My first trip to Lamu was pure romance. The Lamu Archipelago is steeped in history. About 700 years ago, it was it began as a city-state, with the arrival of the Bajunis on the island, from distant nations that include Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Today, their Kiswahili dialect retains distinct words and phrases uncommon to mainland speakers. Lamu is incredibly romantic and mystic!
My second trip was a dream. My daughter and I decided to take the leap, booking our 4 day-3 night break at the most inopportune time – mid-Semester and in the midst of pending projects.
We took off from Wilson airport just after a nervous light lunch. The two-hour flight in a twelve seater was a pleasant surprise. Our only crew – the pilot was very polite and accommodating, talking us through the sights all the way. The rest of the passengers were all visiting Non-Profit staff or high-end tourists, seeking the exclusive holiday. My daughter did well without any refreshments and we soon napped as we headed straight to Kiwaiyu, two islands north of Lamu.
Soon the immense blue of the vast Indian Ocean lay ahead. All I could say to my hard-to-impress Little One was, ‘I can see the sea!’ She giggled and I warmed up to the short landing minutes away.
Soon the dry savannah hills and flat lands gave way to dense and lush green. As the plane circled and faced south as we landed, I realized the green was dense mangrove. What the recent media fuss about losing all the mangroves, I could not recall but realized we had flown over fertile farm land that lined the coastal strip. Touchdown was one soft, high bounce and all was well, as the plane chortled on to the dusty strip.
Within minutes, two passengers hopped off and we were off and away again, heading due south. We craned our necks at the windows, trying to make out the sights below. Pate Island below. From the air, the thatched roofs and little ground activity stirred my urge to visit as soon as is possible – this is the intended site of a second international seaport. How this the new port affect the former city-state? I cannot imagine. Pate is not as yet recognized a world heritage site and the risk of lost sites and artifacts looms. At best, I finally caught sight of one of my dream destinations!
We landed at the Manda airstrip – the official Lamu airport. The smooth landing belied the murram runway. The warm air kissed our cheeks as we stepped out into the late afternoon sun. The other passengers all smiling, silent and expectant. The single shed at the airport that served as the passenger terminal glistened in the sun, as flushed tourists rose to board our plane.
The Hotel Manager took personal care to meet and greet us at the airport. We caught sight of the ancient town as we boarded a small boat and motored across the channel toward Lamu Island. But we headed south-east along the channel, close to the mangroves and away from the town, leaving what we believed was the last of civilization for the next four days and three nights.
Forty five minutes later, after a warm welcome and chat with the hotel manager and Capt. Yusuf, the motor engine-turned off and we glided toward a bunch of palms overlapping coral steps on a minute cliff but no buildings stood out. Unknown to us, this was the hotel jetty. Gentle waves and clear water lapped the steps. To our right, we noticed a wooden platform decked with chairs and tables jutted out into the sea. We climbed out, careful not to fall into the water with a laugh and a shout.
Once up the steps, we stood aghast, taking in the wonder of the makuti-clad paradise. Kenyan pride beamed all round, as we checked in at the bar with a non-alcoholic cocktail and bitings. The staff were few and so warm and friendly, that any first apprehensions were easily dismissed. With our luggage carted off to our rooms, we were free to wander around the common areas, marvelling at the localized simplicity and stunning sights all round.
That was the start of four days of bliss, total rest and relaxation. Once in the rooms, we slipped into swimsuits and kikoys (the local striped soft cotton sarong equivalent) and ran down to the beach. Low-tide and the sun set as we soaked our travel weary bodies in the warm lapping waves. Earlier the morning, dolphin had swum up channel; a rare occurrence. We wondered when we would get our chance to see them up close and personal.
Back to the room after more giggles, more photos, a trek on the beach and sandbar. Cool shower in the cool room and a change for dinner. They eat early here and we could not wait. The Chef’s description of each course got our imagination going.
At dinner, we realize we are the only guests in the twelve-room hotel. Now dinner is an elegant, Michelin-award deserving three course meal, of a fresh five-star red snapper and a stunning salad and rice. This is the coast of Kenya and the mood of romance is stunning!
My daughter and I chat lazily through dinner, watching the sun set. It is a dark night and we star – gazed and every one our favourite board games. We settled in, to the gentle whisper of palms, a starry night and soothing sleep. This was the beginning of four blissful days and awesome nights, great meals, smiles, light laughter and days of reflection.
Love is truly birthed and kindled on Lamu… Ndooni Lamu! meaning Come to Lamu! (from the Bajuni/ Kiunga dialect of Kiswahili).
If you need to kick the e-habits, spend time in prayer, reminiscing or re-focusing your life, I strongly recommend Lamu.