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!

Back in the U.S.A.

So my plans of blogging while abroad completely crumbled. For one, I did not have a computer with me (just the ipad and my iphone), so I had to go to an internet cafe and pay to use a computer just to blog… and well, who wants to be sitting in an internet cafe when there are colonial buildings to see, toucans to listen to, and Spanish to speak? Yeah, me neither. So hopefully I can catch up on some of the things I’ve been up to now that I’m back… of course, though, I’m now back in school – and loving it after my first week – working part time at the same engineering firm, and soon I will start my Research Assistantship, which adds another 10 hours per week to my workload. yikes.

Anyway… what most people want to know now is if I can speak Spanish or not. The short answer is un poco… a little. I took two weeks of Spanish classes – 40 hours of instruction – and while I learned a lot, how much actually stuck with me is a different story. Once I left my Spanish school, I started staying in hostels… and well, hostels are not good for Spanish! You meet people from across the globe who have varying levels of Spanish skills, but most commonly, everyone spoke pretty competent English. So we spoke English. I found myself using the same words and phrases in Spanish over and over… where is the bus station? How do I get to Boquete? Me llamo Abril. Como el mes. My name is April. Like the month. Yes, my name is a month.

Anyway, Nicaraguans and Panamanians speak fast… and don’t exactly pronounce the s at the end of words, so even if I could ask the question I wanted to ask, I was not guaranteed to understand the answer. And this fear of not understanding the answer made me a rather shy Spanish speaker. I found it best when I was with others who spoke no Spanish at all… then I had to be the one to speak and listen and understand. If I was with someone who spoke better Spanish than me, I’d often just lean on them to catch the answer to our question.

In the end, I learned enough to get around comfortably… enough to know how to get to these cool places:

The cemetery in Granada, Nicaragua.

Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Costa Rican beach near Corcovado National Park in the Peninsula de Osa

Scarlet Macaw in Corcovado National Park

Passion fruit at a coffee farm in Panama

The Panama Canal

Flowers and buildings in Panama City

Graffiti in Casco Viejo, Panama City

Casco Viejo – the old colonial city in Panama City

I’ll share stories and food another time… must get to some homework now!

Creepy Crawlies in Borneo

Ah, bugs. There certainly were plenty in Borneo. Eric had a stomach bug (actually, he had multiple stomach bugs), I was eaten alive by sand flies, and then, of course, there were these bugs:

We saw tons of HUGE bugs! These fun guys roll up into a little ball when they're scared.

giant snails

giant millipede

it's a leaf bug!


eric and i both had nightmares about this centipede.

Ok, let’s not get technical with the insects vs. mollusks. It’s still big and a little creepy, so I feel I can include it here.

Of all the bugs, though, that last one really shook us. We discovered him on a night hike – hanging out on a tree just a few inches off our path. Of course, it looks gross, creepy, downright disgusting. But when our guide – a man who has been leading people through the jungle for 9 years – was afraid, well, we could not get this bug off our mind. Apparently he bites – hard – and you’ll pass out if he does manage to have a nibble.

That night, I could not stop thinking about that centipede. My skin was crawling, and I just wanted to wrap myself in a blanket and seal myself in a bug-proof room. Not possible in the jungle. I even woke up in the middle of the night to Eric pacing around the room. His legs itched, and he could not sleep. I had him rub cortizone cream, deodorant, anything on his legs. Nothing was working. Needless to say, we did not sleep much that night.

That bug really penetrated our psyches.