We spent 3 days on the island of Lamu off the eastern coast of Kenya on the Indian ocean. Staying at a lovely, rustic villa to accomodate all 5 adults and a baby, we had plenty of room and run of the place. Slept under mosquito nets because there are no glass windows, only openings letting the 4 a.m. morning prayers of the Muslims filter over you as you sleep. The beaches have little trees, so we left before noon to avoid the scorching sun. The moonlight over the Indian Ocean seemed like a Hollywood backdrop as we walked back to the villa after dining out. Torches (flashlights) were necessary as there is little to illuminate the night and electricity is commonly off for several hours everyday. We brought some food staples with us, as we had a cook who would make our meals. This was 1998, so things could be a bit different now, but expect a rustic experience. Because it's a Muslim island, alcohol is only served in the only 2 bars here (could be more now). This was a unique experience, very different from the rest of the trip: safari's on the African plain.
Just across a narrow channel is the smaller island of Manda and the ruins of Takwa. Manda is the location for Lamu's airstrip but is almost deserted. A favourite destination for dhow trips from Lamu is the mangroves of the island and then onto the ruins, sited on the far eastern shoreline of the island. Formerly a small but thriving community in the 16th and 17th centuries, the town was abandoned. The reason is not 100% clear but it assumed to be due to the lck of fesh water. It has some interesting ruins to wonder among.
But be careful - the boats have no shade and you are in the sun (and on water) for several hours. As the entry through the mangroves is reliant on tides, you can be sitting waiting for quite some time before you approach the landing spot to disembark for the ruins.
Once we got ashore we had to go through the entrance and pay the fee of EUR 2,--.
Commonly in Kenya, also here you may request a Residents ticket and pay EUR 1, so that the caretaker can add EUR 0,50 to his probably poor daily wage....just say you're a resident but forgot your card. However, this practise is not my piece of cake!
A guided tour is included in the ticket, in our case just a brief tour of about 30 minutes.
The walled Swahili town has probably flourished around the 16th century and most likely been left in a rush. It's not exactly clear who inhabited Takwa nor why they settled here in the first place since there's lack of fresh water.
Such mysteries and the nice setting between gigantic baobabs adds greatly to the experience of visiting this well preserved, abandoned remote little outpost.
One of the highlights is the remains of an unusual Mosque at one side of the main street, with a massive pilar at one of its sides.
Another large and interesting 17th Pillar Tomb is to be found just outside the walls.
But the nicest experience is just wandering between the many dozens of empty ordinary stone houses, all with their doors facing Mecca and with prominent bathrooms inside. Many partly covered by vegetation.
Paths has been cleared to guide the visitor, but don't forget to explore the outskirts of the site!
Even if there's no wind or engine, it's still an extremely relaxing and fun experience. We had a very nice crew offering onboard entertainment like smoking joints, making music and singing.
Zigzagging from one mangrove covered shore to the other in a 300 meters wide inlet, you'll encouter several beautiful sailing dhows and you'll pass an oddly situated village where dozens of children might shout and wave.
Then there's a turn into a tight canal, not more than 3 to 5 meters wide, very serene..but hard work for the crew for about an hour..
The last stretch, to reach the head of a 100 meters long bamboo footbrigde, is done by small rowing boat.
Finally you've reached the ruins....
A popular destination on dhow trips from Lamu is Takwa Ruins on nearby Manda Island.
Although just 30 minutes away by motorized boat, it's quite a trip to reach there on the traditional sailing dhows. The return took us almost 5 hours!
Due to low tides in the morning (water disappears in the small canals towards the ruins), trips are usually undertaken by mid afternoon.
If there's no wind, it takes endlessly to reach Takwa, with the result that you might have only short time to look around in order to reach the main canal before darkness. If you want to explore the ruins properly, you may consider to stay overnight at Takwa, as basic bandas are available at around EUR 10/night.