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krisek Lamu - A travel report by Krys
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Lamu,  Kenya - flag Kenya -  Coast
7706 readers

krisek's travel reports

World’s capital of chilling, relaxing & good time

  11 votes
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Lamu, a small island off the coast of Kenya is perhaps the best place to make friends, learn Swahili, relax, go fishing, soak the atmosphere of Medieval medina, and forget about the world.


Lamu travelogue picture
Lamu wakes up well before sunrise. The boat captains attend their boats to ensure they are not caught in the morning's low tide, skilfully untying the knots and manoeuvring between other vessels. Many people on the pier begin increasingly more vocal trading with the first goods’ and fishermen boats. Countless donkeys with the tears in their eyes tiptoe remarkably quietly but frantically, carrying heavy loads and their owners, who beat them mercilessly with wooden sticks. Late worshipers, dressed in long pale robes, rush to the old and grand white-washed mosques still rubbing their sleepy eyes. Children dressed in deep blue uniforms proceed quickly to schools somewhat unwillingly. Suddenly the sun comes out and hits the white facades of the oceanfront buildings and astonishingly, everything and everyone slow down. The air gains temperature.

But when I arrived in Lamu, the sun had about an hour to set. As soon as I checked in to a hotel, directly on the waterfront, I went down to have a peek at least at the fraction of the town, where I was staying. As soon as I descended to the promenade, near the boat pier, a ‘guide’ spotted me offering his services. He was an old man dressed in white Muslim dress. I couldn’t shake him off for about twenty minutes! So when I saw a small fishing boat coming in, I tried to make an impression that I was into boats and not town touring.

The guys in the boat, Shee and Omar, asked me if I would be interested in a fishing trip. At that time I wasn’t sure yet, but I said yes. Shee, the captain, insisted on a deposit. I didn’t want to pay anything in advance, out of a principle. Shee had good arguments, though. He said they were going to cook for me and he needed to acquire some provisions. I was still a little nervous that I was not going to see either Shee or Omar again in my life, but Shee suggested that I should go out with them that night. And I did.

Favourite spots:
Lamu waterfront
Lamu waterfront
I took a short stroll about Lamu town in the morning sunrays. I had absolutely no idea where I was going but I quickly realised that I could not just let myself lost there as it was a medina town, full of labyrinthine narrow alleys with no names. So, I had to pay close attention where I was going and look behind my back very often. I loved this maze! Many houses had meticulously carved wooden doors and gates. They were incredible! True pieces of art. I tried to recognise the way by these doors, but I still got lost a little.

Nevertheless, I managed to find a castle and some great historical buildings inside the town. The alleys were so narrow that it was quite hard to take pictures there and even three people in an alley made a crowd and I didn’t want to snap pictures of people without their permission.

And the other thing I loved about Lamu was that nobody bothered me when I was on wandering about the town on my own. Perhaps it looked like I knew where I was going.

What's really great:
Shee & Omar
Shee & Omar
The fishing trip with Shee and Omar, and Omar's younger brother Kamal, was a perfect holiday day. Shee was a great sailor and brilliant fisherman. I was using exactly the same technique as he was and I caught only three leather jacket fish and I do not even know how many Shee caught! The ocean was relatively calm and the small dhow managed waves very well, contrary to Kamal, who became sea-sick. Both the dhow and Kamal surprised me! I would expect local islanders to be fluent in sailing and immune to seasickness, and small dhows to be too small to go deep sea fishing.

Omar proved to be an excellent chef. He bossed Kamal and Shee around while cooking. The food was superb! Shee made sure I had two entire leather jacket fish on my plate and Omar loaded there two huge portions of rice. I was sure paradise was somewhere very close!

Actually, the guys threw the anchor near Manda Island’s wonderful beach with hammocks and a bar. The sun kept shining uninterrupted from clear sky.

Sights:
Lamu travelogue picture
In the morning, Shee and Omar gave me a tour around Lamu town. They showed me several exquisite examples of the meticulously carved doors on the old and newly restored houses in the old town. Omar took the guiding very seriously and made sure he could tell me a few stories about certain houses or places in the town. He even introduced me to the manager of the town’s fruit market. Omar was in a good mood and the tour was great. I saw much more than on the day I went on my own.

Later that morning, an elderly man approached me to ask if I wanted a tour around the town. When I told him that I had just done that, he asked me for the name of the guide. When I replied that my friends had given me the tour, he said that I should have been taken by a Lamu resident and not friends. He was very annoyed. I had a great satisfaction to firmly state that my Lamu friends had taken me.

Accommodations:
Lamu travelogue picture
I didn’t have to look far for my accommodation. I looked it up in a guidebook whilst still on the small airplane from Meru National Park. My choice was Casuarina Rest House (€5) - right at the waterfront, overlooking the jetty, the main boat landing, and the small fishing harbour. The hotel had uneven levels, stair case like a maze, large and comfortable rooms, balconies overlooking the waterfront, and, best of all, a rooftop lounge where drinks were served. Absolutely fabulous. I didn’t book the place in advance and I was lucky. There was only one room left, and the one backpacker who entered behind me had to look for a room somewhere else. I met her later in a cafe, and she did not have too look very far. There were many places to stay in Lamu to fit any budget. What I really liked about my hotel that it was so close to the action. After a long night partying, I could crawl back to my room (not that I had to).

Nightlife:
Lamu travelogue picture
Shee put me back in town from the perfect day on the ocean immediately before sunset. I didn’t want the day to end! It was so perfect! Even after taking a long cold shower, I was not hungry. Omar fed me just too well. So, I went out with the guys for a few drinks at Petley's, a popular local bar - just at the waterfront, and decided to stick to drinks only.

During the fishing trip, near the Manda Island, I met some of Shee’s and Omar’s friends. We actually had a pre-party on the boats, while the bar I mentioned before supplied cold drinks. The guys entertained me well. They were doing crazy stuff on the boats, jumped into the water and showed off their gymnastics skills on the beach. We all met again at Petley’s. It was a superb night. Petley’s had got two levels. Ground level was a bar and a waterfront patio. The upstairs was an Arabic lounge with many cushions - overlooking the harbour.

There were a few nightclubs around as well, one next to Petley’s.

Hangouts:
Lamu travelogue picture
Lamu waterfont promenade had a number of superb cafes, bars, lounges and restaurants - all perfect for sitting down, enjoying life and people watching. Time seems to stand still on this island. I am normally quite energetic on my exploration holidays - I cannot stay too long in one place, I need to move and discover constantly. But Lamu strangely affected me. I just wanted to do what all the others did - simply relax, chill, wind down, and... laze. I met a few travellers on this perfect island and all told me the same. There must have been something in the air. Surely! The cafes, et all were perfect for any time of the day or night. And excellent to meet and chat with locals.

For the beach lovers, there were a few beaches around, but the beach on Manda island, just across a narrow strait from Lamu island, was probably the best. Transport is only by boat, which can easily be organised from Lamu’s second jetty.

Restaurants:
Lamu travelogue picture
All waterfront restaurants on Lamu specialised in... fish! And it did not come as a surprise to me that in addition to fish it was also... other kind of seafood. The best ones were those, where my new friends liked the most. They were simple shacks covered with reed roofs with unsophisticated decor, but very tasteful. Their fish and seafood was super fresh and mega delicious. Many eateries were also experts of making omelets. I tried several places, almost one next to another in the immediate vicinity of my hotel, and I never went wrong. And I have to admit that I like my food...

Other recommendations:
Lamu travelogue picture
In the town, I met a few Europeans, who came to this capital of the chilling and relaxation to learn Swahili. I wasn’t certain whether there was a Swahili school for foreigners on the island, actually. I thought I understood that part of the trick at their stage of learning was to practice the language. And since Lamu must have been Kenya’s best spot to meet locals and make friends, it must have been really hard to find a better place in East Africa for days long conversations about life, the universe and everything.

Published on Saturday February 16th, 2008


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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 03:44 PM rating by alfonsovasco

because of your description i would like to visit this island

Sat, Feb 16 2008 - 09:29 PM rating by rangutan

I like your cool/awesome/geil style of writing. All your reports a pleasure to read, I will not miss reading one!

Sat, Feb 16 2008 - 06:24 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Spendid report! Indeed, Lamu is the best place in Kenya to make friends and relax. Better than Zanzibar, although I consider Mozambique island (that you also know) still more quiet. But you have to get there from Mombasa by trucks and dhow, not by plane, as most travelers do.
Thanks for discovering us the most exotic places of the world with your wonderful reports!

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