Lamu from a boatLiz and me in a boat taxi
Since becoming parents, I have done many an overnight with the kids without Rodgers. I have spent some nights away from the kids, with Rodgers. But I have never left them with him overnight. It's not that I didn't want to, I just had no reason to - nowhere to go without them. Until...

My friend said she wanted to take me to Lamu, where she grew up, and we actually put it on the calendar and started planning it. And did it! My very first ladies' getaway for 4 days and 3 nights, and it was everything I dreamed it would be. The boys called me at least twice a day, and Rodgers and I texted pictures back and forth to each other. I did miss them, but the break was extremely welcome!

boatsdonkeys hauling sand from the Indian Ocean side of the
island to a construction site in town

We took a bus. It takes about 7 hours from Kilifi. The road is not paved the whole way, but actually the unpaved part of the road is smoother than some of the "paved" part! The bus takes you all the way to Mokowe. Then, you hop on a boat to cross to Lamu Island.

Lamu's biggest industry has been tourism, but recently, that industry has been suffering tremendously. Until two weeks ago, they had been under a 6 pm curfew enforcement. No one wants to go on vacation and be stuck in their hotel room for the night starting at 6 pm. The curfew has now been pushed back to 10 pm.

empty mkokoteni on the seaside roadaround 4 o'clock every day, they roll out the mats and play bao

Everyone told me how happy they were to see a tourist in Lamu again. Restaurants have only been keeping the basics stocked so that they don't waste money on ingredients that won't be used. Artisans are selling other things in their shops because there aren't any tourists to buy souvenirs. The economy is really suffering from the lack of tourists. We did our part to stimulate the economy: stayed in a hotel, ate in restaurants, shopped, went to the museum, used boat taxis, and shopped some more.

Lamu is famous for having no cars on the island. The only way to get to the island is by boat. There are no bridges. There is only one road that can accommodate a car, anyway (we saw 2 cars and a tractor using it). The other streets are narrow corridors between buildings. This trait, probably more than anything else, has caused ancient culture to be preserved. They say Mombasa and Zanzibar started much like Lamu, but because they've made way for roads and cars, much of the old culture of the town is lost. Walking the streets of Lamu today is not much different than walking the streets of Lamu 400 years ago. The main differences being that now there are power lines overhead and everyone carries a cell phone. Also, within the main part of town, all of the streets are paved and there is a drainage system in place.

This one's actually not so narrow.

The main method for getting around town is walking. If you have a load, there are mkokotenis (the cart in the picture above), but they don't navigate the streets quite as smoothly as the donkeys. Lamu claims the highest number of donkeys per capita in the world. They use them to transport loads of sand or whatever else they need carried, including themselves! It's not uncommon to see donkeys roaming around unattended when they are off-duty.

off-duty donkeysdonkeys bringing the sand through town
The street wasn't wide enough for us and them, so we hopped
up on someone's front stoop. They all have benches outside
their front doors, where they sit in the evenings.

There are 3 cities on the island, all along the coast. The center of the island is orchards of mangoes and coconuts. You might be able to walk through the orchards to get from one town to the next, but why do that when you can get a boat taxi? This is the fastest mode of transport on the island. My friend's parents live on the outskirts of town, and we were staying in a hotel right in the middle of town. We walked to and from a couple of times, but it is far. Our last visit with them, we were so tired when we left, we just walked to the beach and got a boat taxi to take us back to town center. Much better!

our captain for the time we stayed
We called him any time we needed a ride.

My cultural experiences included: labania (a sort of cardamom praline made in Witu, on the road to Lamu), kahawa tamu (local spiced coffee that has more sugar than coffee in it) mixed with kahawa tungu (unsweetened local coffee, which they didn't think I could handle, but which I had the following day without the tamu mixed in because good gracious! the sugar!), and henna. Also we walked all over town one day, with a guide who pointed out some of the old architectural traits like door carvings and coral facades. He took us to some of the historic homes that have been converted to guest houses and past an old, but still-functioning water well (the kind you draw with a bucket, rope, and pulley).

henna in progressposing in the street/corridor

Rodgers is a little jealous because this is part of his own country he has never visited. I have an invitation from our friend's parents to bring my family to visit them. The dad actually asked me to bring my family for Christmas this year, which is not possible. Maybe we can try for a family visit to Lamu next year.


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