Curiosity is one of my weaknesses. One day I think I’ll try to go climb a bit too high, push that extra mile a bit too hard, stick my head down the wrong hole and ‘Snap!’…no more Kenyan Camper. But until that happens and some ill-informed family member tries to collect on my non-existent insurance policy, my curiosity is what makes my life worth living. That’s how I find myself flying across the waves through the Lamu Archipelago, The Muse by my side, a smile on my face; wondering what my ‘need to know’ has gotten me into this time.
This trip began 10 years past when I first heard about the island but let me >>fast forward>> to a few months ago where I meet Carol and Rachael representing Discover Lamu at one of Nairobi’s travel expos. Do you attend any of these? You can get some serious special offers for locals and residents. Long story short we get to chatting about tourism, marketing and a few emails later I find myself back in Lamu.
I’ve covered my experience in getting to Lamu Island before so my first stop is the famous (or infamous depending on what side of Carols mood you’ve found yourself on) Peponi Hotel, say what you want about it but it’s been up and running since 1967, mad respect. If you’re like be and love behind-the-scenes stories there’s some great history about the hotel here. So while I’m busy putting my ‘presentation’ in order (incl. paying a whopping Ksh 15 a page for printing in Shela town) The Muse decides the best way to help is stay out of my way. How convenient.
I’ve heard mixed reviews about the food here but my experience here was nothing short of excellent. Even The Muse who’s culinary standards border on psychotic agrees. So when I’m not working we’re eating, budget be damned.
Getting to Kiwayu
Kiwayu Island is 60km or 1hr from Lamu town by speedboat, and is a beautiful trip through parts of the Lamu Archipelago. If you’re the type of traveller that likes to take your time, there is the option of taking a dhow that takes 8hrs (this is what I’ll be doing if I ever go back here).
Mike’s Camp had been around since 1992 (some of you are wondering how the hell you’ve never heard of it) and this is as close as you get in Kenya to fulfilling your dreams of being castaway on a deserted island. With only 7 bandas and only about 480 Bajuni people in the nearby villages of Chandani, Kiwayu and Mokokoni it’s not exactly overcrowded.
The main common areas overlook the creek and on towards Lamu County on the mainland.
I find the camp layout to be fun in way I’ve described about other places in my travels .Not too much, not too little but just enough, best way to decibel it is ‘human-sized’ you fit right in.
The bar serves some of the freshest lemonade I have ever tasted. And if any of you soccer-freaks are looking around the photo above for a TV screen don’t bother, there is none. (I realize you might have just clicked away from this article, thanks for hanging around for this long).
Depending on the room you get you either have views of the creek and numerous islands to the east or the open Indian Ocean to the West. Both are equally stunning in different ways. I’m still on a go-slow as regards photographing beds but this is the room I’m staying in.
This is my kind of place, great use of natural materials plus the entire camp runs on solar and wind power. Tourist accommodations that use noisy generators belching smoke into the air in this day and age gets no love from me. There is also some very inventive use of discarded materials to accent the interior decoration. My head nods in approval.
The Creek Side
This part of the sea is very still and great for snorkelling as it’s quite calm. The snorkelling jaunt was not on of my most brilliant moments. Heading out with the current was easy, but swimming back was insanity defined. The image of Mike looking on in pity as I floundered in in two feet of water after swimming for half an hour against the current is an image that will stay with me for years to come. I did get to see my first sea slug though which was a plus.
The Beach Side
Kiwayu Island is very thin (about 1/2km wide) and long so while the camp faces the creek on one side the beach is only a 10min walk on the other side of the island. I’ve been to a number of beaches along Kenya’s coast but only in the Lamu Archipelago do you find miles and miles of white sand without a single soul on them.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been to Mombasa, Diani or Watamu this is totally on another level (Sorry other beaches I love you as well but…..) When I say you’re alone I really mean alone. No one selling anything, no camel rides, no jet-skis, no nothing.
While here I find it so easy to let my imagination go back in time. It’s not difficult to imagine how things were back in the 13th century when part of Chinese Emperor’s Zheng’s fleet sunk on the shores of the archipelago.
Strange to imagine honeymooners would rather hit Dubai, Mauritius or Seychelles while all this is available right here in our own country (I’m looking at you Njui). The island is actually situated in the Kiunga Marine Reserve so thankfully it will remain conserved for many years to come.
A Day’s End
The dinner table was full to capacity on my visit due to an annual deep-sea fishing competition with boats from all along Kenya’s coast, thanks for the fresh sashimi guys! Always wanted to write an article about deep-seas fishing so if you know someone who does it let me know.
As evening falls, it really hits me what yet another special place I’m in. Out of the 1450km of Kenyan coastline I’m in what is currently the most easterly AND northerly accommodation on the entire coast.
- The speedboat to Kiwayu is a killer, Ksh 15,000 one way. How can a a 1hr trip on a boat cost the same a flight to Lamu from Nairobi? I highly doubt these are the prices locals pay to travel between the islands. What did I learn from this? The secret is to plan your trip with 4-6 people to split this cost. That being said, I really hope Mike’s camp can get their own boat so as to control transport to the camp rather than rely on an independent operator. Boat guy is Anwar +254-708-006274.
- Plan your trip during the low season, I have seem offers for locals/residents as low as Ksh 13,000 (edit: in a perfect world I would like to see this shaved to Ksh 10,000, the value proposition to clients could be worth the increased bookings).
- I have left out a lot of the activities available at the camp. Why? The best person to ask about this is Mike himself. Visit his website and contact him directly at email@example.com | +254 (0) 718 004 920.
Like with many of my articles this kind of travel might not be everyone’s cup of tea but sometimes if you’re looking for something special you have to get your mind (and your money) right. Also I think there’s already enough BS in Kenya’s tourism industry without me adding on to it so let’s be real, places like Mike’s camp have historically not been sold to the local travellers. In my research before my visit I came across the all manner off marketing hype by travel agents, but what do I find on my visit? Mike, a really cool soft-spoken guy in his faded beach shorts ready to listen to what I have to say about domestic tourism figures and how local travellers can impact his business.
And this is where curiosity comes in, sure it’s easy to live our lives sheltered from the unknown and secure in our own tiny world but that’s hell-a boring. As travellers it is inherent upon is to be curious and it’s not a stretch to ask those in tourism to be curious about us as well. Lets all stop being wallflowers and shyly approach each other from across the room, hit the dance floor and create some magic.
It all begins with curiosity.
***A big thank you to Andrew and Carol and Andrew at Peponi for putting me up, and of course to Mike and all the guys at Mike’s camp for such a lovely stay. Asanteni. ***