PART 3: LAMU

By Bert Duplessis

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MANDA BAY – LAMU

Lamu was a complete sea change from everything we had done on the trip to date.  From the moment I arrived at Manda Bay it was clear that this was really a ‘do nothing’ or ‘do very little’ kind of place.  Somewhere to enjoy the real luxury of an overly busy, overly structured life which is to gaze out over the ocean, read a book, relax, enjoy the water and just leave the schedule behind.

Manda Bay is an ideal two or three night break to relax, catch up on trip notes & photographs or perhaps to do a little fishing and explore the interesting towns of Lamu and nearby Shella.  Of course if you’re the active outdoors type, there are many water sports available, ranging from snorkelling and paddle-boarding to kayakying, windsurfing, laser sailing boats, skiffs, kite-surfing, water skiing, deep sea fishing (best from October to the end of May) , and bay fishing.  Some of these at additional cost.

Co-owner and manager Bimbi soon had me briefed on a few important issues at Manda Bay.  Rule # 1 is that you can go barefoot.  Some of the others:  there are many good local cocktail options, cellphone reception is good, the shower water is salty but there’s plenty of it, and the main generator is switched off at 10:00P, so do any battery charging before then.

I promptly dropped my stuff, got out of the safari gear, and went for a 30-minute run along the beach in the direction of the ocean inlet.  The tide was coming in, the sun was setting and my rather depleted travel batteries were well on their way to being recharged by the time I got to my turnaround point, all alone on a deserted beach.  The sun was just the most gorgeous big red balloon slowly dropping to the horizon as I was making my way back. Realizing that I was not going to be back in time to capture it photographically did not even bother me.  I had seen and experienced it.

Dinner at Manda Bay was a very convivial affair with guests, friends and family – some from Kilifi and others from as far away as London and several young people, all around a long table set outdoors.  There was a gentle breeze and the animated chatter was muted by the soothing sound of lapping waves.  Regrettably, my evening was marred when I bit into a massively fiery hot chili pepper which caused my diaphragm to go into a spasm.  For a few minutes, as I struggled to control some violent hiccups, I thought I might just ‘lose my lunch’ right there and then. Fortunately that kind of catastrophe was avoided, but let’s just say that I did not care much for the food that evening.

Monday June 17

I took it easy at Manda Bay this day, where every day feels like a Saturday anyway.  Here, you can just pretend – it doesn’t take much imagination – that you are part of an everlasting weekend, just Saturday and Sunday following each other in Groundhog Day fashion.  I enjoyed a quiet cup of rooibos tea in front of my room, and then went in for breakfast.  It ended up being baked beans and toast.  I declined an offer of eggs, which was oddly interpreted as a yes for bacon. The coffee was good.

I spent the better part of the morning working on this trip report sitting at a great spot at the bar overlooking the bay.  One could easily write a book sitting exactly there with dhows passing by, the high tide lapping up against the base of the building and sunlight bouncing off the water in the distance. Did anybody say Hemingway?

For lunch, the main attraction was fresh crab with giant claws, much enjoyed by all.  I was quite happy to be served some baked tofu – it was covered in a rather oddly spiced Nasi Goreng crumb crust.  It was also a bit over-baked.  Let’s just say that it was a good try but not successful.   The accompanying tomato salad was not bad though.

Dinner that evening – which was again served at a communal table outside – was definitely the best yet at Manda Bay.  An excellent starter (vegetable samoosa with a mildly spicy fresh tomato sauce) was followed by a really tasty main course of roasted chickpeas and vegetables and a perfect desert of mango with a Lyle’s Golden syrup sauce.

18 June 2013

I am clearly ready to wrap up my travels through Africa.  My normal gregarious self-abandoned me this morning, and I chose to have breakfast solo, rather than with a seemingly nice couple from California.  After nearly a month on the road I had exceeded my quota of social chit-chat, comparing notes about kids and dogs and so on.  I was just not up to it today.

Bimbi had organized a boat ride for me to Lamu – essentially it was a shopping trip as I had a long list of kikois and kikoi pants to buy.  My first attempt fizzled out in Lamu.  I tracked down the store I had been told about earlier – Ali King’s – but they did not have a huge selection, did not seem to know their own prices and also did not want to accept US Dollars.  So I had to make my way back to the main drag in Lamu, winding along a few rather dingy alleys, to a bank where I exchanged $100 for a fairly hefty wad of Kenyan shillings.  Beware. Everybody in Lamu wants to be your agent.  I had to wave away several unwanted applicants and one guy had the nerve to actually stick with me, ‘escorting’ me around to places and giving me unwanted and unheeded advice about the quality of merchandise, good places to shop and so on. I guess he did not mind having an imaginary client.

By then I had decided to take Bimbi’s advice and asked the boatman to take me to nearby Shella, a prettier, cleaner and less smelly – and quieter – version of Lamu.  I did a walk-through of the Peponi Hotel premises (it was still closed until July 1) and then walked up the street to a very well stocked gift store to make my purchases.  The prices were clearly displayed – no bargaining or haggling allowed – and they were good, almost 40% less than in Nairobi for merchandise of a similar standard.

Manda Bay is a good choice for family groups or other people who are keen on water sports such as paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing, laser sailing boats, kite sailing, and skiing (all levels).  There are some skiffs for fishing and serious off-shore fishing for marlin, sharks, sailfish, yellow fin tuna and dorado can also be done, the best time being from about October to the end of May.

A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE ABOUT MANDA BAY

Would-be visitors should know that Manda Bay is quite rustic: my room (#3) was very plain and rather tired-looking with a utilitarian bathroom.  As I had been warned, the shower water was very salty and not always very hot.   Some of the things that I did not care for included people smoking everywhere, including during meals at the table (outdoors and in covered patio areas) and also widespread use of cell phones in common areas.  This is a real no-no at most safari camps and I think it is a practice that any resort should discourage. Nobody wants to listen to other people’s business negotiations, when you are on holiday.

Buzz and Bimbi and their staff could not have been nicer and more accommodating, and there is a lot to like about Manda Bay such as the great setting right along the bay with superb views to the east and west.  It is possible to see a gorgeous sunset and sunrise from the same spot. Just don’t go there expecting a luxury resort. That it is not.  There is no real beach in front of the property either – the entire shoreline is covered by water when the tide comes in.  I hinted around a couple of times about wanting to do some fishing but nothing came of it.  Also I was never sure exactly what was included in the price and what was not. For example one’s wine glass was readily re-filled during dinner.  I had an uneasy feeling that it was costing me, but not how much.  In the end my bill for optional drinks and other services such as the boat trip to Shella was not too high but for some people this may be an issue.

I am glad that I extended my stay in Kenya to include a couple of nights on the northern coast. The area had taken a shellacking due to some security issues a few years ago but it is good to see that the resorts are bouncing back.  Places like Manda Bay merit inclusion on a Kenya trip for many reasons.  Many people – and most kids and young people – can take only so much of day after day of bouncing around rough roads cooped into game drive vehicles.  Spending a few days in a beach area in-between safaris is a great idea for family groups and for others who like to spread their wings a bit, and who want to diversify their Kenya experience. Of course nearby towns like Lamu and Shella offer a lot more in the way of cultural experiences, visual appeal, seafood and authentic local cuisine and some great shopping for easily transportable items such as kikois, kikoi pants, kangas and other fabrics. So add a couple of days to your trip at the end or break it up with a few days in-between two safari areas – you won’t regret it.

HEMINGWAYS HOTEL, NAIROBI

By early evening I was back in Nairobi and fighting the traffic along Langata road.  In the end Lazarus made a u-turn and took a detour ending up on Ngong Road, to get us to Karen and to the brand new Hemingway Hotel.  The room reminded me a lot of the wonderful Saxon boutique hotel in Johannesburg, but Hemingways is just a lot bigger and more ‘grand’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word.  It starts with a massive foyer with an oversized chandelier, twin staircases and a superb garden view from the balcony.

The standard suites are just as impressive – huge and well-equipped with a slide-away TV (built into a faux trunk), a desk and chair with fast, free WIFI, fully stocked minibar, tea and coffee making equipment and supplies, a huge walk-in closet with movement-activated light and a safe big enough for a 17-inch laptop.  There’s even a plug for recharging one’s laptop inside the safe.  What else?   A shower with multiple showerheads, an oversized tub and marble everywhere.  My only complaint?  The light switches are totally confusing.

19 June – Nairobi

On this day I finally got around to doing some of the Nairobi-area activities which many of our clients have done in the past, and for which I have never time.

Our first stop this morning was a site inspection at Karen Blixen Cottages (hotel).  I really liked the beautiful garden setting, the large attractive rooms and the cozy common areas.  It felt like a very appropriate place for Nairobi:  lush, colorful and on a manageable scale with only about 16 rooms total.  For visitors who want to visit the Giraffe Center, the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Karen Blixen Museum, this would be an ideal spot to spend a night or even two.

KAREN BLIXEN MUSEUM

Our second stop was at Karen Blixen Museum.  The original homestead is fascinating and walking through it with a local guide really takes one back to the turn of the century.  It is not difficult to imagine Karen sitting in her office writing or entertaining guests in her dining room.  I was surprised to learn how ‘primitive’ some aspects of life were, at the time.  Kitchens and bathrooms like we know them just did not exist back in the day.

GIRAFFE CENTER

Next was Giraffe Manor hotel and a visit to the Giraffe Center.  This atmospheric hotel which resembles a Scottish manor house is hugely popular and deservedly so: who doesn’t like a giraffe to pop in for breakfast, or to peek into your room on the 2nd floor?  The rooms themselves were also superb, by the looks of it, and the entire place looked in absolutely tip-top condition.  I might have to try this hotel on a future trip to Nairobi.  Giraffes are such entertaining creatures and to be able to feed them and interact with them at such close quarters will add a lot of fun and excitement to what might otherwise be just a ho-hum overnight in the city.

We also took the opportunity to feed some giraffes at the Giraffe Center – an educational program which raises money for Rotshchild giraffe research and relocation as well as for general conservation education, particularly amongst the youth of Kenya.  The feeding platform which is just a short walk away from the Giraffe Manor Hotel is open daily from 9:00A to 5:00 and visitors are given handfuls of dry pellets which the giraffes with their amazingly long tongues gobble up avidly.  It was as much fun feeding a giraffe as it was watching a bunch of kids doing it – lots of girls squealing…

SHELDRICK ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE

Finally, I spent about 45 minutes at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, watching a succession of young orphaned elephants being fed by bottle.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organizations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.  This is a most worthwhile project and certainly worth an hour of anyone’s time.  Unfortunately elephant poaching is on the increase all over Africa and the tragic side-effects include an ever-greater number of orphaned youngsters.  I got some great photographs of the baby elephants and their handlers, and well as a big group of school children visiting that day.  A few of the kids were initially quite apprehensive but it wasn’t long before they started to touch some of the baby elephants and being very up close and personal with them.  I was thinking to myself that that is where and how the David Sheldricks and Richard Leakeys of the future are made: just one random wildlife encounter could be the spark that totally changes a young child’s life forever.

The rest of the day was given over to more food – a delightful lunch at a restaurant in Karen – and then a meeting with Origins Safaris’ Steve Turner at Hemingways.  Always good to get the insider perspective and an update on what is happening in the wildlife tourism arena in East Africa.

BACK TO HOUSTON

By early evening, we had to make our way (slowly – it is Nairobi, remember) to JKIA for my flight back to Amsterdam and from there all the way to Houston.  The boarding process in Nairobi was laughably inept and chaotic with hundreds of passengers herded together for several hours in a small pre-boarding lounge where there was neither water nor toilet facilities. Confusion reigned as to the order of boarding, nobody could hear when their seat row # was being called.  Just all round unacceptable.  Things started to improve as we got airborne.  This time around KLM had correct dietary information and the ‘vegetarian non-dairy’ meals which they served were quite palatable.  It felt like forever to get back to Houston with a long (4 hr) lay-over in Amsterdam along the way.  In future I think I will avoid taking KLM to JNB from Houston in favor of a direct flight on SAA or Delta.  Just one too many frisking and security check!

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