28th Feb, On a bus, Kenya Woke up in the morning, bade farewell to the lodge staff, and made my way to the jetty. As usual, the boat was packed to the rafters before setting off. The TSS bus on the mainland, despite being the more cramped 5 seats in a row, instead of Tahmeed’s 4 seats, was actually more comfortable. Since i had a window seat, and the bus was one of those huge coaches, it was heavier and better equipped to traverse the poor Lamu-Mombasa. It was less bumpy and i could read my book throughout.
Reaching Mombasa, i had 3 hours to kill. So i went down to the Old Town, which was by the beach, and did a loop around, stopping by Fort Jesus (did not enter, but its 800 KSH here). Most of the shops were closed on this Sunday evening, but the locals were out at the park located along Fort Jesus, on a cliff by the seafront.
I made my way down to an indian restaurant for dinner. There was a large indian population here. Their features are anything but african, but these Kenyans have lived here their lives and are as local as can be. Still, walking down the streets of old town, i could mistake it as a little india from back home. The buildings in the Old Town are another sight to behold. Typical of the old buildings along the Swahili coast, they are all clustered together alongside narrow alleyways. National Museums of Kenya has done quite a bit of conservation here, and many of the buildings with their balconies have been restored.
After dinner, hanged around for a bit, before taking the bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (700 KSH).
Today was spent on the Sheila beach, a 3.5km walk along the sea from Lamu past Sheila town. Sheila is a small town on Lamu island, with grander more expensive places to stay and some nicely designed and maintained homes with a local flavour courtesy of the expats who build big holiday houses here. But of more interest to me is the stretch of beach that stretches 12km down from Sheila town.
But first things first. Lamu town is situated on the western shore of Lamu island, and it would be a travesty if i fail to catch a single sunrise here. So at 6am, i made my way down to the beachfront, and was treated to fantastic views of the dawn. I had my twin samosas and tea for breakfast (70 KSH)
Sheila beach was as i expected and more. A barren sandy beach with fine sand. It was not crowded, only a few tourists at that moment. It was also low tide, so i could go deep across to a sand spit which overlooked Manda Island across the channel. There were also a horde of sea birds on the spit, gulls maybe. And a flying fish school. A dhow later anchored on the spit and the passengers played beach footie. The tide was rising though and there was a current, so i stopped swimming back and forth, hence did not join them.
Remember many entries earlier when i mentioned the sun along the coast beats down mercilessly. From Zanzibar to Dar, to Mombasa and Lamu, i would be drenched in sweat. Here, in the water, i somehow forgot about the sun, with disastrous consequences. Despite applying copious amount of sunblock on my face, i neglected my back and ended up very sunburnt. The next morning, i would suffer as i mounted my backpack across my bag and shoulders when leaving Lamu.
Less and less excitement, and more and more relaxation, i know. But after 3 and half months, i figured it is time i treat myself and just sit back. Tomorrow, i’ll make my way down to Mombasa (400 KSH on TSS Express Bus, 9am-4pm, why the return leg is only half price on this bus company i’ll never know). From there, i’ll take the night bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (700 KSH on TSS bus, 9pm to dawn next day).
Fri 26th Feb, Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya Now i have intentionally timed my Lamu visit to coincide with this festival, which celebrates the birth of the Prophet and is celebrated in a big way here in Lamu. Unfortunately, there was going to be only a small celebration today. The festival which incorporates other maulids will peak at the end of the 3rd month in the muslim calendar, rabiul awal, and will feature dhow shows and donkey races. I would have to contend today with just joyous celebration in the streets. 😉
Note: There are a couple of vids that is taking forever to download. i’ll put it here later on. cheers
In the morning, i spent time exploring more museums. There were four or five on the island, but i just did the Lamu Museum (500 KSH, with entry in Lamu Fort as well). It wasn’t as well kept or spectacular as the Zanzibari one, and i was the only tourist in the 2 storey building. But it still provided an insight into the life on Lamu island back then, as well as the Swahili culture.The Fort itself was located in front of the town centre, and was used more for events and meetings. There was some sort of team building thing in the meeting hall when i was there.
After 4.30pm, the celebrations started. The procession started at the southern part of the town, going up north along the main street, then looping down along the seafront road before hitting inland towards the Riyadha mosque. Actually it was many processions, not one. Each group of revelers were from a madrasah, or religious school, and were led by their teachers. Along the way, they played their kompangs (i forgot what these things were called in swahili, so im using the malay word for them!) and sang praises, all the while jumping around and making merry. It was a competition too, with the madrasah groups all trying to outdo each other with the best performance in front of a judge.
Everyone then congregated in front of the main mosque, where some speeches were given in Arabic and Swahili. Quite a lot of people from town were gather there. It was a really friendly affair. And this was the mini-celebration. For the big ones in a couple of weeks, visitors from all over East Africa will make their way to Lamu.
At night, the guy at the hotel tells me he found the fellow who stole his engines. Going back a little, 2 days ago i was in conversation on the balcony of the lodge, and this guy proceeds to tell me about his big plans to make money (all Africans are budding entrepeneurs, true story) by buying a boat, outfitting them with twin15 horsepower engines from Dubai, and converting it to a deep-sea fishing boat. There was money to be made here in sport fishing. The foreigners who come here are restricted to only one option on Sheila beach, with Peponi hotel. So this guy with all his savings got the two engines and shipped them here, took the difficult route from mainland to transport his boat to Lamu.
Unfortunately his engines were stolen off the boat a few days after. The thief was undoubtedly still around, hiding the engines somewhere, since news would spread if someone is selling brand new engines. The guy asked around in Mombasa and Malindi as well over the next couple weeks, but no news. Then today afternoon, i tagged along with him for Friday prayers, before splitting so i can catch the procession. He, on the other hand, went into a provision shop and overheard this man talking to a prospective customer about two particular engines. My friend knew this guy too, he was the one who brings him to shore in a small boat when he anchors his boat in deeper waters. The thief gave an “OH f&^@ look” but my friend didn’t raise hell then. Instead he let the fellow go, he now can put a face to the thief, even though he doesn’t know where the engines are hidden. He would arrange for a peaceful resolution, and his father would mediate with the thief’s employer. If he gets the engines back, then case closed, and he won’t pursue the matter. Otherwise, he will bring in the police again.
Thu 25th Feb, Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya It is day 91 (you do know that those numbers preceding the catchy titles are the number of days I spent traveling right?). No great stories to tell here, i caught up on a backlog of these entries, then played too much computer games, before going out in the afternoon to look for dinner and a spot of online time (2KSH/min, rather expensive). There was a great eating place on the second floor of one building, the New Mina Cafe, which served great pilau at cheap prices (100 KSH!). The remainder of the evening was spent sitting around, which is just the way i like it. =)
The people in Lamu are like the friendliest around. Everywhere you turn, it is a friendly Jambo or Habari you hear. Also, you actually hear from the women. When around town, some of the women are clad in their black bui-buis, with only their eyes showing. So i assumed it was something like back in Sudan, where the women are seldom seen on the streets and even lesser heard. Imagine my surprise when i get these fully covered women boisterously going “Jambo” and proceeding to strike up a full conversation with me about where i come from in English. Now that’s a way to be conservative yet articulate at the same time!
Back then, the Swahili city states, from Zanzibar, to Lamu, Pate in the north were big kingdoms. When modernisation occured, places along the coast like Mombasa got developed pretty much but Lamu fell into obscurity and thus managed to maintain the simple way of life that is currently seen today.
The bus from Mombasa to Lamu took all of 8 hours, most of it on good but unsealed (read:bumpy) road. By now the incessant long distance bus travel all over East Africa was really starting to take its toll on me. I was looking forward to a long break on Lamu. The bus journey ended at the coast, where public ferries (50 KSH) meet the bus and bring them across the channel to Lamu town.
Lamu town is located in the Lamu archipelago, a bunch of islands just off the Kenyan coast. Here, as in Zanzibar, the Swahili culture predominates. However, where Zanzibar is very well developed, with hotels proclaiming expensive honeymoon suits amidst other amenities, here in Lamu it is more understated. The same culture seen in Zanzibar’s old Stone Town is here, but there remains a fisherman village feel to it, despite there being hotels and lodges and restaurants along the seafront road. You can still see locals, elderly men sitting on the benches overlooking the sea, or playing bao, or carrom, or dominos. Kids play on the streets, and the local people are genuinely friendly.
I found myself a room right in the central area, in the Lamu Castle Lodge, located right behind the market (500 KSH/night, most places cheaper if you stay more than 3 nights). Next was to just get some dinner by a seaside place and soak the sea breeze.
Again, the features of the people here are different from the mainland. There are those that are strikingly arab, others who would not look out of place in Singapore, and many others who have distinctly “mixed” features. Everyone however, spoke Swahili and were friendly. My plan on Lamu was just to spend the remaining time of the long trip by treating myself to a relaxing few days. No big activities, just chill.
The occupants of the lodge were all kenyans, since i avoided the more conspicuous hotels on the seafront. They were nice though, i sat on the upstairs balcony with them and had a bit of a chat, with them chewing their miraa. Everything from home, to their complaints about the big foregin resorts taking in big money in Lamu while locals do not benefit, to their origins (from Yemen etc).