We drove out of Tsavo East and headed to the town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean where everyone but us got a Covid test for their return flights home. Afterwards we hopped on a plane and 25 minutes later landed at the Manda Airport on the Island of Manda.There is something magical and primitive about landing at a tiny remote airport. It’s informal – no jetways or sidewalks just earthen paths. Everything is dulled by a layer of red dirt. Our luggage was loaded into a old wooden pull cart and rolled to the nearby boat ramp.
We boarded a boat taxi and headed across the channel to Lamu Island. A UNESCO World Heritage site and Kenya’s oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement on Africa’s East Coast.Our reward for finishing the walk was to stay at the renowned family run Peponi Hotel in the adjoining community of Shella.
Lamu and the Peponi are listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and rightfully so.
Carol and her daughter Elke run the hotel. I’m sure they don’t like the reference but I had visions of Mama Mia. Elke is stunningly beautiful, make up free and bare footed. Her mum is clearly a spitting image of the same girl just years later. They are hands on and make sure your every need it met.
Previously warned by Tropical Ice that we should extend our (included in the safari) one night stay and enjoy the pole pole (Swahili for slow, slow) lifestyle. We had booked two nights. A perfect end to a perfect walking safari.
Our original plan grew into five nights. Covid was starting to affect our trip. The flight to Zanzibar had been cancelled and the Islands of Comoros and Madagascar closed their borders to tourism. Coupled by civil unrest in others countries – we needed time to hatch a new plan.
First things first. We girls headed out just behind the hotel to explore the narrow streets and pathways that wind through the village of Shella. There are no cars and donkeys are used to transport goods and people. We set out with a map highlighting the “best of” and no sooner than we made the first turn and we were lost.
What a place to be lost. It was a maze with a muted palette of dusty paths and creamy buildings with stunning carved door, offset by bright bougainvillea, drying laundry and women in colorful hijabs and dresses.
It’s a certainty that every country has its one percent. This was evident at the Hemmingways and Peponi. Lots of lethargic people wearing $1,000. sunglasses and designer clothing. Safari clothes – not appropriate.
Shela and Lamu Island are Muslim communities. 50 mosques for 50,000 people. My shorts and skirts from the safari wouldn’t suffice so I was on a mission to purchase a modest dress. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. It was a request but not enforced. Light and airy dresses were what most woman wear. Scarves worn for coverage work as well. There was one boutique shop in town where all of us found a treasure. One dress worn over and over will suffice.
A lot of the homes and fenced walls are built with coral. They’re rough, porous and plentiful. 350 members of the Luo tribe live on a nearby island and spend their days harvesting the dead coral from under trees and transporting them by boat to Lamu Island. Beamed ceilings are made with Mangrove poles and therefore rooms are narrow since the trees do not grow tall. Floors and walls are mostly rough dead coral and the coated with coral limestone for smoothness. Many homes have a “daka” entry porch where men gather to visit. Inside are are small niches carved into the walls of stone structure. Inside elaborate “vidaka” walls – small niches carved into the walls of stone structures – are a stunning focal point. Decorative but also used to reduce echoing in the home.
Iain’s wife, Lou, flew in to join everyone. Our first evening, the last that we were all together, we had a Swahili feast. The setting was stunning. We sat in a lush area near the pool on ground height couches surrounded by vibrant fluffy pillows. The men were not quite sure what to do with their legs which prompted us to become silly children once again. The food was spicy, flavorful and bountiful.
After a luxurious night’s sleep six of us took a dhow (ancient Arab sailing boat) to the old town of Lamu. It’s within walking distance to Shella Village at low tide but the dhow was a more traditional means of entering this famous town. The bustling streets where “pole pole” meets the fast pace of commerce, donkeys are the beast of burden and hawkers try to lure you into their shops.
Lamu is bursting at the seams with cats, cats and more cats. Unique cats. The only place in the world to have the same physiques as the cats depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The evening commenced with a sunset dhow cruise sipping wine and drifting by patches of mangroves. When the sun began to set we turned course and met up with masses of dhow boats where we all raced towards the sunset. It was stunning.
I’ll have you know it took me three days to shake having to look for predators while traversing the garden lawn from our room to the restaurant!
We said goodbye to everyone on day three and it once again became the Bill and Paige show. Time was spent exploring Shela and Lamu Town, walking the beach, lounging, catching up on emails, posting a few blogs, making plans, eating too much food and having sunset cocktails.
Sand life and art: