I decide to head up to Lamu, an island up north along the Kenyan coast, close to the Somali border. You could compare it to a smaller version of Zanzibar, without the huge numbers of tourists of tourists. It became a hotspot for travellers in the seventies but after recent attacks of Al-shabaab on Lamu and in the region, the percentage of people visiting the place has dropped significantly.
The tourists who do visit Lamu mostly fly in. I decided to travel by land. There have been some recent attacks on buses by Al-Shabaab on the last stretch of road from Garsen to Lamu. It’s a 120 km dirt road and some of the buses going to Lamu breakdown or get stuck. They are the perfect targets for the militia to launch a grenade on or to perforate the bus with bullet holes.
There should be bus convoys escorted by police leaving Malandi (south from Garsen) two times a day. Buses are obliged to drive in these convoys or they get a fine. I drive along the coastline from Mombasa to Malandi in a hurry because I want to catch the convoy that leaves for Lamu at 10. I’m speeding past Kilifi, Watamu, they all should be magnificent places but there’s no time to waste. I don’t want to risk my life riding to Lamu so I have to catch this convoy.
I arrive a bit later than 10 in Malindi. I stop at a bus office to ask if the convoy has already departed. It has… I was expected a bit more “African” flexibility but apparently the convoy is punctual. I will have to wait until three in the afternoon to catch the next one and arrive in Lamu after dark.
Maybe it was the fact that it felt quite safe in Malindi, maybe it was because the clerk in the bus office said the road was safe, but I decided to ride to Lamu without the convoy. Along the way there are dozens of military checkpoints. Everytime I ask about the security situation and every time the soldiers reassure me that everything is very safe. The problem is that I’m not always convinced when they tell me that in Africa. But it’s true this time. The biggest danger on the road are the hordes of goats and cows that cross the road without any warning.
Still, I’m quite relieved when I’m on a little boat speeding to Lamu. I left my motorcycle at the police station on the mainland, because cars and motorbikes are not allowed on the island.
I find the nice and cheap pearle guest house close to the old fort of Lamu. It’s built in the old Lamu style with furniture and woodcarvings in the typical Swahili style. It’s maybe not the tidiest place but it has a lot of character and the view from the top terrace is amazing. After my installation in the house I long for a beer. There are only two places to get a beer in this muslim town: the police canteen and Petleys. Because of my old love for the police (ahum) I decide to avoid the canteen and to get my first beer in Petleys.
I’m half way through my first beer when a guy asks me to join. He has a grin on is face. I can’t see his eyes because he’s wearing big ray ban sunglasses. He has a blue beret on his head with some small Rasta’s peaking out.
He introduces himself as: SATAN
I’m surprised to meet the devil himself on this peaceful island. I didn’t know that Lucifer looked like a crossover between Ché Guevara and Samuel L. Jackson. I decide to become his disciple and I follow Him around for the next few days.
Soon to be released the short documentary: “Satan’s story “
(Satan was not a passenger on my motorbike, because there are no cars allowed on Lamu. But we walked and talked for many miles together)
Another fascinating person I meet is Alex. Alex is a Canadian wheat farmer who spends half of the year working in the fields and the other half travelling Africa. He’s been doing that since 1978. Lamu is since that time the base camp for all his travelling. In that time there were even still Dhow from Jemen who sailed into the port. The Dhows don’t come anymore but Lamu hasn’t changed that much. That’s the reason why he keeps coming back.
Alex is a typical Canadian, kind, modest, friendly and an easy smile. He has one big passion: banknotes. He wrote already several books about them. He writes about the pictures on them, the history behind the notes. He’s really passionate about it. He knows even what every old Belgian Francs note looked like. The man is a walking encyclopaedia, not only on banknotes but also on African history.
“Have you noticed something since you arrived?” he askes me.“There are no billboards on the island, no publicity whatsoever. That’s why I love this island. Half of the year I’m exposed to all these commercials and consumerism. Here I find some peace and quite.”
Besides following Beelzebub around and talking to Alex, I also partake in some real touristy stuff: sailing on a dhow to some magnificent beaches, getting ripped of by a guy who looks like Sinbad the Pirate. Every morning I get my breakfast at the docks with the locals. Looking over the narrow stretch of sea between Lamu and Manda. I’m having very sweet tea and even sweeter pastries.
I really love this city with its narrow streets, its diverse population, and the smelly streets. Everywhere you hear Jambo, pole pole, hakuna matata. I will be back that’s for sure. When I arrive back on the main land the first thing that pops into sight is a huge Tusker (a Kenyan beer brand) billboard. I think about Alex words and I’m starting to miss Lamu already.