Pole Pole

Sept. 18/2007
Things you will be glad your Mum made you bring while travelling:
– Wind-up torch
– Quick-dry underwear
– Duct tape

Things you’ll be glad you stole from the airplane/train:
– Pillow
– hand soap
– eye mask

Things you wish you had brought with you:
– earplugs
– universal sink plug
– friends from home

I always used to think that a mosquito net looked like curtains over a princess bed: romantic and soft. In reality, it is hot, sweaty and claustrophobic under one of these things. After finishing a plate of fish (tilapi) that looked like it had literally just left the ocean and died on my plate, we return to the hostel, torches at the ready. We already know the electricity is out. Coincidentally, an electrician is working on the electricity as we walk in the door. But the poor man has forgotten to bring his own torch, and is working by the feeble light of a mobile phone. Now there’s progress for you! Jason graciously offers his torch for the job but alas the good travel karma goes unnoticed by the gods… there will be no lights until tomorrow morn. So instead, I write this by LED light under the mossie net, with the blaring of the Noor mosque loud speakers in the background. Sleep, methinks, will be hard to come by.

September 20, 2007

The two days since my last journal entry have been a whirlwind. I have since lost the aforementioned LED light and the overhead lights in our train cabin have died. When the train stops you can hear the crickets chirping outside. It is the perfect mysterious atmosphere in which to recount our time on Lamu Island.

The bus ride up was hellish. Despite a 6:30am start, we didn’t arrive until 3:30pm. The three of us were crammed in behind the driver and had a full view of the mayhem that was to befall us. Baboon crossings, goats, bicycles, very unsafe overtaking, potholes the size of craters and – yes – a little hydroplaning were all part of the experience. Worst of all was the unexpected side effects of the doxycycline (malaria tablets), which added nausea to our list of grievances. Needless to say, when we arrived on the dock to ferry to Lamu Island, we were all questioning the worth of the journey. Lamu itself is its own world. The town rises up out of the water on a steady incline. The roofs are mostly thatched or else open to the sky. And most of all, there are no cars. It is the most peaceful place we have encountered since arriving in Africa. Only the loud speakers of the mosque invade the tranquility of the medieval town and even that I find more evocative than disturbing.

We check into easily the nicest guest house so far – Casaurina. There is a sociable rooftop patio where we meet the “Prince of Peace” (the chuef) and other travelers from around the world. Then we take off into Lamu, beginning with the walking tour found in Lonely Planet but then abandoning the guide book to just see where our feet take us. I haven’t felt as safe anywhere as I did in Lamu. The streets are narrow and full of people, but we don’t get hassled. The children wave, shake our hands and say “Jambo,” while we sip our cokes (or, in my case, tonic water) and just strolled for a couple of hours.
It was only Sarah and I who made it out to dinner. We sat on the terrace of Bush Gardens and enjoyed the evening breeze off the ocean. It was one of those idyllic nights you envisage before travel – no hassle, no noise, no worries, hakuna matata. Actually, the favourite island phrase is “Pole Pole” (pole-ee, pole-ee) or “slowly, slowly.”
I can’t say that we take this island advice very often. Our travels so far have been hectic, strenuous and anything but ‘slow’. But when we finally did take it – as Sarah and I did that night – it made all the difference in the world.


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