pulled out my phone so I could track our journey and try to narrow down the repetition.
It just around then that the dala dala turned off the main road... and into a more local neighbourhood. We followed a dirt and sand track for some time. The road seemed to have almost deteriorated after the rain, due to the amount of potholes and ditches, and we had to move very slowly to avoid getting stuck.
I had no idea where we were going, yet Nina kept asking me, “Where are they going? Why are they turning? What are they doing?”
I had to remind her that I’d never been on this bus before either.
And oddly enough... no one had consulted me on the route.
We did eventually stop and some young guys ran out to unload the heap of bananas, so at least that cleared up more room for people to sit comfortably.
When we eventually reached The Rock, it sat there almost abandoned.
It stood alone, dark, cold and barren... lonesome in its low tide.
The wind was gaining strength and we were both happy to take refuge inside.
Our time slot was 12-2pm, which was a perfect amount of time for the extravagant meal, the obligatory selfies and the neighbourly chit chat.
I ordered the prawn & calamari tempura to start... followed by the lobster.
I don’t know why I fell prey to the lobster option.
I don't even really LIKE lobster.
I don't actually like anything about lobster.
I don't like how they're overfished. I hate the way they're killed. I'm definitely not a fan of eating them because they're so messy. It's a laborious task for quite a small meal.
For some reason, to me, this spellbinding menu item immediately took the spotlight. It lured me into some kind of delicacy hallucination. Like a high class trance. Temporarily, I was bewitched by this upper crust feast and suddenly compelled to order it. In fact, I was so intent on wasting all of my money on this ridiculous menu choice, that I completely disregarded the unwarranted extravagance... as well all the other menu options.
It was short lived.
I immediately regretted my decision.
If I could turn back time, I would have opted for something more fulfilling, more flavourful, more fresh... and a fraction of the cost.
So after draining my bank account, stuffing myself full of tempura seafood & vegetables, then sucking the lobster dry... I had to continue with my spending spree and ordered the Chocolate Salami.
It was by far my favourite, though I will admit I was too full to really appreciate the dish.
I needed to walk.
It was a necessity.
I was desperate for some exercise to make me feel better about my gluttenous spree.
Simba was 13kms away, but it didn't phase me at all. Nina was completely dead against walking the entire way, and she could have found another way back, but she chose to accompany me. I wasn't budging from my decision... although my knee w0uld have begged me to reconsider.
After a very long trek from The Rock to the Simba Lodge, my feet were absolutely throbbing and my knee felt like it had been popped right out of place. I walked right through the main entrance, directly to the pool... stripped off my skirt and allowed myself to just fall into the pool.
Hannah said to me, "Are you in your clothes?"
Yes, I am.
I floated in the pool for about an hour, letting the water work its magic on my swollen feet and inflammed knee... and then retired to my room for a much appreciated Christmas nap.
My nap was shortlived though... as there was more eating to be done!
There was the special Christmas feast at Simba that night... which was odd, considering we were all there to escape Christmas... It really was a LOT of fun... though I didn't really lap up the entire traditional BBQ buffet experience because I was still so full from my afternoon consumption. My feet & stomach were both so incredibly bloated, I could only really just sit there...
It was a great Christmas though. One I will remember forever. Samantha and Hannah coloured me a personalized Christmas card, and I filled up paper bag stockings with assorted chocolates & chips, and gave them both some stickers and a beaded slinky bracelet. Nina gave me some delicious Austrian chocolate, which I devoured immediately.
After the BBQ, we all lazed around upstairs and enjoyed some tasty beverages, great conversation and shared a LOT of laughs. Ya.. there were no decorations at all... apart from the sad wooden tree in the corner... but we were all there to celebrate the holidays together!
And that's exactly what we did.
This was Zanzibar Christmas! ❤️