Lamu the Swahili Town

You can only get to Lamu by boat
Lamu is the oldest Swahili town in East Africa, and is a UNESCO world heritage centre. It is historic.  It's definitely unique.  And we almost didn't go there because of a state department warning based on attacks by Al Shabab.  I'm not one to worry too much about this kind of thing.  We visited Egypt right after the revolution.  We went to Maasai Mara in spite of people telling us we could get malaria, ebola, or attacked by elephant poachers (which, by the way, are totally unwarranted).  If you live in fear, you really won't experience anything.  My husband said he would go there if we left our son behind with friends in Nairobi.  As it turned out, Lamu is a very quiet place.  There are three islands off coastal Kenya in this area, and they are car free. The attacks Al Shabab did happened on the mainland.  It seemed pretty safe.

We flew into Manda airport, and stayed at a luxury hotel built in the Swahili style- Majlis Resort.  We found the travel package through a travel agent at Fairview Hotel in Nairobi.  If you didn't read this before under our Maasai Mara Safari, you can save a lot of money by using local travel services rather than booking through an agency in your home country.  They know the places you should see and can find great deals. There were only 11 other people staying at the hotel and they were all Chinese business men and women working on the new port that's going to be built in the area.  That is really sad when one considers there used to be a waiting list to stay here.  Shame on state department warnings that are unwarranted.  Hotels are going out of business because people choose to travel to "safer" destinations. All meals were included.  Rooms were exquisite.  Service was excellent.  The only downside was that we had to travel to the hotel and surrounding areas in an open motorboat...and it rained every day.  It did give a James Bond or Indiana Jones kind of feel to our transportation.  Rain pelting in your face while you get soaked.  It was an adventure.
This is the bed that awaited us at Majlis Resort

We spent only a few hours in Lamu and did a walking tour with a local guide.  Though homes cover a large portion of the island, it's really only the two streets that run along the port side which most people see.  You get a feel for the architecture and see the important buildings if you do this.  Having a guide was a great help because he knew everyone and could explain how people lived and show us things you wouldn't see from the street.  The alleys are very narrow.  Most people walk or use donkeys.  It's not designed for cars.  The doors there are really impressive.  Most are hand carved wood with intricate patterns.  The homes have attached covered seating areas where you can wait for the people to come to the door or get out of the sun.  There are something like 28 mosques, though you wouldn't know it by the simple designs used.  You won't see minarets or stately buildings.  The only real indicator are the shoes on the steps outside the doors. We saw a bead shop where film stars come for hand made goods.  This is a place where they can get away and maintain their privacy. The royal family of Monaco even own a home on the island.  There was another shop where they take china washed up on shore from sunken ships and turn it into jewelry.  Another place was filled with men sewing.  I found the people to be fascinating.  Their way of life is very simple, yet they try to find ways to sell goods to people from around the world. The craftsmanship was impressive.
Donkeys are used to transport goods and people on the island
Inside a workshop, beds were being carved

Alley ways were narrow

Some of the buildings are thought to be hundreds of years old

A seating area outside the home

Ornate carvings cover the archway

The oldest mosque

A bead making designer with incredibly unique goods

A sewing room

We toured the marketplace which was larger than usual and sprawled into the park outside the fort because it was Ramadan.  During the rest of the year, we were told it's much smaller.  Our guide recommended Lamu mangoes so we bought a few and found them to be sweet and juicy. You could find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, most imported.  If you wanted a chicken, you had to buy it alive.  That could be the reason we had eaten so little chicken during our Africa stay.  There were plenty of fish and larger animal carcasses indoors at the marketplace. Most people do not want to be photographed, so there aren't a lot of close ups.  It was colorful and bustling.  People were eager to buy goods of all kinds in preparation for Eid.
Goods sprawled over tarps laid on the ground

Meat for sale

papaya salad

The island is mainly Muslim so women wear hijab when out shopping

There's a fascinating book about the cats which inhabit this island.  They are said to be the direct descendants of the Egyptian Pharaoh's cats, and they aren't found elsewhere any longer.  They were friendly and could be found in the doorways throughout the town.
This man is especially loved by the cats because he feeds them

It was drizzling during our outing which made it challenging.  I would have liked to come back again if we'd had another day.  We only booked a hotel for 2 nights.  There are hotels on Lamu, so if you plan a trip, you might consider staying there for more authenticity.  I did love our hotel though for comfort.  Overall this was a very interesting destination.


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