“Lamu is one of the highlights of Kenya with Mount Kenya”, I was told. Well I don’t know if they were talking about Lamu town. It’s a Swahili place like Zanzibar and I think I’m not too keen on Swahili places after all. There are Dhows and islands, so maybe he was talking about islands. I went there when I had academic writings to do. So, I stayed most of the day in the room and came out of my coral hotel (yes because most of the buildings are in coral stone, it’s basically limestone but doesn’t it sound magical when you hear that?) only to order amazing fresh mango juices and fresh delicious fish in coconut sauce.
Apart from that there were donkeys everywhere, the sewerage system was running along each street and you always met the same guys in the street with the same kofia and sometimes their hair dyed in orange henne… wow…
Of course the tides were indeed impressive. Unbelievable, magical. The water disappeared and left the boats shunken in the sand, stuck… unable too leave. It would only be years later that I’d understand that this had actually caused the British to lose a war in Zanzibar…
When I was in Diani, a guy approached me. He was an acrobat, I had seen them perform on the beach. He asked me if I needed entertainment. I said “no thanks”. Then he asked if I needed entertainment in my room. It took me some time to understand what he meant. I first thought of the guys coming to perform their acrobaties in my tiny room. Then, I understood what entertainment he meant. Had I not been young and good looking I would have probably understood quicker.
Usually these “services” are offered to middle-aged lonely ladies. Then, discussing with the people at the hotel I understood there was actually a big business going on with European women. Some adopted the guys and paid for their siblings studies. It was a kind of win-win situation they said.
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I had been told by several people that Lamu and Mount Kenya were the highlights of Kenya. There are so many highlights in Kenya that I was really wondering what Lamu would be like!
The problem is reaching… it’s located on the Northern Coast : there are three Lamus; Lamu town, Lamu the island itself and Lamu archipelago. It seems the most beautiful thing is apart from enjoying the atmosphere to navigate from one island to another and enjoy the nature around. In fact there are mangrove forests and the islands are surrounded by turquoise water. I didn’t do that myself, because it wasn’t what I would call a highlight: Diani for me is more of a highlight having a coral reef at 200 m from the shore!
When I arrived a guy took my suitcase and asked me what my hotel was and took me there; I had just landed… I had no time to breathe: people in Lamu assault the tourists that come especially in low season: they are hungry for clients. No tourist goes unnoticed in Lamu. The inhabitants greet you, ask you if you need or want something… They probably thing they are being nice by doing so but it produces a contrary effect in me: all I want to do is run home! And I become really unkind to whoever is trying to make a living, because after all, all they are doing is looking for clients.
There are no cars in Lamu: they use donkeys instead, and there are 2200 donkeys on the island. It’s a multicultural city: Indian, Arabian, Kenyan influences merge. It is what they call the Swahili culture. Like the rest of the coast it’s an Islamic territory.
In the evening the children jump into the water from the “main road” … a main road which reminded me of Pondy’s promenade. Their games include also are boxes which become cars, and even I saw them playing with a dead baby donkey which they threw into the sea they were swimming in again and again… Ok this is definitely a different culture I thought.
The streets are narrow, the houses and buildings are made of corals, and the sewerage runs through the streets itself. Yes it can seem relaxing in the sense that we are on an island where there are no cars. It could seem like a voyage in time … if only people didn’t assault every single tourist!
What I did enjoy in Lamu was my beautiful hotel : a Swahili house made of coral with a beautiful green patio in the centre, and I think it was the cutest I’ve ever experienced. Three windows and a bed like the one I dreamt of when I was a child. There is was really fun to do all the writing I had to do: calm and relaxing, just what I needed! Another thing was watching the tides: the difference is huge so huge that when some people attacked Lamu, they got stuck when they wanted to leave because there boats which they had left in the water were now stuck in firm land… and also the food: fresh snapper, fried bananas with honey and the amazing, truly amazing fruit juices that are as creamy as smoothies.
But I have said enough: as we say in France an example is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the video and get a sense of what it is like.
The variety of wonderful corals of Diani, Mombasa
For my birthday I decided to go and see my kins, the fish at the Coast. From Diani road in Nairobi to Diani beach…
On the way there amazing birds would dash like arrows in the sky and then land on the electricity lines. “What are they?” – ” I haven’t seen it….”
When another one passed by I showed him again. Again he hadn’t seen it. “Most of them are lilac rollers” said the driver casually. Of course I couldn’t take a picture of those winged beauties myself but here is a portrait of a lilac roller.
This is when I noticed how spoilt Kenyans are. They have these birds we have not even conceived in our brightest dreams and for them they are just ” Most of them“. They don’t even notice them just like we don’t even notice our fat pigeons in Luxembourg Gardens. His tone translated :” we have plenty of these things you don’t even dare to dream of, and we don’t even see them anymore, because we have so many of them!”
I had planned to go to the Kisite Marine park on the 24th, and that day it seems that all the dolphins of the park had decided to come and greet me! When I was a child I had put posters of dolphins and cheetahs on my walls. And here I was when all of them jumping around, like a symphony! The captain said they had four species of dolphin, but I don’t remember the names he mentioned.I had made a lovely film with my lifetime dream friends… but that very day my camera got stolen.
When we reached the diving spot….. Waoo! The corals and the fish dressed in pop art colours. Unbelievable ….Pink, blue, yellow, orange….. the brain corals, corals like a lion’s mane, corals like bushes, others looked like flowers…. I saw my first parrotfish ever. And I saw several of them! Angelfish…too…
On the way back, the captain said that, when the tide was low, the area we were going through was totally uncovered and that we could walk through four kilometers of sea . This was something like what Moses did! I was amazed! I couldn’t believe it: the water we were sailing on now, could actually be gone?? “It is a reef he said”.
I started imagining how it could look like with no water just algae and rocks… a few corals… I wished I could see that one day!
Guess what? A big surprise for me. The next day I went to Diani beach… my beach…the water had gone! The tide was so low and I saw what I had dreamt of seeing. 1 km of uncovered “sea floor”. Starfish had to be put back in the water or else they would die.
I held my first starfish: it’s actually as hard as bone but they can move and change shapes. How strange! Huge starfish, and so many sea urchin I had to avoid walking on…Salim the guy who had accompanied me, told me the starfish were eaten by the urchins.
“When you reach this point Salim said, you can snorkel”. But yet the water was so shallow that I was afraid of getting pinched by one of the urchins….
Less than 20 cm, it was really tight…. I tucked my tommy in…
And that’s how I saw my first rectangular fish ever.!
A tiny tiny yellow fish half the size of my little finger accompanied me all the way at the beginning. He was really with me. When I got tired, at the end of the first session….guess who appeared again!
Then I understood: the corals here were no coincidence. In Diani beach there is a coral barrier, and that’s why the waves broke at a certain point on the horizon. It was around 3 Km away from land. I had planned to reach by windsurf and snorkel from there to see the corals. I had thought I had to go to the Tanzania border to Kisite marine park, but what I wanted – the coral reef- was here already.
Again, just like earlier with the Moses experience, the stars had planned an even better surprise for me! I could snorkel now and enjoy the windsurfing hour just for windsurfing when the tide would come back.
When it did, the beach shrunk. Again, I couldn’t believe it was the same beach as earlier. No space left to lie down, when in the morning there were more than 30 meters of dry sand! Those tides were impressive indeed. In the afternoons the wind rose and it was so harsh, that I no longer found it nice to stay on the beach. In the morning it was as calm as a lake.
During my holiday in Diani, the full moon hang above the sea, twenty four hours a day.
PS: for all pictures except the lilac roller, and the parrot fish, I appear courtesy to Stilts Backpackers facebook page. Thanks Andy! https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Stilts-Backpackers/120956872812?fref=ts
Washini Island is a small island 7km long and 5 km large – yes dad, even smaller than Singapore and here there is no space for airplanes! – along the southern coast of Kenya. It was discovered 200 years ago by the Arab traders. Today it is home to two villages which include…. a football club! There are baobab trees, just like in Le Petit Prince which also takes place in Africa.
When I decided to go to Mombasa on Wednesday morning I had hesitated. only 4 days off, and 12 hours to reach that’s 24 hours for the return trip… and alone… But these were my only day of my only opportunity to see more than Nairobi. Of course when God gives me an iopportunity….
And such the beauty of life is that our efforts always pay off!. I didn’t know that 48 hours after making this decicion, one of my lifetime dreams would come true!
There are many reasons to make an excursion there
-1) first of all, you will be able to snorkel around the Kisite Marine Park which is believed to have the best diving spot in Kenya. Here no need to have completed a padi diving course, snorkeling is enough! Had I known this I would have taken my underwater camera, but I left it in Paris! Sorry no pictures, but just imagine a variety of colourful corals, resembling the human brain painted by a surrealistic painter, and that it! If you know the names of the fish: well parrot fish, angel fish, clown fish… to name a few, otherwise come over and see for yourself!
That was my lifetime dream number 1
2) Another dream came true! Seeing dolphins in their natural habitat! The guide on the boat started the excursion saying ” Dolphins are wild animals and we can’t guarantee 100% that you’ll see them but….”. Then I thought, well that’s gonna be tough, but if I think about them, I’ll see them for sure! “
And we did! we saw three dolphins diving in and out the waters! The people on the boat kept laughing they really spread happiness around those dolphins. Their “face” is really expressive it seems that they are smiling!
3) The water is really clean just like in everyone’s dreams!
On the island itself ” A coral island the guide said” there are some limestone rocks sprouting out the land.
They are in fact, it’s clear to see, the same corals, but this time dead ones….from a time the island was submerged: the sea has retroceded millions of years ago, and the corals remain there as unaltered sculptures.
The fisherladies catch some crabs in the salty mangrove waters.
I would like to turn back time and be the Eva before seeing that so that I can get this mesmerizing sense of surprise!
You can have a look at this video and see Kenya’s coast through my eyes ( or at least my camera….!)
I had heard about Mombasa for the first time in to the movie Out of Africa: Robert Redford gets his airplane there.
Also my colleagues said to me that in Mombasa, the drivers would see something they like in the market and stop the car in the middle of the road to bargain. And if you tell them something they will reply ” If you are in such a hurry you should have come yesterday!”
I had decided to go to Mombasa even before coming to Kenya but had I known how many vehicles I would have to take I would have probably been too worried with my poor sense of orientation to carry on with my project.
However it seems I was transported there by magic.
These are the many vehicles I had to take to cross the 550 separating Nairobi from the coast
-1 matatu from home to town
-1 matatu from where the bus dropped me to the ferry ( oh yeah cause there’s a ferry)
-1 ferry to cross the sea
-1 matatu to the beach area
-another matatu to the actual beach
But my sweet colleague took me to the place where I could by the fare, then he brought me home, picked me up again and took me to the bus station… because it was night time and dangerous…. in the morning I woke up in Mombasa. The locals helped me and directed me, and magically I reached!