For most Westerners, any mention of Kenya as a tourist destination will spark images of safaris. But for those who know of Lamu, Kenya is a very different place. A small island off the Kenyan coast, Lamu contains a quaint old town and miles of deserted beaches that have enchanted many a traveler. In this article, Sophie Lam writes of her own captivating experience on Lamu.
Omar beckoned with a sweep of his arm: “Come, come!” And with that he disappeared around a corner and out of sight again. I trailed him as quickly as I could, but he had vanished. Left or right? The tangled alleyways of Lamu Town served only to confuse and disorient me. The town had looked as small as its transport inventory implies (one car, one donkey ambulance, no roads) when our boat pulled up at the docking jetty of the island’s main port that morning. Yet, like a hall of mirrors, once I ventured into the web of passages it seemed to expand with every corner I turned.
As I stopped to compose myself in an airless alley, my guide Omar’s beaming face reappeared and we continued on our way, deep into the heart of the town. Some passages were barely wide enough for overtaking people; add the town’s itinerant donkeys to the equation and you can imagine the tailbacks. On either side of us, thick-walled, lime-plastered houses soared towards a ribbon of blue sky above. These 600-year-old coral stone buildings form East Africa’s oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement, now part of the Unesco-recognised maze.
Like the shell of a pearl oyster, the rough but resilient exteriors conceal beautifully ornate interiors. A step beyond a wooden door might lead you through to a sun-drenched inner courtyard, hung with jasmine and frangipani, or splashed with tropical fronds.