Went for two, stayed for four.
For the most part the ride to Lamu flew. The roads were in good condition and I had a new book to read. The last couple of hours were damned rough but nothing abnormal. There was another tourist on board called Josh, who we befriended over the following days.
As Lamu is an island we knew that the bus would be dropping us at a ferry dock rather than our ultimate destination. The shock was how small the ferry port was. I had expected a small town built around a small dock but there was no infrastructure to speak of and not a single house or store. We caught a slow boat to Lamu which dropped us right out front of the old town.
We were met by a few touts including one who claimed to be the chairman of the ministry for tourism. Like every aspect of Lamu even the touts were laid back. We found a really cheap hotel with some friendly staff and good security that was set just back from the waterfront.
Without wasting time we went out to indulge on some famous Swahili cuisine. I had the most sensational fish in coconut sauce served on traditional coconut rice. Accompanied by a banana shake it was pretty gluttonous for 4 in the afternoon. After lunch we arranged a dhow trip for the following day and dinner at the house of ¨Ali Hippy¨ the following night.
We sat outside in the hot air of the night drinking beers at one of the only two establishments serving alcohol in town. Whilst we did so I had a bizarre conversation with a local who at first told us he was Australian. When I declined to believe him he told us he was actually Kenyan but wanted to get a gun and work in an Australian ganja farm. His mannerisms were a little disarming so I made it clear we weren't interested in whatever he was selling. Just as he was leaving Josh returned from the toilet and got sucked into conversation. The guy was selling postcards for a 100 shillings but due to a misunderstanding on Josh's part he thought they were 150. To our amusement Josh went into negotiations and got him down to 100, the original asking price. When the vendor moved on we laughed as we retold the story from our perspective, in true British fashion Josh found the humour in it as well.
When our hunger finally returned we had dinner in a restaurant owned by a rasta named James. He was a nice guy and we stayed in touch until the day we left.
To begin our first full day in Lamu we went to the dock to meet our dhow captain. He wasn´t there, apparently he was sick. Two of the other passengers were also supposedly sick. Then it came out that the captain had spent our money on medicine and that we needed to pay more so that our new captain could buy food for lunch. Needless to say we were sceptical, we refused to pay any extra money, after a small debate on the matter the new captain ran off to buy some extra food and we set sail.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we took off, the wind was strong and despite our captain (Hassan) dropping the wind a bit we were all forced to one side of the boat the stop it tipping. The water was flat so the keel of the boat carved through the tropical waters making for a relaxing trip across the bay. The trip took no more than an hour, I would have been happy to kick back and sluice the warm salty water my hands all morning. We dropped anchor near some coral bombies and each dropped a fishing line. I caught a huge piece of coral but not much else, Josh and Di did no better, Hassan caught four or five little fish. Some of the fish were so small I felt terrible that they should not be returned but the environment and the future take second place in a continent where hungry kids are more common than computers. Whilst Di, Hassan and his son continued to fish Josh and I took to the water with our snorkels. The bay we were in was completely surrounded by mangroves so the visibility was terrible, if I held my hand out in front of me I couldn't even see my wrist. At least the water was warm so I dropped my snorkel gear back in the boat and paddled around, no doubt scaring away all the fish and annoying Hassan in the process.
When Hassan finally gave up on catching any substantial fish we sailed to shore. Hassan made a fire in the sand and began to cook lunch. Di sat and read her book in the shade of a mangrove tree and Josh and I walked to a nearby beach. On the way we passed 1000s of oysters shells, the contents of which had been swallowed up by sea birds, locals and tourist alike when they were in season. Once on the beach we dropped our things on a small island that stood in the centre of an inlet and waded out into the water. The tide was coming in strong so we made a habit of walking up along the beach and floating back down to base, lazy lagoon style. After cruising on the waning tidal waters for an hour we returned to the crew. Lunch was just being served when we arrived. For a dishevelled Kenyan man Hassan cooked quite well, despite having not much fish there was plenty of coconut rice and fruit. Low winds meant that we had to head for Lamu town a little earlier than we had wanted but it allowed us a longer sail than we had had in the morning. From the water the town looked even more surreal than from the land. Made up of nothing but several hundred year old buildings, surrounded by tropical waters and doused in bright sunshine it looked like an artist's impression of Valhalla centuries ago.
Back on land Di and I nestled into a waterfront restaurant and sipped on juice for a couple of hours. One of the staff taught some the most basic variations of a traditional board game called bao. It was relatively simple to comprehend and within a couple of games I was beating my teacher.
For dinner we met up with Josh as well as our host for the evening "Ali Hippy". We went back to his house where we sat cross legged on the floor and ate crab, fish and lobster. Upon arrival Ali had taken his shirt off displaying his massive gut which was a little off putting but not powerful enough to ruin the delicious food. To finish off we were served a Swahili cake whilst Ali and his whole family sat around singing and playing instruments in Swahili. Personally I didn't think the music was all that (excluding the albino drummer) but the food had been terrific and pretty good value.
To wash down dinner we grabbed a quick beer at the bar. After her nightcap I walked Di home and then returned to the bar. Josh and I met up with a couple of locals and then walked across town to "Boogy Boogy". It was a comical attempt at a local nightclub that had an almost religious following amongst young locals. Held in the compound of the local police station "canteen" it was open air. The beer was served warm and the cover charge steep (for locals anyway). The audio gear was suitably modern and the music a blend of the worst R&B to have graced this earth. It was good to have a dance with my local friends and in all the night was good dirty fun but the local girls all wanted to dance with the foreigners and the guys all wanted us to buy them a beer. In the end it became a little too much and it was barely in the AM when I headed home. Outside the night club the scene was reminiscent of my year 9 social. A big group of girls lined one wall and a even bigger group of boys another. Apparently the girls were waiting to decide if it was going to be a good night and the boys were waiting to see if the girls would go in. If not they weren't about to pay the cover charge. The direct route home took me through the old cemetry and across town but I never once felt unsafe. I was unsure that anyone in Lamu had the energy to be dangerous.
On Saturday we got up late. After pancakes and a mandatory juice we walked the streets of Lamu. The town is even more picturesque than Zanzibar. Three of four story building leave the narrow streets in permanent shadow. Intricately carved doors and impressive knockers fill the expansive door frames and coral walls join randomly to form a historical maze. The street s were mostly quite except for the occasional woman washing clothes or kids playing games. After allowing ourselves to get lost in the scene we stumbled out into the open. Suddenly the Swahili buildings gave way to rubbish laden compounds and a handful of mud houses. We had come out at the far end of town, close to boogy boogy. I showed Di the cemetery which was a depressing site, many of the tombstones had become so covered in rubbish that only the tops of them could be seen, others had been broken and all of them were neglected.
When we had grown tired of wandering aimlessly we made a failed attempt at using the sporadic internet before taking some lunch in a very simple, three table fish shop. Juice was calling so we returned to one of our preferred restaurants and kicked back. Whilst Di read a played bao with a local who taught me a new, and more intelligent variation of the game.
Later in the afternoon I trustingly, if not foolishly lent a small sum of money to a local boat captain who approached me whilst I was waiting to met with two of Ali Hippy's sons, one was a religious teacher and the other the local Imam, they were accompanied by the albino drummer from the night before. Between them they answered dozens of questions I had about Islam. Not that I was about to become a Muslim, I just wanted to understand the religion. After nearly two hours of Q&A they gave me a couple of books to read and I said goodnight. Before I left though they asked me for some money (on top of the money which I had promised to pay for the books), it wasn't much and considering how long they had spent with me I didn't mind but I thought it was strange none the less. I couldn't imagine a priest asking for money in the same circumstances, but then again, how long had it been since I'd spoken to a priest.
For our final day on Lamu island we took a walk to neighbouring town called Shella. It is aimed more at wealthy tourists than our sort but the promise of old Swahili buildings and a pristine beach called. Due to the dark clouds on the horizon we chose to visit the beach first, it was nice enough and almost void of people but we didn´t swim. Instead we sat in the sand and read for half an hour. By this time the clouds had moved overhead and it began to rain. The rain was never really heavy giving us the freedom to enjoy Shella town. We wandered the streets admiring the Swahili architecture and the ambiance of the streets. Of course Di wanted to stop in at the craft shops and browse aimlessly. Having seen enough arts and crafts for a lifetime I just read my new books on Islam. This generated a lot of interest from locals, most of whom assumed I was Muslim. In the end I stopped reading as I was recieving abnormaly positive attention.
Later in the afternoon we had a few cold drinks on a second storey hotel deck. When we were just about to order Josh called in search of some disinfectant to treat a cut he had recieved from the coral he had tried to walk on. So I left dinner and helped him out. Whilst I was in his room a local came to see if Josh was going to watch the night´s football match with him, Everton was playing and I became interested. We rushed back to collect Di from the restaurant and continued on to the local´s friend´s office. It was locked so we couldn´t watch the game there. Instead we went to the local ¨cinema¨ which is really just one small and one medium sized tv in an overheated room full of chairs. The big screen was showing the news and the smaller one the match. In the middle of some tragic news story I accidently shouted in celebration as Everton scored a goal. The frowning faces turned to broad smiles when they realised that I was watching the other tv. The Swahilis were so friendly that when they found out we were supporting Everton they decided to aswell.
At dinner that night we were met by a local boat captain who found us playing bao. He was a guru at the game and we learnt what it menat to be good at it. Within seconds who could calculate moves that would take me minutes not to mention pen and paper. After eating I left Di to play bao with the restaurant owner whilst I tried to met the boat driver to whom I had lent money. I never found him but I did have some really interesting conversations with a few of the other captains. I was surprised to hear them talking about the environment, foreign politics, education and so much more. They wanted me to stay longer and I wanted to aswell but I had to return to get Di whom at this stage was ready for bed.