Coastal Cruising and First Night in Lamu

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Africa » Kenya » Coast Province » Mombasa
April 28th 2010
Published: May 1st 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

April 28th

Victor and I woke up at a decent hour, about 8am if I remember correctly. We promptly headed out for breakfast, chai tea with milk and a samosa for me, black coffee for Victor. It was during this breakfast that I realized that I had lost the first of a few items that I had brought with me. My Swahili-English dictionary, given to me by my friend Melanie had gone missing. I either left it on a stoop while waiting for Victor’s cousin the night before, or on the bus, but I deduced it was on the steps. I was after all on 6 hours of sleep and 20 hours of jet lag, plus 9 hours by bus.

After breakfast we headed for the bus station area to get the next one to Lamu. I got the chance to see a bit of Mombasa but not the coastline unfortunately, my father had recommended I go there but there just wasn’t time. I guess I didn’t realize the distances involved but the next leg (Mombasa to Lamu) was going to take another 6-7 hours by bus. I wasn’t complaining too much as there were many samosas to eat and sights to see along the way. We stopped through the cities of Kilifi and Malindi. The latter being a larger city on the coast, and a tourist destination during the high season. Fortunately for me I was one of very few mzungus (white people) traveling to Lamu at this time of year. I’m not sure if there was to my advantage or not, but I enjoyed not seeing other backpackers or resort tourists around.

The drive from Mombasa to Lamu was really really pretty. It was tropical and humid, with very green rainforest type scenery, rolling mountains and showers of rain. On the way up there I tried the local addiction, on the coast, (and a large part of Kenya) vast amounts of people of all ages regularly chew on these tree branches called khat. What they do is chew bits of it up and mix it in with small pieces of gum and get the juices from it. It is a stimulant, that should be noted, but it’s nothing like say, cocaine. I didn’t get a lot of affect from it, I didn’t like the taste, kinda bitter. But from what I saw it really keeps the user focused and awake, talkative and pupils the size of dimes.

We passed village after village, each one a bit different than the previous. The style of the homes mostly remained the same, but some houses were made of a mud and rock mix, with palm tree leaves as roofs. Some time after Malindi the road changed to gravel and dirt. Large potholes riddled the way to the coast, and it wasn’t the easiest journey to do when your bladder was full. It was however very very beautiful. I felt like I was on a safari, outside the window was the Kenyan savanna, landscape straight out of a National Geographic. It was pretty surreal to be honest, and even more so when down the road the bus honked it’s horn rapidly and 5 seconds later I see a baboon on the side of the road looking upset he was ushered off our highway!

About an hour later I was recording a video from the window and nearly stopped the recording (I decided at that moment that because of past experiences, I wouldn’t stop recording until 15 seconds after my initial thought to stop). It always happens that whenever I stop recording, immediately after wards I see something I wish I had got on video. This time around I didn’t make that mistake and even though it is hard to tell in the video, there are two baboons walking towards the road in a video you can see here, around the 1:27 mark.

About an hour and a half after my baboon spotting we arrived at the coast where we were to take a boat to Lamu island. The long bus rides had come to an end and it was time to enjoy an island steeped with history, beauty and culture. One more mode of transport was required, the boat ride to the island.

The sun was setting on the boat ride and after arriving at the island we met a local Muslim man named Omar, he was very friendly and found us a cheap hotel that cost us $15 a night and included breakfast (he also arranged a snorkel trip for us for the next day). The hotel was in the old city center of Lamu, where very narrow pathways create mazes of all sorts of sights and smells. Mules are what have built this island since the time of its founding, back in the 13th century, so they are everywhere. They are also the only mode of transport on the island, and since that is the case, one must really watch where they step!

After settling down in the hotel we had to make a stop at a hardware store because my converter/adapter had taken a shit and I needed to get a replacement. After thinking I found a replacement (it turned out to be a dud, but I ended up finding another one the next day) we headed to Petley’s pub to watch the Barcelona v Inter Milan game. Ninety-five percent of the people there were locals, besides me there were three other foreigners, two South Korean missionaries and a Russian traveler. I drank a few beers with Victor while he also chewed some khat, we talked with the locals a bit and left after the game ended in disappointment for me and Barcelona.

We walked around the town at about midnight or maybe later and talked with random people, the island people were so friendly and the whole area is safe at night. Since most of the island practices Islam, there really aren’t problems with crime or anything like that, but they are skilled tradesman and merchants. This means that the phrase “Money makes the world go round” is in full affect. Everything costs something, if someone shows you the way to a store or a bar, it is common to give them 20-30 Kenyan shillings, not much, about $.50. Victor and I met two older men drinking coffee and chatting on the boardwalk and we began talking to them. Not long after this we met Said, Halal and Mohammed, a few guys our age. Said (pronounced Saeed) owned his own dhow, (these go back centuries and were used along the coasts of Africa and the Middle East for trade), and he invited us on a night sail.

We scored a few beers and went out onto the Indian Ocean, and it was one of the most surreal nights of my life. The jet lag was wearing off and I was realizing where I was and who I was with and where I had been a week prior. The moon was full and the night was pretty clear. You could see the some clouds perfectly in the moonlight, along with the outline of the islands, and it was amazing.

April 29th in the AM

I should mention that before we left the shore I fell off the boat in the most hysterical fashion, something out of a movie with my arms flapping and the slow motion of me falling backwards. I pulled myself up on the boat with the help of Halal and I couldn’t stop laughing, it was like I had saw it all happen from a third person view. I didn’t realize until later (when I jumped in for a swim while sailing) that I lost my sunglasses, and more importantly the bandana given to me from Lerina before I left California. ☹ ☹ ☹

We stayed up until 5:30am, the guys had to get back to the island to go and pray at the mosque, if they were to not make it then it would be sacrilegious. (But from what I gathered they weren’t orthodox Muslims and they bent some of the rules in their favor, much like the “Christians” and “Lutherans” back home.) We had some chai tea and coconut mandazi’s before we called it a night. We got back to the hotel about 6:30am and I wrote a blog entry before getting about an hour sleep…before having to wake up early for the snorkel trip the next day.

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