19 – Donkey Island

19 – Donkey Island

Our last stage of exploring the coast took us to Lamu. Lamu is a small island in the North of Kenya, only a few miles off the Somalian border. The bus journey there was made a bit longer by all the military checks on the way. (Most people fly there, but we are obviously trying to avoid flying and frankly the bus journey was not bad!) Kenya takes security very seriously, especially seeing as tourism is the country’s main source of income. A few kidnappings nearby in 2011 has sadly deterred many tourists from coming here. Since then, the American army has moved in and is helping the Kenyan government to keep Lamu and Northern Kenya safe.

Lamu is the oldest Swahili settlement in East Africa. Since the sixteenth century, Lamu has been invaded in turn by the Portuguese, Arabs, Germans and tourists. Its past is intertwined with the history of the trade routes between the East and West. During the nineteenth century, the town lived a golden-era under the reign of the Sultan of Oman, then the Sultan of Zanzibar. This golden-era came to an end in 1873 when the British forced the abolition of slavery (not long before they colonised Kenya). Economic prosperity may soon return to the area as China has begun building the biggest port in East Africa here.

After six hours on a bus, we took a boat to the island. We must admit, it was rather exciting taking a boat for a change! We admired the pretty white building façades as we approached the bustling port. We were looking forward to seeing the coral-decorated houses, intricately-engraved doors and losing ourselves in Lamu’s narrow medieval streets (which, by the way, are labelled a UNESCO heritage site).

We ended up being a little disappointed. The bustling port was full of “beach boys” who harassed tourists. They constantly stopped us to offer us a boat cruise, a tour of the town, a fishing experience… it was practically impossible just to be alone.

We managed to escape the beach boys to explore the town. Although there were pretty streets and houses, the town was dirty and run down. We could tell from looking at the flamboyant architecture that Lamu had been influenced by sailors from all corners of the globe. Though as time has passed, it had been neglected, its charm diminished. In Kenya, like in Ethiopia, people unfortunately have the bad habit of throwing their rubbish on the ground. We would see someone finish with a plastic bottle and throw it into the sea or out the bus window. Mounds of plastic waste dotted the island: behind buildings, on the promenade and in the sea. We saw posters advertising a big clean up last month – so they are working on it. I guess it takes time to change peoples’ mindsets. As it does anywhere in the world. We are all guilty for killing our planet in one way or another. We should not point fingers, but each work on our bit, encouraging others as we go.

There are no cars on Lamu island (apart from emergency vehicules). Donkeys have always transported men and merchandise here. Tourists come from afar to see some of the four thousand odd donkeys on the island! They are very cute, though it is difficult to ignore that most of them have marks from whips, harnesses and from carrying heavy loads. Lots of them struggle to find drinking water and must feed off rubbish heaps.

We visited the Lamu Donkey Sanctuary. It was founded by a British Doctor, Elisabeth Svendsen, in 1969. She is the same lady who founded the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon and others elsewhere in the world. The staff at the Donkey Sanctuary in Lamu educate the local population on how to look after donkeys. They also run vaccination programs and treat sick or hurt donkeys for free. They have got their work cut out for them! You can visit their website for further information.

Donkeys are not the only animals on the island. Lamu is also home to thousands of cats. Some say cats originate from here. The cats in Lamu have larger ears than your average cat, like ancient Egyptian cats! A French lady has opened a much-needed cat sanctuary on the island; The Lamu Animal Welfare Clinic (LAWC). This non-profit organisation works to help improve cats’ lives by spaying, vaccinating and treating them for worms or injuries.

Only a few miles away from Lamu town is Shela. The only proper beach on the island is here. It is also where all the expatriates and tourists can be found. The buildings are all built in the same Swahili style as in Lamu town, but they are more modern, cleaner and better looked after. There is hardly any rubbish in Shela. The roads are calm (no motorbikes are allowed here) and there are no harassing beach boys. We spent a few days here, making the most of the pool, the delicious breakfasts and the stunning sea side. Some say it is like Zanzibar but without the tourists! We will let you know once we have been to Zanzibar!

After a wonderful couple of weeks of honeymooning on Kenya’s beaches, it was time to make our way to Tanzania. We left Lamu with mixed feelings. On one hand we loved its paradisiac beaches, cute animals, picturesque streets and buildings, and on the other hand we were looking forward to being somewhere where we felt more at ease, less like tourists and away from constant harassing.

See the slideshows below for more photos of Lamu’s streets, donkeys and beautiful Swahili doors…

4 Replies to “19 – Donkey Island”

  1. Mmm coconut curry 🙂
    All those kitties- I guess they do not have too much of a rat problem then on Lamu Island!
    Sea looks amazing:)
    Loving the variations on jumping photos! Xxx
    Bon voyage & gang warily xxx

  2. I love the architecture, particularily the doors! A pity about the rubbish.
    Handsome looking cats – if we ever get another cat, perhaps we should have one of them.

  3. Ah loving reading these blogs so much. What stunning photos to go alongside the script! So my favourite… the flip flop 🐟 fish. Love how the crisis of cats and donkeys has spurred some wonderful people into action. Can’t wait to hear more about Rwanda. Much love and thoughts your way. ♥️Lxxx
    Ps – These blogs definitely tell an awesome story I can already see taking shape as a book.

  4. Thank you for your detailed observations and lovely pics..& history, & beaut architecture.. Tho’ some sad observations ‘re gorgeous donkeys who’ve helped the people here for so long..! but relief to hear about donkey sanctuary we can support, and beaut long-eared kitty-cat shelter helping them in the best ways (esp. neutering!)..they look similar to the Arabian Mau kitties in Middle East :). Thank you again and for links to support them! Bon voyage for next intriguing adventure!

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