I visit Louisville at least 2 times a year. It’s a fun not so distant getaway from my home city of Indianapolis. When you make it here, check out:
We arrive to Jaha House, our home for the week, in Shela. Greeted with fresh juice as gentleman carry in our bags. To the right of the entry way is our pool, much-needed and often used to cool off in the 90 degree heat. Let’s do that. Get in the pool and enjoyed a couple of bottles of white wine to settle in. There are small shelves/windows with the intention of storing treasures from your journey. These shelves are filled with sea shells. The house is completely open. Some windows with no covering. This is strategic in design to catch the wind and keep certain areas cool throughout the house. Dinner is served, a wonderful welcoming meal somewhat familiar served around coconut rice, similar to a meal I prepare at home with shrimp, mango, papaya, garlic and ginger…kitamu (tasty)! Our meal tonight included fresh grilled tuna, a tomato based ratatouille, carrot salad, mango and roasted pumpkin. Absolutely wonderful. After dinner we head to one of the few places that serves alcohol on this side of the island, Peponi (paradise). A full bar though. We get introduced to some of the locals, we spend time with throughout the week. Everyone is extremely welcoming.
We wake in the mornings to eggs prepared how we individually request them, toast and the most delicious butter spread, tea and a fruit plate usually including mango, papaya, banana and passion fruit. And always a freshly squeezed juice to drink. Our chef for the week, Evance, did a tremendous job.
Take in several sunset sails. One evening we were preparing to head to the dhow and a gentleman approaches our home selling oysters. At $6 for a dozen, I oblige. He breaks the shell in front of the house and our chefs prepare a plate of salt, lime and tabasco. An additional treat on the dhow in addition to samosas and wine.
Enjoyed shopping at Ali Lamu. An artist collective that formed in 2008 around making art out of old dhow sails. Items range from bags to pillows, wall art, notebooks and more. Local women contribute with the sewing and local fisherman paint on this canvas. The sale of these goods provides supplemental income for the fisherman during the low tourist season.
On a days adventure alone, I talk with locals at Peponi talking about the days catch and another one talking about the institution of marriage. Then I sit to read The Alchemist and enjoy a cocoa dusted cappuccino served at Peponi. I take in a swim in the ocean. When I am laying out to dry off a family of vacationers from Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, make conversation with me. They comment on my red, curly hair. One of the teenage daughter’s asked to take a photo with me. I’m in for a couple of photos and have a Facebook friend request awaiting me on my return home. I had been asking around to find anyone who may make beer at home. I didn’t find beer but I did have someone take me on a hike into the dunes to try palm wine. Fermented sap from palm trees. I was served in a traditional pint glass. The locals were served in reused jelly jars with a wooden straw with a tiny wrapped filter on the bottom to keep from getting sediment. We visit a local in his home on our return back to Shela. The center of his home is a tree, the walls made of palm leaves. The center tree seems to be housing all of the home owners most prized possessions. The view from his home is spectacular. I finish my day alone by sitting on the top of Jaha house at a beautiful desk overlooking through palm trees, the dhows sailing during sunset. And the sound of the call to prayer sounds beautiful and historic. When the girls get back, there is a beach party to attend.
Lamu is a magical place. I never would have imagined a beach vacation as something I desired. I am a pretty fast-paced person. The people of Lamu are incredibly open-hearted and welcoming. On my second visit I was greeted with, “Welcome home.” From what I hear, when anyone visits this place, we leave a little bit of ourselves behind. To be revisited again and again. This is a very happy place and you’d be surprised at how fast the day fills itself with local activities: dhow trips, fresh seafood, wedding celebrations, birthdays, backgammon or simply reading under happy tree.
The Unusual Dance to The Noodle
I was leaving the bar walking back to my car to head home for the night. I’m walking down Washington Street. There’s a gentleman who had turned directions earlier and was walking a few paces ahead of me. He then turned around to ask, “Could you tell me where to find The Slippery Noodle?” I give him those directions. I ask if he had been to Indy before and if he was meeting someone there. It is Wednesday night after all. I learn that he is in Indy for one night. This is his first and only night in Indy. I warn him that The Slippery Noodle may not be that busy on a weeknight and at this hour. Not sure of the night he had anticipated. I also learn that he is driving through Indy to the East Coast to fly out for his second tour in Iraq.
It takes me 5 seconds to suggest something that may be of interest to him. I ask, “Had you read anywhere that Indy is #2 behind Washington DC as to having the most monuments?” “No,” he replies. I ask if he had noticed monument circle yet on his walk. Nope. “Oh, well, it is just one block away. I’ll walk there with you.” We walk to Monument Circle and take that in. I had been here once on an architectural tour which taught me to look up. I pointed out what I could remember that was unique or had a story. He seemed to enjoy it so I offered to walk him to The Indiana World War Memorial, one of my favorite places here in the city. We are standing on the top of the War Memorial taking in the view and he says, “I’m really glad you brought me here.” We continue to walk back towards where we initially met on Washington Street. I re-confirm the walking direction to The Slippery Noodle. We exchange a hug. He says, “Thank you so much.” We go our separate ways. We didn’t even exchange names, just took to the evenings dancing cues.
I wrote this story for the first time as a part of the CityWrite activities here in Indianapolis as a part of the National Day on Writing. CityWrite believes that everyone has a story to tell and has lived through an experience that everyone can learn from. Write yours.
We visit Manda Island a couple of times during our time in Lamu. New homes have been built on the island within the past 10 years. Although, no water system. Water is transported from Lamu to Manda in huge barrels. Quite expensive. On our first visit we check out Lamu House Beach Club for lunch and a swim in the ocean. It’s amazing. The mirror replica of Robert Indiana‘s LOVE sculpture catches my attention as I affirm that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. Based on what is behind the bar, it seems that Gin is their specialty. I order a Negroni prepared by our bartender for the afternoon, Chai. I enjoyed watching him prepare the drink. Taking a bar towel full of ice, wrapped with his fist and beating it with something like a stick used to muddle lime, sugar and mint for a mojito. We went for a swim in the ocean while our meal was being prepared. We meet a fisherman on the beach who caught some octopus that day. How appropriate as we planned to enjoy grilled calamari for lunch. It was delicious and fresh served with a lovely salad and buttered potato. Simple and wonderfully delicious.
On another lunch trip we visit The Majlis Restaurant for rum cocktails (The Jack Sparrow, Caipirinha and Zombie, yes, Zombie) and grilled pizza and a swim. The place is absolutely beautiful with its tribute to Lamu’s traditional architecture and design. The interior was full of massive sized sculptures, artwork and photographs. Amazing rugs and plenty of low sitting seating areas. No junk, No knickknacks. This place is THE spot for New Year’s Eve, and weddings of course. I made a little joke to the girls that the birds were chirping, “rafiki, rafiki, rafiki.” Three syllables to each chirp. We manage to see the Governor, again! This time with a different group of people including a woman dressed in her traditional abaya and a white baseball cap to protect her from the sun. She seemed to be a politician so I asked the gentleman down the way on the beach and they confirmed. I didn’t catch her name. One of the woman I was with had commented that she didn’t get any assistance down the steps or into the boat. I like that she was treated as more of an equal to the men.
There’s a gentleman in town who own’s a home on the island that is celebrating his 40th birthday. He has about 20-30 of his friends fly in and of course everyone on the island is invited to lunch at his home. Traditional Swahili beef pilau (rice with potato, tomato, cabbage and a great spread of spices) is being served with Tusker brews and a taarab band from Nairobi is providing entertainment. The dish is delicious and can’t wait to try to make it.
The next evening is another part of the celebratory weekend, moving down to Diamond Beach Village. Another beach bar with a cement dance floor. Discover that they make really great oven fired pizza’s as well, but I already ate. Simply relax and dance the night away.
The 13th Annual Lamu Cultural Festival took place November 21-24, 2013. We checked out events in Mkunguni Square. Cheered for one of our travel companions as she joined the Casa dhow crew, one of 3 dhows from Shela, for the sailing competition. And cheered for our guides donkey, Bruce, in the donkey race. I enjoyed observing spectators getting creative in how to observe the races. In trees, on rooftops. Not like here in Indianapolis where we rent grand stands for traditional seating. It was more fun.
We manage to run into the Governor Issa Timamy. We have brief introductions and when he learns we are from The States, he asks us to “tweet” about Lamu and the great time we are having. Would have never expected to hear that as so far, no one we had met on the island was on twitter or had regular access to Wi-Fi. But to tweet, we shall.
We take a 16-24 passenger plane to the coast of Kenya, Lamu Island. It’s about a 2-hour flight (13 hours by car). Get picked up by boat from the Manda Island airstrip to go to Lamu Island. Our guide had sent some of the locals to us at baggage pickup to help us with our bags. Didn’t carry a thing during our entire time on the coast. “Welcome to Paradise” many of the locals would say and of course “Karibu” and “Jambo” from the children.
Our second day we take to Lamu Town. A real treat to watch everyone celebrating with drumming, singing and dancing. They are celebrating Issa Timamy’s reinstatement as Lamu Governor.
Check out Whispers Cafe for coffee and juice as it’s in all the travel books. Take in some shopping to gear up on more beach attire and gifts. Sought after a few unique jewelry pieces and bags at Magik Grace. Take a walk through the Farmer’s Market and take a peek into the fish market as well.
Spend a morning with the kids at New Life Home Trust. It’s the last day of the school year so we are joining them for the graduation ceremony. Mothers joined and sat on the floor. The program included several performances from the children. Welcome songs, poems, traditional Lamu and Kenyan celebratory songs. One song was of a political nature encouraging their parents to send them to school putting great emphasis on their education. The children went around the room stating what they wanted to be when they grow up. Then there were some fun, light-hearted skits, like “The Nairobian’s.” Some of the girls dressed up as models working the runway like women would in a Nairobi Fashion Show. They girls had such confidence as they worked that runway.
Enjoy a meal at a locally owned place. I ordered a whole grilled snapper with coconut rice for 500 Shillings or about $6 USD. Our dishes were served with a side of this amazing red garlic sauce. This restaurant was a great people watching spot. There were drummers drumming nearby, singing and dancing and locals joined as they were walking by.
On another trip to Lamu Town one evening, we check out Petley’s Rooftop Bar and enjoy Shisha (hookah) with a Dawa cocktail, Kenya’s national drink. I was also pleasantly surprised to find Four Roses Bourbon and excited to buy a round for my new local friends as it was a little bit of my home I could share with them. Everyone here had been so generous in sharing their home with me.
Make a pit stop in Lamu Town before heading out to stock up on alcohol, one of the few places to purchase alcohol. We walk through a Muslim cemetery to get there. The gravestones in arabic. Afterwards, visit the Floating Bar before heading back to our place. Enjoy a couple of scotch pours and plug-in our phones, taking turns at being DJ. Enjoy the sun with our feet dipped into the ocean. Afya (Cheers)!
On one of our trips to Shela Beach from Lamu Town, we join a dhow full of the bridal party for a wedding later that day. And of course, everyone is invited.
A night out in Nairobi is exactly what I need before heading back to the Kenyan coast. Kelly with The Village Experience had made friends with one of the co-founders of the Africa Yoga Project and we decide to take her up on her offer for a night out and a bed and hot water bottle at her place. We meet Paige at her place. She is from New York City and had been living in Nairobi now for six years. Paige happened to score some tickets to a wine tasting we are excited to check out. Really grateful to have the opportunity to taste some African wines (and beers) and talk to the wine makers, brewers and distributors. This style of event is quite familiar to me. I felt at home.
My favorite wine of the night was the Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from South Africa, that went for 3700 Shillings or $43 USD. It was as good as fine wine with age with the complexities of tobacco and earth. Heaven in a glass.
Managed to try a few craft brews from The Big 5 Breweries: Kifabock, a lightly hopped Dubbel Bock. Nyatipa pale ale, which satisfied my bitter hop cravings. And ended with a Temstout which had nice notes of coffee and chocolate flavor.
The ladies loved the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It was their repeat tasting while we enjoyed a variety of delicious cheeses and flavored chocolates.
Then off to visit the casino. My first time. Of course my first time to visit a casino is in Kenya of all places. We play roulette. I bet maybe the equivalent of $10 USD and enjoy two double Johnny Black Label on the rocks. I win some and lose most.
Next stop? Tree House where Kelly had heard a DJ friend of hers was going to be. I found Caol Ila 12…neat please. We dance the night away. I danced with an older gentleman that completely took the lead to some music of spanish influence. I felt relaxed and simply enjoyed the night.