Just before Christmas while I was in Lamu I went on a fishing trip. This is the first part of the writeup…
At half past eight in the morning I meet Smiley on the seafront, who is already there with his dhow, the ‘Uhuru’ (freedom). I climb into the boat from the stone steps in the sea wall, getting my trainers wet as I do so.
The Uhuru is a relatively small dhow – only about eight metres long perhaps. There are small decks at the bows and stern, while the rest of the boat isn’t covered. Smiley is sitting on the stern deck with the tiller, while someone else is further forward. At the stern of the boat there’s a flagpole with three flags flying; the top one is the Alaskan flag, the middle one is CND and the bottom one has a picture of Bob Marley on it.
Bob Marley is quite a theme on this boat. On the mast there are several Bob Marley stickers and there’s another Bob Marley flag flying from one of the ropes. Smiley is wearing wooly rasta hat too.
In the hold of the boat there are a few buckets and boxes of various fishing equipment. I sit on a plank which stretches from the foreward to the aft deck. We move away from the seafront under power – an old Yamaha outboard motor, but as soon as we are a little way out they cut the engine and the Ali unfurls the sail.
We sail along the island to Shela (pronounced ‘Shella’, and sometimes spelt that way too), which is a much smaller and cleaner town than Lamu, but it’s more expensive to stay there, which is why I’m staying in Lamu. At Shela we get out and Smiley goes to find his mum who has cooked coconut rice for us. I sit at the bar at Peponi, a very expensive hotel where the rooms cost something like £150 a night. Fortunately the bar is free!
Once we have the rice we return to the boat. We’ve also acquired another member of the crew, someone whose name I forget, but who is going to be our cook later. As we cast off, Ali picks up a bilge pump and starts emptying the bottom of the boat of water. He assures me this is because he had cleaned the boat the day before, not because it leaks.
We head South, between Lamu Island and Manda Island, toward the open seas. The water is relatively calm until we near what Smiley calls ‘the ocean door’ – the bit of the sea where it changes from shallow green sea to deep blue ocean. Once we come to this part then the sea gets quite rough, with some waves two or three metres high. The dhow rides up to the crest of one wave and crashes down into the hollow, making water splash over the side of the boat, so that on the way back Ali will have to empty the boat again. After a few minutes we’re out on the ocean, and all is calm again.
When it’s decided we’ve gone far enough we take in the sail and get out the fishing gear. We have long green fishing lines wrapped around pieces of wood, which each have a sharp hook on the end onto which we skewer pieces of squid as bait. To catch the fish we simply thow the line into the water and let it out until it goes slack, indicating it’s on the bottom. Then when you feel a fish biting you haul it in. It sounds simple, but I don’t manage to catch anything, even though the other three haul in about ten fish in fewer minutes.
As soon as we have enough fish for dinner, we turn round and head back to Manda Island. Fortunately this is very soon, as I’m starting to feel seasick. Back at Manda Island the cook starts to prepare the fish and salad while I take notes so that I might be able to try it at home sometime.
The fish (white snapper, yellow snapper, squid and something I didn’t catch the name of) has a couple of cuts made diagonally on each side and is coated in a mixture of oil, salt, chilli, black peppercorns, lime juice, garlic and various herbs. It’s then barbequeued for several minutes until it looks ready. The salad is made from cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, sweet peppers and onion.
We sit round on a banana leaf mat and eat with our hands. Fortunately I’ve watched enough people eating rice with their hands by this point to be able to do it myself without too much trouble. The food is delicious, and made all the better by the fact we are sitting on a perfect silver beach on a virtually uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean!
To be continued…