At Home on Lamu Island

lamu honeymoonAfrica is one of the most raw and wild places on earth and with that comes a horrible internet connection. After 100 days exploring the continent, we had fallen behind on so many blogs and emails it was time to just find a quiet, beautiful place to catch up…enter Lamu Island. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean and built on coral rock, this 14th-century Swahili village is a world unto itself. Narrow winding streets, crumbling spice trade mansions, bustling markets, coconut groves, and not a car to be found…Lamu was our muse and refuge for one unforgettable week.

 

lamu dhow cargo shipSimilar to Ibo Island, everything from cargo to travelers, arrives on Lamu by traditional dhow boats. There aren’t too many tourists that come to Lamu so when a boat docks, the chief tourist officer Zewa comes to greet new guests like us.

 

Lamu Island home rentalZewa offered to show us a few hotels but we knew we needed a home for our extended stay, something with a kitchen, ocean view, and WiFi. He guided us through the maze of streets, as our mouths hung agape peering into gorgeous 18th-century homes and down bougainvillea-covered alleyways, catching glimpses of Swahili life.

 

lamu kenya donkeyAside from the town’s stunning architecture and devoutly Muslim community, the donkeys are one of the most striking things about Lamu. Instead of cars or trucks for transport, Lamu’s 3,000+ donkeys troll the narrow streets serving as taxis, lawnmowers, garbage disposals, shopping carts, to brick haulers. After waiting out a few mule traffic jams and visiting a few obligatory hotels, Zewa led us to our dream home: Wildebeest Apartments.

 

Wildebeast apartments in Lamu KenyaOriginally built in the 17th-century, this four-story home was converted into apartments for artists in residence. Owner and textile designer Jony Waite was out of town so we got to rent her personal creative space. Filled with paintings, bespoke furniture, vintage books, and fabrics made by the Waite herself, this place had the most incredible energy about it–much less a charming kitchen and balcony with panoramic views.

 


For a glimpse into our Lamu home, take our video tour.

 

Local market in Lamu KenyaEach day we would walk to the produce and fish markets to peruse the day’s offerings and brainstorm recipes. Living on the road without a fridge or stove, we rarely get the chance to cook so this was our chance to get culinary again.

 

Mike using the mbuzi to shred coconut Lamu Kenya
rice is a Lamu staple so we thought we would give it a whirl. Little did we know it requires a coconut grater the size of an ottoman with a huge wooden arm tipped with a 5 inch saw tooth blade. Thankfully, the Wildebeest house manager Kahindi was there to save the day with his own personal “mbuzi.” Together we made fresh coconut rice and red snapper with mango avocado salsa.

 

Drum circle full moon party Lamu KenyaAfter a few days of cranking out blogs it was time to see a little nightlife. Each full moon, the locals organize a jam session on a neighboring Manda Island. We hopped on one of the departing dhow boats and watched the moon-rise over the ocean and then drummed Marley songs until a few hours before the sun came up.

 

Shela beach, Lamu Island KenyaTo continue our island exploration, we took a 30 minute low-tide stroll to Shella Beach. The town was formed about 190 years ago when numerous tsunamis forced the residents from the nearby Manda Island to search for higher ground. In recent years, it has become a chic spot for tourists looking to splash out on the northern Kenyan coast.

 

Ali Hippie in Lamu KenyaFor our final night in town, we went for a special meal at Ali Hippie’s house. This guy and his family have been hosting travelers for dinner and original Lamu Reggae music for over 30 years. Eating crab curry in his living room and jamming with the family, beat any restaurant experience we could have had.

 

Though we got the chance to go the Lamu museum and take an official tour of town, we loved learning about this village by just joining the daily hustle and bustle. Lamu is special place and one we were proud to call home, even if only for little while.

  • Please tell me there is a cook book coming!!

    • lol. probably not unless the cookbook’s called “100 ways with Peanut Butter” but if you want the coconut rice recipe i think it could also be done with a strong grapefruit spoon (assuming you don’t have an mbuzi laying around ; )

  • Eleanor Prior

    I love this! I get to see the world through your eyes. Just beautiful.

  • Lee Rider

    Very cool. You guys are still going strong!

  • This place looks so amazing, guys! I love that apartment. I’m going to have to steal some interior decorating tips from it. What a great place to catch up on work.

    • We were in heaven! I didn’t even explain the fact that one side was completely open with an amazing bougainvillea bush acting as a sun shade. The wind would blow and pink petals would flutter in. Magical!

  • Amy Scudese (Mom Pat’s friend)

    That’s a truly amazing place you got to live in! How do you score these places?!! 🙂 Fantastic pictures, is that a fort? and are those shoes?…Thanks for sharing the adventure….

    • Amy….first off THANK you for the comment, it makes our day. we scored that place by walking off the ferry and seeing who looked reputable that might have a room for the night. a guy walked us around, we saw about 5 places, and this one blew our socks off….it is all about not booking online and getting to a place and finding a room. to be honest we book in advance less than 3% of the nights we go to a place, and those are only when we will arrive in a big city late in the day.

      thanks for being along for the adventure. and happy new years.

    • This one was a bit of luck but whenever we can finagle in an apartment we take it! Re: the fort, yes but it was actually a prison first. And I love that you knew those strapless wooden planks were shoes!

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