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Welcome Home. Shela, Lamu Island

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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.

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“Tonight, we eat calamari for sure” Manda Island, Kenya

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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.

Lamu Cultural Festival

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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.

Welcome to Paradise; Lamu, Kenya

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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.

Lake Nakuru National Park

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We visit with staff and patients that make up The Village Cooperative  (TVC) sponsored Medical Center in Nakuru.  The staff is meticulous at maintaining records of how many patients they serve and tracking diseases. We take a hike up to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. 75 families live here living out of tents made up of tarps that desperately need to be replaced. These families were displaced after Kenya’s post-election violence in late 2007. They are still waiting for the government to place them. TVC is raising to supply the families with much needed blankets and food as of this writing. Fundraising goal: 25 US per family or $1875. Donate here (and note that you’d like to support the Nakuru IDP Camp).

We stay at Lake Nakuru Lodge, one of two lodges actually inside Lake Nakuru National Park. We partake in a morning safari and spot zebra, white rhino and a leopard! It was surreal to watch all of the zebra and gazelles call to one another to warn their herds. All eyes on this plain are in the direction of the leopard. A panoramic sight to be enjoyed from our vehicle. He hides in the bush from the buffalo. They spot him and chase him into a tree.

We visit the Jacaranda Girl’s Home on our way back to the lodge. The home houses over 30 girls learning agricultural skills. The fruits and vegetables grown here are sold to Nakuru Lodge for meals. What a treat to see our little farm to table.

Walking Safari on Crescent Island

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On our drive to Naivasha Crescent Camp we pass mutatu stations with Wangari Maathai graffiti. Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. I read her memoir, Unbowed, recommended by our Village Experience guide prior to this trip. Maathai does a great job of telling her story where the reader can understand what it was like to grow up in Kenya and the history of the country.

We pass several nyama choma markets on our journey. The meat hangs freely in the window display. We managed to stop at one and try some lamb, liver and ribs. Small bites dipped in salt. Coca-Cola loves Kenya. Managed to find Guinness Foreign Extra, brewed in Kenya.

We take a hippo boat ride to Crescent Island for a walking safari. The walking safari not to be missed! A few movies have been filmed here including Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford and the sequel to Tomb Raider. It’s simply surreal to be walking with zebra, giraffe, wildebeests and gazelles. Would love to picnic here.

We have colobus monkey’s visiting with us at the Camp and enjoy the best broth based soups of my life. I sit and enjoy the stillness. I feel like I hear the birds chirping “rafiki, rafiki” and “karibu, karibu.”

On Nairobi and a visit to the elephant orphanage

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Jambo (Hello) and Karibu (Welcome)

Arriving to Nairobi on a Sunday evening is good form as traffic can be troublesome during weekdays and Friday and Saturday nights. I get picked up from the airport and simply observe Nairobi on our drive to Wildebeest Eco Camp. The matatu (bus) stations have no lighting. In fact, there isn’t much light at all along man-made walking paths in the grass along the side of the road. It is a struggle for passengers to even cross street battling against the traffic. We pass mutatu stations with Wangari Maathai graffiti. Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. Her memoir, Unbowed, was recommended by our Village Experience guide prior to the trip. In Unbowed, Maathai does a great job of telling her story where the reader can understand what it was like to grow up in Kenya alongside learning about the history of the country. Drivers, my driver included, seem to drive without fear. They drive with faith, assertiveness and confidence. There are very few traffic lights and a couple roundabouts on this particular journey. Approaching the gated Eco Camp at dark, I hear frogs and walking up to my tent I take in the wonderful floral essence.

Our first day in Nairobi we visit The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage. A beautiful and peaceful way to start the trip. They are open to the public daily during the 11 a.m. feeding time. We were joined by two classrooms of children. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is a frequent opportunity for these students or if today, together, we are all sharing this experience for the first time.

Grateful for the opportunity to join this itinerary organized by our host and Indy native, Kelly Campbell for The Village Experience: Upcoming Sustainable Tourism Trips.