Tuesday, December 07, 2004
We reached Makowe, the final stop on main land, late in the afternoon. From here a ferry would take us to the Lamu island. The island is not very far- at the most about 3 kms into the sea - but the town of Lamu is on one side of the island and it is a 6 km ferry ride. Since the buses came in a convoy, the ferry had to make multiple trips to transfer the crowd to Lamu. So that fewer trips could be made, more passengers than what was safe, were taken inside the boat.
Kieron and I thought it is best to be at the edge of the ferry since one can jump out easily lest the ferry sinks. So we pushed ouselves closer to the edge, where a wooden bench ran all along the ferry. I could get a place to sit but Kieron couldnt. He, however, found a pole to lean on. In a short while the whole ferry was filled with people. Most of the women were wearing brightly coloured kangas and kikois . K and K are batik printed fabric that women wear. These are usually sold in pairs: one for wearing and the other to carry a baby on the back. Kangas have a swahili proverb printed on it and is usually made up of a thinner fabric. As Lamu is predominanty Islamic, few women were also wearing Bui Bui (Burkha). Some of the people in the ferry were of african/arab descent, indicative of the rich trading past these areas had with Arabia.
Once the ferry was deemed full, loud shouts were exchanged between various 'crew' on board and on the land. Ropes were thrown into the ferry and slowly the it edged into the water with the engine groaning to break the inertia. My eyes then fell on a wooden box in the middle of the ferry; I presumed this to be a cover for a part of the motor, so that either the hot or the moving parts would not get into contact with the commuters. However, hone by thousands of years of survival instincts, my brain quickly replaced these thoughts by thoughts of my swimming capability. Alarmingly, I realised that after the boat travels for about 15 meters, the shore is certainly out of my swimming reach and so quickly tried to recall the back float lesson, that would enable me to float till help arrives.
With my mind completely filled with harrowing thoughts of drowning, I did not notice the scenery around until i could see the 'skyline' of the town of Lamu. As the image of the town started getting larger, Kieron and I gave a sigh of relief and understanding glances that kind of indicated, we made it! Just as our understanding glances were giving way to understanding smiles, the wooden box that was to protect the commuters from getting burnt, started to emanate smoke. I guess, it must have taken a long time for it to get to this stage but no one noticed until thick smoke started to come from it. With some quick shouts, the engine was quickly shut off and the box was taken out and the fire was douced. However, the then engine refused to start again. Just refused. All this happened when the ferry was within 200 meters to the jetty. The island is a bit rectangular in shape and the town is along one of the smaller sides of it. So for the last 100 meters or so, we were moving parallel to the edge of the town and island. All along the edge were cement cubes that was used to protect the edge from getting eroded into the sea. Just after the cement cubes was the main lane of the town.
The main lane was now filling up with people. I saw a small bunch of chaps pointing out to people in the boat, saying something and giving each other friendly slaps. I thought they must be wagering bets as to who would make it to the shore and who wouldnt after the ferry sinks. After a short while attempts to start the engine were given up and with some loud shouts, help was sought to tug us to the jetty. These shouts yielded help in form of a small motorised boat that brought us to the land.
The jetty was filled with beach boys 'hunting' for the tourists. Since Kieron spoke swahili and since most people in Kenya assumed I was a resident, we werent troubled too much.
The beach front of the town had some shacks which I assumed to be hanging spots for the tourists and many quaint swahili houses with large carved wooden doors. The number of donkeys on the streets is too large to be normal. Later on I came to know that Lamu has only three motorised vehicles. So the alternate means of transport to walking are either cycles or donkeys (as our old school books say: beasts of burden). Itseems that Lamu even has a home for the aged donkeys.
The first spot we went to was Hotel Hapa Hapa: an open fronted shack that had plastic chairs and tables. We went in, plonked ourselves in the chairs on the same side of the table to see the sea as we sipped our juices....
[more about the charming town of Lamu in the next part]