Few coastal towns have tugged at my heart as much as Lamu has. It still shocks me to hear how many of my friends confess that they’ve never been to this beautiful, serene island before. But then again, neither had I until three weeks ago.

 

I had the pleasure of traveling to Shela, Lamu Island, with three of my friends: Joy Kendi, Tatiana Karanja and Susan Wong. Surprisingly, of the four of us, only Tatiana had been to the island before.
After landing at the local airport, we took a 20minute boat ride (one of the few modes of transport in Lamu) to our home of the week – Forodhani House.
I thought I knew what to expect given that I’d been to other Kenyan coastal towns many times before but Lamu definitely caught me by surprise. Here are some unexpected twists that the charming island boasts:

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Not your average taxi rank

Believe it or not, only four cars operate on the island! This means you either walk, take a boat ride or – my personal favourite – hop on a donkey. You should have heard us gasp when our guide stopped in front of a bunch of donkeys with their caretakers and referred to it as the taxi rank. Can it get any more charming? Part of the reason the island has been able to maintain its unmatched charm and heritage is by preserving various cultural elements. It’s no surprise Lamu is considered one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

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Brothers and sisters

There’s a strong bond among the locals which you can sense as you explore the island. Through conversations with the residents, I got to understand just how small and intimate living on the island is. You can’t help but know everyone on it!

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Swahili lingo, anyone?

Assuming you don’t already speak the language, you’re probably going to pick up some Swahili lingo here and there. Lamu Island was one of the first Swahili settlements along the coastal area and majority of the population is currently Muslim. There are really no restrictions on what to wear when you’re on the beach or hotel but if you do step into Lamu Old Town, you should attempt to wear pieces that cover your shoulders and go down to your knees in order to pay respect to their culture.

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Welcome to the Wild side

Believe it or not, the island is home to a huge herd of buffalos, zebras, some hippos and elephants. Yes, even elephants I don’t know that many islands that could boast of such a wide array of wildlife. Lamu Conservation Trust looks after the animals on Amu Ranch and does their very best to ensure the ecosystem remains undisturbed.

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What do you yoga, food and culture have in common?

The island hosts a number of festivals that not only help promote tourism but also celebrate the culture. Some of the most popular include the Lamu Cultural Festival, Yoga Festival and Food Festival. It’s a great way to also meet like-minded people who will appreciate the same things! Check out the calendar here: http://lamutourism.org/things-to-do/festivals-and-events/

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By Sharon Mundia, author of This Is Ess and columnist at Capital Lifestyle.

Credits photo: Tatiana