Star Date:  October 2009
Kenya:  The coast::  Lamu to Mombassa


Hello Dear Family & Friends!


Soba!  Eba!

 (Hello! I'm good. Masai tribe; only 40 more tribal dialects to go in Kenya!) 







"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
(Leo Buscaglia - Former professor at U.C.L.A )


Bandits!  Every matatu north has 1 or 2 armed soldiers for protection but it seems that the Somalian bandits have moved further south and are getting more brazen.  Six people were recently killed when their bus was ambushed by these nasty guys.  The war raging in their country has pushed them south to pillage in neighboring Kenya.  It is always important to check conditions before heading into troubled regions.  Earlier we had a quick change of plans when we met a man who had been in hospital for a week.  His matatu had been attacked and robbed by Somalian bandits on the roads 100 miles north of Isiolo.    Speeding along the dusty road south back towards the safer green slopes of Mt. Kenya and on towards the coast, Joseph's suitcase met with an unfortunate end as it went flying off the top of the matatu, bouncing behind us in a cloud of dust.  The usual "Sorry" was uttered but his dear companion of 4 years had to be replaced.  No longer able to 'roll along' we would have been excommunicated from our tribe.  We wonder if the warranty would have covered that?

On the bus the sidekick was wearing a t-shirt stating: Fact - Ninjas Hate Pirates - sponsored by the World Association of Ninjas Against Pirates.  Bandits by land, Pirates by sea these Somalian outlaws have effectively struck terror into the hearts of  their neighbors and certainly the close to 400 international ships they have attacked in the last year.  Now requiring armed military ships as escorts for a high price (sounds fishy), many shipping lines have chosen to instead go around South Africa to avoid the rat infested water altogether.  As the deserts creep south due to mismanagement of the land and overpopulation, we can expect territorial wars over more fertile lands to the south.  We observed this happening as we made our way up the Kenyan coast.  Desperate Somalian herders drive their herds into neighboring Kenya; a place barely able to support their own cattle and land.  Pandora's box is about to spring open.

Finally reaching the tiny island of Lamu up near the Somalian border we soon realized we had found a place like few remaining on earth.  A safe little harbor hiding a window into Swahili life in times gone by.  Reached by dhow or wooden sailing boat there are no noisy vehicles here, aside from one small 3 wheeled ambulance which we witnessed being pushed along the sand road.  'Everyone is already where they want to be' and we decided to follow suit.  Mainly Swahili Muslims with Arabic roots, call to prayer rings out 5 times a day with the small donkeys, the only transportation available on the island, braying in time.  Most town women walk around completely covered in heavy black robes and head covers 'buri buris', while the men enjoy cooler white cotton outfits and fez hats.  Muslim women from the fishing villages often cover just their heads with colorful scarves and unwrapped Christian women walk around cool and smiling as they enjoy the sea breezes.  Everyone gathers in the town square under the shade of the banyan tree or along the waterfront drinking coconuts or quietly visiting. 

"Esalamu eleikum" (peace be with you) is always pleasantly returned with "Eleikum esalamu."  Taught to recite, "Hello.  How are you?  I am fine," in class at primary school, a cheery "Hello" is often rebounded with "Fine", by those who don't remember any English.  Whatever the response the warmth with which it is expressed is contagious in this friendly Muslim corner of the world. Narrow alleyways or stone footpaths create a maze of whitewashed buildings dotted with small mosques, stalls or markets.  Completely safe and friendly we definitely will return here someday.  Safe that is except for the punk donkey drivers who hit me one afternoon as I stepped out of a door way, sending me spinning.  With the traditional "Sorry" yelled in their wake, off these delinquents sped.  "What's becoming of the young people nowadays?" (as per Socrates 399 B.C.)  Evenings with the full moon rising over the ocean were magic.  Until we return, 'Lala Salama' peaceful dreams!

A young Masai moran we made friends with in Lamu told us he had built up a cattle herd to fifty head and had finally begun looking for a wife.  Within the last 6 months all but 2 of his cows had died of dehydration.  He was devastated.   Everything he had been taught and raised to do literally had vanished with the dust.  He cut his long braids off but still dressed in the traditional red plaid wrap and carrying a club, he traveled to the coast in search of employment.  He has convinced his fellow moran that tribal traditions must change.  Changes forced by overpopulation and the ensuing drought.  These modern thinking young Masai are discussing having less children and sending those children, for the first time, to school.  They realize the value of education to adapt to the new lifestyle they are being forced into.  As one Masai said, " I want my sons to grow up side by side with the Nature.  That way, there will be a link between my ancestors, me and the future."  Disconnecting from Nature has broken this link across the planet.  Our future hangs by a thread.  The only thing constant in life is change and the time for change is now.

Loaded with a large bag of fresh vegetables from the market we were wandering the waterfront in search of a place to cook and stumbled on Juliana, Dama and Stellah.  Cooking over the coals together for 2 weeks we had a ball.  Changing the 'blah blah' news or politicians blabbing on the radio to a lively station blasting traditional African music we would dance a couple of songs before the food preparations began.  As we exchanged dance moves, I was lovingly nicknamed 'hakuna matako' no butt.  I had the rhythm and energy to keep up but lacked the proper 'back porch' to pull it off in true African style.  No worries; fun is fun.  Just a bunch of women, irrespective of race or nationality, sharing life around the cooking fire.  We exchanged photos, life stories of abusive husbands and spousal deaths, the joys of motherhood, and always ended on a positive note, thanking God for what little they had.  We paid for charcoal but were never asked for money. 

When the dust had settled in the kitchen, Joseph and I would eat out in front of Juliana's house, along the waterfront, soaking in the ocean breezes and watching life unfold in this sleepy little fishing village.  The day before we left I told the 'girls' to get dressed up, "We were going out for a drink."  Dressed in beautiful colors and bright scarves we promenaded down the waterfront to one of the nicer 'Muzungu' restaurants and ordered fruit shakes.  Sitting on the inside looking out, they had walked by these tourist establishments hundreds of times but never ventured into their world.  They were thrilled and we spent a couple of hours relaxing together as someone else served us for a change, something only women understand.  By the time we left Lamu we had forged friendships with some wonderful souls: these 3 beautiful Mamas, vegetable sellers in the market who threw in extra produce, gentle "Rasta Modi", the little dumpling chef "Ali Hippie", teachers at the schools receiving Joseph's library, April from Boulder, Colorado via Spain and last but certainly not least, "Marcus the Welsh Viking ", honorary member of the 'rollalong tribe'.  Sad to go we had a crowd of well wishers bidding us adieu on the dock amid hugs and great fanfare.  Either they came to say goodbye or they wanted to make sure we left the island!

Welcomed with open arms we stayed with another good new friend, Rajesh, in his 8th floor penthouse apartment in Mombassa, on our way to Tanzania.  Randomly striking up a conversation at Chetna Indian Restaurant on our previous visit we were invited back and spent a week together sitting by the ocean having coconuts and cassava chips, sampling much craved for Indian food, walking through Old Town, relaxing on Tiwi Beach with 'blue-balled' monkeys and colorful hornbills, teaching his housekeeper, Grace, how to cook international dishes to add to her delicious African mokimo and ndengu, and watching new movies next door with cordial David and Delphina.  One year earlier and thousands of miles away we had celebrated Dewali, Hindu New Years in remote Gujarat, India; in Bhuj, in the Great Raan of Kutch with Rajesh's Auntie.  By no coincidence we celebrated once again amid grand fireworks displays exploding right outside our 8th floor balcony!  We never know what is around the corner.  Isn't Life Grand and Full of Surprises?  Enjoy it Right Now!       




And so it goes.........................................Next month south to bordering Tanzania.  Spread your smiles, love, kindness, and light to those around you.  You never know who you will help in the process.  It changes lives, including our own.  Glad you stopped by.  Thanks for keeping in touch!   Take care.




Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph





Travel notes:

$1.00US = 79 Kenya Shillings

Rajesh's apartment is the best place in town but you have to find it yourself.
Many hotels are very noisy downtown.  Joseph found the small Josleejim Hotel, Duruma Road, basic but secure, 800s, room #201 is a bright corner room.  Many rooms don't have an electrical outlet that works.  Near the New Chetna Indian Restaurant, Haile Selassie Rd. (all you can eat buffet from 12-2 ,tasty selection, 280s per plate)

Check out Peter's beadwork collection at African Village Art at the entrance to Old town near Fort Jesus.  Sat with him and his lady stringing necklaces and earrings.

Watch the movies: "A Good Year" or the Indian Bollywood hit, "Lagaan" for impressive cinematography and an enjoyable evening.  Great choices, David. 

Shela Beach: 
on Lamu Island is now mainly full of more expensive hotels BACK from the water, construction zones & 'muzungus' (foreigners).  Walk the 45 minutes at low tide from Lamu Town and catch a boat back (last one 5-6pm, 100s shared boat).  Expensive iconic Peponi Hotel is a great place to have a drink on the water.  The beach and dunes are interesting for a day but Lamu Town is the place to soak up culture.  Check it out before going out there to stay.

Bahari Hotel, one block back from the ocean there are ocean view rooms for 1500s or back rooms for 900s (bargain)-1000s.   We chose # 14 in the back corner for a feeling of village life.  Clean place with authentic Swahili 4 poster beds, but some rooms are in need of repair.  Great rooftop overlooking the ocean. phone #042 4633172 to the right of the jetty.  Everyone knows where it is.  Walk along the waterfront and check for other places with rooftops, such as Casuarinas, overlooking the water.

Just spend time getting lost in the maze of alleyways.  The museum, Swahili house, German PO are expensive to enter and if you explore you will see buildings and artifacts everywhere in Lamu Town.  When entering the Fort just say you are going to the library (up the stairs to your right at the top.)  Hang around for 5 minutes, then notice the photos on the walls outside and you have just seen the whole place for FREE and saved $7 or 500s.

Tailor:  Steven Mganga phone #0711886806 made yet another duplicate of our handy 'Buddha' bags.  First monk bag was purchased in Lhasa, second made in Katmandu and now Lamu.

Check out Namibia's Ogres Beads Shop for some interesting, flashy beads.  Follow the signs that lead you through the alleys like a treasure hunt.

For an interesting read and fun pics go to our friend's, Marcus, blog about his year long trip overland from South Africa to the UK.  He took the photo of pushing the ambulance on Lamu and the donkey smiling as we walked the island together.   What a hoot!

Don't come here for a beach holiday unless you want to pay dearly for it.
Digamma Hotel along the beach road.  Helpful Caroline and the owner make your stay enjoyable.  Good vet curry.  Aside from staying in the more expensive places further down the beach, this is as close to the ocean as you get.  Room #10 has a scenic partial ocean view and whistling wind to keep mosquitoes away. (800s-1000s).  Enjoy walking the beach and the pier but don't try getting around the Vasco da Gama monument (1560's) by climbing up the rocks.  Supposedly they charge a fee to sit on the benches on this headland and as soon as they discover you, try to collect money.  Actually it should be public access and as they dialed the tourist police we disappeared over the rocks on the other side yelling  "Catch us if you can!"  Use common sense and be careful walking the beaches near sunset and after dark.

Great mokimo and gather beans in a hut next to the main market downtown (60s) - just ask.


Tiwi Beach:
 (15 km south of Mombassa) :  She/he Resort - expensive but a great place to have a coconut in the shade and feed peanuts to the gentle blue- balled monkeys.


Diane Beach:
A couple we met highly recommended the Diane House, (1500s off season more than 4 days), for a quiet, fancy place on the beach with superb service.  20km south of Mombassa via the ferry by matatu, then another matatu from the junction to the beach.  Busy beach but you can hide away in your private beach area. 
















Lamu beckons as you arrive by sea.


The only form of transportation on the island.


Sailing from Arabia centuries ago these wooden dhow fishing boats
are still in use here to this day.


Relax. Come sit a spell under the shade of the trees in the town
square, next to the old fort.


The alleyway below our window always had something
going on.

Lovely Lamu Town.


Melding of the cultures.


We shared ideas with these men outside the Masai market on the way to
Shela Beach.  Many are employed as security guards in town.  We
talked with them regularly over the next 2 weeks and got a better  understanding of the Masai culture and the changes they are facing.

Laotian Kayak, Masai moran, talking with us at Shelah Beach. His
bright wraps and jewelry were striking against the azure blue sky.

No, all Kenyans, Chinese, Whites or Masais don't look alike. 
the jewelry in his long ears we noticed that he in
fact looked like the scientist actor in "Independence Day"


My fun friends Stellah, Juliana and Dama, in front of their house.
We had many good times together dancing and cooking.


Emergency service!  The only vehicle on Lamu Island.


Thousands of enormous, unique baobabs dot the countryside amongst
villages and crops; along the road from Lamu to Mombassa.


Giant herds of bony Somalian cattle line the roads in search of food.
Driven south by drought and war it is just a matter of time before
territorial disputes erupt.


Mombassa's Fort Jesus, was built by the Portuguese from coral
blocks, in 1593.


Spending the day at the beach with our good friend, Rajesh.


From the slopes of Mount Kenya, this was the first time this young
family had seen the ocean.  They splashed and played for hours.

Don't know why they call these guys the 'blue-balled' monkeys? 
Well mannered, these monkeys at Tiwi Beach would politely wait
for you to give them a peanut, then gently taking it from your fingers.


BELOW are a few of the interesting sights we've seen along the
 roads of Kenya, besides wildlife that is...


Local treats are sold outside the buses at every stop.  These women
were selling carved garlic 'ponders', ground nuts (peanuts), roasted corn,
and camel's milk.


All deceased Kenyans want to be taken home to their village to be
buried.  This deluxe coach carries two coffins and all the mourners
in luxury.


Trading one tribe for another.  Tribalism rules Kenya.  Often dressed in
self created costumes, competition and rivalry is fierce as thousands of
new churches spring up all over Africa.  Come join us, and don't forget
your wallet!


Many tribes balance heavy loads on their heads with great ease.


The ultimate bag lady.  Why carry your bags when you can wear them?


The only 'taxis' in many small towns.


Need to make a call?  With the exploding popularity of cell phones in Africa,
 phones booths using land lines are a thing of the past.





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