Life on the spice island of Lamu, Keyna

Lamu formed the second part of our African adventure. After a fascinating safari watching the wildebeest migration in the Masa Mara, we were looking forward to a much more relaxing affair, lazing around on the tropical island of Lamu. It was a brief journey by propeller plane from Nairobi to Lamu, as we tracked the golden sands of the east coast up towards the Somali border. We touched down onto a dusty sand strip in the middle of an unkempt field, with overgrown scubbery bleached by the blazing sun. Within minutes of our luggage being taken off the plane, one of the locals had picked up our rucksacks and started walking purposely down towards a jetty. Struggling to keep up, and half worried that a stranger had grabbed all our belongings, we eventually caught him up as he reached the rickety wooden platform. We crossed carefully across the splintered planks of the jetty, before climbing down onto a small brightly coloured wooden boat, that was bobbing up and down over the swell of the sea.

It was a short and pleasant journey across the channel, with the sea spraying us refreshingly as it crashed through the tops of the waves. In the distance, we could make out the white stonewashed buildings of Lamu town, and as we got closer, we picked out the canons dotted along the shoreline – a reminder of the island’s exotic past when it was a key stop-off on the spice trade routes from Arabia.

Lamu is still relatively unknown in tourism terms. It was precisely for this reason that we chose it, hoping it would be an undeveloped Zanzibar, with picturesque beaches yet still with a genuine market town feel. As we took our first steps on Lamu, this quickly became evident. Arriving into the picturesque harbour was like stepping back in time. Local men sat on the sea walls with their legs swinging lazily. Donkeys were the monopoly on all island transport, and shuttled up and down the sea front carrying all manner of goods strapped to their backs.

It wasn’t long befoe another volunteer shuffled over to us to offer their services to take us to our B&B for the night. Our bags were quickly hauled onto their backs and they disappeared inland. After weaving through a maze of interlocking alleyways, we stopped outside a large but beautifully engraved wooden door – an iconic part of Lamu architecture. The door opened to a bright white grin. “Jambo! Welcome!” he said. The inside of the building housed a small courtyard, with a small fountain providing a relaxing ambience. Lining along the outside of the courtyard were enticing sofa recliners.

With out stomachs rumbling, we were keen to head back towards the harbour and savour some of the locally caught fish that we had heard much about. We left our bags with our host, and ventured back through the alleyways, carefully looking back to help us familiarise ourselves with the maze around us. It was mid-afternoon, and the restaurants were emptying out. We found one overlooking the sea, and with a line of plants swaying invitingly in the sea breeze. Lunch was delicious grilled snapper, and a fresh citrus salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and lemon topped off with chopped coriander. It was washed down with a beautifully necta-like mango juice. My taste buds were singing. We felt rejuvenated.

After a brief wander away from the harbour and out of town along the sea front, we decided to be head inland to try and locate some of the markets embedded deep in the maze of alleyways. Once we accepted the inevitability of getting lost, we delighted in the feeling of freedom and exploration. The stonewashed buildings were blackened with dirt, yet many housed beautifully engraved doors and window frames. Amongst these buildings was also evidence of a wealthy past, with large and impressive colonial architecture – from the faded pastel-coloured post-office to the imposing columns of the towering town hall.