The Island of Lamu

Back when I was in Kenya over the summer, my family came to visit and we took a little trip to the island of Lamu, a small island near the border with Somalia. It’s a traditional Swahili island with no cars (only donkeys!) and beautiful hand-carved door frames. The residents are primarily Muslim, so the whole island has such a unique historic, Arab feel to it. What a cool place.

The second we arrived, a man walking down the street tried to coax us into buying some fresh lobster. At first, we resisted. We were friendly, but I am pretty sure none of us thought we’d buy the lobster. But this man was smart. By the time reached the door to our accommodations for the weekend, I was negotiating a price for these three beauties. I believe we agreed to around $30 USD, which our “chef-cooker” cooked up for the evening. We had a delicious meal of garlicky kale, coconut rice, and lobster in a tomato sauce.

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the lobsters we ate for dinner

We rented an entire house for the weekend. It was a gorgeous, three-story swahili-style house that came complete with its own caretaker, Katana. Katana arranged for the “chef-cooker” to come prepare the lobster dinner, and he also hooked us up with a pretty awesome dhow captain, Baji. Katana himself was a pretty sweet guy who enjoyed beers with us on the roof with the views seen below.

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views from the apendalo house, our residence for the weekend

The architecture in Lamu is old, and there is a giant, old castle in the center of town. Housed inside the castle is the Lamu market, which is full of fresh fruit and vegetables.

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castle in the middle of lamu town
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the main square in lamu town

Of course, the main form of transportation on the island is the donkey. I believe the only two motorized vehicles on Lamu are an ambulance and firetruck, though both are more like golf carts than the large trucks you’d see in the US. Lamu is just incredibly charming, and the people who live there are so, so friendly. They’re used to tourists, but I would say it is not incredibly touristy. Much less touristy than Zanzibar, anyway, which Eric and I visited in June.

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donkeys on the beach

Forty-five minutes away (walking), Shela Beach is the more touristy part of the island. Its historic, white-washed buildings are more pristine, and there seems to be more hotels than residences. Nonetheless, the beach was great, and the buildings, as seen below, were easy on the eyes.

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lamu architecture

The picture below is just cute. Henna on a little girl’s feet.

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a little girl’s henna feet

A popular activity on the island is a dhow cruise. Any dhow (a traditional swahili boat) captain will be happy to take you for a cruise. They offer all kinds of trips, including fishing and a myriad of other things, but we opted for a sunset dinner cruise, an option only offered by Baji. As all the other boats were heading to shore, we dropped anchor and Baji’s crew cooked us an incredible dinner on the boat – fresh fish, coconut rice, and curry. What to do with fish bones? Just toss them overboard, of course. We were treated with a pretty sweet sunset that evening, also.

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sunsets from a dhow (traditional boats) cruise
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not a bad sunset at all

Lamu – what a cool place!

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