cleared for travel
Nestled about 100km below the Somali border, Lamu’s white sands and historic heritage make it one of the most popular destinations on the Kenyan coast. We had been hoping to visit during the annual Lamu Cultural Festival last year, but two violent kidnappings on Kenya’s north coast raised the island’s threat profile and caused the Embassy to add Lamu to its no-go red zone. The travel advisory stayed in effect until April and once it was lifted we started looking for a suitable opportunity to go, before something else happened to make Lamu off-limits again.
Lamu Archipelago consists of a trio of large islands – Pate, Manda, and Lamu itself – in addition to various smaller islets scattered among the deep blue Indian Ocean waters that lap Kenya’s northern shoreline. From the airstrip, we were whisked off in a small motorboat that skirted Lamu’s mangrove-covered shore before depositing us at Kizingo beach, on the southwest tip of the island. Between November and March, when the ocean is calm, Lamu offers the unique opportunity to swim with dolphins. In September, when we went with D’s parents, there is not much to do except to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather and pleasant surroundings.
And that’s exactly what we did for four days – while D’s parents took long walks on the beach, chasing after sand crabs and collecting sand dollars (D might have also dabbled in similar activities), we mainly lounged around in shaded bed-swings, reading books or catching up on sleep. Because it was low season, we had the secluded eco-lodge all to ourselves. We had brought our snorkel gear, but the inertia that descended on us was overwhelming, and it was only towards the end of our stay that we mustered up the energy to go on a sundowner cruise in a traditional Swahili dhow.
On our way back to the airport, we stopped in Lamu town. Founded in the 14th century, Lamu is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. We found it immensely disappointing. Instead of the high-quality artistic Swahili carvings we had expected, we found run-of-the-mill curio shops and pedestrian architecture. We took a walking tour but quickly tired of the narrow streets and pungent fish smell that pervaded the town. D’s parents were likewise unimpressed, so we took another short boat ride to have lunch on Shela beach, home to the famed Peponi’s hotel, before catching our flight back to Nairobi.