Loafing Around Lamu

So we’ve come to the last morning of this relaxing nine-day visit to the island of Lamu. I figure I should throw these pics up on the blog right away because otherwise it would wait until October when I’m back in European/American space again with reliable internet, before I’d have a hope of uploading so many photos. Apologies in advance for just how many photos there are – believe me, I edited out quite a lot but it’s been such a joy to have so many interesting people, things & vistas to photograph that my little shutterbug eye has gone a bit crazy. My routine has mostly been early-morning and late afternoon walks around town or the dunes by Shela in order to see people and places in the cooler, more interesting light then instead of the heat of mid-day sun, which here so close to the equator is mighty ferocious, even though actual air temperatures are quite pleasant since we’re surrounded by ocean with good trade winds.

And it is trade that made Lamu what it is – a lovely historical town (on an island of the same name) with a mix of cultural influences from India, Arabia, and various parts of Africa. Lamu and the whole Swahili coast have been on the trade routes since humans took to boats and started trading, one assumes.  There are clusters of islands off the Swahili coasts of both Tanzania and Kenya; the most famous of these is Zanzibar in modern-day Tanzania, but Kenya has a few islands jewels of its own and I’ve now enjoyed one of them for a week or so. I’m going to put anything else in captions and hope you’ll enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed wandering around and taking them.

A coastal fort near the village of Shela, which the southern tip of Manda island across the straight and open ocean to the right. Shela has old history but is nowadays influenced by a strong presence of expats with vacation and year-round houses there, so it’s a bit wealthier and quieter than the more traditional and hopping town of Lamu a short bit away. If you’re curious at all after reading the last entry I posted: Manda is a very big island with a deep channel nearly cutting it in two so it looks like two islands from here, but in fact there’s a narrow isthmus on the other side and the airstrip is on the northern half. Below is contemporary Shela seen from the water.

Look really closely and you’ll see that’s a bit of a rainbow forming above Manda island.

Many of the boats here fly various interesting flags, including this one which also played some nice music as it plied along the channel between Lamu & Manda. Below: no bridge to the island, so no cars except an ambulance and a tractor or two; so donkeys haul the sand and bricks for building, the coconuts and bananas and so on. They wander the streets and they make their barking cries that sound like someone is being tortured all the time too.

I took a few nice long walks along the beach and in the dunes. The freedom to do this so safely has been wonderful; in yesterday’s walk which was the longest I worried I’d gotten lost and even had some nice paranoid fantasies of snakes and so on, but all ended well with a smoothie in Shela and a sunset walk back to Lamu town.

The Friday mosque, in Shela, is one of very few here to have a high minaret. It was built around the turn of the last century. BTW for those curious and who didn’t guess, all the portraits of the friendly & open inhabitants of this lovely island were taken with their agreement. Trying to tackle my perennial shyness about adults, youll see I did approach a few adults as well as many kids. Sadly no adult women or older girls agreed, so you’re seeing more of the male inhabitants of the island. Oh well.


These guys are in one of the mosques and assured me it was quite alright to take their photo; the guy on the right greeted me and started a conversation as I walked past. Folks here are very friendly and welcoming. I suspect the white spot in his hair is flaking whitewash from where he brushed his head on a wall; this has happened to some of my clothes.

Ah yes, the first of many doors and alleys that you will see. Wood carving is important here, for the dhows and doors and for other decorations. I’ve really enjoyed wandering and seeing the lovely alleys and doorways and thought I’d share a selection (really! I didn’t photograph every alley and every door in Lamu town, though you may feel that way!) with you.

Very many of the houses have these lovely out-front porch seating areas. It’s very social.

Ramadan began on my second full day here  so I’ve been careful not to eat or drink in public as a matter of respect Everyone breaks their fast in little groups – of neighbors, of friends, not sure what – and then they go for the evening service (I’m assuming; that seems to be the timing though I’ve not paid great attention). On one of my walks this group, which I’d wished a lovely breaking of  the fast, invited me to join them. Ginger coffee and dates, yum. And I was told one should never have just one of something – one should have three or five. That was the host who told me. I did mention the people here are very friendly and open? 🙂 PS these photos are grainy because the flash chose not to go off even though it was, of course, a bit after sunset…

This is the main shopping and tourist street in town, which I generally avoided in favor of the smaller alleys and more residential quarters I’ve been showing you. However it does have a lot of interesting stuff also. The other main thoroughfare is of course along the harborfront, whch I truly avoided because it’s the one place where a foreigner can’t walk without being asked more than once whether one would like to take a boat somewhere.

This set of shots  is all from Shela – you can tell because it’s a bit newer looking, more spacious, etc. Above is sunset from the balcony of my room in Shela (I split my time – first five nights there, then four in Lamu town), and below are two shots looking out from the lovely little cafe which became my home-away-from-hotel in Shela; that’s where I wrote and posted the last entry which some few of you may have already viewed.

One response

  1. Stephen Brockmann

    Hi Paul, Thanks for these great pictures! Lamu looks like a great place for a vacation! And how wonderful that the people are so friendly! And that you got a chance to break the Ramadan fast with some friendly folks! I hope you got some good R&R and that you’re feeling a bit rested now as you begin your last two months in Mweso! And happy birthday from me and everybody at Green Lake!

    August 9, 2011 at 23:26

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