April 11 and 12:
I close my eyes and try to capture my waning moments in the Maasai Mara. I know this trip will be an adventure that I will reflect upon for a long time. How quickly the vast open plains spotted with wild animals, the screech of hippos in the streams below our camp, the site of a wild cheetah prancing across the savannah will soon fade to memory. The land is so wild yet provides such a natural home to these amazing animals, a home where predator and prey co-exist in an endless cycle of life and death.
We wait patiently for the giraffe to cross the grassy runway as today’s journey takes us airborne for two flights ending in the coastal town of Lamu on the Indian Ocean. I am particularly excited to visit another area that I traveled to 25 years ago during my NOLS course.
Lamu provides an outer body experience for those seeking inner peace. This tropical island sways to the relaxed rhythm you might find in a Bob Marley song. Leave the cell phone and stress at home. The narrow streets of Lamu are of a time long past, with no vehicles where the donkey and dhow remain the predominant form of transportation. With a strong Muslim influence (99.9 percent of the population when I was on the island), the people here are great believers in traditions and customs.
It is mandatory for women to cover their arms and wear a skirt or Kikoi that covers below the knees. As I had inappropriate attire, I was thrilled to learn that my newly purchased Kikoi sufficiently covered my legs! Once we were all properly attired one way or another we took a short boat ride to reach central Lamu where the majority of vendors are located. We had two locals from our resort with us to facilitate bargaining.
Proving that I am better suited for Western culture, I was trying on a beautiful beaded necklace when I realized that my Kikoi had fallen to my knees. As I doubled over laughing, knowing that my undergarment (my bathing suit) covered “Christmas,” the shopkeeper quickly ran over to “show” me how to properly tie it. In so doing, he proceeded to unwrap me fully! One of our group leaders from Africa, Gavin, found it just as comical despite his strict instructions that we must dress properly in order not to offend the Muslims. Thankfully I was not flogged and this cheap thrill provided one important lesson for future travelers: Learn how to tie your Kikoi!!
We have stayed at two nice properties, Manda Bay and Red Pepper House. Manda Bay (http://www.mandabay.com/ ) was an exotic beach hotel located on one of the many unspoiled, idyllic islands within the Lamu archipelago. It is a perfect getaway with 16 flawlessly designed cottages. Many of these cottages are flanked along the shoreline. They all have large dressing rooms, showers, ceiling fans and private verandahs.
The most exciting part to me is the access to all the wonderful water sports, including deep sea fishing, water skiing, wind surfing, scuba diving, and an evening “sundowner” cruise on the dhow. For the less adventuresome there is also a game room overlooking the sea complete with pool table, darts and table tennis. I envision sending a family here who is looking for moderate accommodations flanked by numerous water sports and friendly staff in a more remote location. There is truly something for everyone at Manda Bay.
After a quick visit we were off to Red Pepper House on Lamu Island. This is an exquisite boutique beach hotel offering the ultimate in indulgence and relaxation. It provided a combination of real African culture and laid back beach culture while only being a stones throw from the historical town of Lamu (http://www.theredpepperhouse.com/).
It consists of 5 beautiful Nyumbas (Swahili name for home) which perfectly integrate into the natural surroundings. The Nyumba’s are very spacious though be on full alert that you will be slightly warm when sleeping…best to eat a lot, have a couple of glasses of wine and then wet your Kikoi and lay it over your naked body…and then pray no surprise visitors come to visit in the middle of the night!
The highlight to me was the final two properties we visited while in Lamu. One was a Villa that sleeps around 12 people overlooking the Indian Ocean. It is called the Beach House and a place I would love to return for a fun celebration with great friends. No worries here with great venues, a gorgeous infinity pool, and butlers to help with any desire. One can go to the market to prepare meals, set up an evening sundowner on a dhow, swim with the dolphins at the nearby islands, take a picnic and set up a bbq after a day fishing or simply sit around the pool and vegetate…the possibilities are endless, making each day slip away quicker than they should.
As Beach House is on the main side of Lamu we took a 5 minute boat ride across the water to experience one of the coolest properties we have seen in this area. What was once an Italian family’s retreat has now been turned into a top-notch resort called Majlis (http://www.themajlisresorts.com/home.php).
WOW! I wish their decorator lived closer to me as each room is so tastefully done in a very local way but without being over-powering. The rooms are all light and airy (even have ac as an option) and there are two beautiful pools to indulge in as well as a fabulous bar that I can only imagine has had its share of good times. As on the other islands, there is endless opportunity for water sports and top-notch game-fishing.
The owner, Stephanso, lives in his family’s villa which is planked between the other guest buildings. He and his two other brothers rotate every few months overseeing this operation. You can see the pride in his beautiful eyes that he has developed a gold mine outside the hustle and bustle of Lamu.
I highly recommend Majlis to those searching for a WOW getaway. It would be ideal for a big birthday celebration or a great way to end a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. I cannot wait to tell you more!
After a quick swim in the Indian Ocean and a dip in their overly heated pool due to too much morning sun, we are off to the Grumeti Reserve for the final days of our trip. Having visited the Maasai Mara in the southwest part of Kenya we head to the northwest and central part of the Serengeti where the Grumeti game reserve forms part of this eco system.
I am sitting on the edge of my seat as I understand we will be visiting two of the most amazing properties in Africa…. have a peak and I will report back soon on my firsthand experience. What a way to end an already over-the-top trip! I sense I will be planning my return visit soon but this time with my family. I hope you will be too!