Thursday, August 25, 2005

Swahili tale contd...

Here are Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3 of the Travelogue
Lamu is a kind of place where one just relaxed and did nothing but then surprisingly, even with such minimal activity, one does get hungry. Eager to start my day with yet another traditional breakfast, I was keen to wake up early in the morning and get to the eating joints just after the morning prayers. Although the muezzin’s call did wake me up, better senses prevailed and I just turned around continued sleeping.

I don’t exactly remember when we got up but then soon after hitting the streets, I had my first fill of passion fruit, even though it tasted funny thanks to the toothpaste flavour that was still in my mouth. Our first task of the day was to get hold of Kieron’s sister. We were sure they would still be sleeping by the time we got there, even after a slow breakfast.

It took a long time for the inhabitants of the Swahili house to come up to the door and open it for us. As expected, Kieron’s sister and her gang were still sleeping. Now that we touched base with them and since they would take a long while before they can come out into the streets, we wanted to go for a walk on the northern part of the island. On the sea facing side, there was a bank (lone bank in this place and it also dealt in foreign exchange) and on the street behind was a large mosque. This part of the town had more open area than the southern part; also there are fewer tourists staying here since the houses are mostly thatched.

By the time we got to the Hapa Hapa joint for lunch after a long languid walk, Kieron’s sister gang was already there. While I had ordered for the only veg 'item' on the menu: vegetables with coconut rice; Kieran wanted to eat a lobster. Since I never had anyone eating a lobster before me I had all kinds of thought running through me until that it was served. To eat this creature, I thought one has to break its shell with a small hammer and the insides sucked. At least it wasn’t so bad when it was served; the insides were scooped and made into a kind of curry and stuffed back into the lobster. So technically it was a stuffed lobster!! Kieron was disappointed with how it was served (since it costs a bomb) but I was happy that I did not have to go through someone break open a lobster and suck its meat right in front of me.

Later in the evening we hired a dhow once again to visit Shela, a small village about 8 Km away. Slighter upper end tourists hang out in this village. This place had few restaurants on the beach and had many beach boys playing football in the sand, showing all the skill they have and hoping some middle aged European tourist would call them for their services. The more successful ones were walking around in the sand (or sitting in a dhow) with a woman in their arms.. Kieron said that these women, mostly in their middle ages, are probably divorced and are happy with the kind of attention they get here.

Since there was nothing much to do in this place, after a beer we headed back to Lamu where Kieron bumps into a old friend of his from Mombassa. He was with a young Arab chap; who had a very clear reason for being in Lamu: to get a Muslim prostitute. His father was in the foreign services department and this chap had diplomatic immunity to do whatever pleases him. Later in the night, just after our dinner, a man came up to strike a deal with him. It seems a young Muslim widow was available but he cautioned the price she wanted was high. I guess nothing was too expensive for our lover-boy. He went into the darkness with this chap. I never met him again to listen to his story (I was hoping that this widow was a hoax that that he, after being taken into the darkness gets mugged), since at around 10 in the night we had someone at the door that a dhow would be going out for three days early next morning and that if we are interested we could be a part of this ‘dhow safari’.

The next morning we wake up early and get to the wharf. The dhow was to be manned by two young boys, one of whom introduced himself as the captain. In the dhow were three people: two young women and a young chap. All tourists. We shook hands, told them that we did not have time to prepare for this trip due to the short notice and hence we did not have any water. They had plenty and promised to share it with us. When Kieron asked where they were from, the chap instead wanted Kieron to guess. He guessed right about the chap but couldn’t place the girls. The chap was from Aawstraalia. The girls said they were from Canada. They met each other during their overland trip from Johannesburg to Nairobi. Meanwhile a little local chap came up to one of these girls, stretched out his hand and said “give me colour”. Little kids usually got some coloured pencils and crayons as gifts from tourists and this little fellow wanted his share. When he did not get ‘colour’ from his girl, he went away in anger saying “mzungu bitch!” (mzungu: foreigner). We couldn’t control our laughter. Soon after making a mock attempt to get the little fellow, who ran away to his mother; we sailed out of Lamu.

It was a lovely day to be out in the sea, the sun was not very hot. With the wind coming in from behind us, it did not take us long to get to the open sea. I think when one is on a dhow, with a gentle wind coming from behind; it is magical how one moves. The boat with a slight bobbing motion is propelled forward with just the sounds of water lapping around. They were many fishermen coming back in small boats with eyes painted on the front of the boat and they did not liked to be photographed (so said Kieron). Our captain stops one of the boats and takes a few fish in.

After a few hours, we hit a sand bank and everyone had to jump of the boat and had to push it into the sea once again. Although I barely knew how to swim, I was so happy to jump out and do my bit. It was such a lovely day with blue sky and blue sea and the last thing on my mind was fear. The water felt cool and we splashed around a bit before jumping back on the boat.

In the afternoon we stop at an island called Manda and have our lunch. The captain and his mate are now our cooks. While I had plain rice and a mango, the rest had fried fish to go with their rice. Later in the evening we go for a long walk in search of some civilisation and some tea. Surprisingly we got both, that too a ‘masala chai’. Although there are few inhabitants on this island, it seems some hundreds of years ago, three flourishing town existed on this island. Excavations have shown that extensive trade existed between this island and Iran. By the time we walked back to the group, it was quite dark and I was getting jumpy with every little noise in the bush. To add to my fears, the landscape was queer with silhouettes of 'upside down looking' boabab trees against the darkening sky. Before long we made it to the camp and after a yet another dinner of plain rice for me (with fish for rest), we hit the sack... thereby ending the first day of our dhow trip.


SeaSwallowMe said...


i'm glad you've continued the africa-travelog series. this one's yet another delightful episode :)

p.s. i'm still laughing at your forced plain rice + mango diet. also your wonder about how a lobster would be cracked open (is that still a mystery for you, or has it been done in front of you in subsequent travels ?)

bottled-imp said...

no ssm, i still have no clue as to how lobster is cracked open and eaten. i stay far from sea food places... :)

buckwaasur said...

hi suresh

i just happened to check ur site today...glad to see that u have continued the series...

like i said in an earlier part, the laidback pace of narration and the attention to little details make ur writings a joy to read...

there were many little details that brought a smile to my face, like the change in the taste of the fruit juice because of the left-over taste of toothpaste...

now that i know u haven't abandoned this series, i will check back from time to time to see if u have posted the subsequent parts... :-)

bottled-imp said...

good to see you around buck. i guess in my next 'episode' (which perhaps may be the last) I want to put up some pics of the trip but the catch is that i need to get to someplace that can scan slides.