As I look across from Manda island Jetty, I see a sea of wind swept sails in the distance, and there, standing in all its finery, is the Lamu of my dreams…
If there are places that cannot be described, but that need to be experienced, well Lamu is one of them. I have lived my private romance in Lamu. As soon as I got there I had the impression I was catapulted back into a place where time stood still. I started to explore the old town, walking through the labyrinthian streets that has its origin in Arabia, spending the afternoons sitting in one of the local restaurants drinking spicy swahili tea while reading a book and waiting for one of the beautiful golden sunsets on the horizon, or walking for hours on the endless beaches of Shela.
The silence of the nights were interrupted by the calls to prayer. Waking up dreamly, I go out to my terrace room to breathe the magical atmosphere that surrounds the city.
The narrow mysterious streets of this medieval stone town tell a story and while walking through them, have loved to stop to admire the beautifully carved doors that are a symbol of Lamu, touching them, is like being transported back in time these fascinating doors.
Arts and crafts still abound, and the remaking of the old style of wood work is still created in the same painstaking manner. I loved to speak to these men that are so passionate about their job.
One of the best things I have experienced in Lamu has been to spend some days to a local house where Fatma taught me to cook local food. Some days of deep immersion i n the Swahili food and culture with an amazing woman in her kitchen, in her house, with her children, surrounded by the aromas of the Swahili spices. We used to start to cook at about 9 in the morning and went on until about 3 in the afternoon. Every day in Fatma’s kitchen there was an explosion of aromas, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, garlic, all of them essential in the Swahili cuisine. We cooked for her family, for me, so that I could taste it, and we prepared some street food that Fatma then would have sold to the people of Lamu. Everyday we made even some lime juice and tamarind juice that were so famous in the island, everybody looked for Fatma’s juices, because so so good. Fatma’s food is authentic and traditional, full of flavour and character and have a story behind of a fusion of different cultures.
We cooked “Mahamri” (a fluffy hollow donut made with coconut milk and cardamom), “Samosas” (vegetable and with meat), “Vitumba”(a sweet snack made of rice flour, coconut, yeast, cardamom),” Biriyani rice”, “Pilau rice”, and of course “Chapati”.
The masala chai was a must every morning and during the day always some tamarind juice or mango juice.
The old town of Lamu has been built in coral stone and mangrove timber and it is one of the oldest swahili settlements in east Africa. The island has been influenced by different cultures during the centuries, Portuguese explorers, Turkish traders, Arabs. With this mix of cultures Lamu has developed its own particular culture. And what makes more special the island is that there are not vehicles and the donkeys and the dhows are the dominant form of transport.