We spent quite a bit of time in this lovely country, crossing the border from Tanzania and driving directly to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. In Nairobi, we visited the Langata Giraffe Center which is one of the only places in the world where Rothschild giraffes thrive. It would have been inexcusable to miss the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant and rhinoceros sanctuary, so that was next on our Nairobi itinerary, and the next day we escaped the capital for Lake Naivasha where some members of our group visited Elsamere Conservation Center (of “Born Free” fame with Joy and George Adamson). From Lake Naivasha, we headed over to the Lake Nakuru National Park, which was an unexpected highlight of Kenya. We were amazed to see over a dozen rhinos, eland (the largest antelope in Africa), countless flamingoes and pelicans and a leopard lounging in a tree. We left Kenya for a quick getaway to Uganda and Rwanda, and on our return trip, had a long bus ride from Nairobi to Mombasa, where we checked out Fort Jesus, the “Mombasa Tusks”, and the Old Town. From Mombasa, we caught a bus up north to Mokowe where we hopped on a boat to the picturesque isle of Lamu, which proved to be our paradise for a few days. It is an amazing island and will always have a special place in our hearts when we recollect our travels across Africa. After Lamu, we flew back to Nairobi and onward to Ethiopia, thus rounding out our visit to one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations.
15 Jun: Since we had some leftover Shillings, we converted 83,200 Tanzanian Shillings into Kenyan Shillings, and bought some warm samosas to snack on at the border. Lunch was an hour into Kenya along the roadside, and cook group put together a nice lunch (tuna, guacamole, coleslaw). Chris should have warned those of us with tiny bladders that we would have to wait forever to use the bathroom again as the traffic trying to enter Nairobi was gridlocked, and it took us quite a long while to enter the city. Our destination was a town called Karen, and we pulled over at a shopping mall complex (Karen Shopping Center) for the next two cook groups to go shopping. Becky was able to withdraw some money from an ATM machine before heading into the supermarket to do a bit of shopping for lunch stuff tomorrow. Our campsite was nearby at Karen Camp, where five other overland trucks were parked up. Since Robby had cook group duty tonight, Becky set up the tent and put the fly on as the weather looked dodgy and everyone suspected it would be a rainy night. Dinner of hot dogs with onions and bread was simple and tasty, and it was on a sad note that we all bid farewell to Scott Draper, who was leaving us here in Nairobi. Bye Scott! It was a pleasure knowing you and best of luck with your onward travels. We spent some time after dinner configuring Becky’s new laptop, getting all the applications installed. A small group started celebrating FDNCTP (first day new country truck party) in the garden of the campsite, but we resisted and got a lot of work done.
16 Jun: After a quick breakfast of toast (with real jam) and cup of soup, we were on the road by 9am to visit the Langata Giraffe Center (700 Kenyan Shillings). This is one of the few places in the world where Rothschild giraffes can be seen (the Rothschild giraffes have “white socks” on their legs) and there are about 300 of these types of giraffes in Kenya. We were given pellets to feed the giraffes and everyone had the opportunity to get a kiss (by feeding the giraffes with our mouths). What a trip! Not only was it a slimy and sand-papery experience, but the giraffes had super long tongues that smothered our faces, making everyone grimace and laugh. We only had an hour here at the center, and received an excellent briefing by one of the guides on giraffe factoids (a baby giraffe is born standing at six feet tall and within an hour of its birth, is sprinting around furiously, all giraffes sleep with their neck upright and get only 30 minutes of sleep per day, their eyes are open when they sleep, giraffes develop cataracts and go blind by the age of 30, hence making themselves easy prey for lions). It was a fascinating hour and everyone walked away thrilled with the experience of having been kissed by a giraffe. Our next stop was at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant and rhinoceros sanctuary, which is only open daily from 11 am – 12 pm. The parking lot was packed with visitors and hundreds of school kids, and we paid the mandatory donation (500 Shillings) and were given a briefing on the orphaned elephants. Each baby elephant had its own story, with the majority of the elephants severely traumatized either because of witnessing their family wiped out by poachers or from being hunted by lions. Baby elephants are absolutely adorable, and one of them was super keen on playing with the soccer ball. The babies favorite moment came when it was feeding time, and the elephants consumed a whopping amount of milk in no time at all (they drink about 30 liters of milk per day). The center also housed an abandoned rhino (blinded at birth and rejected by its mother) named Maxwell, and he chilled while resting in his pen. It was a great morning, and we were quite glad that we visited both animal sanctuaries.
Chris pulled into a nearby shopping mall, the Nakumatt Galleria to fill up on gas, so we decided to get off the truck and do a bit of internet research and shopping. After checking out the mall, we ended up hanging out at the Art Café where for a couple of drinks, we had the entire afternoon to spend with a decent wireless connection for us to do our work. Becky’s new computer received the latest Microsoft updates and we worked on our resumes for job hunting. By 6 pm, our tasks were complete so we attempted to catch local transport, a matatu, back towards Karen Camp. However, the driver misunderstood us and thought we wanted to be dropped off at the Karen Country Club. Once we realized his mistake almost 35 minutes later, we laughed and got out of the matatu and figured we’d take our chances with the country club security guards. Unfortunately for us, the locals had never heard of Karen Camp, so a taxi was hailed for us. Once our smiling taxi driver, Steve, picked us up, he jokingly pointed out that we were actually super close to Karen Camp, which was opposite the country club about a kilometer down Marula Road. It was actually frustrating to realize how close we had come to taking local transport all the way home from the mall, but at least the trip wasn’t too expensive. Since it was well after 8 pm when we arrived back to the campsite, we grabbed the plates that had been set aside for us (beef with sudza) and quickly ate dinner. Chris had put out word that we would be leaving at 9 am tomorrow morning, so we all had a bit of a lie in. The weather at night was freezing, and when we finally went to bed, it took a while for us to warm up within our sleeping bags.
17 Jun: Goodbye Nairobi! After breakfast, we were on the road towards Lake Naivasha and had to stop at a nearby shopping mall so that cook group could go shopping. Once Dowelly announced that there was free wifi, we sat on the truck and checked bus schedules from Kampala to Mombasa, deciding to purchase the tickets when we arrived in Kampala in a few day’s time. At the mall, we were able to withdraw ATM funds and buy cheap malaria pills (100 pills for 500 Shillings) before we pulled out and drove a further 90 minutes towards Lake Naivasha. There was a photo stop to admire the Great Rift Valley and it seemed as if everyone bought a Maasai blanket (priced at 750 Shillings but Luke was able to bargain his down to 550 Shillings). Once near Lake Naivasha, we pulled into the Fisherman’s Camp, which is on the southern shore of Lake Naivasha. The campsite is slightly notorious for an incident that occurred around 2004 when a girl from a Kamuka truck decided to hop over the electrical fence at dusk. She was immediately chomped in half and killed by an angry mother hippopotamus trying to protect her baby. The camp site was spacious and full of trees, although admittedly many of the trees had fallen and signs were posted everywhere stating that “trees can and will fall at any time”. We set up our tent hoping that luck was with us and trees wouldn’t fall anywhere near us and headed over to the truck for lunch, which was a rice meal. A group decided to take the optional excursion over to the Elsamere Conservation Center (of “Born Free” fame with Joy and George Adamson) where an afternoon tea was on offer. Even though Becky was currently reading “Born Free”, the excursion didn’t really appeal to us as supposedly the main highlight were the snacks on offer, so we decided to skip it and hang out at Fishermen’s Camp instead. Robby found a power point and spent time working on the website while Becky read her book and snoozed. By midafternoon, everyone was back and raving about how stuffed they were from the snacks. We hung out at the bar area chatting with Lydia, Gin, Luke, Ally, and Laura until dinner was called. Cook group 4 (Sean, Fi, Lisa, and Mel). They made an incredible meal of mango chicken, which was delicious and plentiful. We ate until we were stuffed (and got seconds since the majority of folks were still stuffed on the snacks from Elsamere). It was a cool night and the sound of hippos grunting would wake us at random intervals.
18 Jun: About a third of the group went to Crater Lake for a morning excursion but we took advantage of the free morning to sleep in, waking up for breakfast at 8:30 am. Afterwards, power was back on at the bar so we headed over there to charge our laptops and work on the website. Becky snuck off to take advantage of the hot water to have a shower, and by noon, lunch was ready. We had to hurriedly tear down our tent after lunch and by 1 pm, were on the road towards Nakuru National Park, our next destination. En route, we had to stop briefly for cook group shopping and the filling up of jerry cans, and there were several snack food vendors that sold us delicious samosas and spring rolls for a pittance. Fueled with food, we snoozed briefly for the remainder of the drive towards Nakuru, where we pulled into the comfortable Kembu campsite at Kenana Farm, which is near Nakuru National Park. After setting up our tents, Nancy briefed us that there was an optional farm walk at 4:30 pm, and we decided to partake. However, it wasn’t much of a tour as we simply walked down to see some cows, horses (they came running for food), baby cows, and the section where cows are milked. We had a bit of laundry to wash and after hanging it on our line, the rain started pouring down so we moved our line underneath a cottage where at least it would be kept out of the rain. The only power points at the camp were by the bar so we parked up by the bar, had a few Smirnoffs and Pilseners and hung out there until dinner was served. Dinner consisted of mutton with sudza (yum) and was cooked by Damien, Laura, and Gin (cook group 5). It started down pouring during dinner, so everyone wore their rain jackets and huddled together beneath a dry dining room area of the campsite. After dinner, everyone retired early as tomorrow morning was an early rise for the full day of game park viewing at Nakuru National Park.
19 Jun: It was an early morning wake up as we had to be up at 5 am, with breakfast at 5:15 am. We ate hurriedly as we had to pack sandwich lunches and be ready by the time our rides picked us up by 6 am. Our driver was a friendly fellow named Linus, and he was a safe and careful driver. From Kembu Campsite, we had a 45 minute drive to Lake Nakuru National Park, where Linus bought our entry tickets and we used the disgustingly dirty restrooms before entering the park. The major excitement in our truck occurred when Katherine was trying to eat her Hobnobs and a vervet monkey jumped into our cab and started a tug of war with her. Obviously, once she thought of rabies, she immediately let go and the monkey became the proud recipient of some very expensive cookies. While we had only heard about Nakuru being a fine place to see flamingoes, we were pleasantly surprised to realize there is so much more to this excellent park. Within the first thirty minutes, we had spotted a pride of lions (one male lion and several lionesses passed out after having gluttoned themselves on a freshly killed zebra), a black rhinoceros, and lots of buffalo. The rest of the morning was equally as impressive, as baboons entertained us with their antics, water bucks were prancing around, and we finally spotted Africa’s largest antelope, the mighty eland. There were several hammer cocks (black birds with a funny headdress that reminded us of a cartoon character), and we spotted two sleeping white rhinos in the bush. A charging buffalo raged after one of the 4×4 vehicles, and we watched horrified as the sole inhabitant of the truck frantically tried to outrace the furious buffalo. Linus told us that that particular buffalo loved to charge trucks! At the Baboon Cliff lookout point, we spotted a colorful lizard and admired the vista of the lake down below. From the lookout point, we drove around for a bit to examine the flocks of pelicans and flamingoes up close before heading to a lunch picnic spot. Vervet monkeys were trying their luck at stealing food, and had to be chased away. We finished up our stock of avocado and supplemented it with cheese on our sandwiches and after eating a hearty amount, decided to pile back into the truck to give our driver the hint that we were ready to continue on. Thankfully, after lunch, we were driven over to the Lake Nakuru Lodge, a posh resort with a fantastic pool (too bad we hadn’t been advised to pack our swim suits!). Linus briefed us that we had an hour and a half free time to rest, swim or shop and we opted for an afternoon siesta, waking up at 3:30 pm refreshed and ready for more game driving after our snooze. The afternoon game driving around Lake Nakuru did not disappoint, as we spotted two white rhinos (a mother and baby) and a leopard in a tree! At first, we were all a bit disappointed because from our perspective, the leopard was barely visible. However, it became restless and climbed down from the tree, and we were at the perfect angle to take photos of it dismounting. Everyone was jubilant at having seen the leopard, and we headed back to Kembu Camp afterwards. Linus was properly rewarded in his tip from all of us, and we settled in around the power point before a dinner that Nancy prepared for us (a yummy beer flavored beef and potatoes meal). The Kilimanjaro climbers (Lucky, Itichyo, and Matt) were back and ecstatic that everyone had made it to the summit. Nancy chastised the group for preparing shit vegetarian meals and everyone was confused as to what meals in particular she was singling out. Lucky was telling stories of Kili after dinner and we were quite proud of his accomplishment.
20 Jun: Everyone had a bit of a lie in today as breakfast wasn’t until 8:30 am. Becky had time for a tepid shower, and we helped Nancy clean up the kitchen after breakfast since she put it all together by herself. Once on the road, we stopped in Nakuru for three hours to give cook group a chance to go shopping and let everyone get lunch on their own. Becky’s group had to do some shopping and they headed directly for the supermarket where stocking up on ingredients for mac n’ cheese was a breeze. The rest of our morning was spent at an internet café where we got caught up on emails, and in search of a decent power strip (we have purchased 4 strips and all 4 have proved to be cheap in quality, never lasting more than a few weeks). Becky bought a few t-shirts from an outdoor market (bargain priced at 50 Shillings each) and we joined some of our group at a nearby restaurant where we ate some delicious samosas and spring rolls (priced at 50 Shillings each). Everyone was back on the truck by 12:30, and we drove off towards Uganda, stopping to close the beach because the weather was quite cold and everyone was freezing huddling up on the truck. It proved fortuitous as the rain started pouring down, and we had to roll down the sides of the flaps to keep dry. However, the truck became quite hot and stuffy with everything sealed up and Robby started feeling irritable until he moved to the back of the truck to get a bit of fresh air. By 5:30 pm, Nancy and Chris made the command decision to forego bush camping, pulling into Spring Park Hotel in the town of Turbo as the rain had turned the surrounding countryside into a mud bog pit. In the campground, two large tent awnings had been set up, and it was a mad sprint to rush to get a coveted space under the awning, as the weather looked dismal and no one was keen on setting up their tent flies. We were second in the mad dash and soon found ourselves surrounded by 7 other tents! It was quite humorous. The campsite had a bar with incredibly cheap beer (95 Shillings) and power points so we took advantage of both until dinner. Cook group 6 (Sara, Lars and Naomi) made a spicy green chili beef curry meal, which served on rice was a treat, although quite hot for many people. Nancy warned everyone she wanted an early night so everyone got what they needed off the truck for the night immediately after dinner. We worked on the website for a bit (completing Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi) before calling it a night.
21 Jun: It was an early morning as we prepared for yet another border crossing (into Uganda). Everyone who slept under the tent awning was grateful for the protection against the rain as it poured constantly throughout the night. After breakfast, we were packed and ready to hit the road, driving straight to the border town of Malaba. Getting stamped out of Kenya was straightforward and luckily for us, Nancy volunteered to obtain Uganda visas for us ($50 each for a single entry).
Note: From 21 June – 2 July, we left Kenya for Uganda and Rwanda. We re-entered Kenya late on the evening of 2 July and the trip journal continues below.
2 Jul: As of 1 July, the visa fee for Kenya had doubled and it now cost $50 but none of us volunteered the fact that we had entered Rwanda. Since they didn’t ask and it was midnight when we reached the border control, we were all stamped back into Kenya on our original “single visit” visa and didn’t have to pay a penny. Yeah! It was nice to save $50 on visa fees. The bus ride was quite a bumpy one, despite the comfortable and spacious seats. We tried our best to sleep that night but it was hard with the driver’s wailing music on full blast, the bright lights of oncoming traffic blinding us, and trying not to jolt out of our seats every time we went over a rough patch. Nevertheless, we still managed to get a bit of shut eye during the long ride.
3 Jul: We realized at the Naivasha truck stop that we would be arriving into Nairobi a whole lot later than originally anticipated, as we still had a couple of hours to go and it was already 7 am. Instead of the 6 am arrival time, we pulled into Nairobi at 9:30 am, a whopping 3.5 hours late. Unbelievably, Lars’ Mt Kenya crew was still ready and waiting for him despite his arrival time being delayed by over 4 hours, and as soon as they overheard one of us calling for Lars, introduced themselves and whisked him away to start on a 5 day trek of the mountain. We didn’t realize that we would actually have to swap Mash buses to get from the Nairobi terminal to the Mombasa one, and at the ticket counter, realized there were only 2 seats remaining on the 9:45 am bus. So we opted to wait and have everyone depart on the 11 am Mash Poa bus from Nairobi to Mombasa. Ally was starving for breakfast, so accompanied by Luke, they were on a quest to find samosas. Boy, did they strike a gold mine as they stumbled upon an excellent local breakfast joint where fresh, hot samosas could be had for only 20 Shillings each. Bargain! We were watching everyone’s luggage so upon their return, jet out of the bus station and headed over to the same breakfast joint where we bought them out of their samosas. Armed with a bag of 7 samosas, we gave Lucky a few for breakfast and ate the rest. Our 11 am bus departed on time, and we wondered if it would be a 6 hour ride as promised or longer. It ended up being a longer ride, surprise, surprise! Nothing runs on time or on schedule here in Africa. We resigned ourselves to the fact that when we are told a 6 hour bus ride, reality dictates that it will be an 8 hour bus ride instead! After another tedious day of travel, we finally pulled into Mombasa at dusk, and stumbled wearily trying to get our bearings. We decided to split the group into two, with Luke, Ally and Lucky heading straight for the hotel, Hotel Junden, so they could check into their triple, while we hopped on a tuc-tuc over to a bus ticket office that sold a Mombasa-Lamu route. Arnold from Lamu’s JamboHouse had highly recommended Tawakal or Tahmeed but the Mash representative told us that T.S.S. Express had an office open at this late hour (8 pm) so we headed directly there and were able to buy tickets for a 9 am bus departure for 600 Shillings each. Armed with tickets for everyone, we hopped on the same tuc-tuc for a ride to Junden Hotel, where we scored a nice, clean room (2700 Shillings for a double, 3000 Shillings for a triple), free internet and breakfast to boot. We ended up having dinner at the Junden Restaurant which served up a tasty fish and rice dish for us, and chicken and chips for Lucky. Since internet was free and fast, we stayed up a bit late in the lobby checking our messages and uploading content to the website. The bed was such a delight after having slept on a bus for the past two days, and we fell fast asleep with the ac and fan on full blast.
4 Jul: Happy Birthday Ally! Too bad we had to spend the majority of our time on a bus, ha. Our 9 am bus from Mombasa to Lamu on T.S.S. Express was to take 6 hours, but we arrived at 4:30 pm. But before we delve into that, we did have a quick morning to explore the seaside city of Mombasa. Lucky decided to get up early with us to visit the city’s main highlights, which included Fort Jesus, the Old Town and the crossed tusks which are a symbol of Mombasa. Since the Junden Hotel is so close to Moi Avenue, we decided to visit the “Mombassa Tusks” first. These massive crossed tusks form the shape of an “M” (possibly for Mombasa?) and when they were erected in 1952, were placed at the entrance to the heart of the city. The monument was created to commemorate a visit by the then Princess Elizabeth who was passing through the city on a Kenyan Safari. We took several photos before hopping in a tuc-tuck to check out the hype of Mombasa’s most popular tourist attraction, the fabled Fort Jesus. This fort was built in 1593 by the Portuguese who wanted a stronghold to enforce their control over the coastal Swahilis. We read that the Portuguese failed miserably in their attempt to hold onto the fort as it changed hands no less than 9 times in bloody sieges, with the ultimate victor emerging as the British. Opening hours weren’t until 8 am so we were too early to visit the interior of the fort (800 Shilling entrance) so we wandered the outside and admired the view of the fort which is built right on the edge of a coral reef. The walls of the fort are over 1 meter thick, and they were constructed of coral, which gives it a dominant and imposing aura. We learned that the fort earned its name (Fort Jesus) due to its shape as from the air, it looks like the crucifixion of Jesus. Adjacent to the fort, the wonderful remnants of Mombasa’s Old Town district can be seen, so we strolled the streets and admired the lovely East African architecture, with ornately carved doors and window frames and fretwork balconies (supposedly designed to protect the modesty of the female inhabitants). By this point, we were starving so we hopped on a tuc tuc for a quick ride back to Junden Hotel where we got a lovely breakfast and were joined by Ally and Luke. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and were picked up immediately by two tuc tucs to the T.S.S. bus terminal. Since we were a bit early, we decided to stroll down to Mombasa’s market, which was quite colorful, lively and chaotic. The vendors were super friendly and they loved posing for photos (especially with Becky), and we headed back to the bus for an on time departure at 9 am. Despite everyone’s promises, the T.S.S. Express is no express bus, and we quickly realized it was going to be a long, slow, and dusty day from Mombasa to Lamu. After several dreary, dusty and long hours, we finally arrived to the town of Mokowe where we wearily got off the bus and were met by a smiling Damaris (girlfriend of Arnold, the owner of JamboHouse). She got us on a speed boat to the main port area of Lamu (150 Shillings each), and at the Lamu harbor we were met by a super friendly German named Arnold. He escorted us down the labyrinth streets of Lamu to JamboHouse, which was to be our home for the next 4 nights. Our room was on the first floor and was called Manda, while Ally, Luke and Lucky ended up on the second floor in a room called Shella. After linking up with Arnold on the terrace for a welcome drink, we were given a comprehensive and excellent briefing on Lamu Island as to its highlights, restaurants, bar, shopping, sightseeing and excursion scene. We learned that the island has over 3000 donkeys and only 4 vehicles, and Arnold happily shared his extensive knowledge of the city with us. We were weary with travel fatigue and covered from head to toe in dust, so we took showers to wash off the grit. For dinner, we headed out to the Olympic Restaurant which was highly recommended for its food and good value. Our dinner was delicious (curry fish and king fish with chips) along with freshly squeezed juice (mango and lime). Everyone enjoyed the meal, and afterwards, to celebrate Ally’s b-day, we headed over to Petley’s Inn for drinks. We met some friendly Kenyans (Omar and Abdul) and Robby spent the night chatting with them. It ended up being a late night as we didn’t get to bed until 2 am.
5 Jul: Becky wore her Obama t-shirt which was a huge hit with the locals (Obama’s father is Kenyan). After breakfast, we headed over to the AP (Administration Police) Canteen where we were told we could buy alcohol on Lamu. Lucky made a quick detour to get a shave and Luke wanted his hair cut and altogether, it took us about 90 minutes to walk to the canteen where we were able to buy some vodka and rum. For lunch, we came back to JamboHouse to grab Ally (who hadn’t been feeling well) and we headed over to Sunsail Restaurant for lunch (snapper kebabs for 350 Shillings) with amazing mango juice (0.5 L for only 80 Shillings). After lunch, we walked down the “main street” of town and wandered in and out of different souvenir stores, talking to friendly locals and happily spending the afternoon away. We ran into Omar who showed us his dhow being built (40000 Euros over 6 months) and we agreed to meet him again on Thursday at 9 am to see his shamba (farm) where he runs a recycling project in conjunction with AfriKable. It is an admirable project involving recycling plastic bags in the community. He runs a children’s school and as “payment” for attending school, the children have to collect 10 plastic bags a day. Their mothers join them at school and they sit nearby, weaving plastic bags into all sorts of handicrafts such as purses, bowls, hand bags, etc. It is an ingenious project and we were quite happy to check it out. An afternoon drink of coconut juice at the Bush Garden was a nice treat before heading back to chill for an hour before dinner with a traditional family. Ikhwan (nicknamed “F1” by Becky) was on time to escort us to his family’s house at 6:40 pm, so we hurriedly got ready and were meeting his father, Omar, and his sister, Ilham, by 7 pm. A treat of lamb falafel greeted us, and Omar’s wife made us a delicious meal of red snapper cooked in coconut sauce, served with coconut rice and tomatoes/onion sauce and passionfruit/mango juice. The children were absolutely wonderful and we enjoyed talking to them and getting to know the family. Ikhwan is a gifted boy whose intelligence astounded us all night long, and we were very impressed with the entire family. After dinner, Ikhwan and Ilham walked us home, and they proceeded to join us up on the rooftop for some games before we finally persuaded them to go home so they could be up on time at 6 am tomorrow to go to school. Becky was forced to resort to bribing the kids with mango candy to get them to leave as they didn’t want to part our company. It had been a great night and we thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.
6 Jul: After breakfast, Arnold coordinated a city tour for us with a guide named Abbas. We instantly felt that Abbas was excellent, as we got the insider’s view to Lamu when he led us through local houses, hotels and viewpoints. Abbas explained that we would visit two sections of Lamu, the newer Swahili part which can be characterized as hotter, nosier, sunnier, more spacious and built with bricks as compared to the older, predominantly Arab part which is more historical, narrow, built of coral, and mazelike. One of the first buildings we entered was the Wildebeest Luxury Apartment complex, which was amazing. Owned by an American female artist, the Wildebeest is a work of art, and all of us longed to own it. It appears as if the building actually comprises of several buildings that have been merged together as one, and we later found out that the building is for sale as the artist is aging with no heirs. Asking price is 300,000 Euro and boy, we wished we had the money to buy it! Next stop was Petley’s Inn, which is one of the oldest hotels on the island. The owners are dog friendly, so we had plenty of mutts to play with, and we were allowed to wander around to check out the rooms. The island’s donkey sanctuary was next up on our itinerary, and we learned that as donkeys are the main transport in Lamu, the Sanctuary was established in 1987 by Elisabeth Svendsen, a British doctor. Her goal was to protect and look after the working donkeys. The sanctuary is currently managed and run in conjunction with the KSPCA (Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals) where Lamu locals can get their donkeys wormed and donkeys aging in years can have a peaceful place to retire. A quick visit to the Lamu Animal Welfare Clinic followed, and we learned about the clinic’s efforts to neuter cats and dogs on the island. The next sightseeing point was the tallest building in Lamu, the Pole Pole Hotel which offered picturesque views of the old town. The children of Lamu were quite insistent of posing for photos, and we loved getting “lost” in the old city, especially as Abbas seemed to be one of the most popular guides in Lamu with random strangers stopping us to tell us “your guide is the best one in Lamu”. A visit to Stone House Restaurant was next and we were told it was one of the nicest restaurants in town (also one of the priciest). Lamu is apparently popular with foreigners, as Abbas pointed out numerous old houses that had been scooped up by expats who have decided to make Lamu their home. Wandering back into the town square, which is just outside the Lamu Fort, we stopped just outside the main market where fresh young coconuts were chopped up for a refreshing juice (10 Shillings each). After strolling through the market, we headed over to Jumaa Mosque, which is located in the north of the town, just off Harambee Avenue. This mosque is Lamu’s second oldest, dating from 1511 and it was used up until the late 1800s for trading slaves. After thanking Abbas for a fantastic guided tour (150 Shillings each), we decided to have a budget lunch at La Banda Restaurant, a local favorite with the cheapest prices on the island. Our food was served up promptly, and everyone enjoyed the traditional Swahili dishes that were on offer. Afterwards, we opted to visit the Lamu Museum, as the ticket is valid for both the museum and the fort. The museum was quite compact but interesting, built in a Swahili warehouse near the waterfront. After declining to have a guide, we walked ourselves around the museum, seeing its displays on Swahili culture, the famous wooden carved doors, the Boni tribe (a pre-Muslim tribe who were considered legendary elephant hunters), traditional costumes, and recreations of wedding quarters of a traditional Swahili house. Bats hanging upside down from the rooftop caught our eye as we were exiting the museum, so we took a few photos before heading over to Lamu Fort. The fort stands at the center of Lamu, and is apparently one of the best places to hang out in the evening to people watch. It was built in 1821 and was used as a prison from 1910-1984. We climbed up to check out the views overlooking Lamu town, and then headed back to JamboHouse to relax a bit before the sunset cruise. At 6:30 pm, we were met by our friendly boat captain, Baji Karis, who led us down to the harbor where we boarded our dhow. The two German girls, Julia and Heidi, from JamboHouse joined us, and it was a fun time for all. Becky and Lucky opted to share a full bottle of Smirnoff Vodka and red bull, and poor Becky proceeded to get exceedingly drunk. It was a “Hangover” moment when she reviewed the photos of the cruise the next morning to recall what exactly had occurred during the night. Other than a picturesque sunset, fantastic fish dinner, and lots of Ally birthday moments, the only other eventful moment came when Robby attempted to help Becky board the dhow and ruined her point and shoot camera, which was in his pocket and got absolutely soaked in seawater. What a crazy night!
7 Jul: Despite nursing a hangover from the previous night’s festivities, we got up for breakfast and were hemming and hawing about whether to link up with Omar at 9 am. Robby ran over to the Lamu Fort for some morning photos on yesterday’s entrance ticket, and while he was gone, Omar showed up. Becky had considered backing out entirely, but upon seeing Omar and meeting his girlfriend Angelique, she felt compelled to represent, especially considering that both Luke and Ally hadn’t stirred from bed and were still fast asleep. So, it was up to Lucky and the two of us to make up our entourage out to visit Omar’s shamba (farm) on the other side of the island. Angelique hails from Colorado, and she had actually been dating Omar for the past four years, although most of it was long distance. However, since Omar had now made the decision to live permanently in Lamu, they were at the point in their relationship where they both needed to decide if it was serious in which case Angelique was contemplating a permanent move to Lamu. She was a sweet girl and we enjoyed chatting with her throughout the day. From the Lamu harbor, we hopped on a quick boat shuttle to the other side of the island (150 Shillings) where we walked over to Omar’s property. The children immediately swarmed us and we could instantly tell that Omar is a hero in their eyes as they absolutely worshipped the ground he walked on. It was interesting to see the plastic recycling program that was going on around the shamba grounds, as local women (many of them with children in the school) spun plastic bags together with a simple contraption that twisted the sheets of plastic into a “rope” like substance, which was then woven into purses, wallets, belts, bowls and the like. The children were quite well behaved, and we saw two Spanish volunteers who were assisting the school teacher in handling and interacting with the kids (they were from the AfriKable organization). Two puppies caught our eye and we spent some time playing with them, although it was instantly clear that the male dog was quite shy and completely dominated by the more outgoing, boisterous female puppy. It was a nice treat watching well behaved children, and after their mid-morning snack, they obediently queued up for their toothbrushes and water and brushed their teeth religiously. Omar told us to make ourselves at home, and we relaxed the morning away until lunch, which was fresh snapper (delicious!). To support the women’s recycling initiative, we bought two wallet/purses which make quite handy gifts. We hadn’t expected to spend the majority of our day at Omar’s but it was great fun and before we knew it, it was 4 pm when we returned to Lamu (after walking the sandy, thorn infested track and briefly stopping at Abdul’s Eco Nest hotel). Ally and Luke were nowhere to be found, so we assumed that they were out and about town in Lamu. While Robby and Lucky were hanging out on the top deck of JamboHouse, Becky hit the town for a bit of shopping, ending up with a skirt, earrings and a lapis lazuli ring. In the evening once everyone had reconsolidated together, we decided to have dinner at Hapa Hapa restaurant, which seemed to be quite popular with the Lonely Planet crowd. We had to wait a long time for food and our fresh juices, but when it finally arrived, it was worth the wait. Since the restaurant is so centrally located in Lamu, it was the perfect meeting point and we ran into our cruise captain, Baji, as well as Abdul and Omar. Lucky commented that the fact Lamu is such a small town is one of its selling points, as it has got such a cozy and welcoming vibe and we often seemed to cross paths with locals that we had met in our short time here.
8 Jul: Becky was motivated by a good night’s sleep to get up early for a pre-breakfast workout (killer butt). After breakfast, we settled the bill with Arnold and put our luggage in storage. Our main goal this morning was to visit Shela Beach, and after bargaining a bit with the boat captains, we got one to take us in his speedboat for 100 Shillings each. In just a few minutes, we were dropped off at Shela and we immediately started wandering its immaculate narrow alleyways, amazed that the residents of this obviously more ritzy area could keep their city so clean. The highlight of Shela was the Friday Mosque, which was built in 1829 and stands out because of its unusual shaped minaret. The beaches and sand dunes of Shela are supposedly a highlight, but we found that it was a bit too windy, with sand kicking up everywhere and the waves crashing into the shore. The boys went for a dip in the ocean, and by 11 am, we were ready to head back. After strolling through Shela one last time, we found a dhow captain willing to take us back for 100 Shillings a person. Our special request to be dropped off at La Banda Restaurant was honored, and we enjoyed a final lunch in Lamu complete with fruit juices (passion fruit and mango), fish in coconut sauce, and the “cocktail special” for the boys which consisted of a mixture of everything the restaurant had on offer. After lunch, we split from the rest of the group as they were heading back for a quick shower and we were keen on visiting the other National Monument in Lamu, a 14th Century fluted pillar tomb. It was fairly easy to find (behind Riyadha Mosque), although we were surprised to see that the locals using the pillar for their laundry lines! After a quick shower, we hopped online to check email one last time before bidding the wonderful JamboHouse crew goodbye. It had started to pour down with rain just before we left for the jetty, making us a bit glad that we were leaving today. We later realized how fortunate we were not to have been soaked to the bone during the crossing from Lamu over to Manda Island, as we timed it just right to miss the worst of the downpour. Our fellow passengers were not as fortunate, and most of them came walking into the airport terminal dripping wet from the heavy rain. To our surprise, our luggage wasn’t heavily scrutinized at the weighing counter, as we had heard horror stories that the airlines strictly enforce the 15 KG luggage policy. The Safarilink terminal personnel only weighed our check in bags, and our carry-on bags weren’t even examined. However, we noticed that Fly540 and Kenya Airways were a lot more stringent as every single bag was weighed and the majority of their passengers had to pay excess fees. The rain poured down in spurts, and thankfully at 4:05 pm when we loaded our tiny puddle hopper, there was a brief lull so we managed to board the plane without getting wet in the process. Our pilots cheerfully told us that it was bright and sunny in Nairobi, and sure enough, shortly after takeoff, the clouds cleared and our visibility over the countryside improved. After arriving into the domestic terminal in Nairobi, Wilson Airport, we met a taxi driver named Raymond who suggested that we store our excess luggage in his office while we hopped in a cab to the nearest mall/cinemaplex before a late night pickup to the international airport. The price was negotiated out to $5 a person and we eventually agreed as it freed us up from having to lug our gear everywhere. Ally noticed a celebrity in our midst as she recognized Kristen Davis from “Sex and the City”, and of course everyone stared at her trying to figure out who she was. Eventually Robby recognized her as “Charlotte” and she waved to our ogling group, causing us to laugh as we’d obviously not been as slick celebrity stalking as we would have liked. Our driver didn’t want to negotiate his way through the rush hour traffic so instead of taking us to Westend Shopping mall as we had requested, he brought us to a closer, much smaller shopping complex called Crystal City Mall. Ally wasn’t able to find a hair brush but she did get some medication and we were able to pick up a cheapish camera for under $100 to replace the one Robby submerged in water during the sunset cruise. After a quick fast food dinner, we watched the only movie that was playing that night (Transformers III) which started at 9:30 pm. It was well after midnight before the movie ended, and our carefully arranged midnight pickup was a no show. Lucky called several times to get a driver there and eventually we were picked up, but our stored luggage was a no show, so we had to backtrack to the taxi office, retrieve our check in baggage and head to the international airport. Everyone was tired, grumpy and subdued so it was a quiet ride into the airport. At the Ethiopian Airways check in counter, one of the representatives was being extremely strict in verifying that the credit card used for purchasing the airline tickets was present upon check in. She claimed that credit card fraud was a major problem and without the appropriate credit card, she would have denied our boarding. Since Ally had booked Lars and Luke on her credit card, she worried that Lars would have a hard time checking in but thankfully he emerged looking quite relaxed especially after having hiked Mt Kenya. After everyone was checked in, it was a short wait for boarding and we realized that not only did we have a full bottle of sunscreen, but Robby’s leatherman was on our carryon. Becky attempted to go through with the contraband items and of course it was flagged, but the security personnel checking her baggage only noticed an empty water bottle which they allowed through. The other items didn’t even get mentioned so we dodged the airport security bullet and managed to keep both coveted items. Our flight from Nairobi to Addis Ababa aboard Ethiopian was quite nice, with a large breakfast, in-flight entertainment and plenty of legroom.