Part One – Lamu
A seriously untouched corner of this wild world, little Lamu town is just as it was a hundred years ago. With an incredible litany of winding alleyways littered with donkeys – Lamu’s primary form of transport (no Bueno auto mobiles on ze island) – a bounty of street-side stalls selling all things Swahili and lots of local grifters trying to sell you the world, Lamu is the word.
We had a short three-day stint on this glorious island and boy did it provide us with some stories to tell. Flying in on a rinky-dink Fly 540 plane, we made a pit-stop at an airport on the way to pluck a lucky few from their spot, drop a few off and descend upon Lamu (jets are the new bus, haven’t you heard?).
Flying in from Nairobi proved to be one of the only safe passages into the remote island, but alas, be prepared and bring your own water and snacks as transit in Kenya can get a little primitive at times.
A spicy tip upon landing in the open-air, two-room terminal is to ignore the pushy salesmen trying to lure you onto a private boat to the mainland, alpha girl up and insist on grabbing the ferry. A friendly local will send you in the right direction with the boat taking you straight to the heart of Lamu island for a mere buck.
An even spicier tip would be to have a little cash on hand to tip and of course, tip generous to create some good juju for the local hustlers – they work hard for the money, hunny.
We opted to stay in Lamu town and not the popular tourist resort havens of Shela and Manda, giving us a real taste of the beauty and struggles of the everyday Kenyan. I couldn’t recommend One House Lamu enough. A private, quiet oasis in the middle of the hectic island metropolis, this casa’s splendour screams rather obnoxiously for itself.
Our gentle host Paul may very well be the sweetest humano to grace this giant green orb, spending his days cleaning and caring for One House’s inhabitants. With a stunning pool and a rancho relaxo rooftop, One House implores you to slow down, relax and twiddle your tired thumbs at every turn.
We had the entire place to our greedy selves for the majority of our stay, allowing us to utilise the rooftop pooper (the only way forward in my book), indulge in the world’s longest (most excruciating) game of one Vs. one Marco Polo in the pool and sun our rounded bellies on the roof.
With no WIFI available in most hotels or lodgings in Lamu, you should ask your host where and how to grab yourself a local sim card. We managed the feat with the help of a few willing locals, who took a hefty cut from the ‘price’ at a local agent. I recommend doing all things sim card, boat tours and activities through your trusted host or hotel to avoid these instances.
We accepted an impromptu city tour from two local men, Ali and Omar, on our first day in town. They took us through the winding streets of Lamu, giving us a glance at the many magnificent mosques, city market and ornate local guesthouses scattered throughout the town. Quite the whirlwind affair, we wound up booking ourselves in for a traditional Swahili meal at Ali’s family home the following evening.
Despite their initial kindness, our not-so-sharp swindler senses were tingling with a little bit of apprehension being led down the dark alleyways to a much more remote part of the island at night. Omar, the friendlier of the two and our trusted pal was there and put our worries at ease. We arrived in Ali’s small home with his beautiful, very pregnant superwoman wife slaving over a makeshift BBQ with the catch of the day.
We were fed until our bellies could be fed no longer and were able to meet some of Ali’s beautiful children. Although a memorable highlight of our short Lamu stay, it became apparent that like Ali’s talented chef wife, both Omar and Ali displayed an impressive level of expertise on their own glass BBQ – our fish of the day was not the only thing cooking that night. It seemed we had found Lamu islands heroin hotspot.
In a true turn of what can only be described as total and utter idiocy, we agreed to go on our already paid and planned out boat trip to Shela with Omar and Ali, scheduled for the following morning. Stupid #1.
We rose bright and early, bid farewell to our valuables (stupid #2 – if you need to leave the good stuff at home, don’t go you melon) and met a lone Ali at the dock. Without his bright and cheery companion Omar, Ali’s somewhat aggressive nature and money hungry tactics were slightly more apparent and Omar’s absence significantly more so.
We loaded up on a boat skippered by ‘Ali’s uncle’, or who we might suspect as a co-conspirator in hindsight, as Ali left us to make a last-minute dash to grab some fruit for the day. While he was gone a dishevelled Omar arrived at the dock, yelling at the captain to bring the ship in and let him on. It’s a lonely day in hell when the towns pipe pest puts you at ease.