|Day 13, 14 July 2010: Mombasa to Lamu
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
We knew how long it took to get onto the Likoni ferry in a car, so we had to leave our cottages by 6:30 AM to get from Tiwi to Malindi airport, 100 miles to the north, in time for our noon flight to Lamu. We arrived at the ferry vehicle queue at 6:55 AM. We were still in the ferry vehicle queue at 7:40 AM, watching cars and motorcycle cut each other up. We got cut up once, but were smugly satisfied to note that the safari van that did so still ended up boarding the ferry behind us. At 8 AM, it was already swelteringly hot. The Land Cruiser to the right of us contained a load of Kenyan soldiers. So did the one to the left. They popped their gum at us and grinned, their open, casual attitude forming a stark contrast to their drab crisp uniforms.
We made it to the Nakumatt (a large chain grocery store) with half an hour to spare before the car hire chap was to meet us and drive us to Malindi. The bloke and I opted for samosas and coffee for breakfast. Liz has juice, since she was the only one with the presence of mind to eat before we left the cottage. Duncan, foolishly, ordered a cheese croissant, which was as foul as the samosas were tasty. Somehow French cheese manages to smell like feet but taste creamy and delicious. Kenyan cheese, on the other hand, smells like feet and tastes like it too. It has the consistency of tyre rubber. We finished our coffee and went into the Nakumatt to stock up on various items, the most important of which was two bottles of spirits, as there are only a couple of bars in Lamu and nowhere to purchase alcohol.
Lenso, the car hire chap, pulled up in a minivan and leaned out to tell us to follow him to a place where he’d drop off the van and then drive us the rest of the way to the airport. He screeched out of the car park at top speed through, seemingly, all the busiest parts of Mombasa. It seemed to me more as if he were trying to lose us than to get us to follow him as he weaved around slower traffic with sadistic abandon. Duncan managed to cling to his tail until he finally halted at a car wash in a Mombasa suburb. He handed over the keys with palpable relief. Lenso slid into the driver’s seat to take us at top speed to Malindi. (It is possible to drive all the way to Lamu from Mombasa, but it isn’t too safe a journey for foreigners since bandits patrol the ill-kept section of the highway on the approach to the Somali border.)
During the journey, we were stopped at a police checkpoint for the first time. Having heard several horror stories about foreigners driving rental cars being forced to pay outrageous bribes, we were glad to see them inspect Lenso’s license and the car’s title and let us pass without further ado. We arrived at Malindi airport without further incident, checked in and watched little propeller planes take off and land. A police plane departed a few minutes before our flight and landed in Lamu shortly before we did, giving the impression that we’ve had a police escort. The flight itself was only 25 minutes long. Most of the people on the flight were European tourists. There were two black and a few Arab Kenyans. The black Kenyans evinced as much curiosity about the passing scenery as the Europeans, leaving me with the impression that they’d never been to Lamu before either. We glided up the coast enjoying the magnificent view of thick green mangrove swamps banked by wide strips of white sand beaches. The Lamu archipelago stretched into the milky blue distance. We circled inland to Manda Island, which appeared to serve little function other than as the landing strip for aircraft. It was remarkably heavily guarded. Large men with guns hulked from all corners of the airfield’s few buildings.
Porters hustled up to meet the disembarking passengers and trundled an enormous amount of luggage from the airfield to the dock. They loaded our packs into our hotel’s boat, which carried only us and one other passenger, a German lady of grandmotherly vintage who surveyed us with a friendly smile. I struck up a conversation with her. She lived in Kenya for 27 years and kept a house in Lamu which she visited once a year. Her grandchildren came to stay with her and had done so every summer since they were small. They were popular with the locals, she said, because the eldest boy was very good at football and played with the local children at 5 PM every day. Whichever team he joined would invariably win.
She and the boatman pointed out a few places of interest - the private residence of a wealthy Omani, the diesel power generator that supplies the whole island, the Lamu museum, which she assured us we must visit and the floating restaurant, which is disappointingly closed for repairs. We alighted at Shela beach and stepped down barefoot into the muddy sand. This mud wasn’t a great experience, as it sucked at your feet unpleasantly, forming a thick squidgy boot that clung to you after you’d squelched to dry land. We trotted behind the porters to our hotel. The alleys were narrow and sandy. Dronkeys flicked their ears at us. I spied a bevy of well-fed cats at a boat repair workshop and mewed tentatively at them. The answering chorus raised a laugh from the workmen watching us squish past.
I dunno what this is about.
Arsenal is a London football team.
Oh look it’s mah face again.
The Msafini hotel turned out to be absolutely fantastic. We had the top floor entirely to ourselves. The wraparound balcony contained a single bed, many comfortable chairs, a built-in sofa ledge and a double-bed hammock that was divinely comfortable. My will to do anything other than lie on that balcony reading and drinking juice was completely extinguished when we saw the bedrooms. Both had king-sized beds and ensuite bathrooms as big as our bedroom in Cambridge. All the furniture was dark wood and the floors were cool stone. Breezes wafted through the window openings, which contained no glass, only wooden slats. Since there are no automobiles in Shela, it is tranquil, even in mid-day when children are playing in the schoolyard and workmen call to one another from the houses they’re restoring - mostly for wealthy Europeans who only live there for a few weeks a year. The dhows in the channels between islands were sailing vessels as well as having outboard motors. Once in the open water, their sails billowed and caught the breeze.
Camhoor inna hammock.
First glimpse from the front door
View over Shela
View over Shela
I lay in the hammock while the others went out to explore. My stomach wasn’t quite right, as it seemed I was finally having the digestive trouble that had afflicted everyone else at some stage during the trip. I popped an Imodium and drank water. As I pondered my toes, a small bird landed on the balcony railings not a metre from me. He put his black head on one side, then the other, regarding me. He pirouetted so that I might admire the delicate yellow shading of his breast and belly, which began a pale cream at his throat and ended in a brilliant sunflower splash by his speckled brown tail feathers. He practised a few seductive chirrups at me. When satisfied that I’d been completely charmed, he flitted to another section of railing, checked to ensure I was still watching and dived off skillfully. “Showoff,” I called after him. He was already on the pinnacle of the neighbouring thatched roof, attempting to woo the disinterested workmen balanced on the scaffolding.
The others returned bearing a load of samosas, onion bhajis and nuts acquired in various places and smelling of beer, having discovered the only bar in Shela. Of course. We ordered juices and once they were served and the waiter safely downstairs, added chilled vodka and rum according to taste. We proceeded to the rooftop terrace for our evening meal. I ordered a Swahili dish of grilled fish basted on both sides with spices in coconut milk. It came with ugali, a sort of maize porridge, also cooked with coconut milk (samaki wa kupaka). Ugali tasted almost exactly like Cream of Wheat, except drier. When mixed with the sauce on the fish, it was delicious, but on its own it was rather like eating elementary school paste. I rather liked it, but mine was definitely not the consensus view on the stuff. I had an episode of not feeling so well after finishing my meal. This time, my tongue swelled up. (I finally worked out that there’s something in the Swahili spice mix to which I’m allergic - an allergy that worsened later in the trip through repeated exposure. I suspect it's tamarind paste.) Liz saved me with a rehydration tablet dissolved in a large glass of water.
Liz & book
Bloke & book
My legs & book
Liz and Duncan attempted to sleep in the big hammock on the balcony, but the wind had risen considerably after sunset and it seemed they might actually get cold. We all retired to our comfortable king-size beds. I rarely have difficulty falling asleep, so I was unconscious in seconds.