Leisure time in Lamu
10 May 2007

After a hard week roughing it at Nairobi Backpackers, it was time for some R&R.

In Kenya, the best place for total mind, body and fiscal relaxation is an island about half way up the east coast. And being a Muslim enclave, your liver is also bound to love it!

We had assembled a ragtag group of travellers, handpicked to ensure the most random week possible, though with Nick already on board, this was never going to be difficult. 

Louise was an Irish journalist who spoke in a rich Irish brogue that incited the lyricism of better-known Irish wordsmiths such as Shaw, Beckett or Joyce.

“Fook you, you fookin’ fook,” was a favourite phrase, as was “That was really quite shite”, or, if in praise of something, “It’s the craic”.

A typical conversation might go as follows:
Nick: So, do you say ‘top of the morning to ya’ in Ireland.
Lousie: Jesus Mary Joseph not on yer Nelly. Mind yer cheek lad, yer nothing but a tinker.
Rob the American was the most argumentative man I’ve ever met, and he mercilessly employed the bargaining skills he’d acquired negotiating oil deals in Korea to haggle us everything from cheap rent on a three-storey Spanish villa, a sodden donkey for a 100m joyride in the rain, and severe discounts from the tamarind juice seller, which probably set his savings plan back two months. All this ensured we had the cheapest and most hard-earned week possible.  

Sarah meanwhile was the youngest member of the gang, an 18-year-old English lass who liked trains, didn’t like water, had enormous bosoms, and couldn’t walk 300 metres without buying a ring, a necklace or a new bag.

Then there was Gigi the Belgian psych nurse, who as such was well-qualified to live a week in a house with me. She had wild frizzy hair, and a penchant for local gin, and at times was capable of such crazy talk that I wondered whether back home the lunatics weren’t in charge of the asylum.

Being a Muslim island it was important to remember two things: Alcohol might not only be frowned upon, but also could possibly be extremely difficult to get.

We took no chances. When the bus en route to Lamu stopped at the large town of Melindi for a 10-minute rest stop, five of us fanned out in different directions with strict orders to buy as much booze as possible, limited only by your ability to carry it and return to bus before it departed.

Sarah meanwhile stayed in the bus, sleeping with her chin on her boobs, and boxing in the austere Muslim man next to her whose expression varied from looking deeply depressed, to looking like he might make a jump for it out the window should he hear just one more occidental profanity.

Arriving at Lamu on Friday night, we checked into an airy guesthouse with three levels of rooms, each with self-contained bathroom in differing shades of mould. It didn’t take long to acquaint ourselves with the locals: George was an elderly and endearing English ceramacist who didn’t say anything unless someone famous had said it beforehand, and would soon be so pissed that two of us would be required to carry him downstairs to his room.

Rose was a mutton-dressed-as-mutton Kenyan woman who would spend that evening flitting between every male in the group trying to see how long she could sit gyrating on their crotch before he could create an excuse to maliciously send her on to the next unlucky male victim.

Lastly there was a local tout, who we at first thought was called ‘Banjo’. When we realised the following day that his name was actually ‘Bhaji’, we took to calling him ‘Smuggler’…Budgie Smugglers of course being a derogatory term for Speedos.

Being a clear, starry Friday night with five backpacks full of liquor and heads firmly in holiday mode, the mood was right for a party. The guest house rooftop had a panoramic view of the Lamu’s Moorish skyline and over its narrow winding cobbled streets, which were tightly packed with most of the island’s rumoured 3000 donkeys.

But we soon realised we had a serious problem.

Despite having exhausted the four corners of Melindi of its alcohol, we didn’t factor in one thing: Sarah had met up with her five teenage friends, who liked nothing better than to get blind drunk, preferably at someone else’s expense.

These girls were all lovely, if not also a wee bit daft at times. Megan, who hailed from Scotland, for example had stitched herself into her dress and later required assistance to be unstitched so that she might relieve herself.

Her first ever interaction with Louise had been to knock on her door, wait till it opened then enter backwards with skirt hitched above her waist and asking Louise to check whether she had a worm. “Not on yer nelly!”

Then Rob managed to describe the henna tattoo on her hand as “looking like an octopus shit”, which sent her into a hysterics. Megan also suggested that I, with my t-shirt ripped wide open “looked rather slutty”. I asked if perhaps she couldn’t sew me into my clothes as well, and more hysterics ensued. 

Well after sundown, and after we’d put the girls to bed and hidden the meagre remains of the spirits and passionfruit juice from out of their reach, we trundled into the only nightclub in town, which was actually quite a hike out of it.

The nightclub looked like a temple on a hill, though rather less godly considering it was packed with every man and his donkey, each ogling all of three women. In the intermittent flicker of the fluoro lights, the inside was revealed as a dingy squalid concrete bunker of a building, rather like a larger version of our hotel bathrooms though with a steadier supply of water dripping from the roof.

Shortly after, the lights also revealed myself breakdancing on Nick’s back, and at that point we all decided it was in everyone’s best interest to go home.

The following week on Lamu was spent denying to locals that they’d seen us at the club on Friday, and, for the girls, avoiding the attention of every man and his donkey.
Louise: Smuggler, would you like to walk in front of me?
Bhaji: What? Why’s that?
Louise: So that I can look at your arse like you’ve been looking at mine!

Kenya is a colourful country, and this was no more apparent than on the walls of the myriad fabric sellers on Lamu. Cloths in hues of brilliant yellows, oranges and red, trimmed with hot pink and turquoise hung over rails of fisherman shorts, patchwork pants and collarless shapeless shirts in prints of leopard, zebra, and giraffe. 

Awestruck by the colours, and also mindful we were in desperate need of clean clothes, we decided to commission some pieces. Louise had a pair of pyjamas made, which she not only slept in, but ate drank, partied and went to the beach in. Nick and I meanwhile envisaged spandex jumpsuits with hoods, though this dream was scaled back to matching pants, waistcoat and headbands.

My own was distinctly colourful, a patchwork number carefully stitched from samples off the cutting room floor. At 25 euros, it was neither easy on the wallet or the eyes.

Nick meanwhile opted for a zebra skin number, with a leopard pattern stripe down the side. Debuting the outfit on our last night in Lamu, he was greeted not only with the cries of startled donkeys, but also cries of “hey giant zebra”, “hey Rambo”, and “Hey, weren’t you at that club last Friday”.