There is a lot that I can say about Lamu, the island and the people. I think Lamu is a really beautiful town. If you look at it from the sea, it’s breathtaking with its white buildings. The town is fairly small with very narrow streets that are inaccessible by motor vehicles. There are only two vehicles on the whole island and both are government owned. In addition, these vehicles only operate on the seafront since they cannot venture into the streets of the town. For a first time visitor, the narrow streets are very confusing since they all look the same. For the first three days while I was there, I could have easily gotten lost if on my own.
Below is a list of things that fascinated me about the island:
- The people
I found people in Lamu to be both extremely friendly. People are generally kind and they can pick out a visitor very fast. I got random strangers welcoming me to the island without me telling them that I was new there.
People in Lamu are so chill. They never seem to be in a hurry. You get the feeling that they are on an endless break. There are quite a number of people just seating around the Fort and the sea shore all day long. You get the feeling that they simply have no care in the world. Another odd occurrence is that you will see a number of people sleeping on corridors of buildings and side walks. At first, I assumed that they were homeless. However, I quickly discovered that they were regular people who just wanted to sleep outside in the open and away from the heat. As in seriously, over there normal folks do that!
Lamu people treasure their afternoon siestas. That was something that I found to be quite interesting. As in, they actually close their businesses at 12:30pm for prayers then they have lunch and at 2:00pm, most people head back home to sleep for an hour or two. I found that to be quite amusing. Maybe it’s the heat that makes them that way. To be honest, I felt really lazy and slept more than usual when I was there but still afternoon siestas are funny.
I thought that people in the town uphold traditional family values very much. There is just a bond that families have that I found to be really good. I was staying on the second floor of a flat which was quite high so I could see most of the houses below. Yes I used to spend a lot of time spying on people and no that is not creepy at all!
Due to the heat, most people spend quite a lot of time in the open air. They have parts of the house where there is no roofing and it’s just open. I used to see families seated on the floor eating together from the same plate. I thought that was quite interesting considering I come from a family where people do not even at the same time or at the same place.
The wonderful family that I was with also had the same values even though they are not originally from the Coast. They also eat together. As in, people don’t even start eating until they are all there. Then they share plates, not that they don’t have enough of them but I think it’s a cultural thing. They just have these big plates that look like trays that everyone eats from. They also sit on the floor in like a circle and just eat together. I thought that was really awesome and I will definitely miss that kind of unity.
People in Lamu are very conservative. When visiting the coast or anyplace that is extremely hot, it’s natural to want to dress in something light and comfortable in the high temperatures. However, Lamu is largely occupied by Muslims and so modest dressing is a must. The degree of modestly to be displayed is normally determined by the Muslim men all round the town. If they feel that you are not decent enough, you will not be allowed to walk around in peace.
However, do not be fooled by the conservative nature of the people into thinking that they are boring or that Lamu town is asleep. It is not. People in Lamu seem to really like having a good time, a little too much. There is no difference between the weekdays and the weekends. It is not like in other places where people live for the weekend. Due to the slow pace in Lamu, a hangover on a Tuesday is pretty much accepted. There is also no specific time for smoking (am not talking of cigarette smoking by the way) or drinking. Blunts are smoked before breakfast, that’s how early the good times start. I didn’t get on the good times train but it was quite interesting seeing other people do it. Lamu people clearly know how to have a good time and they understand that you don’t have to wait for the weekend to do so.
Another peculiar habit of the residents of this town that I found to be quite interesting has to do with their sleeping habits. I already said that they sleep a lot but now am talking about where they sleep. Due to the heat and maybe because they can, they sleep under the open skies. On balconies, roof tops (every house seems to have one) and pretty much anywhere under the skies. Well I wish I could do that in Limuru but then again I would freeze to death. I don’t know if it would safe either though I suspect that burglars would be spooked if they came to break in and found the home owner sleeping on the balcony with no care in the world. Anyway, I do wish that we could all just sleep under the skies once in a while.
- The children
I am not saying that the children are part of the tourist attraction or they are not people (since I didn’t include them in the people’s category), all I am saying is that Lamu kids are too adorable!
My favorite kids on the island are definitely Roy and Ray who are nephews to Elvis. They are so adorable, well mannered and totally affectionate. Saying goodbye to those kids was so so difficult. The kids really love STL and I will miss hearing them rapping along to her songs. Another adorable kid that I met was Vanessa. She is so cute and she does this thing where she kisses the back of your hand when saying goodbye. Simply melted my heart.
I saw Roy and Ray help out a lot at home which I think is really good. Now that is just awesome upbringing. If all kids in Lamu are like that, then they must be the best kids ever!
I also loved seeing dozens of kids in their Madrassa(sp) uniforms. They all looked so adorable.
Another thing about kids in Lamu is that they remind me of my own childhood. They play as in for real. They are not like those urban city kids who spend all their time in arcades or playing video games. In Lamu, kids get dirty which is awesome.
- The seafront
For me, the seafront was my favorite place to be. Elvis showed me Sunsail hotel where they serve really cold juice at the balcony giving one a good view of the ocean. The ocean was filled with all kinds of boats docked near the shores. It was interesting to see that every organization had a boat. From the Kenya Police to the Red Cross and even the water ambulance, there were boats with all kinds of logos in the water.
It was also quite usual to see people dive into the waters and take a swim. The view of the ocean was breathtaking and I remember seating at Sunsail sometimes alone just staring into the sea.
- The food
Lamu hotels have amazing foods. I mostly ate at Labanda which has some awesome Swahili food. Their Biriani is sumptuous. In addition, the hotel is right at the sea front. Elvis also took me to another restaurant for breakfast ( sikumbuki jina ya hiyo place but ni ku-deadly!). We had mahamri,mshikaki, mbaazi, Samosas and viazi with tea. I thought kingly breakfast consisted of sausages, omelets and the likes but I was wrong. That breakfast was simply out of this world.
- The Art
If you are into Art, then you will dig what Lamu has to offer. I went to this cool gallery owned by Denno a pal to Elvis. It was so cool with paintings and all these handmade stuff that looked awesome. I also saw a huge ceiling lamp shaped like an octopus at the Fort and it looked really cool. In some of the hotels they had paintings of the island. This one hotel had a whole wall covered with such a painting. It was something else, totally cool.
The boats, now that was another display of Art on water. All the boats have their own unique decorations that made them recognizable. Some had drawings, catchy phrases or just interesting name. The way the boats are built is also really cool. There were all kinds of designs with some looking luxurious while others offered a promise of the last boat ride ever since they looked so dangerous.
Art was everywhere and it was amazing!
- The Floating Bar
This is one of the most popular places in Lamu. I was really fascinated by it. Its not that it has anything remarkable in how it looks or the music they play or anything like that. For me, it was all in the location. As the name suggests, the floating bar practically floats. It’s not built on land but rather it’s on the waters, in the middle of the ocean (Google it if you don’t believe me). To get to this bar, you have to take a boat from Lamu.
The whole experience of being on the bar was amazing. I remember we were coming from the beach heading home. However, passing by the bar, everyone was standing with drinks in hand calling out to us to join them. We took a turn and headed to the bar. As it is customary with Lamu, people were really friendly inviting me to join them for drinks. The bar is amazing due its location. You get a view of the open ocean all around. In addition, you feel the water bobbing as you enjoy the view and your drinks.
- The skies
I hear people talk of the big Texan skies but I don’t why people don’t talk of the Lamu skies. I have never seen night skies look that beautiful before. Now I know why it’s hard to see stars in Nairobi, they are all in Lamu. The sky is always breathtaking with a million of stars to see. It was always fun to chill on the rooftop at night with Elvis lying on our backs star gazing. Those skies are something else. I saw more shooting stars than I have ever seen in my life. The Lamu night sky cannot be rivaled in its magnificence.
- The Sunsets
I think the sunsets in Lamu are also out of this world. They are so beautiful. It is like nothing that I have ever seen before. I got to witness the sun setting on the first day that I got there. I was on the boat and looking at the sun, it seemed like it was going down and disappearing into the sea. The skies never looked so orange before and the sun never looked so huge and near like that. It was a sight to behold.
- The Boat Rides
I had quite a number of boat rides in and out of the island. My first boat ride was the scariest one since it was my first I guess. I think my life jacket was the only one firmly secured into place. My heart was stuck in my throat and I think the sound of its beating even rivaled the roar of the speed boat’s engine. At some point, there were some bobbing from underneath the boat and I truly though that a shark or something was under the boat trying to topple us over. Getting on and off the boat was quite scary too since I thought that I would loose my footing and end up in the ocean.
My most interesting boat ride was on my way to the beach. We used a dhow, you know the one with the huge pole and rag that flaps in the wind (wish I had a picture or something). It was scary and thrilling at the same time. I was on the boat with just friends who were in charge of everything to do with controlling the boat. I guess I should say a huge big up to Elvis, Adam and Bakari who did all the work to get us to the beach safely.
The dhow is quite interesting, the wind propels you to a given direction and so we kept ending up in some sort of bushes (the ones that grown in water) and then our crew would turn the boat into a different direction so that we could head the right way. They had to do this twice. In addition, the boat kept titling to one side until you think that capsizing would be inevitable. I expected it to topple over or get filled with water but then again, the crew stepped up.
Occasionally, we would be requested to change seats and move from one side of the boat to the other. This was done to ensure that boat balances at all time. This boat ride was the most adventurous one that I have ever had. Coming from the beach and stopping by the floating bar meant that we had to sail in the dark. However, this was quite fun. There was singing and drinking and smoking (again not cigarettes) all the way back since we ended up making room for more people from the bar.
There are a lot of things that I can say about Lamu and the people there. However, you should all experience islands for yourselves and I am sure that you will also have a lot to say. It is a beautiful island and I hope to be back there again at some point, by air though.
Big thanks to Elvis, Janet, Ray and Roy, a wonderful family that welcomed me into their home and enabled me to experience the island. Thanks to all their friends too, Baker, Adam, Jane, Mary, (the awesome guy who owns a donkey and whose name I can’t remember), Wambo and Swabri and all Elvis’ pals who accepted me and made me feel part of the click. Everyone was super cool! Lamu was quite a wonderful experience!