A four-letter word beginning with L
I’ve travelled to many places. Put many markers on the map.
I’ve seen cities that shine with electric light.
And mountains that tell time.
Lakes that sparkle like lost silver pieces carelessly thrown on the earth.
In all the places I’ve seen, the people I’ve encountered, the sunrises and sunsets I’ve watched…
My heart was left in lovely Lamu.
Lamu is like a lost lover in a time I’d like to travel back to.
The people have soul, they’re friendly and honest and hardworking.
The architecture of the old buildings ignites an almost foreign romance.
And the calm ocean silences the abstract thoughts in your mind.
Some places absorb you.
Some consume your soul.
Some places rejuvenate the imagination.
And some you call home in your heart.
I’d never been to Lamu before. I’d heard the stories on the news. Stories of a stirring danger and of a beauty living in the shadow of terrorism. For me, Lamu became something unattainable for a while. Because that’s what the news sometimes does to you. It makes you afraid of going to places so beautiful that they will steal your heart if you’re brave enough to venture there.
Our chance to embark upon this voyage happened in serendipitous little slices. A chance exchange with Skyward Express on twitter led to a meeting which led to a flight to Lamu. A few emails and an outline of our dream with Diamond Beach Village led us to accommodation and new friends. A phone conversation with Rift Valley Adventures on the other side of the country led us to meet the most renowned dhow builder in Lamu and live on his beautifully crafted dhow for a day while sailing the turquoise peppered with the dream islands of the archipelago. Serendipity is the best friend of a traveller.
An Uber from Westlands to Wilson Airport. A plane ride to Mombasa. Another flight to Lamu. A boat ride from Manda Airport to Diamond Beach Village on Manda Bay. We’re usually used to driving our way through our adventures in ‘Freedee‘ our Land Rover Defender 110 and so flying was an interesting experience for us, especially with all our filming and camping equipment in tow. From the air, the archipelago looked elementally beautiful with the wildly green mangrove forests framing the unbelievably blue-green water and the occasional bright white buildings standing out like old sentinels protecting the islands. I knew then that this would be home someday. And it will be.
The streets of Lamu town are populated with melancholy donkeys and slow pedestrians. Captains of ships and builders of boats. Local tour operators who will show you places that the all-seeing eye of the internet has never seen. Merchants with tired looking donkeys carrying their wares. Hijab clad women in small, circular groups, some of which were singing songs and hypnotically dancing on the day we were there because of some festivity. Old, wrinkled men sitting under the shade of the big town square at the foot of the fort. These old men whose faces told stories of prideful struggle; the kind of struggle that earned them the gift of a long life in a beautiful place. And then there were the children. So many children running along the promenade and looking for places between the dhows to jump into the water from. Their young, happy shouts were the soundtrack to the old town. It is here, amongst my interactions with the people in Lamu, that I learned a new and deeper meaning of kindness, humility, freedom and confidence.
There are secrets, passed on from the hands of aesthetically enlightened architects, that are whispered in the old streets of Lamu that the buildings tell to each other when everyone and everything is asleep. At least that’s what it felt like while walking the streets at night. A shroud of mystery that falls across the sleepy town. The cracks in the paintwork of the buildings there hold more imagination than those of Nairobi and I became fascinated by the aura they exuded. Almost like when love comes to life for the first time. Except that Lamu had made many fall in love with it.
While in Lamu, we visited two wonderful projects that resonate closely with our sense of environmental conservation. The first was a school called the Twashukuru School. The beautiful thing about this school is that it is built from reclaimed plastic and wine bottles. They teach the students the value of protecting the environment and also engage them in beach clean ups. This little school of thirty students is a beating pulse for the planet. It should be an example for all of society and schools all over the world should adapt their philosophy of conservation.
The second project is a fascinating one. Next door to the school is a shipbuilder’s yard. In this yard is the bare bones of a project called the Flip Flop Expedition. Imagine building a sixty foot dhow. Now imagine building that dhow out of recycled plastics. Now imagine coating that entire dhow with sheets of discarded, colourful flip flops. Now, just to make it even more epic, imagine sailing that dhow from Lamu to Cape Town in an attempt to raise awareness about the harm that plastics do to the ocean. This is the envoy of the #PlasticRevolution. A movement that aims to help people understand that there are sustainable ways to live rather than use plastics. It is a difficult task to undertake but these people are doing it and we should all assist in any way we can.
Having seen these projects taking root in Lamu, I can’t help but wonder what other wonderful projects there must be around Kenya. In our travels, we hope not only to show you the cultural and natural beauty of this country but also to raise awareness about projects such as these. If you do know of any that you feel we should visit, please do share these with us.