Lamu, Paradise on Earth

Trip Start Sep 01, 2004
Trip End Apr 25, 2005

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Flag of Kenya  ,
Monday, October 25, 2004


...hope you haven't forgotten us yet! We miss everyone and wonder what your all up to. Thank you for the emails, we have been gone a while and wonder what you all look like now. You won't recognize us. We are so dark that someone thought that we were Kenyan the other day. We have gone native.

After our crazy 2 week Safari, we were exhausted and in need of laying low for a while. Lamu was an island that Don had read about during his many hours of dream traveling with Island Magazine. Paradise was the key word in all of the articles, so we thought that we would see just what that meant. Lamu is a small sand dune island on the north eastern coast of Kenya, very close to the equator.

It means, no cars, no telephones, calm warm waters, miles of wide, white sand beaches, and fresh grilled seafood every day for under $8 each.....hakuna worries!

Upon arrival at the little airstrip and grass shack they call a terminal we were greeted by what was to become the norm, groups of men trying to provide you with some sort of service to make money in some way, carry your bag, dhow (the local wooden boats) ride, tour....what ever you need or don't need, they will get it for you. Before you know it you are herded to a dhow, and the bargaining begins. Don is getting ruthless. He sets a price and that's it, take it or leave it.

The only transport on the Lamu is either donkey or dhow. Dhows are generally 20ft wooden boats with a wooden mast and canvas sail, some are equipped with a motor which are used to go from Shella Beach, where we stayed, to Lamu Town, or on side trips to other islands. If you own a dhow, you are considered a big shot. "A man without a donkey is a donkey"

Abduhl hopped on the dhow with us from the airport. Abduhl was a scraggly man with barely any teeth, and one loose snaggle tooth that sticks straight out, in front. He adopted us and became our wing man and followed us everywhere. Now our code word for a tout is a wing man. Don seems to think it is funny to chat with them, but he is now forbidden to do so because once you act at all interested in them they will move in with you. I always say...dump the wing man.

The Bahari Guest House was our home away from home for 6 nights. Our routine became, a walk on the beach while the tide was out to Lamu Town, try to use the VERY SLOW Internet, wander the alleyways(the only thing resembling a street) while dodging donkeys and donkey poop, and people watching. Then take a dhow back to Shella, check to see if the fishermen were in with their catch, take our purchase to the housemen at the guest house, instruct them on what we wanted for dinner,then head for the beach. After enough swimming, head back, shower, read for a while, eat our king fish, crab, lobster, jumbo prawns, or calamari, a plate of tropical fruit and coconut rice, read, then go to bed. OK....paradise is not too strong of a word.

The people of Lamu are Swahili. They are really a mix of cultures derived from the historical tribes that existed along the northern coast of Kenya, Portugese, Arab, and probably other sailers thrown in. The Arabs were the conqueror in the end, and slave trade here was a big business during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. They kidnapped hundreds of thousands of people from the inland tribes and many thousands of people died. The people are predominantly Muslim and there are a few Christians. We were there during Ramadan and all of the restaurants are closed from sun up to sun down. Most women here where the burkas and will never look at you. We find this religion hard to understand.

We found most of the men very friendly and we had fun talking to the people doing regular jobs. Don is always checking out peoples equipment and tools. We got a demonstration of a multi speed drill...a small bow with a rope wrapped around a wooden dowel with a spade bit on the end, you pull the bow back and forth and it spins the bit, the multi speed comes in by moving the rope up or down according to the different diameters of the dowel. Again, if you can build a whole boat with 3 tools, what does Don need all of those tools for?

The island has been discovered by rich Europeans. Many of the larger homes in town and on the beach have been purchased by French, Italians, and English and are being restored. They hire the tall Masai warriors to guard their homes, which is a weird sight. They are dressed in their normal red plaid wool cape, adorned with all of their beaded jewelry, sitting on the beach with clubs and spears in hand. I asked one of them if there were any lions for him to kill with his club, or did he just use it on the tourists. He thought that was pretty funny.

Some have purchased land on Manda Island across the channel and you can see beautiful homes built on white sand beaches. Don got a real estate man all wound up asking questions, you can buy a one acre, 99 year lease hold, for about $180K, or how about 10 acres for $350K Any takers?

The area is also known for the great calm channel and consistent wind for kite surfing and wind surfing and it was fun to watch. There is another culture element, the rasta scene, and some of the boats have flags with Bob Marly smoking dope on them. There is a beach boy scene and the good looking guys stalk the pretty European girls. We were told they are trying to marry them so they can have a ticket off of the island. We met one guy who married an Austrian, but was back because he said you have to get up too early to go to work there.

We feel like we had a rare opportunity to see somewhere before commercialism has taken over and hope that we can go back to Paradise again. We figure that it's only about thirty hours of flying, or two days of traveling to get there.

Love to all,
Don and Jo Ann
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