Horizon at Sandy Point

Friday, October 12, 2012

Timeless Lamu

By Sunday morning (October 17, 1982) we were on the road again, to Mombasa. There was open highway all the way, but we had to look out for animals crossing out of nowhere.  We arrived in Mombasa at 4pm. Stopped first at Castle Hotel for beers, then tried to get a room at Nyali Beach. We got one at the Neptune Beach Hotel. Resort strips are the same everywhere: swimming pools yards away from the ocean; and luxury offered in quiet darkened spacious rooms. Slipping into calm smooth water - no waves coarse coral pebbles - I thought to myself, so this is the Indian Ocean.

On Monday, we were shopping in Mombasa - caftans and kitenges, baskets and carved ebony. Then we headed further up the coast to Malindi getting lost on the way to Petra's. Dinner at the Driftwood club was very good. It rained all night. We drifted around with Petra until it was time for Cooper's Skybird Charter - a seven-seater cherokee single engine plane - to Lamu, flying over Kenya's drowned east coast. It was still raining when we landed on Lamu, looking for a room.

Days of rain inundated the deltas of Kenya's east coast

At Petra's house in Malindi, north of Mombasa.
Settled by Portuguese, it was  in the 80s attracting lots of Italians

We walked through the town and found bed and breakfast lodging at a private house owned by Mahrus.  We never met the owner and breakfast seemed to be served by invisible hands. We were up on the third level of an Islamic home, with a large sitting room, a double bed covered in a heavy red chenille spread, and a bathroom that was open to the sky. We would be comfortable for two nights. The narrow streets were defined by high walls and heavy wooden doors. The only traffic was on foot or donkey.
Our quarters at Mahrus's house

Peponi's hotel founded in 1967, still run by the same family to today

For dinner, Ranji decided we would walk to the end of the island to the famous Peponi's hotel restaurant. It was a long but relaxing stroll but the sun dropped suddenly as it does in the tropics. No wonder we say, night falls. We'd get a boat to bring us back I was assured. Much later, there were no boats. There was no moon - Divali was a couple nights away - so we held each other and stumbled over the boat ropes dangling above the falling tide, laughing almost falling every few steps loving the pitch darkness that cocooned our silliness.

Night walk along the shorefront at low tide is a different prospect from the day

These sails are distinctive in the east African coastal trade
No vehicles on the island, but many boats like this one

Pleasing promenade on the Lamu waterfront

The next day was sunny enough to think about going to the beach, by boat to the resort called Ras Kitau on the island of Manda, across the strait from Lamu. Looking at websites for these locations 30 years later, not much seems to have changed. Time must run slower when you are travelling by dhow or donkey!

At Ras Kitau, you can put flowers in your hair!

In all, we spent no more than ten days in Kenya. My regret is that I didn't find out more about where we were going, what else was there, the history of the place. All of which I have looked for, in the intervening years, in movies like Out of Africa (the story of Isak Dineson and Denys Finch-Hatton) or The Constant Gardener or The Ghost and the Darkness (about two man-eating Tsavo lions) and I Dreamed of Africa.

I cannot say that I have the feel of that country, just some random photographs and scribblings that bring a wash of feelings across these many years.

Sand dunes on Lamu
(All photos were taken in 1982)

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