Lamu Island & Nairobi, Kenya – stepping Back In Time

“A guy without a donkey, is a donkey”- Swahili proverb

Sometimes during travel our wish to see a specific city or country overtakes our typical sense and we discover ourselves in potentially dangerous situations. We were on our method to the Lamu Archipelago, the exact same chain of islands where a few weeks earlier a British couple were kidnapped from their resort by Somali pirates, and one of them was murdered.

Two weeks after that preliminary kidnapping turned murder, another lady was taken from her home, again, by the Somali pirates. Still, we were determined to go to the stunning archipelago that we had heard so much about!

After a kidnapping, violence or some kind of terrorist act, the authorities and security are increased and it would be impossible for anything else to happen…right? After speaking to other Kenyans, reading the newspapers and coming to the final thought that there might never be a safer time to go, we made the decision to take the hellish 8 hour journey there.

The bus trip to Lamu was quite brutal even by African standards. It was sooo bumpy we were all virtually falling out of our seats. We had satisfied a regional household on the bus trip to the port and together we took a personal speedboat over to Lamu Island.

us on the speedboat over to Lamu Island
We had heard many excellent things about the archipelago but in particular, Lamu Island was supposed to be the star. whatever we had heard and checked out ended up being promptly true as we stepped off that boat. It was like stepping back in time, a time when the Swahili culture dominated the coastline of Kenya.

There are no cars and trucks on the island and the only means of deliver is by donkey (around 3000 of them online on Lamu), which makes the island seem so relaxed and peaceful compared to the rest of Kenya. The buildings are medieval looking, the regional people are dressed in traditional brilliantly coloured garments and the slow, simple speed of life is contagious.

We inspected into our stunning space at our hotel and walked the oceanside promenade for awhile before having Swahili cuisine (grilled snapper fish with a spicy coconut sauce, spiced rice and grilled vegetables and freshly squeezed passionfruit juice). Needless to say, the food was superb. That night we fell asleep to the seems of the armed forces helicopters patrolling the island’s skies and the rumble of the Kenyan Coastguard’s boats just off shore.

gorgeous view from our guesthouse, Lamu Island, Kenya

Nick enjoying a freshly squeezed passionfruit juice, Lamu Island, Kenya
a regional boy and the typical method of transporting goods, Lamu Island, Kenya

The next day, we awoke to the noise of rain crashing down on our rooftop room…and somewhat leaking in as well. We were playing the waiting game. It rained almost all the time and we ultimately decided that we couldn’t wait in the space any longer or we’d starve, so we ran out with puddles and floods and made it to a restaurant.

We played the traditional African boardgame called “Bao”, ate, and satisfied a fellow traveller who was born in Hungary, transferred to Montreal at a young age and now lives in Austria…when he’s not travelling. He is travelling for 2 years or so and we had so much in typical with this man…he [turned out to be] a bit of a monetary advisor for us as well, thanks Atilla! The people we satisfy on the road are so fascinating and we’ve been provided so many excellent travel tips over the the last 10 months.

Nick playing bao with a regional man, Chris, Lamu Island, Kenya
Unfortunately, the rainy weather condition would last for the next 2 days, pouring constantly for 46 of the 48 hours we had staying on the island! However, the two rain free hours were amazing. We walked and walked around the small, narrow lanes and saw the traditional method of life on this island. The numerous mosques were providing off their contact us to prayer, while youngsters in their institution uniforms burst out of the classroom on their method home.

The donkeys took up most of the area on the streets and the buildings were so old they seemed to be locked in time. We walked with some regional veggie markets and bought food at the bit roadside vendors. Of course, all of these outstanding sights were gone along with by the persuading palm trees which add to this island’s already exotic atmosphere. No question Lamu Island was added to Unesco’s listing of world Heritage sites in 2001.

one of the many donkeys on the island, Lamu, Kenya

Dariece walking the streets of Lamu Island, Kenya
vegetable market, Lamu Island, Kenya

Muslim women walking the old streets of Lamu Island, Kenya
We have come across a few locations like Lamu Island on our travels. locations that are lost in time, locations where there are no cars and trucks and people go on about their business as they did years before. Siwa Oasis in Egypt and Ibo Island in Mozambique are the two others. These are our favourite locations to travel.

Places that feel so off the map, locations where we feel like the only tourists on the island (and sometimes are). These are the locations that truly make us feel like we’re seeing somewhere amazing…before it modifications and conforms to a western mentality.

Before regional restaurants and tea shops are transformed into bistros and cafes. before the old buildings and mosques are knocked down to make space for hotels and “tourist attractions”. This is what normally seems to occur with any location left untouched by mass tourism, it’s only a matter of time. I just hope Lamu stays the method it is for as long as possible and retains its exotic appeal for future generations.

the old streets of Lamu, Kenya
the “road” around Lamu Island, Kenya

old architecture, Lamu Island, Kenya
beautiful Arabic style door, Lamu Island, Kenya

After 3 days on Lamu Island, we boarded a regional boat and headed back to the port to take the exact same hellish bus journey back to Mombasa. this time around though, the roads were muddy from the rain so it was more about not getting stuck and not moving off the road, rather than being violently bounced out of our seats like on the method there…I’m not sure which is worse. We spent one night in Mombasa before taking a bus to the capital city of Nairobi, also understood by the locals and by the guidebooks as “Nairobbery“. seems fascinating.

Nairobi was our starting city for the safari and it [turned out to be] great, we had no issues whatsoever and stayed in a nice bit hotel right downtown, terminal Hotel. It was right across from a mall, which had great restaurants and a significant supermarket, which was perfect for stocking up on chocolate for our safari! We spent two nights in Nairobi before heading out to see the excellent plains, the Rift Valley and the “Big 5” of the Masai Mara.

***Goat Note:  Don’t listen to the touts at the port going from Lamu to the mainland. They will tell you the time of the regional boat won’t line up with the time of your bus and therefore you requirement to take their speedboat. The regional boat and bus are set to line up on time.

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