Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: Lamu Part 2: A three day sailing dhow trip. (May 11-13)

Current Location: Lamu Island, Kenya.
Highlights: Sailing out on the ocean blue, sleeping the night in a baobab tree, and cooking on an open fire in a wooden boat.
Upcoming: Part 3: A donkey ride, preparing a traditional Swahili meal, justice served, Flamingos on L. Bogoria, and a week in the bush with Maasai worriers (hopefully).

We finished last time as Ali pushed us off in the sailing dhow with another crew member. So off we set with our captain and crew member, who didn't really speak English, into the Indian ocean.

Our goal on the dhow trip was to sail north to the Island of Kiwayu, a small almost deserted Island to the north, then to a town on the Kenyan mainland called Nkokone just by the border with Somalia as we wanted to walk up into Somalia for the day. Then we wanted to head south slowly stopping off on other islands with some snorkeling and fishing in-between. However, things were not really to go as planned.

With winds blowing from the south, we headed north and left Lamu towards Kiwayu. The weather was nice and sunny and it was just great to be out on the ocean under the power of the wind in a sailing dhow that has sailed these waters for centuries. The splashing of the ocean as we cut through the waves in our small dhow and the noise of the wind past our ears were the only sounds we could hear. It was great. After a short while, our captain got out a small axe and started to chop up some wood. We were both completely puzzled at what he could be doing. I joked and said that maybe he was chopping wood to make a fire. But in fact that is exactly what he was doing. He was going to make a fire in an old car wheel and cook dinner
and make tea as we sailed. It was amazing to watch as he balanced pots on burning wood as the small dhow tipped and rocked through the waves. Dinner was rice, and some veggies in a tasty soup followed by an almost addictive black tea flavored with cardamom.

It took us until 9pm in the evening to reach Kiwayu. There is actually a small campsite with small cottages and a tree house built in a large baobab tree. Ali told us that it would cost about 120 KSh each to stay there or it would be free to sleep in the dhow. In fact, once again that was not so. The campsite owner said that to camp, it would cost 200 KSh which was not much good as we had neither tent nor mattress or sleeping bag. To stay in a cottage was 600 KSh or 1000 KSh for the tree house. We explained our situation, but the campsite owner was not very friendly and just walked off
saying that these were the fees. We just sat on the beach in the dark for about 30mins deciding what to do. The cost of a cottage, was beyond our budget, and camping, just sleeping on the sand did not sound too appealing.

Just as I was about to weaken and spend the $$ on a cottage, the owner came back and said that we could sleep in the tree house for free just for one night. I was completely flabbergasted. He was not a very friendly person, but decided to let us stay in the most expensive place for free. Amazing. He then quickly disappeared before we could thank him. The tree house was cool, although it had seen better days. All night we could see bats fly through the open structure silhouetted against the moonlight, very cool.

We awoke the next morning and chatted to the crew about going to the
mainland. Apparently they did not know how to sail there and were not willing to try. Disappointed we asked about going snorkeling to which they replied that this would cost us more. Apparently Ali had told them we wanted to sail to Kiwayu, spend a few days there, then sail back. We were almost furious at this and decided that we should just head back to Lamu since we could not go to the mainland. I also could not understand the logic from the crew. We could either head back to Lamu (two full days hard sailing), or spend a relaxing day on the Island with maybe 1 hr sailing to go snorkeling for which they would be paid the same as the hard days sailing to Lamu. But they insisted on being paid more for this easy day! Since we were
sailing into the wind we would have to "tack" so it would take us two days to get back. In fact it was not that big a deal that we were heading back as the sailing, just being on the boat, was the best part of the trip. We had a walk around the village on Kiwayu and then got into the boat to begin this second days sailing. Once again it was a gorgeous days sailing and we reached as far as south as Faza on Pate Island. This was a very small town with no cars at all, few donkeys, and a few small shops in the back of peoples homes. The houses were mostly built of coral rag with palm leaf
roofs. Our Captain was born in Faza so we were going to stay the night at his parents home who were fairly well off by local standards.

On our way into the Faza inlet, we bought some fish from a fishing boat (100 KSh for two large fish = about US$1.25). Captain Faridy's family would cook the fish curry dinner tonight! We anchored the dhow and walked through some mud to the town and Faridys house. Like all the houses in Faza, it was stark, almost barren inside. It seems that the people of Faza do not place any value or importance on the interior decoration of a house. Just inside the front door there was an entrance hall which also served as the living room with a few chairs, a dinning table and several dining chairs. The walls were once painted white but most of the paint had fallen off and it
had not been repainted. There were no interior decorations at all, nothing on the walls, and nothing on the floors. There is no electricity in Faza so they used a paraffin lamp and small paraffin flames for light. The bathroom was probably the darkest room in the house. These walls were dark gray, almost black in the dim paraffin flame light. The toilet was a hole in the ground. They do not use toilet paper, but you have to use your hand and wash after in a bucket of water. I could not see a basin, just a small rectangular bathtub filed with cold water covered with lots of water-filed
buckets. The smell was terrible, but it was clean. We were given a bedroom in which to sleep, again another room with nothing but a bed, a worn out sofa, some cardboard boxes in the corner, and a few cloths hanging on pegs.

It was incredibly hot and stuffy with only one very small window and
mosquitoes were everywhere. The bed was incredibly uncomfortable and smelt terrible, but it was very clean.

I do want to be clear, that I am not being critical or speaking badly of these people who were being very hospitable, I just want to create a clear picture as well as the atmosphere of the place as we experienced it.

We settled down to the worsted night sleep of the whole Edventure so far. The humid heat was uncomfortable, and we awoke frequently to the sound of a mosquito in our ears. A donkey had parked itself just outside the window and frequently brayed throughout the night at the top of its voice waking us with a start. I couldn't stand the mosquitoes so got up to plaster myself in repellant form head to foot.

Thankfully we had to leave by 5 am to give us a full day to sail back to Lamu. In the morning Faridy asked us for some money to give his sister for cooking dinner. Although we had been invited to stay for free at his house and sleep in what turned out to be his parents bedroom, I was still irritated that we were asked to pay, after the fact, and that we had also bought all the food which went to feed his whole family!

We walked back through the mud and set off once again on the good ship Jamila! Our spirits were lifted once we got underway, once again cutting through the water, wind blowing, and sun shining. Again Faridy cooked dinner and made tea on board on an open fire. Today however the wind was blowing much stronger and to balance the boat, we had to take it in turns to sit out on the end of the balance plank (see pics) which was great fun. It was a very long day and we finally made it back to Lamu by 7 pm that evening.

I have to say that the sailing really was brilliant and great fun to be able to travel in a vessel like a dhow. The time we had on land in-between the sailing was an experience that I will not forget in a hurry!

In part 3 I'll go into our last few days on Lamu where we took a donkey ride on the Islands laziest donkeys, watched a traditional Swahili meal of shark curry be prepared, and took Ali to the police!

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