I’ve just returned from a holiday on the island of Lamu, just off the coast of Kenya. I spent quite a bit of time writing and taking photos while I was there, a lot of which will appear on here soon. Here’s the first instalment, most of which was written while in the plane…
I’m flying across Kenya in a Gulfstream G159; a twin propeller plane with 24 passengers. I’m near the front on the right hand side, next to the window. The plane is small enough that I’m also by the aisle. This is the smallest plane I have ever flown in.
So far the flight has been very smooth. Looking down over Kenya I can see vast expanses of red ground, yellow grass, green trees, the occasional river and lake, but very few roads. Unfortunately we can’t see Mt. Kilimanjaro today because of clouds. There are a few clouds below us, but they just look like the occasional ball of cotton wool scattered on the landscape, floating above their own shadows.
The pilot tells us that the temperature in Lamu is twenty-nine degrees, but he doesn’t know what the weather is – it’s either sunny or cloudy. I feel us start to descend; the plane feels like it is angled forwards quite steeply. There’s quite a lot of cloud in front so it’ll probably start to get bumpy.
I can see the coast now. The sand is white, the sea is clear blue. I can see roads and houses now. There are lots of rivers too, splitting the land into little islands. It feels like we’re hardly moving.
We’re now over the sea. I can see boats with triangular sails. I see a coral reef. There are shoals of fish like big black clouds in the sea. The reefs are green, the rest of the sea is dark blue.
I see land again. Small islands in the sea, not more than a bit of sand and a few trees. I can see white lines in the coral, they look like subterranean roads. We’re over the land again now, following the beach. There are quite a few dhows on the sea.
The pilot tells us that Lamu is to our left, and it’s raining there. He says ‘we’ll do our level best to land’ but if he can’t see the runway we’ll have to go back to Malindi and wait for the rain the stop.
There’s a real desert island to the right – just about big enough the film ‘Survivor’ on. We’re flying through the rain now. The flight is getting quite bumpy. I notice the landing gear retract. We’re over a big river. Or is it water between islands? We’re now at the other side of the island – or is it a different island? It’s hard to tell.
We’re circling. Are we trying again, or going to Malindi? The gear is out again. We are very low, and banking steeply – it feels like it’s about 45 degrees. I can see our shadow on the seabed. There are lots of trees in the water.
The gear is retracted again. The nose is back up and I can feel us speeding up. The pilot tells us that we’re going to Malindi. Then about ten seconds later he comes over the speakers again: ‘God is on our side. The rain has cleared – we’ll make a quick dash for it.’ We bank round again.
We’re very low – we’re skimming the tops of the trees. Now a gap has appeared and we’re flying just a few feet from the ground. Now I see a runway – we touch down perfectly and everyone on the plane starts clapping. We taxi along the runway, water splashing under the plane’s wheels. We’re here.
Outside the plane it is hot and humid, and I can’t see any buildings anywhere. Then I hear someone shout ‘Welcome to Lamu’, and I notice a man standing by the trees a little way away. I have to wade through an inch or so of water on the sandy ground by the runway to reach him, where I discover a couple of small buildings with tin roofs, hiding behind the trees. One building claims to be the ‘Manda Duty Free Shop’, and they’re selling bottles of water.
Under a thatched canopy there are a group of people waiting to take us to the boat to Lamu (the airport is on the adjacent Manda Island). One of them tells me he will help me find accomodation in Lamu. Someone pulls a handcart across the runway piled high with our luggage. I find my rucksack and follow a group of people along a sandy path towards the sea. We walk out along a long wooden pier and climb down into the ‘taxi’.
The taxi is an very old wooden sailing boat. There are sacks of maize in it already. I throw my rucksack on top of them and clamber in. It’s still raining lightly, so I move aft where there’s a canvas shelter rigged up. I sit on a bench at the edge of the boat, near to the engine which is in a big makeshift wooden box in front of me. There are only a few of us in the boat and we cast off and move a little way off from the pier. For some reason, we stop and wait for another boat to fill up before returning and filling up ourselves.
Then we cast off properly and start to head across the channel towards Lamu.