Friday, January 07, 2005

swahili experiences...

Now that we were on land again, that too without getting wet, we decided to celebrate by getting something to eat at the best shack in front of the sea. It was while the food was being prepared, which took a long time as no one was in a hurry, I said we should plan a bit on what we should be doing; more importantly on where we should be staying. However, the first thing Kieron wanted to do was to find his sister.

His sister and her friend were with their two African boyfriends. Who, in true Hindi filmi style became their b.f. after they 'saved' these girls from certain pestering creatures in the lanes of Old Mombassa. However, normally it would have been easy to stalk out two white girls with their local boyfriends as everyone would have been talking about them, but then Lamu is another place.

Somehow, the hippies of the seventies (or was it the sixties?) 'found' Lamu. I say somehow as it beats me how on earth did they get to this piece of island in Indian Ocean, close to Somalia border, of all the places in the world. So since the time Lamu and the islands around it have been 'found', the locals have seen many 'romances' that end up nowhere. Well in these case its the means that matter not the ends. I am not saying that person A should fall in love with someone of his or her own ilk but then one can easily see that these romances, considering the discrepancies between the two parties, have rather short lives. Which in many cases is mutually beneficial. Few days later I met an artist who lovingly showed me a picture of his daughter living in Sweden. His ex, he said, sends the daughter once in a while to Lamu. He went to Sweden once, the lady paid.

Anyway getting back to the story, our meal took a long time to come and longer time to finish. If this meal was the sign of things to come, I could see that it is going to be one unhurried holiday. After we stepped out, Kieron caught hold of couple of 'beach boys' who can give assistance for many 'tourist activities' that are offered here. He soon found out where his sister was staying and that they went out on a dhow to someplace to swim. Instead of waiting for them to find out if they had a room for us, we decided to look for one ourselves.

Lamu, has one long sea facing road, which is the only road where a vehicle could move. The rest of the town is lost in a flurry of small lanes. After the first row of sea facing buildings which include a bank and a museum, is the next widest lane. On this lane one could find many interesting buildings including few mosques and a small fort.

Right after the small square in front of the fort was a small movie hall which to my surprise was playing an Amitabh movie. Even more surprising was that it was a all woman show. Until then I never realised the potential of Bollywood to transcend the barriers of language and culture. After all it is just not us who like our hero to float with his lady love like a butterfly and sting a few baddies like a bee. Would have like to see a movie in this theater but considering the fact that a Sanjay Dutt movie was to be shown next, I decided against it.

With no difficulty, we found a room in one of the houses close to the fort. This was a large room on the first floor of a Swahili house with two separate four post beds on which mosquito nets were hanging. Two small windows overlook the street and into the house on the opposite side. After having a wash in a open roof bathroom with a tin door, we set out again.

While walking on the sea front, Kieron stopped once in a while to greet and catch up with old friends. We also wanted to 'charter' a dhow the next day for a swim at one of the nice beach of an island close by. Lamu does not have a beach, the island ends and the sea begins, with lot of concrete blocks to stop the soil erosion.

Next day, it was my first trip on a dhow. Dhow is a traditional sail boat with two or more sails. It is wonderful to be on one of these with wind coming from behind and the boat effortless sailing over the water, without the sound of a motor. Just the swoosh of the water being cut by the stern of the boat. It is worth the experience. However, life on dhows is not always poetic. If the wind is too strong, it may tilt the boat dangerously. I have never seen it but Kieron tells me that to counter balance the force from the wind, a helper is literally made to 'walk the plank' and sit at the edge. However the boat I was in did tilt about 10- 20 degrees but not too dangerously. By the time we headed back, it was late in the evening and the dusk was falling and it was good to be sailing smoothly into the Lamu, with the lights turning on as we approached.

It was on this trip that we were told that some chaps organise a three day island hopping trip on a dhow with food included for the price. After Kieron translated that, I told him I was on. However, instead of we having the whole dhow to ourselves, we wanted to share it with some others.

After reaching Lamu, we went in search of a place to eat. When I was told that I could eat coconut rice with vegetable curry, little did I realise that this was all that I could get to eat on this island. The rest was sea food. Each time I asked is there anything veg, I would be replied "can I give some coconut rice with vegetable curry?" in a tone that kind of got to me after few days.

Thus our fist day at Lamu came to an end. Though we did nothing, we were unbelievably tired.

Chaps I thought it would be three part series. It is already the third part and still someway to go. So, I have a request. Folks could you tell me which of the parts could have been culled to make it an interesting read?