Lamu Old Town is a place authentic, raw and rich in history.
Thoughts of it awaken a deep yearning in me that Corona continues to prude incessantly. The urge to travel.
With the necessary means, I would globe-trot to the world’s ends.
In another life, I would be an explorer. Moving from continent to continent surviving on meagre supplies richly filling my thirst for adventure.
Or a long-distance trader like the Kamba people. Delivering wares over far-flung and remote lands in the lands south of the Nile and north of the Limpopo. Casting curses and spells over anyone who dared stand in my way. Telling stories to my kinsmen off lands where water filled the whole horizon and the iron snake which moved over land.
I get nostalgic over the last time I tried to fill this black hole. Reminiscing over the freedom I felt as I hopped from place to place not knowing it would be a cherished memory I would closely behold.
Close your eyes and open your mind to imagination. Neither limited nor bound by curfews. Allow my words to build sandcastles in your brain.
WELCOME TO PARADISE
It is the oldest continually inhabited town in Kenya. A place most beautiful which bring heavenly calmness to the troubled. It carries the aura of where the sun tucks its eyelids after shining in all its glory throughout the continuity of time.
You wake up every morning to the endless battle of water and wind; forming the offspring of waves out of this holy union of nature.
Each dusk, cocks croak in competition to who would sound the loudest. Or maybe, an acknowledgement to the gods for having survived another day against the glares of the bloody knives.
Imams from all sections of the island make their religious recitals calling believers to the first of five prayers of the day. A show of the deep piety running in the veins of the residents.
Each morning I sat on the side of the beach as I got lost in the mirage of the ocean. Forming my own version of paradise in my head.
In hindsight, not living in the moment and appreciating the paradise I was sitting on. My trail of thoughts would only be interrupted by the buzzing of motorboats.
BACK TO BASICS
Lamu Old town has been able to withstand the wildfire of modernity. Continually playing with fate, incognizant of when this donkey will finally break its back from this burden of stubbornness against civilization.
The part of an archipelago of coastal islands has been able to stands man’s dalliance with technology. The only motorized modes of transport are the noisy speed boats always in a rush to unknown destinations.
This is what I thought the mythical King’s Landing town of the Game of Thrones trilogy would look like.
Boats line the shore. White houses made of coral stone and mangrove timber are closely packed together like white puppies clinging together for warmth.
The streets are a couple of feet, wide enough for only two people to walk through. They are like a maze to an outsider. Each street resembles the last and the next one. The only to find your way around is to create visual beacons.
The walls offer a calm solace to the unforgiving sun. No single car is in view as I behold the view of donkeys moving around as the primary source of transport.
Extravagance is hardly shown. All the houses look identical with the resulting inability to pick out affluence unless you entered these abodes.
The people walk around barefoot, their big toes protruding unusually over their feet. Probably a physiological adaptation of their bodies to swimming. A similarity to the fin dynamics of fish.
CHILDREN OF LAMU
I watched with envy as the children of the island swam in the ocean with the boldness of their nudity and courage.
Knitting dripping accents with the strokes of their tongues, an embodiment of their mastery of the Swahili which I would never achieve in my lifetime.
How would it be growing up here?
Maybe, your mind would never understand limitations. It would view the vast ocean and see possibilities.
I grew up in a place that has a mountain and hills all around it.
Perpetual damnation on my young impressionable mind that put a lasting impression of having to conquer existent and seemingly insurmountable limitations.
BEAUTY OF PEOPLE
Swahili are a fascinating people. I would sit and eavesdrop on their conversations. Full of metaphorical phrases and innuendos.
What stood out was their storytelling. A question always led to tales full of historical references and gossip. A small island where everyone knew everyone.
The women give a guilty glimpse of their beauty with the beauty of their eyes in their masterfully embroidered Buibuis. This only served to build anticipation on knowing what their faces looked like.
Guiltily I wished the wind howled and unearthed their masks for a tantalizing glimpse. The food was always full of tastes.
They have the magical ability to turn even the most primal of foods into exquisite dishes.
Through ages of wild experimentation and passing down of recipes through generations, the Swahili had evolved their culinary skills to awe biding taste levels.
I allowed the scent of food to drive me to where I would tastefully indulge. Calculatedly savouring every meal in my mouth like a piece of melted chocolate.
Labania, a local treat, stood out with its sweetness and coarse texture.
It has the ability to jolt the body with bouts of energy while still awakening your taste buds.
THROUGH THE NIGHT
In the night, pitch darkness takes over the island.
A welcome cool wind breezed over the island replacing the hot climate of the day.
A bearded old man alluded to me those were the spirits coming back from the depths of the seas.
A calm atmosphere and stillness of sound broken up by the occasional bickering sound of complaining mother to a child. The children here, being unusually bold, would unimaginably reply and argue with their mothers. The whole drama comes to an anticlimactic end with the sound of palm to face.
Occasionally, I’d hear the braying of mating donkeys.
The Wahenga who came up with the saying, Asante ya punda ni mateke, did not have in mind the donkeys of Lamu. At first, I cautiously approached through the narrow streets desperately the donkey would not throw their hind legs at me. Besides the knack of decorating the streets of the whole town with their excreta, the donkeys were always a welcome sight.
THROUGH THE VALLEY AND SHADOW OF DEATH
All good things don’t come easy.
To get to Lamu you have to go through the unforgiving Boni forest where even the bravest shudder in fear.
The thick and marsh forest holds malevolent mysteries ready to consume those who dare go through it. Or rather, that is the popular belief.
It took me around 10hrs to move from Malindi to Lamu.
The view transitions from views of the Indian Ocean, semi-arid areas of lower North Eastern Province to the dense Boni forest.
Grass thatched houses dot the surroundings with children and women walking around in jerricans in their search for water.
When the bus stopped, they would rush to the windows with pleading eyes, thrusting their commodities on our palms, begging incessantly for the pieces of prized paper and metal we closely kept.
They came bearing roasted maize and camel milk. I would mercifully at them. I choose to avoid making eye contact because this is Kenya where eye contact is an expression of interest.
Every time the vehicle stopped or slowed down, heads jerked off their seats with fear and panic written over their faces. I slept soundly, quite oblivious of the evil lurking in the forest.
Occasionally, the vehicle would be stopped by menace looking servicemen with guns on their trigger. They would bark out that everyone gets out of the vehicle holding their identification documents and luggage. No one dared blurt out a word.
My interest was piqued by the sight of their armoured personnel vehicles.
A week after I would hear on the news when a bus was attacked by militants on this same road.
Shout out to these selfless men and women who risk their lives every day. The buses get to the end of the road at Mokowe jetty.
From here you have to take a boat to the island. Any hint of fatigue is taken away by the views from this point.
Mangrove forests dot over the vast water mass. Going into the boat, I desperately clang to my life jacket as the waves beat the side of the boat. Needless to say, I was only interested in the life part of it.
Moving deeper into the ocean, fear melts away like ice and my adventurous spirit took over. A wry smile formed on my face as I felt the freedom and set my eyes on the boats which lined the shores of Lamu Old town.
GOODBYE LAMU FOR NOW…
On the day, I was leaving the Island, I felt a deep sadness engulf me. Bare truth, I did not want to detach myself from it.
I thought of all the things I hadn’t managed to do. I had only managed to experience a fraction of what was on the platter.
Visiting the monkey infested ancient ruins in the surrounding islands of Mande and Pate.
Eating Octopus meat and drinking its soup allegedly had the ability to drive libido levels to insane levels.
Lounging on the scenic beaches of Shela and going on the heavenly evening dhow excursions in the deep sea over the setting sun.
Without a doubt, I made a resolve to come back to this best-kept secret.
A few recommended places for future travellers are the picturesque monuments such as the Lamu fort, Lamu Museum and the German Old post…needless to say, the pristine Shela beach.
A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
Lamu Island is a paradise for the meta-physical.
It is for those who appreciate authenticity rather than a luxury.
For those whose minds are clogged with tabs that need to be shut down.
For those who are adventurous enough to have a dalliance with their fates. The seekers of peace in themselves. Appreciators of the beauty of nature in its struggle to resist modernity.
Definitely, a fitting remedy for the disruptive effects of the Corona bug on our lives
It would not be right if I don’t acknowledge my chaperones and guides, Saitoti Kiti and the lovely Farhina. You made my stay comfortable and memorable.