Caragh shocked me when she came out driving a blue, four-wheel drive jeep. I hoped in for a drive on the sand dunes of Manda Island, viewing wildlife, baobab trees and thickets en route to a most historical site…
There’s one more thing about this place that you don’t know about,” says Caragh Roberts, part-owner of Manda Bay Resort, as she joins me for a cup of afternoon tea.
I was enjoying a cool breeze from the Indian Ocean and watching families gather to play various games. Other guests lazed around, enjoying cold glasses of beer or juice.
Welcome to Manda Island, Lamu Archipelago. I had just stepped into this no-shoes and no-news island and was mesmerised by what I had seen already. Yet, the thrill of another surprise could not allow me to take another sip of my cold drink after the manager’s call.
Caragh headed out first and shocked me when she came out driving a blue, four-wheel drive jeep. She told me to hop in! I never knew people drove vehicles in Lamu. I had become used to seeing donkeys, dhows and speedboats, the main mode of transport down here.
I had decided to visit this secluded part of Lamu to satisfy my curiosity to know what a game drive in Lamu feels like. Away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi and spending a day out of Lamu’s main island, this luxury beach lodge was a gem. Situated 12km from Lamu airport, the lodge was once owned by Italian musician, Bruno Brighetti.
With her two little puppies, Caragh and I drove on sandy paths, past thick vegetation, past dik diks and bush backs. We saw majestic baobab trees, which as Caragh described, might have dated over 500 years. This iconic tree found in most sub-Saharan countries lies at the heart of many a traditional African folklore.
Suddenly, we stopped at what seemed like the remains of an ancient town. I stepped out, camera held in one hand and slowly began to examine the remains of a coral stone built mosque, pillar tombs and a city wall that rose up to three metres.
At one time, this historical site was a wealthy trading centre in the 9th and 10th century, dealing in merchandise and probably slaves between the Kenyan coast and the Persian Gulf. Dhows sailed away carrying elephant ivory and mangrove poles to the gulf.
From the ruins, one can tell that the town’s earliest inhabitants constructed the buildings with burnt square brick, stone and set with a lime mortar. The old technique is also found in ruins in other coastal regions in Kenya.
It is most likely that Omani people who also traded with Manda residents brought the technology. Most likely lime mortar and ballast was ferried in by dhows from the gulf.
We drove on through the wilderness until we reached a herd of buffaloes. Being fully aware of how dangerous buffaloes can be, I couldn’t help but say a silent prayer.
Caragh was laughing at my disturbed face. “Don’t fear, the buffaloes are harmless,” she said as she took my camera and began taking photos of me with the buffaloes in the background. “Since setting aside a conservation area behind the lodge 10 years ago, a resident herd of buffalos has moved in. We feed and water this herd from the lodge’s water supply,” she explained.
I must say it was scary at first, but later on, with Caragh’s assurance, I was mesmerised by the site of buffalos drinking from man-made troughs. It was like the Bible’s prophecy of having lions and humans living together came to be. A small heaven it is.
Later on, we had candle lit dinner on the beach under the stars and had interesting conversations as other guests who love solace and enjoyed lonely dinners. I loved their seafood too; the hot ginger crab was awesome. As I went back to my huge, breezy beach front room at the resort, a myriad thoughts cascaded my mind.
A writer’s paradise! The lodge’s rooms are built with local materials in the traditional coastal style. Makuti covers the floor, with palmed-thatched roofs and no windows to allow the breeze from the ocean into the rooms. All the rooms have direct view and access to the beach.
It’s safe to walk alone too, even for children to be in the beach as it’s secluded place with no beach boys in the area. The resort has a desalination plant, which processes and filters all water for drinking and cooking.
Apparently, this is a family resort with plenty of activities such as wind surfing, kayaking and deep-sea fishing. Charges are Sh18,000 per person per night during the low season, but Sh35,000 during Christmas season.
The resort offers motorised water sports including water skiing, banana rides and tubing, line fishing, inshore fly fishing, bottom fishing and snorkeling.One can spend the day visiting Lamu Island, the Takwa ruins, Kiwayu and Kipungani… Let me not spoil the suspense for you, you’ve got to go there and try it yourself