Wednesday, July 18


I'm off to Ethiopia for a couple of weeks tomorrow, so before I get too backlogged, let me put up a few pictures from a trip I took a few weeks back to Lamu, an island just off the coast, near the border with Somalia. Everybody loves Lamu. One of the guidebooks calls it Kenya's "best worst-kept secret". And I'm afraid I have to concede that it's probably the place I've enjoyed most here.

Lamu is far and away the best place in Kenya I've been to for strolling. Strolling is probably the thing I miss most about being here (after flavorful beer). You can take walks on the beach near Mombasa, or go on hikes in parks, or wade through the dirty bustle of Nairobi or smaller towns, but Lamu is the first place I've found that offers pleasant, leisurely, charming, strolling. I've heard a few people express security concerns about Lamu's proximity to Somalia, which is funny because it has the safest and friendliest feel of anywhere I've been in Kenya. You can walk through town in the middle of the night, a real treat coming from Nairobi.

In fact, you have to walk, since there aren't any cars. The town is a jumble of old Swahili architecture navigated by a maze of narrow alleyways. Here's the main thoroughfare, for example:

The major arteries are crowded and teeming with little shops selling colorful fabric and restaurants offering fish or all sorts of fried snacks. The fish is pretty tasty, but here's me contemplating a standard Kenyan meal: beans, rice, chapati, and sukuma.

Lamu is heavily Islamic, and the intellectual hub for Islam in the region. The Saudi government pours a lot of money into mosques and other projects in the town, and there's a major festival every year celebrating Mohamed's birth - apparently some say two trips there is worth one to Mecca. The main drawback of all this, of course, is that there are only one or two places in town that serve beer, especially unfortunate since the waterfront restaurants would be perfect for enjoying a cold Tusker. But they do their best to compensate by offering pint-glasses of cheap and delicious fresh squeezed juices of all sorts.

We did go to the main bar in town, which was an interesting and seedy experience. I guess when you're the only game in town you're bound to attract all the sinful lowlife. We listened to a "captain" try to convince us to take a boat trip with him, hoping for our sympathy by describing how another tourist tried to get him in trouble after they capsized. There were a couple women in the black full-body covering that is the fashion here, one of whom would lift up her veil to sip her beer. And I learned a very vulgar beer toast.

Once you wonder a couple minutes off the main drag, you can have the alleyways virtually to yourself. Eventually, Islamic architecture gives way to more traditional village.

Lamu is also full of donkeys...

After a night in Lamu, we headed a couple miles down the coast to Shela beach. Shela is an interesting mix of coastal village and rich-person getaway. In the dusty alleyways, shabby old buildings rub shoulders with fancy new vacation homes. The Prince of Monaco has a place there (or several), and Kofi Annan. And someone said Bon Jovi, but I don't know about that. Here's the view from our hotel balcony.

Shela beach is long and sandy and empty. It's also extremely windy, especially this time of year, so good for walking, but not so good for sunbathing. We did the standard thing and took a dhow trip through the mangroves to Manda island. Dhows are those boats in the picture above. Here's our captain, and his fantastic hat...

Manda island...
Some Swahili ruins...

1 comment:

Judith said...

Derek, this was a delightful travelogue. Hope you are enjoying Addis Abbaba as much.