Redeemed in Rio

Redeemed in Rio

In Brazil. Rio to be precise.

After returning from Zanzibar in January we had decided a matter of days after that we couldn’t possibly hack another year of employer sanctioned holidays and instead we were going to put into motion the plans that we’d had for awhile: Project Escape.

But enacting Project Escape in all of it’s wonderous and freeing glory would mean lining up a number of things: Firstly, we would need to choose where we wanted to go for the 6 months away (not too difficult considering we both have a list of places that we want to travel to as long as our arm!), then, we would need to figure out who was going to look after the cats (again, not too much of a challenge provided our lodger didn’t have any overly ambitious plans about travelling anywhere whilst we were away). Of course we would need to also rent out our house (to a couple preferably, and ones who were happy to mind our cats whilst we were gone).

Then there was the more long-term and serious considerations, such as us being able to financially support ourselves whilst we were travelling, aswell as when we returned because yes, I was going to be leaving work, permanently, to join Josh building the business. So we needed to be sure sure that this was going to work! And I had also decided to learn to drive, giving myself a couple of months to do so before we left in preperation for our long-term plans of relocating to the South of France. Leaving work for me was a pretty big deal, not only because I had been there for 12 years and though it was quite a mundane role with no chance of career progression nonetheless I was happy and content there. Alas, contentment wasn’t going to give me the lifestyle that I had always dreamed of, Josh was getting itchy feet since he had already relieved himself from the pressures of full-time employment and quite frankly, I was ready for the next chapter in my life.

So we put the house up for rent, I left work, passed my driving test (2 days before we flew out no less!) and now here we were in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at the start of our 6 month extravaganza.

Rio, A Riot Of Colour

Of course like many people I already had my expectations about Rio before I’d even gone there. My friend Marisa had gone there a few years back and sung the praises of the beauty of the people there (the men especially!). She told me how warm the people living in the favela’s had been but though I could tell she had been enamored by the place, to be honest Rio had never been on my bucket list but the attractiveness of a country’s population was never going to be a serious consideration for my travels and I had no intention of venturing into the favela’s.

What I understood from what I’d seen on TV and read about Rio, it was a very colourful city, with a passionate people who loved football, samba and there was a very sharp divide between the rich and the very poor (who mostly tended to be black and lived in the favela’s), but could it live up to my expectations?

Josh and I had only stopped by Rio because we had found some amazing flights from Norwegian Air and we were planning on being in Brazil for 3 months before going onto Colombia for a further 3 months then around the Caribbean on a cruise from Miami. We figured (much like going to Japan and not passing through Tokyo), that forgoing Rio completely would be a bit of a shame. Sure, we didn’t have much interest in city breaks but since we had 3 months to play with we thought that we might aswell take advantage of this opportunity. We had booked a hotel right on Copacabana beach, the iconic 4 km beach linking the busy city of Rio to the other famous beach, Ipanema. If we were only going to be here for 4 days then we decided that we were going to do all of the typically touristy things that you’d expect in a location such as this!

Our hotel in Rio wasn’t great. It was dated and was in need of a good repaint (and preferably a renovation since it looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 80’s), but it was no cheap digs – it commanded a reasonably high price due to it’s location in the centre, overlooking Copacabana beach.

And we didn’t have time to waste. We really wanted to make the most of our time as it seemed unlikely that we would be returning. On the night we arrived, after dropping our bags in our hotel room we went out to a local pizzeria. We had arrived late and didn’t have time to be walking around looking for food places so we asked for a recommendation from one of the hotels receptionists and walked the few blocks there. Even though it was around 8:30 pm it was still very warm outside, around 26 degrees which we both enjoyed immensely after having a long and particularly depressing stint in the UK battling intermittent rain, grey skies and the relentlessness of an unpredictable and contentious Brexit.

Just to feel the warm air on my skin (and so far no scurrying cockroaches were to be seen), was a pleasure indeed. The Pizzeria was full and though we had brought our language translator with us we had left it back at the hotel so we figured we would have to try and communicate in broken Spanish or Spanglish as it might be called. It turned out that the Portuguese language was actually very similar to Spanish and most people were able to speak and understand both, but despite it’s reputation as a tourist mecca, in comparison to many other places I had frequented, most of the people we had encountered were Brazilian or from neighboring Spanish speaking countries. Oh and of course there were Americans, but nobody from further afield really. Since Josh’s skin hadn’t yet had the opportunity to acclimatize to the country we were in, he was still very much a “gringo” in their eyes, and thus people immediately either tried to speak to us in Spanish or English as they knew that we weren’t from there.

The pizzeria wasn’t like your normal pizzeria, instead of ordering what you wanted from a menu like you do in most restaurants, the waiters brought a a variety of different slices of pizza around and you simply took what you wanted. Of course you could also order from the menu but it seemed like most of the people just chose from whatever was brought around. I found it slightly odd but it seemed that was the norm here. The pizza’s were huge and neither myself nor Josh could finish ours as unlike pizza’s back in the UK they were very generous with their pepperoni slices. The pizza was nothing to get excited about but it hit the spot and it allowed us to go back and get an early night after the 11 hour flight from the UK: We were bushed!

There were lots of things to do in Rio but rather then get overwhelmed we had made a list of our must-see’s whilst we were in the city and we planned to tick them off one by one. We’re not really big on “tourist traps” which is probably the reason why we avoid places that have lots of them but we also knew that some places really did live up to the hype and Copacabana beach was one of them.

Rio was a lot like the US in a lot of ways: it had the same grid system, people obsessed with fitness and looking good, a lively nightlife and it took it’s inspiration from American culture. But Copacabana beach had something that Miami did not: it had vibrancy.

From the sellers pushing their carts full of fresh fruit, ice cubes, coconut water and pashmina’s and shouting out to people as they went by, to the children building sandcastles and doing cartwheels in the surf, to the tanned and bronzed Brazilians letting you know that they are always very much #beachbodyready, to the group of laughing friends lounging underneath their colourful umbrella’s drinking an ice cold beer or a Caipirinha, to the fancy footwork from the Ronaldo and Pele footballer wannabe’s, to the beat of the samba drum from the musicians on the beach, this wasn’t a place for quiet contemplation or boredom: it was place of colour, passion, creativity and sound.

Always #beachbodyready

And the people were just as colourful as their state of dress. People of all skin tones, shapes, hair textures and ethnicities, all were represented here and thus I felt immediately at ease. Nobody was looking at me. Why would they? – I was just like everyone else, and since the Brazilians are descendants of the Portuguese Josh was too (or would be once his tan started to take effect!). Of course the people were as beautiful as everyone said that they were, but I also found them to be very natural, I loved seeing my skinfolk looking so at ease with their skin with their natural hair, and their curves wearing it as they could with pride. They looked resplendent in the sunshine.

And of course you cannot come to Brazil without having a Caipirinha, so I had decided that for the rest of my time in Brazil I was going to try and have at least one Caipirinha a day #acaipirinhaaday. My first Caipirinha I had whilst I was sitting outside a beach bar overlooking Copacabana beach people watching and it was particularly delicious because unlike in England where they are made using vodka, it came with a very generous amount of Cachaca, the traditional Brazilian distilled spirit. Tres bon!

A #caipririnhaaday

The beach was packed but thankfully it was a very long stretch of beach so you could always find somewhere to sunbathe in relative peace. I say relative because it was immensely noisy, there was always some commotion on the beach whether that be people blasting out music, parents shouting to their children, a gym session, lifeguards blowing their whistles to remind people that it was still very much a red flag beach and they shouldn’t go so far out, beach sellers selling everything from handmade trinkets, to ice cold drinks, hot food and of course drugs (on the low low), but even though the people here seemed happy and laid back there was still the very real danger of our belongings being nicked from right in front of us and with this many people occupying the beach it was easy to see how. Thankfully we hadn’t travelled far to get to the beach (our hotel was literally across the road), so we didn’t have too much with us, and we had intentionally bought our beach towels which had a secret compartment where you could store your phones and wallets etc. Judging by the information we had been given by our Brazilian friends and from the staff at our hotel, we should be vigilant at all times and not flash our valuables around. I wasn’t one for wearing lots of jewellery anyway but this did mean that we needed to be much more purposeful about what we walked around with and in particular where we went especially late at night.

The beach was wide and the sand was soft and powdery but the waves here were no joke. I soon realised that there was to be no striding sexily into the sea like a Brazilian supermodel, infact the current was so powerful that when I eventually did make it into the sea the force of the waves knocked me over straightaway which embarrassed me no end. It was hard to stand up, let alone play around in the sea like everyone else seemed to be able to do with ease as I felt the pull of the current dragging me down into it’s watery depths.

Fresh Coconut Anyone?

Despite the dire warnings about crime in the city, I felt pretty safe. When the locals did try to engage us in conversation (usually because they were selling something), a quick No Gracias usually sent them on their way. This would be unheard of on some Caribbean, African and European beaches. So I didn’t feel concerned at all, but then I guess we were still in a relatively “sanitized” part of Rio. What I did notice though was the presence of the law enforcement, aka Po Po. They were stationed on almost every corner everywhere from the airport to Copacabana beach, they would just be standing or sitting there inside their cars with their police lights flashing as if to warn any would be criminals of their presence. For a tourist to Brazil, who had probably heard every scare story going about the favela drug wars fuelled by poverty in the city, to see a hench looking Brazilian cop with his romper stompers looking like he had just returned from Afghanistan was a somewhat disconcerting sight, alas if that it was kept the crime to a minimum then that was all right by me. I had every intention of surviving this trip until the very end. And infact I’d love to return and say to all of those naysayers (including those who had expressed concern when we told them that we were planning on going to South America), that I travelled there for 6 months and didn’t have one bad experience. We’ll see!

The promenade that ran down the side of the beach and alongside the hotels was decorated with a distinctive black and white wavy pattern that I found out is called the Portugese wave. Despite it’s distinctive design however there was also a powerfully distinct smell of urine that accompanied it. It would seem as though the rough sleepers in the city (of which there looked like quite a few but less then there is in London these days in my opinion), used this area to err…relieve themselves, and the smell was very distasteful, particularly when you got a blast of wind come off the sea to carry it along and shoot up your nose. Nawsty.

After Bali I never thought that I would experience having to put my toilet (spoils) into the accompanying bin. And after doing that a couple of times and wondering why the toilet wasn’t flushing I had to acknowledge the inevitable: That shit won’t flush. Afterall Brazil was still a second world country, they didn’t have advanced plumbing like we have in the West.

That evening we went to Churrascaria Palace, a steakhouse with a Brazilian twist. There we dined on meats of all types brought to our table by friendly waiters. It was tasty but the waiters only brought round the meats, all the rest we had to get from the buffet table and as you know I am not a buffet fan.

The following day we had booked an excursion around Rio. For travellers like us, who thought it was nearly always best to discover a place on your own, get lost, and find your way again, this was definitely a departure from the norm, but we only had 3 full days to explore Rio and we wanted to see as much of it as we could. So, starting at 08:50 am we had booked a 8 hour long excursion which would take in the sights of the city and see some of the most important and iconic Rio landmarks, including the famous statue of Christ for the Redeemer, which for a proud atheist such as me is quite an irony but one doesn’t have to respect the doctrine to respect the craftsmanship. Infact it seemed to be incumbent upon me to acknowledge the fact that human beings are capable of the greatest (and the worst) things, and with inspiration are capable of doing anything they put their minds, hearts and hands to. This includes creating a 98 ft high concrete and soapstone sculpture weighing 325 metric tonnes up the 2,300 ft mountain in Tijuca Forest.

The tour would also take us to the Rio’s largest football stadium, to the place where the samba parade started, to the “colourful steps” and Sugar Loaf mountain, aswell as lunch at a local restaurant. Had I of designed the tour myself there were probably only 2 things I would have included that were missed out and that would be watching some Capoeira and a tour to see some of the cities graffiti. Infact I would have missed off visiting the Cathedral (it was soon becoming depressingly clear that these Brazilians took their “faith” very seriously), and chosen to go and watch some Capoeira and see some graffiti art instead, afterall that is far more creative and distinctive to Brazil then another obscenely priced building built with the sweat of others to further tiresome religious ends.

We started off with a coach that took us through some of the most vibrant and creative city sights I had ever seen. Forget Rome, this was the real deal: a culmination of the efforts of the residents, who with their powerful art told the story of their pleasures and pain. It was colourful, it was beautiful, it was raw. And the faces staring back at me painted on the walls looked a lot like mine but they started back at me with expressions of the struggle and the fight to be seen. I never realised such emotion could come through via pictures painted onto a decaying walls but it was. And this art was everywhere. I honestly could have spent the entire day just travelling through the city looking at the various graffiti alas we had places to go and things to see.

I didn’t realise that so much time would be spent travelling between the tour stops but as I came to find out Rio was a huge city, it would be impossible to see all of it in such a short period of time. Our first stop was at Maracana football stadium, the largest football stadium in Rio. We didn’t actually go inside (for that you needed a ticket and since Brazilians were football mad that meant the queue to get in was very long). For me personally, going to a football stadium didn’t hold much appeal and I didn’t feel particularly inspired by what I saw but my little brother is football mad so I knew that he would be impressed just knowing that I had had the opportunity to be in such a place so I took this picture for him:

Maracana Football Stadium

Afterwards we drove onto Sambodromo, another stadium but this time something more to my tastes: The Samba Stadium! Yes, this was the place where the world famous Rio Carnival started and in true Rio style, they made a big deal of their carnival, dedicating a whole stadium to the event. From here you could watch the carnival dancers in their colourful regalia as they done everything in their talented power to impress the judges. Because Rio Carnival unlike carnivals elsewhere in the world, was a competition. It was a competition of dance, music, song and most importantly, dress. I have always been impressed by the sensuality, grace and strength of samba dance and of course the women when wearing their get up were so beautiful nobody could match them. It’s why the Brazilian woman is revered worldwide as being the most desirable. As mixed as you could get, they were an effortless combination of Portuguese, African, Native Indian and in many cases Japanese as Brazil I found out actually had the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan. Intriguing!

Outside of Carnival time, the date of which changed every year, at the Sambodromo you could learn more about this fascinating Brazilian tradition, aswell as buy some memorabilia including discounted carnival outfits, music, speak and take pictures with an actual Samba dancer (who had legs like a stallion), and of course get yourself a Caiprinha for the road ūüėČ

Carnival time at the Sambodromo 

Next we stopped by a Cathedral which for the most part was interesting with beautiful stained glass windows but of course the fact that it was a Catholic Church to me was only indication of religions insidious pyramid scheme in this region, brought over by the colonising Portuguese who had been heavily influenced by Rome. It was that way all over the world, how telling that the religion of the day was spread by conquest only for people to adopt it truly convinced that they had found the true path to heaven.

Escadaria Selaron

I’d actually never heard of this place before but I did remember seeing it in many music videos not realising that it was filmed here in Brazil. Escadaria Selaron was the colourful tiled steps of the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Santa Teresa, considered one of the arty neighborhood’s in Rio, not only had the beautiful multi-coloured tiled steps but also lots of amazing graffiti art. The stairs were absolutely crammed full of people, mostly tourists, baying to take pictures for their Instagram, and as I was being a shameful tourist myself, I took one for mine too ūüôā

The beautiful tiles in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood

Amazing graffiti art near the Sscadaria Selaron

Rio I was finding, was a place of contradictions.¬† Obsessed with social standing, beauty and health, they had also refused to sanitise their more edgy side, their struggles, the crime and their past which was still visible in living painted glory of the city walls. It was also very green here. Much more so then I’d expected. Part of the reason why I forgo large cities is because they often ignores the nuance in favour of a dramatised version of what the country and people are about. Here I felt that it was very authentic, and rather then just a concrete jungle it still had a lot of the kind of nature that in my eyes is what Brazil is really all about. The hills, the trees, the lakes, the plants, the mountains..somehow nature managed to co-exist amongst what was still quite Americanised in it’s approach to city building. It reminded me a lot of both New York and Miami, but was far more interesting and authentic to me then both of them: Take heed Americano’s.

Sitting on the steps

After the colourful steps we went onto see Christ the Reedemer at Corcovado, the sight that everyone immediately thinks of when you talk of Rio. After a long coach ride and a lengthy climb to the top of the mountain in the intense heat we finally reached the statue of Jesus. Of course the surrounding area was packed full of tourists there to take pictures and some where even there to pray (but not many). This was definitely a tourist attraction and one worth ticking off our Rio bucket list. We gazed upon Christ in all of his stony glory in front of us with his arms outstretched over Rio as if blessing it with his presence, but I knew the reality was that he was designed, engineered, sculpted and transported for the purpose of impressing the world with his significance, so all I could do was marvel at the determination and skill of the human beings who created him.

Redeemed

These Brazilians do love a buffet. That much was becoming clear after our buffet like pizzeria experience the night we arrived, the Churrascia last night and the local restaurants most of whom did one buffet offering or another. So naturally it was to another buffet that our very nice and extremely fluent tour guide took us to. I was reluctantly coming to the realisation that not only did they love a buffet, not only did they love beef in all of it’s many forms, but they also didn’t really eat all that much. Their portions were pretty small by England standards which was surprising since I thought they liked to be like Americans and we all know that Americans have huge portions!

The food at this buffet was okay, but nothing special. They had things like salads, french fries (which they seemed to love), vegetables, rice, pasta (another favourite) and beef which you could have cut especially for you at the grill. My friend Sasha who herself was Brazilian had actually warned me of their aversion to spices and I had found that hard to believe because of the diversity of the people who lived here, but it was true: Brazilians didn’t do spice, not even pepper! I had imagined that their food would be extremely flavoursome with lots of fruits, vegetables and spices but it was not to be. They were perfectly content with rice, beans, french fries and beef seasoned simply with just salt. And preferably buffet style. In short: Their food was bland.

The realisation that Brazil with all of it’s creativity and diversity, a region that surely must grow it’s own amazing fruits and veg and is surrounded by all of the other Spanish speaking countries including Peru which is supposed to have some of the best cuisine in the world (yet to be confirmed by me), then how on earth could it not have delicious food in abundance?

I simply could not go on eating beef everyday. I would find it far too boring and I like to enjoy my food thank you very much.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

Sugar Loaf Mountain was the world heritage site in Brazil shaped like a loaf – a peak jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean. To get to the top of it we had to take 2 cable cars which was pretty scary for alot of people in this region but not for Josh and I who were used to taking cable cars to get to the top of the ski runs.

The panoramic sights of the city, ocean, mountains and beaches below was a sight to below. Seeing the sprawling city from here, with the setting sun casting glimmering down on the white boats in the harbour below, an atmospheric mist floating magically by, houses perched on the top of clifftops, soaring birds spreading their wings, the sound of silence, was truly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know where it felt like but it certainly didn’t feel like Rio, it was far too beautiful for that. Or was it? Perhaps this was the contrast that made Rio such a unique and positively alluring place.

The loaf made of sugar 

Josh and I on top of the world!

The Girl From Ipanema

Well of course I went to Ipanema Beach, how could I not?

Just the thought of being able to take a picture on this iconic beach was enough to make a special trip to visit. We spent the whole day there drinking Caipririnha’s and people watching. People watching on Ipanema beach was even better then in Copacabana beach which seemed alot more casual. Here people were here to impress, and being beach body ready as they were, impressing wasn’t too hard to do. We had a great day.

Another #caipirinhaaday ūüôā

On our last evening in Rio we went to a local underground Bossa Nova club called Beco Das Garrafas for an event in their Little Club. Being a Bossa Nova fan as I am I was delighted to find out that here in Rio we could listen to live Bossa Nova and Jazz for the price of a glass of Prosecco. Now that’s my idea of a night out! In this small, dark club we would find a Bossa Nova band (with an amazing blind piano player) playing nearly all of the songs that I had recently discovered on a Youtube Bossa Nova playlist. They played really well and the singing was great too. I was in seventh heaven.

Rio, I underestimated you. I thought you were just about glamorous people with plastic surgery walking about trying to pretend to be American. I didn’t realise that you were this vibrant, colourful, characterful, friendly, warm, laid back. I didn’t know you had one of the most beautiful birds eye views of a city I’d ever seen, nor that your Capririnha’s tasted like THAT. I didn’t know that you were so artistic, your music so catchy. I didn’t know too, that you rained (sometimes), that your city was so huge, that you had such a problem with petty crime so as to make it the norm, and I really didn’t know that your food was so bland. But that’s okay, 4 out of 5 is okay. Especially for a city. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?

Next stop: Florianopolis, Brazil!

CON Air (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

CON Air (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

We boarded the plane at Paris, Charles De Gaulle, ready for our 8 hour flight to Zanzibar via Nairobi, Kenya. It was to be my first time in East Africa, and Josh’s first time in Africa so¬†naturally we were both excited and a little apprehensive too as we didn’t know quite what to expect.

Getting to this exotic destination off the beaten tourist track was a bit of an ordeal: our commute was over 15 hours in total, and required changing planes 3 times, then it would be another hour and a half journey by road once we arrived in Zanzibar.

Once we had settled into our seats, we immediately commenced our usual routine of choosing the film/s we wanted to watch for the duration of the flight. We settled on Logan as my brothers had assured me it was a really good film and then I decided that should I feel awake enough afterwards then I would watch Wonder Woman.¬†Again. ūüôā

Despite the dauntingly long journey ahead now we were ready, or as ready as we were gonna be!

No sooner had I put my travel socks on, spritzed my face with Liz Earle facial toner and applied my moisturiser in preparation of the journey ahead, did we suddenly hear the back door of the plane fly open and then a woman towards the back of the plane, about 4 rows behind us, began screeching at the top of her lungs:

“Nooooooo, Noooooo!”

“Leave me alone, I do not want to go, I don‚Äôt want to goooo!”

“Je ne veux pas y retourner! Je ne veux pas y retourner!”

“No, I will not go, leave me alone, LEAVE. ME. ALONE!!”

I whipped my head around to see what on earth the commotion was all about and with growing horror I saw this large African woman being physically restrained by two men at the back of the plane. At first Josh and I just assumed that they were perhaps friends of hers and an argument had broken out between them, but as it became more physical and she became more vocal, it soon became clear that she was infact fighting them!

The 2 slight Kenyan men who were accompanying her were trying to force her into a seat at the back of the plane. She was resisting them with all her might and her protestations were getting increasingly louder. I could only look on in shock. By now the entire back of the plane had turned around in their seats to see what was going on.

Why was this woman being restrained? What had she done? Why were the staff just standing there doing and saying nothing? Why is the woman being so hysterical? I wondered to myself.

And most importantly, What ON EARTH is she doing on my flight?!

All of these questions were whirring round and round in my head as I tried to process what it was I was seeing.

The woman’s cries became increasingly more urgent and she began to beg for help from passengers nearby who looked confused and uncomfortable: Nobody knew what to do.

She begged passengers to help her in French and English:

“Please help me” she screamed.

“Help me please. PLEASE” she pleaded.

I really wanted to help her but I didn’t know how I could. Or even if I should. The men started to get rougher with her as she fought them with an intensity and ferocity that left me speechless: This woman was FIGHTING FOR HER LIFE.

I didn’t know whether she was being illegally deported (meaning, these men were not police officers and were infact taking her against her will), if she was a criminal or whether she was being deported from Paris back to her country of origin. I had absolutely no idea what was going on because whilst this commotion was in full sway and the plane remained grounded delaying our take-off as a result, the staff made NO ATTEMPT WHATSOEVER to explain what was going on to anyone. They never tried to intervene nor to acknowledge the commotion in any way.

Josh and I looked at each other with growing disbelief as we saw these men trying to handcuff this woman to the middle aisle seat at the back of the plane and she wasn’t having a bar of it! Her screams went up an octave.

The sound of this woman’s wails, screams and laments reverberated in my heart as I recognised the unmistakable sounds of genuine human anguish, pain and acute terror.

As I looked around me I could see some people staring blankly forward as if if they merely glimpsed this woman being manhandled they wouldn’t be able to remain calm. They simply REFUSED to look at her. Tears prickled at the corner of my eyes as I saw that this woman was fighting with everything that she had. Whatever the reason that she was being detained was, it was humiliating and painful to see another human being¬†being¬†treated in this way. And I did not see why I should have to be subjected to it!

Multiple times passengers, angry because no information had been given as to what was going on or how long it would be before we took off, demanded that the woman be removed from the aircraft. But this fell on deaf ears: The air crew simply ignored them.

“They will kill me!” she screeched out to anyone who would listen to her plight.

“No, I don‚Äôt want to die. PLEASE, I don‚Äôt want to die! Je ne veux pas y retourner! Je ne veux pas y retourner!”

My eyes widened in horror upon hearing these words. Die? I thought. Did I just hear DIE?? Just what the bloody hell is going on here? Who IS this woman? I wanted to know. I didn’t sign up to be party to these kinds of shenanigans!

The plane had now been grounded for well over 30 minutes with no announcement from the pilot as to why we were being delayed and no apology from the staff about the noise. I was horrified. I really couldn’t believe what it was I was seeing and hearing. I had NEVER been on a delayed flight where the pilot didn’t give frequent information as to the reason for the delay and an approximate estimation as to how long the delay would be for. This, in my experience, was unheard of.

“Noooooo” she wailed.¬†“Nooooooo!”

I looked over at the staff in disbelief that they could continue pretending as if they couldn’t see or hear the commotion that was happening in front of their very eyes.

My sense of unease increased rapidly as I saw this woman struggling with all her might to resist the chains that they were trying to bind her hands with. My anxiety and sense of helplessness was becoming more and more acute as the time went on. It had become clear by now that these were plain clothed policemen so it seemed this woman was going to be handcuffed to her seat and brought along for the ride whether I liked it or not. Well I DID NOT LIKE.  I was utterly furious and felt powerless to do anything to stop it.

When the woman began to flail her arms around wildly, making it dangerous not just to her immediate passengers, but also to herself, things really began to take a serious turn. All the while she was screaming at them to leave her alone and that she was going to be killed in her country. Babies on the plane started crying in unison.

An hour later and we were STILL stationery, waiting for this woman to be removed from the aircraft. As far as I was concerned, she was a liability. And quite frankly, I was starting to feel traumatised watching this woman being manhandled by these men. I didn’t want her on my flight, end of story. I didn’t pay for this shit. Neither did I agree to share my flight to Zanzibar with a deportee.

The airlines arrangements with the authority’s to deport someone on their commercial flight had nothing to do with me as a paying customer as far as I was concerned and I would never willingly agree to be a participant in the removal of someone, particularly when said person was unwilling to be removed and was being extremely vocal about it!

It’s not as if she was like a normal paying customer, she was essentially being REMOVED from the country, and that is something very different.

After an hour or so of this things really began to escalate when I heard the back door open and saw 2 French policemen enter. I knew that they were police immediately because they were hench, wearing police uniform and had a ruggedness about them that looked as if they were used to dealing with VERY SERIOUS situations (such as terrorists and the like)

I looked on in shock and horror as these militant looking policemen along with the by contrast very¬†gentle looking Kenyan policemen proceeded to try to get this woman under control but she was stronger than any of them could ever have anticipated and she wasn’t going down without a FIGHT!

After another 10 minutes of struggle, which not only had them heavily perspiring but the woman too, FINALLY they got her strapped to her chair. Soon thereafter we heard her panting heavily and we could SMELL her body odour from where we were sitting: She smelt of defeat, pain and broken dreams.

The woman now brought her screaming up to blood curdling loud levels and I was really struggling to hold in my tears. The sound of her deep sorrowful sobs were hurting my heart. I found the whole thing utterly inhumane and deeply disturbing. I couldn’t believe that THIS was the start of my holidays. Was this to be the sign of things to come??

Now handcuffed to the seat, she promptly began smashing her head with full force against the seat in front of her. The woman in front of her whose seat she was banging her head against and who was visibly getting more distressed, immediately burst into tears, as did children halfway down the plane. It was absolute mayhem.

How they could allow this delay to occur when it was completely within their control was beyond my comprehension. How they could sit there pretending that nothing was going on when a woman was literally begging for her life really was beyond my understanding. Why they felt it was acceptable to allow this woman to continue this level of disruption that was causing passengers including children to cry and people to demand that they remove her immediately when we know that they divert planes for MUCH less was beyond belief. And why they never went around apologising profusely to every passenger who was being affected by this horrendous episode and tried to put them at ease for what already is for some people quite a disturbing thing (flying) whilst this unacceptable drama played out was to my mind, UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE.

Eventually, after they had moved the crying passenger sitting in front of her, I summoned one of the air hostesses who had been trying in earnest to pretend that she didn’t see what going on wasn’t going on, and I asked her directly “What IS going on?!”

And she told me (though I noted that she never bothered to apologise), that the woman was being deported. Simple as that. No further details. No apologies. And STILL no announcement by the pilot!

My nerves were frayed and I didn’t know whether this woman would start an even bigger commotion whilst we were in the air so I couldn’t relax. And fundamentally, I did not agree with them bringing their “prisoner” onto MY flight that I paid¬†my hard-earned money to be on!

Now they brought out the big guns and the woman’s wails became repeated daggers to my heart. I turned around to see them produce a head strap Рyes, you heard me correctly a HEAD STRAP, which they then proceeded to attempt to put onto her head to stop her from harming herself!

WFT is going on here??

These delusional people were so insistent that she was going to travel with us that they were actually prepared to put a head strap on the poor woman!

Well, she really began screaming now and it was unbearable. Again, people asked repeatedly for her to be removed from the plane, but they were patently ignored. I decided that I just couldn’t look anymore. Realising that they were determined to keep her on the plane Josh and I asked to be moved to another seat but were ignored. It was agonising to hear her let alone see her.

Concerned passengers began filming it on their phones but the French policemen (who for the first time seemed to suddenly realise that passengers were indeed present and watching everything that was going on!) went around DELETING footage from people’s phones telling them that they couldn’t film it.

Deleting footage you know! BUT WHY? You ask.

Why couldn’t they film it if what they was doing was perfectly okay and above-board? Who knows?

After almost an hour and a half of this I decided to be smart and at least try and get some audio of the commotion for future evidence. Because if this airline thought that I was just going to let them get away with this with no recompense then they were SADLY mistaken. As far as I was concerned allowing this woman to remain on the plane was putting EVERYONE on the flight at risk.

Eventually I managed to record audio of when she was much calmer then the hour or so before, but it is still damning evidence that proves how much disruption this woman was causing to passengers and I knew without a doubt that grounded or not, anyone else causing a disruption like this would have been removed without a moment’s hesitation.

Suddenly I felt the engine starting up (I couldn’t hear it of course because the woman was still screaming at the top of her lungs), but I could feel it beneath me. But to my absolute horror the safety announcement started playing DESPITE the fact that this woman was still wildin’ out.

I couldn’t hear a bloody thing! She was so loud that I couldn’t hear it and neither would I have been able to concentrate on it even if miraculously she had stopped screaming because I was still traumatised by the whole experience.

Once the engine had started up and the French policemen had helped to strap her head and hands to the seat they promptly left via the back of the aircraft. I recorded the audio of our ascent and the safety announcement whilst the woman was making her presence felt. It all felt quite surreal, like a nightmare. And STILL I was yet to hear the pilot make any kind of announcement regarding the commotion.

Whilst we were still in the air I could hear the woman crying, though it was gradually getting lesser and lesser, but then all of a sudden I heard nothing and I looked behind me to see the woman with a blanket thrown over her head, and I suddenly knew that she had been sedated.

It didn’t make me feel any less uneasy or anxious to know that she had been sedated for I knew that she could wake up any moment during the 8 hour flight and kick off again. But more importantly, everything in my body told me that this was wrong. This woman was being treated like an animal –¬†she had essentially been tranquilized like one!

Perhaps they thought that she was? After all, they used to display African bodies as animals in their Parisian zoos¬†in the not so distant past. That would have explained the lack of a need for them to apologise to people as to why they thought it was appropriate to bring her along. VILE. In the woman’s exertions she was sweating profusely, the stale, pungent, sweaty smell of her body odour wafted down to us every so often to remind us that here was a body being disguised as if it wasn’t even there. My heart hurt with the inhumanity and injustice of it all. And still I could do nothing.

Despite my concerns, the woman never woke up for the remainder of the flight: She remained heavily sedated and hidden from view.

During the flight my fury reached PEAK LEVEL when after had experienced a little bit of turbulence (a natural phenomenon that is to be expected), the pilot had the audacity to suddenly CROP UP on the microphone to APOLOGISE for the 20 minute turbulence that we would have to endure. Yet he made absolutely no mention whatsoever of the utter chaos caused by the passenger/prisoner that had delayed our flight for over an hour.

He didn’t attempt to explain or better yet to apologise about putting a plane load of passengers through something that was 100% percent within their control to diffuse! Unbelievable.

I was even more knackered than I would have usually have been after such a long flight. I was now MENTALLY exhausted too. I couldn’t erase the visions playing over in my mind of a woman being wrestled into submission.

We arrived in Nairobi to be greeted with intense humidity and extreme disorganisation. Though our bags went directly on to Zanzibar (and I was praying that they would arrive in one piece), we still had to check in at Nairobi Airport for the onward flight to our final destination and the staff at Air Kenya were pretty shambolic I have to say. Such a basic thing such as checking in 2 passengers really should not have caused such confusion.

I mean, it wasn’t like I was asking for them to provide something that hadn’t already been booked and paid¬†for, or asked them for a product that they didn’t sell: They sold flights and I had paid for one. Surely not rocket science.

So, not a great start.¬†What also wasn’t a great start was the level of professionalism which was severely lacking. BUT, they got us there in one piece, so I was thankful of that at least.

Zanzibar Airport

If I thought that Kenya Airways staff was bad, then I was soon to be left in utter awe of the Zanzibar Airports systems, which were utterly non-existent.

Travel from the UK to Zanzibar required a visa. This hadn’t even occurred to us when we decided we were going to travel there so to find that we needed a visa to enter the country last minute came as a bit of a shock. Luckily, there were 2 ways to obtain one: Either apply for one in advance by getting it from the embassy or get one upon arrival (for a fee of course). When we were travelling to Indonesia and Thailand we had to get visa’s for both countries and it was a reasonably complicated (or at the very least time-consuming) enterprise. But that was kind of understandable since we were intending on being in both places for longer than a month, but in Zanzibar we were only going to be there for 10 days, alas it didn’t matter to them how long we intended on staying in their country for they wanted their visa money ($50 to be precise), and they wanted it now!

Zanzibar airport was small and in disrepair. The staff weren’t very impressed to see all of these (mostly European) tourists trundling through their airport and they didn’t pretend to be. In short: They weren’t very friendly. But such is the case working in an airport where you see thousands of faces on their way to begin their holidays and you are stuck stamping passports in the heat with no chance of escape. I get it. But at the same time, if you are a third world country, and people are making the effort to come to visit it, experience your culture and as a result prop up your tourist economy, it would be nice to at least acknowledge that with a smile. Or maybe just not a scowl. Alas maybe that’s not very realistic *sigh*.

We’d read online that we would be required to queue up once we got to the airport in order to get our visa forms processed but there was no signage to make it clear where we should go to get one. Thankfully it seemed that we were travelling with people who had been there before and knew where they were going so we followed them to a hall with tables that looked like they had lots of white forms on them. But upon closer inspection we could see that this table with its abundance of papers which were literally spilling over everywhere had lots of different forms.

The heat was oppressive and it was literally impossible to know which one of these forms we needed to fill out as there were about 7 different ones there and they all said “visa” on them. And to make matters worse there were no pens and no staff to help with any questions. We were hot and bothered and absolutely knackered after travelling for 15 hours plus the hour and a half of drama we had to endure at the start and I simply did not have the brain matter nor the energy to work out which badly written form I needed to fill out.

After eventually choosing 2 forms and starting to fill both of them out with pens that Josh had in his bag, a French lady suddenly took pity on us and shoved 2 completely different forms in our hands for us to fill out instead!

The forms were a joke, wanting to know everything there was possible to know about us and our stay. I couldn’t remember the Indonesian and Thai visa’s being this complicated and some parts of the form was written in Swahili and there was nobody there to translate. Ridiculous.

Finally, after wasting unnecessary time filling out the wrong forms we went to go and queue at security as we assumed we’d need to hand our completed forms in to them but no, we were told by a security guard (only after we asked, because of course there was no signage or offer of assistance), that we needed to go into another queue first and hand them in there.

Once we got to the front of that queue all the sour looking woman did was put her hand out for the forms (which she didn’t bother to check), and put her hand out again for the collateral.¬† We then took ourselves back into the security queue where we waited for an outrageous amount of time (as these security guards didn’t seem as though they knew what they were doing), before we FINALLY got through. By this time we were the VERY LAST people on our flight to go through.

We had arranged our transfers through our hotel and as a result of the CON Air situation plus the farcical of Zanzibar airport we were delayed coming out but thankfully our driver was there waiting. We tried to explain to him the diabolical visa form situation but his English wasn’t very good so he didn’t really understand us. I decided that I would shut up for now as my body was rapidly starting to shut down.

It was now around 3:00 am in the morning and almost pitch black outside.

Instinctively I worried about the cockroaches and mosquitoes that would undoubtedly be lurking with dastardly intentions to crawl, flutter, creep, slither, sting and bite me. It was NOT a very nice prospect. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t spray any insect repellent to deter them because it was locked away in my suitcase and it was far too late to be fiddling about with locks. So I just hoped that these creatures of the night would leave me be, at least for a couple of hours.

The air was heavy with humidity giving me a sense of how warm it would be the following day and I began to get excited with the prospect of waking up the next day in Zanzibar, ready to explore.

The journey started off well enough with a relatively smooth ride and from what I could see, quite an uneventful landscape, but I knew that we were at least an hour and a half away from the coast so I wasn’t really expecting to see anything spectacular until we got closer to our hotel. A couple of times on the journey due to my extreme mental and physical exhaustion I began to nod off but I soon woke up with a start gasping in shock when the car careened straight into a ditch!

My intention wasn’t to have survived the last 15 plus hours of travelling from London to Paris to Kenya to Zanzibar only to die in a ditch in the middle of nowhere, alas almost as soon as we went down on the ditch we jolted back up again only to go back down again in a spectacularly violent fashion. The roads were full of HUGE ditches, potholes and mounds of rubble, so many infact that it was impossible for the driver to avoid them so he didn’t bother trying.

The roads were in a state of disrepair that would have been laughable if they weren’t so awful. I almost went flying forward, cracked my head against the side of the car and lurched onto Josh’s lap such was the force of the jolts. And this guy had a 4 wheel drive! The roads were shockingly bad.

Alas, we survived the journey, but by now I was so exhausted that I could barely walk. All I wanted to do was sleep. Like forever. I couldn’t care less what the hotel looked like at this point. I just wanted it to have a big, clean, mosquito free bed. That was at my top priority. Thankfully, the hotel (from what I could see at this late hour), looked pretty nice.

Though our commute had been indescribably bad, and I was still traumatised from the episode on the plane, I started to feel my body slowing down and switching to a lower gear and by the time we walked through the beautiful tended gardens, felt the heat caressing our skin, listening to the bewitching sounds of the crashing waves just steps away I sensed that perhaps we were going to be okay here afterall.

From the little that I could see of the place it was tropical with lots of green foliage, huge coconut and palm trees and beautifully designed with authentic African interiors and also, scrupulously clean. And for a woman like me who isn’t afraid to say that I simply CANNOT DEAL with creatures that was a huge relief.

We chose to come to Zanzibar because it was a little off the beaten track, wasn’t an obvious holiday destination therefore was unlikely to be overrun with children or beer louts, it had the weather, it had the culture, and being¬†situated in East Africa on the Indian Ocean, had some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

I was intrigued with this place they called the “spice island”, and after researching its history I learned more about its unfortunate participation in the slave trade by Arabs of Africans, about its world renowned spices which it used to trade with the rest of the world, the abundant nature and endangered species like green turtles and red colobus monkeys, not to mention its spectacular sunsets,¬†beautiful unspoilt beaches, it’s unique Arabic, Indian, European and African influences and being the place where Freddie Mercury was born.

I also learnt that Zanzibar was 98% Muslim (which probably meant that the other 2% was Christian, since it was highly unlikely that any atheist would dare to attempt to survive here), and as an atheist myself, and a reasonably outspoken one at that, I was a little worried that my views on religion and god would be exposed thus putting my very life at risk!

I suddenly had visions of me languishing in misery in a cramped Zanzibari jail, a tiny window providing a small slither of light, measly food rations and scrawny rodents scurrying across my bony mosquito bitten feet. No, I did not wish to be arrested in Zanzibar thank you very much. I realised that I’d just have to keep my views on the mental slavery of the masses to myself!

It being a Muslim country also meant another important thing: I would have to dress conservatively. That meant that in 30 degree heat I would need to walk around in full length clothing in public spaces – making sure my shoulders and knees were covered. This was a little bit of a problem for me as this was supposed to be a beach holiday, I didn’t actually HAVE any clothing that was suitable to such a climate that was that modest (as I rather liked getting a tan!).

Which basically meant that I now had to go out and buy some new clothes, and I did not relish the thought of purchasing clothing that I wasn’t likely to wear again. Thankfully after some research I managed to find a few suitable and reasonably priced things on EBay and Amazon.

The Z Hotel

The Z Hotel, where we would be staying for the next 10 days, was an award-winning boutique hotel located on Nungwi beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Zanzibar. With only around 50 rooms, the hotel was English owned and English run, and had been designed by world-renowned French interior designer Philippe Starke, who incidentally also designed the eye droppingly beautiful Delano Hotel in Miami that Josh and I love so much. He is a most accomplished and brilliant designer.

I was initially a little surprised to discover that he had designed the Z as I didn’t think that it would be his style afterall it was in Africa not Europe, but the flow, attention to detail, feel and cultural sensitivity of place was distinctive.

It was colourful,¬†with lots of wood, traditional African prints and playful references to the safari throughout, such as quirky monkey light features and animal sculptures hidden throughout the grounds. The infinity pool was in the perfect location for people watching and watching the sunset was the amazing from the rooftop cocktail bar. The hotel was situated in a prime location on the beach as it was a little set back and received much less of the “attention” from the locals trying to sell their wares then many of the other hotels in the area.

Our room when we got to it, was small but beautifully designed with African print wallpaper, decorative wooden furniture and a luxurious wooden four poster bed with an ingenious mosquito net that covered the top and pooled onto the floor to provide extra protection. I’d never seen one like it before and I could easily see how it could work to provide protection from mosquitos and other crawling and flying insects. Since I have recently found out that I have skeeter syndrome (an allergy to mosquito saliva), I REALLY didn’t want to take any risks!

Thankfully, the room was spotlessly clean and I could see no indication whatsoever of any creatures lurking about with intentions of crawling on, flying to, or sucking me which was a relief.

And then there was the view…

Room with a view

Our balcony which was very spacious with 2 beautiful (and super comfortable) wicker chairs perfectly placed to gaze out to sea, had a prime position overlooking the beach where we could people watch, listen to the sound of the waves and see whether our favourite beach beds were free. I could only imagine how wonderful it would be the following day when the sun was out.

Naturally, I do like a well-designed and well-appointed room but the most important thing overall for me will always be cleanliness and a lack of creepy crawlies and this room had top marks for both. It was a little on the small side but it was perfectly positioned to hear, smell and see the sea and watch the beautiful sunsets so I was very happy!

The bed however, left alot to be desired. That very first night we slept on it we realised that after the bed in our apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this was the second hardest bed that Josh and I had ever slept in. It was ROCK SOLID. I woke up the next day aching from head to toe.

The Z Hotel Library

Tropical Gardens at the Z

Breakfast at the Z was a slightly disappointing affair. Not being a fan of buffet (for breakfast or otherwise) I just hoped that the quality of the food would make up for it, but the selection of food available to eat didn’t leave me with any enthusiasm as it was pretty unimaginative: fresh omelettes (which was generally pretty good though it would have been nice having a little more of a variety with the fillings), cereals, croissants, toast, waffles, pancakes, and fruit. There was also a traditional Swahili option which required eating with your hands, and I really wanted to try it as everything else was western, as were the guests that were frequenting the hotel, but the eating with my hands business I decided would have to wait until I had the courage to embark on such an adventure. Perhaps at the end of my stay!

The staff were all locals and they seemed very friendly and well trained. I liked the baby faced boy who made the omelettes in particular because he reminded me a little of my brother. However his omelettes weren’t as good as the older woman who done them on Thursdays and Fridays and she seasoned them properly and added a generous amount of cheese!

Nungwi Belly

After a day or two of languishing on this paradise of an island, we both started to feel a little bit out of sorts. For me, it wasn’t an intense need to go to the toilet or anything but occasionally when I did have the urge to go I had diarrhoea. For Josh, it was a little more sudden and he not only had the diarrhoea but a sensitive stomach too and as a result felt pretty drained. As a result of it not being that serious (I had really bad food poisoning in Ghana and Ian had it in Egypt so we both knew how bad it could be), we weren’t holed up in our room or anything but it did mean that we needed to make sometimes frequent and sudden trips to the toilet!

The Z Hotel had a beautiful layout with the garden rooms situated around the pool which was hidden by trees and foliage that felt very private, with 2 restaurants, a rooftop bar, a library and a computer room (which it seemed nobody really knew was there apart from us), a spa, an excursion booking office and a boutique shop. We even saw a few cheeky monkeys roaming about! So cool.

There was a variety of beds around the pool from which you could lounge, sleep, relax, read, laze, people watch, you name it, there was a bed for it, and of course, should you want to people watch in complete privacy, then there was always our lovely sea view balcony from which to do it from.

We met the manager Julie who was an English woman originally from Swansea (such a peculiar contrast!), and she recommended a few restaurants to us to visit whilst we were there, aswell as told us about how it was she came to be in Zanzibar. She was very friendly and told us that she had been there for 8 years. Put it this way: she didn’t look like she was in any rush to go home!

When we looked at the programme in our room we found out about all of the activities we could do in Zanzibar aswell as about the ridiculous pot holed road situation that was so bad that it probably meant that drivers were having to change their tires every 2 months!

Never a dull day

Beach Bliss

Let’s be perfectly honest: we came to Zanzibar for the beach.

The last time I had been to a really great beach was a year ago when we were in Koh Phangan, Thailand. We don’t do many beach holidays as on their own they can be a little boring and European beaches don’t count because though they can be quite nice, they are usually rocky, the water is cold and they do not have soft white sands and turquoise blue water. However they also don’t have deadly box jelly fish like south-east Asia does so perhaps there is a trade-off there, lol.

Alas, there were no box jelly fish here, no fish at all really from what I could see but I knew that Zanzibar had¬†a lot of coral reefs. The beach was picture postcard perfect and unbelievably clean, the sand was soft and white with a powdery texture, with no seaweed or nastiness in general, shallow until very far out (so perfect for children though thankfully there weren’t any there!), and the water was as warm as a bath with an aqua blue hue that simply didn’t look real. Coupled with the fact that the beach was devoid of “Brits Abroad” it was almost perfect.

There wasn’t many Brits but there sure was a large influx of German nationals, aswell as Italians and Russians. Infact everywhere I went apart from the locals who spoke Swahili, all I could hear was Italian, German and Russian (which seemed to be a VERY peculiar combination). But Italians were by far in the majority, and apparently they even had their own hotel! I didn’t know what the obsession with Zanzibar was for Italians but aside from Italy, I’d never seen as many of them anywhere else in the world until I arrived there.

African Paradise

Nungwi Beach

After breakfast our daily routine was pretty much to go back to our room to get changed into our beachwear, then traipse down to the beach at a leisurely pace where we would look for some nice sun beds (ideally 2 in the sun and 1 4 poster bed in the shade), we would then spend the rest of the afternoon alternating between the pool, the bed, the shade and the sea. It was a glorious routine that never got boring, and for a bonus we would go back to our room for an afternoon nap, before waking up and going in search of food: Simple pleasures.

We went to dinner at a local Indian restaurant which was accessible via the back of our hotel via some walkways. You could also get there via the beach but the tide was forever changing and sometimes it would be all the way in so you couldn’t walk on the beach at all. The restaurant was big and overlooked the beach, and along with serving food also had entertainment: African singers with a band and dancers. Initially we didn’t want to sit too close to the band because we didn’t know whether they would be any good and we were starving hungry, but when they performed their traditional African music, with the drums, beautiful harmonies and catchy beat, we really enjoyed it. Occasionally (and I assume for the benefit of the mostly European tourists), they attempted to perform popular western songs too like R Kelly and Beyonc√© which I did not like at all.

Listen: if people are going to travel all the way to Africa and expect not to experience Africa then that’s up to them, don’t cater is what I say.

I don’t mean don’t cater at all, as it’s nice to have a bit of variety (particularly when it comes to cuisine), but most people can’t sing like Beyonc√© so what makes them think that someone from the bush in Africa will be able to complete the task satisfactorily? I don’t think so somehow.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with African music and culture and I for one went there to experience it. Eating Indian food in Africa you may think is weird, but this island shares a history with Indians as it does Europeans and Arabs too, but it is also important to showcase the uniquely African food and music too.

Despite this, both the food and the entertainment was really good, both Josh and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A¬†particular song came on and I couldn’t help but to get up and film. I felt the urge to dance too but it wasn’t that kind of place. The tune was so catchy and they had Zanzibari dancers showcasing their unique wining skills. Such fun!

Thus far I hadn’t been bitten once by a mosquito. This I really couldn’t believe. Of all the things that had concerned me about travelling to Africa, the presence of creepy crawlies and ones of giganticus¬†maximus proportions no less, was freaking me out and in my mind was just a guarantee. It did not occur to me that I wouldn’t have to overcome my fears on a regular basis to deal with the abundance of spiders, giant ants, cockroaches, gecko’s and other unidentified crawling beasts for the duration of my stay here. But as the time went on, I was AMAZED to find that not only didn’t I not even see one cockroach, spider or mosquito, I never got bitten either. Not even once!

Considering I have been eaten alive in almost every hot country I’ve been to (Thailand and Croatia being the worst), I was very surprised that here in Mother Africa, the Mother Ship, the Motherland and beginning of life of our species I didn’t encounter the very biggest, the very ugliest and the very deadliest that Mother Nature had to offer.

Rather than staying in our hotel which we don’t really like to do and have really only ever done that once at Swept Away in Jamaica (which we loved far too much to leave), we decided to go to a different place every day for lunch.

Our “Nungwi bellies” were still in full sway causing us not to stray too far from base control, but it wasn’t enough to stop us from enjoying swimming in the glorious sea which was doing wonders for my skin with it’s high salt content. Along with the warmth of the sun which was consistently in the early to mid-30’s and an ice cold cocktail, I really couldn’t complain.

Josh and I walked down the beach to find a restaurant serving better (and cheaper) food then our own. It was needless to say packed to the rafters with Russians and Italians which was starting to become a bit predictable, but we had a lovely Greek Salad and Spaghetti Bolognese there.

Beach Boys

The “beach boys” as we liked to call them, were a little bit annoying. They would make a beeline for anyone who was clearly not from Zanzibar or who was coming out of one of the hotels, and they would keep on trying to persuade you to purchase one of their¬†water sports packages or cheaply made wares.

What made it feel quite intense at times was the fact that there was so many of them, and once they had learned which hotel you were staying in they would have you marked and would basically hound you until you relented. But to be fair to them, at least they weren’t just guys begging people on the beach, they genuinely had something to sell. Problem was: the things they had to sell I didn’t wish to buy!

Josh, getting tired of being harassed to purchase their brick-a-brac,¬†had resorted to just telling them straight up that he didn’t like what they were selling, lol.

We did want to do some excursions, such as maybe going on a traditional Dhow boat sunset cruise, to Stone Island or snorkelling, but we weren’t all that keen on purchasing these excursions from random boys on the beach. Each time we left the comfort of our hotel to venture down to the sea for an afternoon of sea frolicking, we could see these beach boys out of the corner of our eyes making a beeline for us. Unfortunately for us, we were at probably the most noticeable guests due to our respective hues and insistence on venturing beyond the confines of our hotel, so we were definitely a target. They also seemed to think that we had been there for ages, they kept saying to us:

“Wow, you’re still here!”

Well yes, we are. We’re on our holidays!

By this time we had learnt to say a few greetings in Swahili.¬†Karibu¬†meant¬†“Welcome” and Hakuna Matata (which before arriving here I honestly assumed was just a part of The Lion King and not an actual phrase, lol), meant “No worries”. And we could also say “Thank you very much”:¬†Asante Sana¬†and slowly: Pole Pole (though we didn’t have much need of that word as we were already moving as slowly as we physically could!)

All of these phrases helped us a little to get to know the locals (who could speak very good English aswell as some German, Italian and Russian too for obvious reasons), and it meant that we would accidentally find ourselves getting into long, detailed conversations with the beach boys about a boat cruise that we never had any intention of booking whilst we were trying to make our way to the sea. Nevertheless, the Zanzibari beach boys were never aggressive (unlike in Turkey, and from what I’ve heard, Morocco, India and Egypt too).

The beach was long and wide, with huge rock formations framing the beach, with tall coconut and palm trees swaying gently in the breeze.¬† What I loved about the beach aside from seeing flawless black skinned Maasai warriors strolling on it casually with their long sticks by their sides in their beaded handmade body adornments and distinctive red clothing, was the fact that it was forever changing. The tide was forever changing. Sometimes it was all the way in, and you could just about walk through without getting completely drenched, and other days it was all the way out and you could seemingly walk right out to sea but the water would only be knee-deep. I loved the unpredictability. And I don’t know what it was about the sound of the sea, but it was so hypnotic and calming, that despite the excruciatingly hard bed we were sleeping on, I felt more relaxed then I remembered being in a long time. I was really starting to understand why this place was known as mysterious.¬†It definitely had a magical allure.

 The Maasai Market

We walked down to the furthest ends of the beach and along the way a tall Maasai warrior with short twisted hair and beaded jewellery approached us. He had the slim, elegant looking physique that all of the Maasai had, with skin as dark and silky as the darkest cocoa. He made casual conversation with us asking us how we were finding Zanzibar, where we were from, whether we had done any excursions yet (we hadn’t), and whether we supported any football teams (they are football MAD in Zanzibar, and English football in particular). He was unlike the beach boys in that his approach was more conversational than anything else. He wasn’t simply trying to sell his wares, but of course he did have to make a living. Baring in mind the Maasai are from a long and proud tradition of being African nomads and fearless hunters it was a real privilege to get the opportunity to speak to him and even more so to see them in this very unique and beautiful environment.

Alot of the Maasai now work as security guards for the hotels around the island, which in some respects was a far cry from their ancient history and customs but it provided them with a way to make a living and also retain their culture. The Maasai told me about the beautiful beaded jewellery he was wearing, a bracelet of which said the name “Alex” (which I doubted very much was his actual name), and he said that he was a seller in the Maasai Market, a few minutes‚Äô walk away a turning off of the beach.

Josh and I told him that we weren’t really in the market for shopping that day mostly due to the intense heat which was beating down on us relentlessly, but then I figured that this opportunity, offered to us by this very friendly Maasai¬†warrior, was perhaps the only chance that we might have to do something like this and we had planned on getting a few gifts towards the end of our holiday anyway. So we followed him down a rocky dirt track road. I didn’t see many other tourists there. By this time my skin was so hot you could fry an egg on it and both Josh and I were sweating profusely. This man on the other hand didn’t seem to sweat at all!

The heat was extremely oppressive, turning what was supposed to be a nice trip to meet the local Maasai people into quite a bit of an ordeal. It was obvious that he was keen on us coming to his stall so that we could buy from it, but in a way I couldn’t blame him. Around us were lots of stall sellers, both men and women in traditional dress selling everything from handmade bracelets and earrings to bowls, ornaments and bags and in order to get people to visit it they had to bring them to it.

When we got to his stall I asked him if he had made the things that were on display and he pointed to the colourful beaded jewellery, such as the ones he was wearing, saying that he had made it all himself. The women at the stalls, who were busy sitting cross legged on the dusty floor making a variety of different things, also had children with them, and I couldn’t help but to wonder whether they were making enough money to sustain their families, but despite the fact that alot of the stall sellers were pretty much selling the same things I knew that if I had the money I would have given it to them gladly, because even though these people were clearly making a¬†modest living, relying mainly on tourism to pay their bills, and feed and clothe their families, they retained a distinctive pride and sense of self that I really admired.

These weren’t people with their hands out waiting on charity or begging on the street, these were a people trying to adjust to their new modern reality, trying to make an honest living, yet holding fast to their customs and traditions. I bought a few things from “Adam’s” stall, namely some beaded bracelets for my Mum, sister and I and I told him that we may come back again another time, but it was becoming far too hot to concentrate so after 15 minutes or so we said our goodbyes and left the Maasai market.

A Touch of Magic

Sleeping on the¬†bed of rock was not a very pleasant experience. Everyday I¬†woke up with aching bones and a bad back. I didn’t suffer from back problems so it was acutely obvious to me that this definitely wasn’t something that my body could get used to long term but despite this, I still felt amazingly relaxed and chilled since arriving here. It might perhaps have been the appearance of the sun, perhaps it was the comforting, lulling, hypnotic sound of the sea, the birds, the musical and gentle sounding Swahili language, perhaps it was the feeling of safety and extreme comfort that this place evoked, who knew, all I knew was that my body had moved into a very low gear of almost sloth like proportions, and I wasn’t sure that it had ever reached this level of deep relaxation before.

On the horizon we could see Mnemba Island, a small and incredibly beautiful island accessible by boat from Zanzibar, with deep, soft white sands and shallow crystal clear waters with coral reefs that was perfect for snorkelling which we planned to do at some point during our stay. The beach was big enough to never feel overcrowded or busy, and people tended to keep themselves to themselves, so we were able to easily find places to sunbathe where we felt as though we had the beach all to ourselves.

I had personally never experienced sand this warm, white, soft and luscious before and Josh agreed that the beach here was very similar to the more popular Seychelles (another of the Indian Ocean islands) that he had been to, but since this one was a part of Tanzania, and therefore Africa it had a little more authenticity, was bigger and offered a little more then just sunbathing to it’s visiting tourists. Though I must admit we did do ALOT of sunbathing, lol.

Blue & White

Me strolling along the idyllic and picturesque Nungwi Beach

The sun was having it’s effect on my skin and I was loving it, as was Josh who had been complaining about the level of pastiness he was exuding back in the UK (it had been back in September when we last saw the sun in Provence¬†afterall).

The sea was absolutely glorious. There was hardly any seaweed at all, the sand underneath my feet was silky soft, I couldn’t see any questionable things in the water, it was clean, clear and very salty (the perfect remedy for bad skin). Josh and I were blissfully happy when we were frolicking about in the sea, and from where I was laying, I couldn’t see how it could possibly get much better then this.

One day I saw 2 sharks swimming near the shoreline, just as a girl was doing a hand stand in the sea. I wondered briefly whether they would bite her to smithereens but they didn’t seem particularly bothered about her at all. They were quite small and I doubted very much that they were dangerous so after seeing them that day I forgot about them.

Profiling and extreme vanity was taking place at an ever-increasing level by the Italian and Russian tourists, in particular the women, who were prancing about trying to get the perfect Kodak moment of them in the surf to show to their social media contacts. It looked pretty pathetic to me.

One woman in particular was on the beach whilst we were having dinner at a restaurant having picture after picture after picture after picture of herself taken by her boyfriend and she didn’t seem to care in the slightest that the entire restaurant was looking down at her on the beach flicking and tossing her hair about in the wind, rolling about in the surf and raising up on her tip toes desperately to try to make her legs look longer and more shapely.

But it was when I saw grannies posing for pictures with their visible cellulite, protruding belly’s and varicose veins when I was REALLY shocked. What on earth is this profiling nonsense all about??

Sunset Rooftop

Everyday our hotel had half priced cocktails on their rooftop bar, and everyday I would get my favourite drink, a rum based cocktail with lemon and pineapple aptly named “Reef”

The rooftop was mine and Josh’s favourite part of the hotel. It was so relaxing sitting there after a hard day of sunbathing. The only thing that I could fault them with was the music they played. Sometimes there would be chilled house beats but other times they would play pop music (no thanks) and one evening we went there and there was an acoustic musician, a young local boy who was performing popular music.

Listen, I didn’t travel all the way to Zanzibar to listen to pop music, and cheesy pop music nonetheless, sung by a boy with a voice as soft as snow (NOT a good thing). It was dull beyond belief. What they should have had in keeping with the style of the hotel was to have a local performer performing local music, which to me surely was superior to hearing all of this cheesetastic nonsense.

“Ashante Shana”

One of the pool boy waiters at our hotel insisted on trying to confuse us.

One of the very first words we learnt when arriving in Zanzibar was how to say thank you: Asante and thank you very much: Asante Sana, and we had been saying them both religiously for a good couple of days now.

However this pool boy in particular INSISTED on trying to correct us everytime that we said thank you by highlighting the word ASHANTE (as in Ashanti the singer? Josh cheekily asked me) SHANA. So basically he was putting 2 h’s in there that did not exist. Even if you were to write the word down his pronunciation of thank you very much in Swahili doesn’t exist so I had no idea what this guy was playing at and I wasn’t going to allow him to trick me by saying the wrong words when I knew that we had it right the first time!

In the end I asked one of his colleagues and they confirmed that I was indeed saying it correctly. However when he came over later to serve drinks the couple lying on the bed next to us I overheard him correct them again telling them that thank you very much was pronounced ASHANTE SHANA. All I could do was shake my head in dismay. How can it be that the man can’t even speak his own language?? Goodness gracious!

Sunset was the most popular time of day because it was the time when the locals came down to the beach: children came straight after finishing school and adults after work, to socialise, play sports and relax. The beach boys were much more relaxed too, preferring to mingle with the locals instead of hustling them to purchase their wares. Sundown was the perfect time to go to the beach because it was much less hot, the sea was still calm, the sky was lit up in beautiful shades of red, pink and amber, people were in a good mood, after having a thoroughly relaxing day lounging on the beach, drinks in hand, experiencing life in all of it’s beauty and simplicity on Zanzibar island. What’s not to like?

From our perfect viewing post on the rooftop, Josh and I were able to see the beach gradually coming to life – local children playing football on the beach, adults building bonfires and talking with the tourists, banging on bongo drums, swimming in the sea, people exercising on the beach, walking, running and children practising their somersaults, their laughter ringing out with purity and joy.

The Maasai, with their elegant red robes fluttering in the breeze, strode forward with purpose, looking magnificent against the stunning natural backdrop: the kings of this land.

I wished I had taken a picture of them but my picture taking skills are limited (I have to make a concerted effort to remember to take them when I’m travelling), and I knew that it was considered rude to take pictures of the locals without asking first.

Still, these beautiful sights wasn’t something that I was likely to be forgetting anytime soon.

Sunset on the beach

CON Air

I knew that this airline had probably hoped that they wouldn’t be hearing from anyone on that fateful flight, but they were sadly mistaken. There was no way in hell that I was going to allow them to get away with treating us in the way that they did, especially considering the extreme unprofessionalism of the staff on that flight. The day after we arrived in Zanzibar we went to the computer room to write a lengthy complaint first to Expedia, who we had booked it with (who promptly offered us a ¬£50 voucher), and then a 5,000 letter of complaint to the airline directly. I tried to upload my audio too, but we could only upload video files (which smartly, the police officers on board had made sure that nobody could do by deleting their files!)

I was relieved that since arriving, apart from having occasional spouts of Nungwi belly, we hadn’t had any other dramas in Zanzibar, and after that despicable experience on the plane I really don’t think that I could have taken much more. I was super relaxed, but I still hadn’t forgotten what had happened, and I was determined that it would get dealt with, or else I had said to myself that I would be prepared to release the audio, on social media, to the media, to the ombudsman, whatever was necessary to call out such an atrocity. I had also done some research on other deportations on a¬†commercial line, which wasn’t very common but apparently did happen and I found something quite horrific.

Due to the level of stress that was involved with detaining a passenger in this very public and humiliating way, there were reports that deportees had actually DIED on these flights. I felt awful knowing that there was a possibility that this woman could have possibly be one of them. Afterall, I never saw her again.

I never intended on being one of those tourists who “stayed on the complex” but after our transfer from the airport, Josh wasn’t keen on the idea of doing any journey on those roads again apart from when it was time to go home. Stone Town was Zanzibar’s UNESCO heritage site, a place of historical and artistic importance due to it being the centre of Zanzibar’s spice (and slave) trade and as such I felt it was important to visit there.

With Arabic and European influences from their history of colonisation by the Portuguese, Omani‚Äôs and British, the architecture reflected this unique melting pot of cultural influences. But Stone Town was back near the airport, at least an hour and a half‚Äôs drive away, so I did understand the reasons why Josh wasn’t keen to go back there again. The whole journey from England to Zanzibar had been traumatic for us, and neither of us were keen to experience those horrendous roads again anytime soon.

Considering this part of Zanzibar was a popular tourist location, it did seem very hard to believe that the authority’s would have been happy to leave it in such a terrible state, alas, perhaps it was just one of those places where people would be prepared to travel to because of it’s difficulties rather then in spite of them.

Tasty Tasty!

The manager had recommended a French restaurant to us that was nearby. She said that it done incredible food and on her days off she would always dine there. So far we had found no reason not to trust her word so we booked a table at Le Macis for later on that evening. I had checked the reviews on TripAdvisor for this restaurant and had been reliably informed that this was the best restaurant on the island.

When we arrived we were eventually shown to a secluded table beside a tree in a garden. The restaurant had a very rustic feel to it but I was left comforted with the knowledge that everyone that was dining there seemed to look very happy with themselves.

The menu, despite us assuming that it would be French, was infact not French at all but a mixed menu, with some local sounding dishes and some European, but it was definitely not French, the restaurant merely had a French chef. But I was still encouraged with the knowledge that it had received many glowing reviews. Josh and I soon realised however, that we were more then a little overdressed.

I was finding it a little difficult balancing this modesty wear lark, along with beachwear and appropriate going out clothes, and even though this was considered to be a fancy restaurant, it was fancy Zanzibar style not fine dining restaurant style.

Alas, I thoroughly enjoyed the food РI had a fish main course with potato dauphinoise and for dessert I had a cinnamon crème brulee which was delicious (if a little on the small side).

We infact very much enjoyed the food and wine so much that we booked to go back again!

The Spa

The spa in our hotel was very small being just a room that offered beauty treatments, so we decided to go to the spa at the hotel we’d had lunch at a few times instead. When we walked in there the women at the reception desk greeted us as if they were surprised to have guests: not a good start.

Alas, they were offering a couples spa experience for $100 which seemed pretty reasonable to us. The spa could have been better, for instance they had someone still cleaning out the pool when we arrived there for our private pampering session, the steam room had seen better days, it hadn’t been heated up in anticipation of our arrival and the spa therapist didn’t come to collect us from the steam room when our time was up (we were only supposed to be in there for 20 minutes), but we thought we’d give them a bly.

The important thing for me was the deep tissue massage, which hasn’t really been up to par for me anywhere else other then Thailand and Jamaica, but thankfully, the masseuse really put some welly into it and I felt suitably floaty and sleepy once she had finished.

The place was certainly in desperate need of a renovation but it did still have African charm, and the oil that they used on my skin was DIVINE. I was kicking myself afterwards that I didn’t purchase one to take home with me.

The aptly named Kilimanjaro Water

Nungwi Town

I was determined to experience as much of the Zanzibari people and their culture that I could. Due to mine and Josh’s Nungwi belly, which was mostly okay but was definitely still lurking in my system, we were being very careful with what we ate and the thought of trying the traditional Swahili breakfast didn’t fill me with much excitement but I did want to go and see the local area so the following day we took a stroll down to the village to see who we could meet and what we could perhaps buy as presents.

The first thing that struck me was the ditches in the road which I knew would be there (as we had travelled through), but even seeing the cars on the road going down into a ditch was scary business, as the car would jolt and wobble about precariously looking like it might completely topple over! They were dirt roads, and plumes of dust would swirl about and whoosh into our faces as we walked making it hard to see where we were going.  Instantly, my carefully cultivated tan was being threatened with fumes and dust.

Knowing that we were going to be venturing into the local area where the locals would undoubtedly not take kindly to seeing westerners traipsing about in inappropriate wares (which for them meant someone having their shoulders and knees out on display), both Josh and I made sure to dress accordingly as we did not wish to offend. However even though we saw signs requesting that people respect the local customs and dress modestly, we still saw that the few westerners that had made it away from the alluring beach, were brazenly wearing immodest clothing with seemingly no awareness.

We were not very impressed. I mean how difficult is it for people to respect the laws of the land? They really are not asking for much.

I looked around to see a very stark contrast from the white sands and blue seas of the beach. Here was a very real poverty, a dusty land with hardly any greenery, with ditches in the roads, dilapidated buildings and lots of hump back cows roaming freely. Also there were children following each other obediently in groups, with their entire heads and bodies covered. I was dismayed to see that religion had yet again had taken a strangle hold of young children.  Child indoctrination was alive and well here. How many more must be brainwashed into submission? I wondered.

We heard the unmistakable sounds of a school as we passed by. I wondered what these children were being taught. And if they had any potential at all here? Were the little girls being taught to be submissive and go home to their husbands and be a good wife? Was that the supposed pinnacle of their self-worth? – The thought that these beautiful little girls, with a world full of possibilities was being denied to them socially and financially was upsetting.

I daydreamed about setting up my own school here, in this beautiful, mysterious part of the world, where I would teach children critical thinking skills, understanding and appreciating nature and science and the values of empathy, justice, equality and kindness: Humanism, in a nut shell. No need for magical masters. Surely THAT is what those children should be learning, but somehow I didn’t think that’s what they were.

There were shack like stalls with metal roofs on either side of the dusty road and inside them were people selling almost identical things to what we saw in the Maasai market but out of politeness we went into their shops to look at what they had for sale. The people seemed very happy when we went into their shop, even if we didn’t buy anything, and were it not so dusty and hot we would have went into every shop there, but we did get to go in the majority of them, talked to the people, greeting them in their own language and we even bought a few things so it was definitely a trip worth making.

Beautiful African Artwork

Raw Fish

Now I do like raw fish (well, sushi), but I do NOT like being tricked into eating raw fish, particularly when my belly is feeling a little sensitive, and when I ordered the cooked variety.

We decided to go to one of the seafood restaurants that the hotel manager had recommended. Since she’d done such a stellar job of recommending the (French) restaurant to us, we thought that it was a good idea. Zanzibar had lots of fisherman so I was really looking forward to sampling some fresh seafood.

The restaurant was located on the beach and had a very romantic setting with small tables with white tablecloths spaced wide enough a part so that you could have a private conversation. I was feeling really hungry but not as hungry as Josh who had had Nungwi belly pretty badly early on in the day so had opted to not eat any lunch in order to prepare his belly for dinner.

There was a couple sitting next to us. Clearly a young looking local girl with a much older foreigner who was trying in earnest to impress her. I shouldn’t have been able to hear their conversation but due to his high level of desire to get his leg over that night I could hear every bloody word. By the end of it I knew where he lived, that he had a daughter, how old she was, where she lived, what happened to his relationship with her mother, that he wanted (more children), what he did for work, what he did last week, and so on and so fourth. And despite my very best efforts in drowning him out (even though Josh and I were having our own private conversation), I could not. He just would not stop yapping on!

There were lanterns on each table which looked really pretty but in practice they weren’t giving out much light at all.¬† When our food arrived (we had both chosen bbq’d fish dishes), we were a dismayed to find that the bbq part (which we had assumed would be the marinade for the fish), came in a separate container which we were then expected to pour onto our fish to give it flavour. What on earth is that all about?

And to make matters even worse, the sauce just tasted of tomato ketchup and chilli, there was no indication that it was bbq flavour. Rubbish.

Neither of us could actually see what it was we were eating but I could taste it, and from what I could taste it so I knew that the fish wasn’t fresh. Ironically enough our waiter had said to us once he seated us that this was the best restaurant, which we thought was an odd thing to say at the time, but we figured that perhaps we were going to experience something so amazing that it was worth mentioning.

And afterall, it was supposed to be a seafood restaurant, which is their speciality.

But no, my fish was most certainly one that had been languishing in the depths of the freezer only to be bunged on the grill for 2 seconds before being served and Josh, as it soon turned out, had been eating raw fish. Yes, his fish had not been cooked properly and after commenting on the texture to me which he said was “weird” he then used his phone to look at it in more detail (because we couldn’t see a thing) only to find that the fish was completely raw in places. We were horrified and sent dishes promptly back to the kitchen. Talk about “best restaurant” how about “food poisoning?!

Josh was rightly worried that his Nungwi belly as a result of eating fish that hadn’t been cooked properly would get worse, so we both ordered a simple pasta dish of spaghetti with pesto, garlic, and sundried tomatoes as a replacement.

Our favourite lunch spot

Salty Seadog

The second dish was even worse then the first. I didn’t think that was even possible but it was. The pasta was bloody AWFUL. Salty, with a very strong, almost briny flavour that really¬†turned my stomach. It tasted like they had put about 10 tablespoons of salt in it, plus the juice of a ton of¬†mussels, garlic and garlic butter. After just 1 mouthful I couldn’t continue.

Josh didn’t like his either but he hadn’t eaten since breakfast and so was starving.

When the waiter came back to ask us if we were enjoying the food I told him flatly no, I was not. Josh managed to take a few more mouthfuls and again we sent the food back to the kitchen. We left soon after.

Josh was still hungry so we stopped by at a local Italian restaurant to get some pizza. My appetite was gone but I decided that I did have space for Tiramisu. The pizza was decidedly average.

I still had not been bitten by a mosquito. As we were dining out every night, and spending the majority of our time outside during the day even when the mozzies were due to be out in full force I assumed that we would but neither Josh nor I got bitten. Neither did I even see any creatures. Sure, we had the occasional wandering ant in our bathroom, but they were normal sized ones not the super-sized jungle ones that I had envisaged.

But other than this, no creatures, no crickets, no spiders (aside from the gigantic ones we saw who had made a web home in a tree), no cockroaches, no spiders, no bats and certainly no tokays. All of which we had seen IN ABUNDANCE when we were travelling in Asia. This came as a big surprise to me because I was expecting to see all sorts of creatures, alas I saw none and our hotel was always scrupulously clean.

It felt safe.

We met no person during the 10 days who we felt threatened by in any way and even the beach boys, who were trying their best to get us to purchase one of their water activities were increasingly annoying, but completely harmless. You could walk the entire length of the beach at night and not be worried about anybody threatening you. Nobody was rude, sure some people were a little on the miserable side (though not as miserable as the staff in the airport), and people seemed to really appreciate the fact that we tried to speak the language. Also, we still hadn’t encountered many Brits there, it didn’t seem as though Zanzibar was a popular destination for them and that was pretty cool though it was a little hard going having to listen to stern sounding German conversations so frequently.

The food needed improvement. The hotel had a lovely feel and design, was well run, clean and in a good location but they need to sort out their food offerings. I do not know where I got my Nungwi belly from but clearly it wasn’t from eating fruit. It could possibly have been something as simple as food preparation since you can’t drink water from the tap there and they may have been preparing the food in unfiltered water.

Also, pizza is not African cuisine, and though it’s good to still offer it in a tourist destination such as this, I do not think that it should be the only type of food on offer. They need to serve the local cuisine or better yet serve fresh (with an emphasis on fresh and cooked) seafood. They have tons of it right on their doorstep afterall!

Beautiful sunsets, stunning wide beaches, calm, blue seas perfect for swimming (and taking pictures in judging by the Russians), lots of activities, and of course the opportunity to do safari in the mainland Tanzania.

We booked a snorkelling trip for the day before we left but that morning there was a horrendous storm and it remained windy and stormy allday so we cancelled it.¬† Later on that morning I actually had a bout of Nungwi belly¬†and I decided that tumultuous seas would have done me in so we were quite relieved that we couldn’t go in the end.

The airline did try to call us whilst we were still in Zanzibar and we told them to call us back when we had returned to the UK. We compiled a list of things that we wanted to highlight to try to prevent them from attempting to scam us by trying to assuage us with a measly apology and now we await their call.

After the atrocity of CON Air, an apology wasn’t going to wash with us, sorry.

Josh and I before we were poisoned with raw fish!

 

 

The Island of the God’s – Week 3

The Island of the God’s – Week 3

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Unbelievably, we’ve been in Bali for 3 weeks already!

We have one more week here in Ubud before we move to our new home in Seminyak.

Time is fast running out, so after some consideration we have made the decision to forgo our visit to the Gilli islands in favour of doing some other things in Ubud before we leave to maximise our time here, but we haven’t done too badly if I do say so myself! 3 weeks has given us a real taste of what Bali has to offer and we continue to find new and exciting things on a daily basis.

The creatures that reside here are a continual terror – from the militant flies that come out every breakfast without fail to terrorise us for our pancakes and fresh honey, to the caterpillars who surely are too hideous to be turning into any form of butterfly, to the rabid stray dogs who amble down the road with their flea bitten selves. These dogs are not hungry in the slightest – they are well fed, eating the literally thousands of offerings to the Gods that the Indonesian people leave littered on the roadside.

I respect their religious traditions but I really do wonder what on earth they think is going to happen if they leave flowers, plants and food parcels on the pavements. Of course the dogs are going to eat them – not the Gods, the dogs. I have seen bigger dragonfly’s and cicada’s that I have ever seen in my life here, not to mention frogs, cockroaches (so far thankfully only 2), centipedes, mosquitoes, gecko’s, spiders (lots of jumping ones, lots!), rats, beetles and ants (huge ones). This abundance of life is fascinating when they are not trying to board me. The spider I can take so long as it doesn’t jump on me. The caterpillar is fine so long as it doesn’t crawl on me. The fly acceptable so long as it doesn’t buzz near me. Unfortunately, thus far I haven’t been so lucky.

This abundance of nature means that I come in contact with them on a regular basis. Thankfully the bristly contraption that the owner of our villa put on the bottom of our door works well but that doesn’t stop the beasts from entering when our room is cleaned each day.

Since we have been living here we have seen probably only 2 other individuals in the “Village” and even that has only been for a very short period of time. It would appear we are here all alone – at breakfast we see no one else, in the pool not a soul and we have never seen anyone else when we return from one of our allday trips in the evening.

We haven’t heard anyone, we haven’t seen anyone. In theory this should be a good thing, and in many ways it is but it does mean that we have the entire team of staff doting over us and they are already overstaffed here in my humble opinion.

Does it really take 4 people to make our breakfast? –¬† afterall we have the same breakfast everyday: Pancakes, omelette, bali coffee, honey, yoghurt and fresh fruit. Does it really require 4 people to make it? For 2 people? Alas, it remains as quiet and private in these villas as when we first arrived and since the gardens are continually maintained, just as beautiful.

We are clocking up some serious miles on this scooter of ours. Everywhere we go we go via bike – infact I haven’t stepped foot in a taxi, a car or an Uber since arriving here apart from that day when Aunty Jac came up to visit.

Karsa Spa

We have our treatments today at the spa that we happened upon on our travels to Campuhan Ridge Walk and I cannot bloody wait! It means that not only do I get 2 hours of extreme pamperation but I also get the pleasure of walking through those beautiful green fields yet again. The beauty of this walk is well renowned – and the fact that it is literally walking distance from the middle of Ubud town is a bonus.

Even today there are lots of tourists here taking pictures of the surrounding hills and jungle as it isn’t difficult to take amazing pictures here, infact its almost a guarantee.

When we arrive at the spa we are immediately given a refreshing cup of traditional Balinese tea before being taken down to our treatment room that is located down a secret passageway within the tropical gardens. On the way we pass lily ponds, exotic, sweetly fragrant flowers, vast green fields, plants, trees, stone sculptures and water fountains. It is a garden of plentiful and natural abundance. We arrive at a huge wooden door that is buried within ivy. Upon opening the secret walled garden room we are greeted again with our very own water fountain, fresh flowers, plants and the sounds of roosters and cicada’s in the background. A huge sunken tub decorated with flowers lays at the bottom of two inviting treatment beds ready for us.

I have gone for the most expensive treatment that they offer: a 2 hour massage, body scrub and flower bath. I thought it would be stupid not to considering all of the treatments here are obscenely cheap, and seeing how beautiful this private space is where we will be having our treatments makes me realise just how much good value we are getting.

The massage is wonderful. I am feeling thoroughly relaxed and at peace when she begins exfoliating my body with a beautiful smelling homemade body scrub, and after she is finished doing that I lay back whilst she slathers on a thick and creamy body lotion no doubt for the purpose of letting it sink deep into my tissue layers before she leaves me to indulge in my 30 minute long flower bath in the middle of this tropical oasis.

In it they have put literally hundreds of pink and lilac rose petals and frangipani and  left a pot of fresh ginger tea to sip whilst I luxuriate. My bath smells glorious and my skin is drinking up all of the extra attention with pleasure.

Afterwards Josh and I go back to reception where we are offered yet more tea (which is hot and delicious) before paying up and leaving. I noticed that they also had some handmade beauty products for sale such as soap, body lotion and essential oils so of course I couldn’t leave without purchasing some. In the end I got myself some bottles of Jasmine and Lotus Essential Oils, which I have literally never had the pleasure to smell until now. Since we have an oil burner in our villa I have been using the oils to provide an extra burst of exotic-ness to our exotic surroundings.

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The entrance to Karsa Spa 

I survived an Earthquake

No, I’m not joking, I really did. I was in a deep, dreamless sleep when I heard (and felt) a rumble, the building shook and I awoke immediately to ponder whether it was the impending volcano Agung erupting or an earthquake but after considering how much the building shook and knowing that Indonesia has earthquakes on a regular basis I immediately realised that we’d had an earthquake. Josh was fast asleep at the time so of course I woke him. His response when I asked him whether he realised that we’d just had an earthquake was comical – he said he had probably just moved in the bed!

And then he just rolled over and went back asleep when all I could think about was our survival and how I could ensure it. I reasoned that if we were buried alive within the soil that would at least be better than being buried underneath concrete – the benefit of living in the countryside and not in the middle of the city I guess. I imagined that if I heard that noise again I would jump up, get our dressing gowns to cover our naked bodies and collect a couple of bottles of water to sustain us whilst we waited to be rescued in the undergrowth. But of course it didn’t come to that or else I wouldn’t be writing right now! lol

Hanging Gardens of Bali

As I had established, these people were a little up their asses but I suppose it was for good reason. They had managed to secure one of Indonesia’s finest and most famous architects Popo Danes to build one of the world’s most beautiful spa hotels here in Bali. Tripadvisor quoted it as having “the world’s most beautiful swimming pool”. High praise indeed.

When I first saw Hanging Gardens I knew that somehow, someway I needed to get there. To experience it’s most beautiful swimming pool yes, but also because it was located in one of the most unique and inaccessible locations you could think of – right in the middle of a dense jungle. Unlike Pumpkin Village, which was located in a rural area that had jungle surrounding it, Hanging Gardens, like it’s namesake, was at the highest point, in the middle of the jungle so that when viewed from above it looked as if it was somehow suspended in the sky with miles and miles of dense jungle surrounding it.

This place was designed by Popo Danes to have maximum effect and be at one, and in complete harmony with the jungle it was within. This combination of ultimate luxury and nature was something that I decided that I just had to experience. But again, like alot of my other selected destinations, this was definitely one for the Honeymooners. The cost of the spa treatments alone told you that, not to mention the exclusivity of the location. But I didn’t care – I was prepared to pay for this once in a lifetime experience in the middle of the Balinese jungle so I emailed to enquire about us getting a couples spa day before receiving an email back from the Hanging Gardens booking team subtly trying to “suggest” we go for the most expensive packages they had on offer.

After a few attempts by them of “suggesting” their exorbitantly priced treatments we stuck to our guns, booked the treatments we wanted to have and then told them we would be coming and we wanted to use the swimming pool too!

Hanging Gardens was a 7 star establishment, which for Bali was probably one of the only of it’s kind. I well understood it’s uniqueness, but at the end of the day treatments of any kind in a country as poor as this can never be equal to the price of treatments in my native UK. It is completely obscene to suggest otherwise, and of course I know they are advertising these “romance packages” mainly to honeymooners but that should not exclude other luxury seekers such as ourselves, from participating in their exorbitantly priced offerings. Somebody at Hanging Gardens is milking it, and I’m almost certain it’s not an Indonesian.

These days, we were getting about exclusively by our scooter. It was a far cry from the days of Uber, taxi’s and other means of travel, but it meant that we turned up at this 7 star spa hotel in our bike clothes which was probably another thing they were not used to seeing in this ultra secretive location. Alas, we don’t do what is expected, we do what feels right.

As I anticipated the place was impressive from the off. The foyer, vast and airy with the typical open sides that I had come to expect from traditional Balinese architecture, was furnished with elegant dark wooden furniture and unique statement pieces of artwork and impressive floral displays. We were offered cold towell’s and a refreshing cold drink as we awaited the entrance of our spa therapist. The foyer provided one of the most picturesque views of the surroundings from its birds eye perch at the top of this magnificent structure with an almost vertical drop below. To get down you had to take a cable car, which meandered through the trees at a deliberately slow speed to give you a real feel for the lush jungle environment you were entering. It felt magical.

Upon arriving at the spa a couple of floors down we were greeted again by a team of beautifully dressed therapists with immaculate makeup but initially there didn’t appear to be anyone else apart from staff at the hotel. Of course we couldn’t be the only ones at this hotel we mused, but with these prices I’m sure we will only be one of a few!

After speaking to our therapist she confirmed that it was indeed mostly honeymooners at this hotel, that and very rich individuals who could afford to drop a few grand whenever it took their fancy. Also she told us, they had the privilege of seeing wild monkeys swinging in the surrounding trees. This was the benefit of the location they had. What an awe inspiring thing it must be to be that close to monkeys in their natural habitat going about their business! I thought.

After yet another cold towell and refreshing drink she and her colleague take Josh and I to a private room with a direct open view of the jungle where we will be having our treatments. The room is huge and beautifully appointed but it is no Karsa Spa. The experience of being outside, with the sights and sounds of nature, in the midst of beautiful tropical gardens and lily ponds, with the warm breeze kissing my skin, the smell of fresh flowers filling my nose and the sound of a waterfall falling gently in the background is second to none. If I had felt like I was in a Timotei ad in my bathroom before, visiting Karsa Spa had made me feel even more Timotei/Herbal Essences inspired. It was simply wonderful.

Now this was a luxury of it’s own – the room was huge and it had a seperate bathroom with luxurious toiletries and another big stone bath with an interesting pebble feature trimming the rim plus one of the most well made and comfortable dressing gowns I’d ever put on, but it was still no Karsa Spa. It was too designed. And though I loved the sweet touch of having it partially open to the jungle, it still wasn’t the same as being in it. And don’t forget I was paying more then quadruple the price for less time and less treatment. Saying that though, the massage was fabulous. My masseuse clearly knew what she was doing and when she found a knot in my back (as I was astounded to find existed!), she worked it out completely until it was no more. Before our treatments Josh and I also had a foot bath each before our therapists got us to lay on our respective beds whilst they placed a warming towell on our backs and instructed us to do breathing techniques before they started our massages. The fact that I had so many knots in my back meant that the other massages I had received had not removed them at all – just disguised them. So perhaps you do get what you pay for!

After my massage, I was invited to get into my bath that had been specially drawn for me.

What do Frangipani, Milk, Honey, Ginger and Vanilla all have in common?

They were all in my bath. At Hanging Gardens I had chosen to have a Milk, Honey and Vanilla bath. Like Cleopatra who used to bathe herself in milk everyday to keep her skin soft and silky, I decided to do the same! My chosen Essential Oil to have my massage was Frangipani, which was a sweetly scented flower that was abundant in Bali that reminded me a little of Ylang Ylang in it’s odour profile. And they served me fresh Ginger tea. The smells that was being conjured up in my bath that day was most worthy of a new perfume creation! Perhaps it could be called Bali Bath. Whaddya think? ūüôā

After our treatments (and of course Josh invited himself into my luxurious bath too!) we went back upstairs via cable car to experience the “world’s most beautiful swimming pool” that we kept on hearing about. Black tiled, with a circular shape that jutted far out into the jungle, this infinity pool was multi tiered with a waterfall that cascades dramatically over the side into the even larger pool below. Dramatic it is, and very very picture worthy. The whole pool area is surrounded by jungle and in the distance there is a temple, so far in the distance that a mist partially covers it. I’m sure this is the very reason why they chose this location to build Hanging Gardens, because it does feel almost unreal in it’s contradiction to it’s surroundings, but yet in harmony with it.

We sample the delights of the pool, which to our surprise actually has a reasonable amount of people in and around it. It is refreshing to be in but there are strategically placed platforms in the pool which you can hardly see because the tiles are so dark, which makes it hard to swim. We soon realise that this pool is for posing in. The platforms are for posing on. That is all.

We have a light lunch at Hanging Gardens before the weather starts to change from being reasonably overcast to very overcast and so we decide to leave as we have a long drive back. The benefit of travelling by bike is that you always get the wind so I was delighted when I could smell wafts of Ginger, Vanilla, Frangipani, Milk and Honey all the way home.

Since we were pretty much the only ones staying at Pumpkin Village we only had jacuzzi access twice a week. I had no idea how they heated up but it clearly was a bit of a struggle for them hence why they only made it available a few times a week but tonight was jacuzzi night so when we got back home we got changed into our swim wear so that we could take full advantage of it!

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Hanging Gardens of Bali 

Canggu Adventures 

We drove down to Canggu to visit Aunty Jac and Uncle Dennis today. After they had come up to visit us last week we agreed to return the favour and it would also be good for us to get a feel for where we’d be going next since the next stop in our travels was Seminyak which was close to where they were staying. We left out early as we knew that we’d have to leave earlier then we would normally have liked because of the distance and the fact that it got dark early. It took us a little longer then we thought it would to get there as the tire on our bike was actually a little flat and we had to find somewhere to pump it up but eventually we got there.

The drive down turned from being really green and rural with not much people to more people, lots of traffic, petrol fumes and concrete. Since we’d been in Ubud for almost a month the contrast was quite dramatic but then the concrete suddenly opened up to green rice fields, surf shops, artisan coffee shops and Indonesian warungs (local restaurants). The mixture of old and new was strange to see but somehow it really worked! This was undoubtedly where the “cool” people resided, and it was going to be our next stop! Lots and lots of boutique restaurants, hotels, shops, spa’s you name it, they had it here – infact they perhaps had too much – my eyes didn’t know where to look there was so much cool shit to look at!

Rabid dogs were here too but there seemed to be less of them.¬†When we arrived at Aunty Jac’s hotel The Haven Suites we were greeted by an enormous, uber stylish hotel right on the beachfront that boasted a huge swimming pool and cool greenery effects hanging at strategically placed spots around the hotel. With lots of one of a kind local wood furnishings they had effectively brought the things that make Indonesia beautiful – it’s nature, within a formal hotel setting. Their suite, which directly overlooked the pool and beach, was very generously appointed, with a stunning bathroom with a latticed wood mirror feature, a statement bath and beautiful black and white tiled floors. On their balcony, there were 2 very inviting, wooden rocking chairs that were perfect for reading a book on whilst watching the sunset. It was a lovely hotel but then I wouldn’t have expected anything less!

After changing into something more comfortable we went down to the beach via a rather precarious rope and wooden plank river crossing and directly onto the beach.¬†After being in Ubud the feeling of sand in my feet and the salty smell of sea air was very refreshing. Also, despite Canggu being overrun with Australian’s (who see Bali in general as their local holiday destination the lucky buzzards!), the beach was almost empty. Unbelievably, the Aussies consider the exotic delights of Bali (being only 3 hours away from them if they are from Perth), with it’s rich culture, delicious food, fair weather and welcoming , tolerant temperament of it’s peoples to be their playground!

Bali was like their equivalent of Spain! What an absolute blessing. Now I personally cannot stand the Costa Del Sols‚Äô, Tenerife‚Äôs, Lanzarote‚Äôs, Benidorm’s and Mallorca‚Äôs of this world. I avoid such destinations like the plague and the individuals that choose to frequent them. Such places are devoid of any culture whatsoever as it has been rinsed out to capacity by the culture hating Brits that only want to speak English, drink beers, wear football t-shirts in the midday sun, and eat pie and chips. They are not interested in the local culture in anyway and infest the places they frequent with their bland food, lobster bodies and limited perspective on the world and the part they play within it. But this was different – Indonesia was a country rich in natural beauty, food and culture – one of the richest I had ever experienced infact. Of course the Aussies would wish to leave their blisteringly hot and barren land to come to this paradise. The people were friendly and welcoming, the weather fair, with beautiful beaches, an abundance of nature and a rich culture that the people were very proud of. It was a no brainer. If I were Australian I‚Äôd be moving here too!

The sand just kept getting hotter and hotter and the soles of my feet were beginning to feel hotter then a furnace so I looked to the sea to see whether I could cool myself down in it. I had brought my stinger suit along as I had been reliably informed that the deadly box jellyfish were in these waters but looking at the currents I soon realised that there was no point in me wearing it because the sea was ROUGH. This sea was not for swimming in. It was a surfer’s paradise, not a swimmers one. A glance up at the flags on the beach verify’s what I already know: Red flags. I can’t even see any swimmers brave enough to swim in this but I can see plenty of surfers. The conditions are perfect for surfing here. I kind of already knew this but seeing it confirms it. The current is so strong that even standing in the surf could get you knocked over.

Intense it maybe but that doesn’t stop Josh from having a go though even he has to admit that it is not possible to swim in it – just dive and dunk. No thanks.

Aunty Jac takes us for lunch at a restaurant on the beach called La Laguna.  South American in design, with eccentric, vintage, almost pirate like influences, it sounds weird but it was very original with bags of character. A sprawling restaurant overlooking a lagoon it has an impressive collection of artifacts and antiques, darkened areas, mis matched furniture and ambient lighting. The drinks seemed to be pretty good too.

Aunty Jac ordered a bright magenta coloured cocktail called Purple Night that had Dragonfruit in it that once they got right (i.e added more alcohol) was delicious, and I had a delicious tropical drink with rum that was served in a Coconut. The best thing about the drink apart from it being served in a Coconut with a Bamboo straw was the extremely generous amount of alcohol in it and the size – it was huge!

My lunch however was slightly disappointing. All I ordered was some sourdough bread with avocado, sundried tomatoes, poached egg and feta, which in theory should have tasted fresh and flavoursome, but these people went and put about a ton of salt in the avocado. If there is already feta in the recipe then the avocado hardly needs to be salted aswell. A rookie mistake. It was so salty that I actually couldn’t eat it and Aunty Jac reported the same issue with her meal too. Afterwards we went to Finn’s Beachclub, a popular beach club with a great view of the sea and the surfer’s that frequented it.

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Lunch at La Laguna 

Rather then burn the soles of our feet like last time, I put on the sand shoes that Aunty Jac had had the good sense to bring with her. We passed a few dogs on the way too – some came scarily close to me no doubt trying to whiff me out. It wasn’t clear at first whether these were strays or not but I didn’t want to wait around to find out – their fear sensors were up and a few more seconds with me would have told them without much prompting that I was indeed scared shitless. After some time sunbathing on the beach and then trying not to get knocked over in the surf we retreated to the safety and comfort of their hotel, where we went for a swim in their gigantic pool and I sampled one of their star drinks: Black Mango which was a non alcoholic smoothie, a mixture of Mango and Blackcurrant. Delicious!

But now it was time to leave as it was getting dark and we still had the long ride back to Ubud. My Aunt and Uncle were going to be leaving Bali the following day but they had liked it so much they said they were planning on coming back again next year!

These creatures are doing me in – in some ways I have become accustomed to their presence but in others, I really cannot stand it. I am being inundated with beasts left and right and it’s driving me crazy! It’s easy to say that I should just ignore them but it’s damn near impossible. This is the catch with living in a place such as this. It’s the creatures – there’s so many of them! I really do not think I can deal with it on a longterm basis. Just today I have killed about 15 flying ants that found their way into our room. And as for the caterpillars – well you know, they are numerous! And I have finally found out where else they are entering from – our sunken bath tubs plug hole! I saw two of them emerging from there with my very own eyes. So much for a luxury bath!

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Josh and I on Canggu Beach 

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Dinner at Folk Pool & Gardens 

Bridges

We went out for the day and almost got caught in the rain. So far we have managed to avoid it and today was an exception, but it did mean that we had to stay in the restaurant we were working in for longer then usual whilst we waited for the rain to stop. Afterwards we decided to go and get something to eat for dinner since we didn’t want to go back to our villa only to have to come out again. We had had a big lunch so we weren’t feeling very hungry but we decided to go and eat anyway. I remembered seeing Bridges restaurant on a restaurant guide online and it came highly recommended for the food.

I hadn’t gone into too much detail when I had read about it so I had no idea what type of restaurant it was or what kind of food they served but the food was supposedly good so when I saw it on our travels I suggested we go there. At the time I was wearing a very short pair of shorts that was borderline batty rider so it was with great dismay when I realised that it was a fine dining establishment and it was too late to cancel so down we followed the elegantly dressed lady down a circular stairway into a beautifully lit room with formally dressed tables with white tablecloths placed strategically around a beautiful view of the jungle and “Bridge” like it’s namesake. I felt seriously underdressed. Here were people clearly out for their romantic meal and there I was with my bum cheeks hanging out of door sitting there with Josh wearing an Adidas vest and we’d been out allday so we hadn’t even had a shower. It wasn’t a good look alas the servers didn’t¬† bat an eyelid at what we were wearing. Had we have been in London there was no way we would have even got in! The food, as expected was really good. Definitely somewhere I would be happy to go again.

It started raining heavily as soon as we got home so we took the advantage of going for a nighttime swim in or pool the rain. The water was warm and the rain just got heavier and heavier. It was utterly delightful!

Monkey Forest

Since we have been in such close proximity to Monkey Forest and have even seen a few monkeys spill out onto the road as we are driving by I don’t personally see the point in paying to go and see them in their habitat but Josh wanted to go and see them so once the weather is sufficiently cloudy enough we make the trip there to see them. We go inside and realise at once that for the monkeys this is monkey paradise Рthey are essentially free Рnot locked up in chains, or having to do stupid tricks for the pleasures of duncebreed humans. They have a vast forest of natural habitat that is perfect and safe for them to live and play and they have a continued stream of food. They are never going to go hungry here and the people that come to visit them are told to restrict their boundaries. They are safe here. At Monkey Forest they have approximately 678 macaque monkeys though from what I can tell there’s probably quite a few more then that. There are monkeys of all ages here Рlots of cute babies ones too.

They are delightful to watch and the babies are completely adorable. There is one baby monkey in particular that I decide that i’m ready to take home – he‚Äôs a small brown one with a tuft of hair similar to a mohawk, and he‚Äôs currently trying to rip into the small green banana he has with his teeny little hands. He keeps looking around incase a bigger monkey appears and tries to steal his find, but he is determined to get the fleshy part of this banana and keeps going with intense concentration to break it open, until finally he gives up. It makes me happy, to see monkeys, one of my very favourite animals, along with elephants not just surviving but thriving in their own natural environment without human beings interferring with them or worse: trying to eat them! They look comfortable here, are clearly used to seeing humans, playful, well fed and healthy. Welldone Monkey Forest.¬†As we walk on we see a monkey jump onto a girls backpack (one of them even done it to Josh no doubt looking for water bottles which they love), and as she set about trying to get this clever little monkey off her back he was concentrating on trying to remove the water bottle (which was far bigger then him in size and weight!) out of the pouch on the side of her rucksack. First, he tried to use his teeth to unscrew the lid on the water bottle, all the while a large crowd of people giggling their heads off is gathering. Then when he can’t quite manage to do that he proceeds to try and pull the bottle out of the pouch so that it will smash on the floor. Seconds later he has managed to do just that and drenches the poor woman with her own water in the process! These monkeys are utterly fascinating. Highly intelligent, determined, agile and gentle (you can see how gentle they are and how much they understand just by looking into their eyes), what a blessing it is to be related to such an incredible animal!

We haven’t managed to go to Yoga Barn yet, and another place that has been recommended to us: Komune, a beach club. I’m not sure whether we will get to do either of these things now as Komune in particular is weather dependant and both today and yesterday it has been raining. The weather forecast doesn’t look much better for the coming week either unfortunately and Komune is a long drive down to the coast.¬† We have a Balinese Dinner Dance booked at Kepitu restaurant on Friday which I’m really excited about. Another thing we have been meaning to do is see some traditional Balinese dancers and this way we can combine the two.

They keep on playing the same tunes at breakfast – traditional Indonesian music that is repetitive and heavily features the xylophone. It’s not that I don’t want to hear their local music, I do but must they continue to rinse the same simpleton tunes time and again? – It is a struggle I tell you.

Apologies for this being so long – I had alot to get out!

Smell you later!

STori X

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Karsa Spa 

Bali Diaries: Week 2

Bali Diaries: Week 2

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I seriously cannot believe that 2 weeks have gone already!

We are feeling much more settled here now. We have been using the scooter to get about (which is an absolute steal at only ¬£3 a day!) and it’s been a blessing in disguise as our villa is in quite a remote location and Ubud town isn’t really accessible by foot so we have to drive in which takes around 20 minutes each way. Food has been a bit of an issue in the evenings due to the distance from our villa to the best restaurants and it has been challenging to find good restaurants that deliver this far alas I still wouldn’t change the location for the peace and quiet it provides.

The weather has been scorching everyday, though sometimes overcast and we have had the occasional rain but the humidity is intense. I am very much enjoying my tan! It has been gradual to arrive but it’s here now and I’m loving it.

There’s a Mouse in Ma Kitchen What am I Gonna Do?!

We received an email a few days ago notifying us of a terrifying development back at home regarding our cats Frankie and Sansa. Apparently, less then a week and a half after we left our house to go travelling, Frankie and Sansa caught not 1 but 2 mice! When we were emailed by our temporary lodgers to inform us of this I almost had a bloody heart attack. In the 4 years that I have lived there I have never encountered any mice, Frankie & Sansa have never caught any mice and there has been absolutely no evidence of them being present in the house so I seriously cannot believe what I am hearing.

The only occasion I have ever seen a mouse was a few months ago when I was in the attic and I saw one lone mouse who had the audacity to squeak at me as I was trying to locate some candle making ingredients. I was stunned to see it there, and even more stunned and horrified at it’s casual greeting. Did that mean that this horrendous creature was living in my attic? I most certainly hoped not!

After that day we fortified the attic with potent mice and rat killer (just incase) and I placed both Frankie and Sansa in there on a regular basis so that they could locate the mice if indeed there were any but they never found anything therefore I was convinced that that meant that the coast was clear and the mouse I did see was long gone. In all the 12 years that Josh has lived there he has NEVER seen any mice or evidence of mice so why the bloody hell are these people telling me that we have a mouse infestation literally days after we have left?!

I couldn’t help but to be suspicious as to the state that my house was being lived in for such a despicable thing to occur all of a sudden. I’m sorry but I had to wonder. Josh tried to assure me that at some point in time all houses had an infestation of mice but I’m struggling with that level of simplicity. DAYS after we have left and after an extremely extensive clean and clear out by Josh and I whereby we saw and heard NADA all of a sudden we have a mouse infestation in our house when 2 complete strangers and a social recluse who probably eats in his room on a regular bases are conveniently left in charge?!

What kind of thing is this I’m hearing?!! I CAN NOT DEAL I tell you.

The very THOUGHT of returning home to a house infested with mice makes my skin crawl. I very much doubted Frankie and Sansa had even seen a mouse before now! Of course I am proud that they were living up to their reputation that British Shorthairs have of being one of the best hunters of all the cat breeds, but precious cats¬†should not have to be collecting mice in my house like it’s going out of fashion! We have instructed the lodgers to call out Rentokil or whomever else can rid us of this problem.

I want them GONE!!!!!!!

The Creepy’s Keep on Crawling

We’ve had the caterpillar prevention installed on our villa door and it seems to be working pretty well but even that is not foolproof. As I mentioned before our bathroom, though utterly beautiful¬†with it’s luxurious stone sunken bath tub and outdoor rain shower complete with plant installation and white pebbled floor, is partially outside so these nasty caterpillars still find a way in. Either they are coming in from the ceiling (but it does have a mesh covering so I doubt it), are living within the soil that our plants are planted in (very possible), entering via the plug hole (unlikely), or are one of the determined ones who somehow manage to squeeze their horrible caterpillar bodies past the bristly blocker put on the bottom of our door.

Either way on the odd occasion we see them (though mainly in the bathroom), and that’s simply not good enough. If I was certain that they would just stay in the bathroom and crawl around in the soil minding their own business then that would be okay but it’s when they come out of the bathroom and crawl onto our bed that’s a problem as I have seen on 2 seperate occasions. Now that I cannot have. But what can I do about it in the middle of the night? I cannot see them, nor can I stop them in their endeavours but I tell you if I feel one of these crispy, multi legged creatures on my naked skin in the middle of the night I am very likely to scream the place down and nobody wants that!!

I love being in the middle of nature. I’ve never been anywhere quite like this before – it is so natural, and so wild, that you cannot help but feel a strong connection to it. It’s undoubtedly a more simple way of living, a healthier, spiritual, more ethical way of living that makes you feel at ease. All of the troubles that come as standard when you live in a city as busy and go getting as London just seem to melt away into insignificance.

For instance, I can’t tell you last time since being here that I’ve even thought about Brexit, Theresa May or Tramp Trump. It just doesn’t factor into my lifestyle here. The only thing I worry about these days is whether or not the giant cicada is going to land on that huge palmed tree trunk or on my naked lap? Will that caterpillar remain in the bathtub going round and round in circles or will it make it’s ugly way over to our queen sized bed and take up residence there? Does that rundown dog that looks like a hyena and is itching itself to within an inch of it’s life have rabies? will it attempt to bite me as we fly past on our scooter and if so, precisely how much time does it take to get to a hospital? That big lumpy brown frog rib rib¬†ribbeting over there with it’s huge bubble throat, can it see that that’s our threshold and does he know that he should go around the side instead of towards it? Bats, Rats, Dragonflies, Flies, Cockroaches, Spiders, Centipedes and other questionable looking insects, will you keep away from us for the duration of our stay?? And does the pizzeria Spacanapoli deliver to our villa? Is our jacuzzi open for business today? – These are the types of serious questions I ponder day to day in this place. Granted they are different questions then I would ponder in London Town but no less important to me right now.

I am not loving these Bali Dogs but at least they aren’t as menacing as the ones in Thailand. They generally keep themselves to themselves and in comparison to the Thai dogs they look pretty knackered if I’m honest. If push came to shove I think I would be able to outrun them. Let’s hope that I never have to try!

Despite me wearing 30% DEET insect repellant every day without fail these miserable mosquitoes are biting me up anywhere and everywhere they can! My knee has actually swollen up I’ve been bitten there so many times not to mention everywhere else they have managed to sink their bloody thirsty fangs. I’m in pain!

One of the local nail shops overcharged me for shellac. What a bloody cheek! The only reason why I went there in the firstplace was because I stupidly bought these stick on nails from Superdrugs and they were falling off after only 2 days. I had never worn stick on nails before but my sister said she had tried them and they lasted for around 2 weeks and I thought it would be the same for me alas after only a mere 24 hours they were coming off. Pathetic. So I went to the closest nail shop that I could find in Ubud and they took the remaining 4 that I had on off and gave me shellac. I am never going to bother with the fake nail nonsense again. I really liked the design on them but in the end it wasn’t worth the hassel. Everything is so cheap in Bali that when the nail therapist told me it would cost me 430,000 Indonesian Rupiah I didn’t bat an eyelid. I still haven’t quite worked out how to convert their currency to GBP without the use of a calculator and at the time I assumed it would be as cheap as everything else was there, plus I just really needed to get it done but this fool charged me ¬£29!!! Since when was it ¬£29 to get your nails done in Ubud when you could feed 4 people with drinks for that price? Petrol for our scooter was ¬£3 so where is this woman going with ¬£29? – I can get my nails done in shellac for ¬£15 in London! Josh suggested we go in there again some other time and ask them the price again to see whether the woman was trying to scam. Or perhaps that’s just her “Westener price”. Either way she won’t be getting another penny out of me!!

Familial Joy

Aunty Jac and Uncle Dennis came up from Canggu today and we had the best day ever!

Josh and I had decided to surprise them with a lunch at our favourite vegetarian restaurant Clear Cafe, complete with a treat to a Royal Balinese Massage for the two of them before we ate lunch and then later we planned to take them to dinner at Cascades, a restaurant that was part of the Viceroy hotel brand, with one of the most romantic views in the world. Our lunch at Clear Cafe was both special and ultra relaxed as on top of having one of the most original idea’s for a restaurant in the form on their on site spa, and eclectic, ambient atmosphere, the staff were also super relaxed, and you could basically stay in the restaurant for the entire day without being bothered if you wished too as Josh and I had done on numerous occasions. My Aunt and Uncle loved it there, the massages aswell as the food and I was so happy to have been able to take them there. They had actually hired a driver for the day so it was really convenient to get to the restaurant and then back to Pumpkin Village for a mid afternoon swim and a relax before getting ready for dinner at Cascades.

Cascades had been on my radar once I had read an article about how beautiful it was and I had seen the pictures to confirm. I wasn’t that interested in the food, though as it was an award winning restaurant I was sure that I wouldn’t be disappointed but it was the views I was interested in..

Walking into Cascades was like walking on to a set. I had specifically chosen an early dinner time as I was determined to get the best possible view of the surrounding landscape and have the opportunity to see the sun go down. I had asked for the best seat in the restaurant and that is exactly what I got. I had to remind myself that we weren’t in Game of Thrones as I walked through the gigantic foyer with marble floors down the triple width stone staircase, past the elegantly dressed bowing waiters, opulent fountains and statues and a perfectly manicured lawn complete with an infinity pool and flower displays such as you’ve never seen.

In front of us was a view that was both dramatic and eye wateringly beautiful with a panorama that overlooked the “Valley of the Kings”. I don’t say Valley of the Kings for effect, though I know it sounds very Game of Thrones like, however in this instance it is probably Game of Thrones that has taken inspiration from here as that is the actual name of the valley and the view is of impeccable splendour, grandeur and more than a hint of magic. Coming from below was a chant like singing that simply didn’t seem real but it just added to the atmosphere.

A huge thatched dining room, with long white bellowing drapery and stepping stones led to a table with a perfect view of the green valley below. This was our table for the evening and when we arrived we were the only ones in the entire restaurant. Needless to say it was a very lovely dinner.

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Me and Aunty Jac outside Clear Cafe 

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Lounging by the pool at our villa with Josh, Aunty Jac and Uncle Dennis 

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Dinner at Cascades 

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Tonight Matthew, I’m Dining in the Sky

I was so happy to have the rare pleasure of seeing my Aunty Jac in Bali. It felt really quite surreal and very special. We have told them that if the weather remains as good as it has been then we will return the favour and make a trip up to Canggu to visit them.

I can already see that I’ve lost weight since being here. Of course I wasn’t trying to lose weight but it has happened naturally probably because of the combination of me swimming everyday, and eating healthily. I’m sticking with this vegetarian thing and it’s doing me the world of good. Both Josh and I feel as though we look and feel healthier as a result of it though I’m sure being uber relaxed in a paradise setting doesn’t hurt much either ūüėČ

We visited Campuhan Ridge Walk today, an area of outstanding beauty just minutes away from Ubud town centre, and whilst we were there we came across not just miles and miles of perfect rice paddies and lush jungle on our walk, but at the very end a treat in the form of a restaurant and spa called Karsa Spa. I think it was blessing that we even made it there because the walk through the rice paddies (which was suggested to us by one of the waiters in a restaurant we had visited the other night funnily enough) was more tiring then I thought it would be and we had forgotten to bring water with us so when I couldn’t see this cafe that was advertised on the posters after we had made it to the other side and could spot a stray dog or two I was more than willing to give up. Especially since we still had to walk it all the way back before nightfall. But after seeing lots of other tourists going by, clearly determined to make it to this elusive place we decided to carry on and oh what a wonder did we behold!!!

These Indonesians really have something special here. Such an abundance of the most beautiful sights I ever did see. Had I of known about this place I would have definitely suggested that we go there with Aunty Jac alas, at least we were here now.

This cafe had a prized position of the unobstructed view of miles and miles of perfect rice paddie fields, and was surrounded by a botanical garden complete with lily ponds,¬† and exotic plants and flowers. It was so perfect it was almost as if it wasn’t real.

The hue of the sunset was a mixture of lavender, amber and pink and was utterly stunning from the top deck of the cafe (also which demanded bare feet). We only stopped there for a much needed drink but after seeing the beauty of the grounds we felt we had no choice but to do some exploration and after meandering around the gardens which had been designed to be almost maze like we happened upon a spa. In this setting, with this sunset?? OH YES.

We booked ourselves in for treatments a couple of days later.

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The Grounds of Karsa Spa

We have 2 weeks left here which feels me with a slight panic for there are still lots of things I want to do before I leave but thankfully if the weather remains good (there has been some rain today), then I think we may just be able to fit them all in.

1 is Hanging Gardens of Bali which is another spa hotel extraordinaire (yes, I do love me some pamperation). The place is tremendously beautiful and romantic – set in the forest and is 7 star so I can’t blame them too much for being a little up their arses but irrespective of how special the place is they should keep in mind that they shouldn’t be charging UK prices in Indonesia. It’s obscene. Anyway, I’m going!

2 is Gilli Islands.¬† A collection of islands that don’t allow any form of transport on them (Trawangan, Air and Meno), close to Bali with gorgeous beaches (there are no beaches in Ubud), and lots of fancy restaurants, cafes retail shops and hotels.

3 The Yoga Barn – the world’s famous yoga barn where all of the serious yogi’s go. I have never done yoga before but I have deliberately waited especially to come here to learn as there is no better setting and afterall, yoga is all about atmosphere.

4 – Swept Away Restaurant – a restaurant that has intimate tables placed besides a rushing river. You can’t get anymore dramatic then that!

Josh and I have also started videoing some of our antics and we will be releasing them for viewing very soon. We’re calling them #balicam so watch out for them!

Since we have been here we have Skyped my Nan and Grandad, Josh’s parent’s and brother, my sister and my Mum so we haven’t been doing too badly with the contact so far! I have worn my new Birkenstocks religiously since being here and they are so comfortable that I refuse to take them off! Sadly, Josh’s Birkenstocks that he has had for around 10 years and has always praised for their comfort and quality broke the other day so he had to get another pair of sandals whilst we were out. They look slightly like Birkenstocks but they are an Indonesian brand so we’ll have to see how they work out!

I have realised that the Indonesians are very conservative people – conservative in the way they dress and the way they are and so despite the searing heat I have felt a little underdressed walking around in little shorts so I decided to buy some Balinese style trousers – long, white, floaty trousers with discreet slits at the sides to keep you cool. I really like them but more then that I feel much more at ease with the way I’m dressed now afterall, despite the fact that shorts are the norm when in a hot country I wouldn’t want to offend anyone by showing too much skin.

Rest assured I am bloody loving it here. We both feel relaxed and happy and don’t see why on earth we should have to return to the UK at all!! Alas we still have another 2 weeks here before we’re onto our next stop: Seminyak.

We can’t complain too much I guess!

Smell you later!

STori x

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Campuhan Ridge Walk