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Popular meals Lamu residents love include kitumbua

Barry Silah @obel_barry

Travellers to Lamu archipelago or its environs will tell you of the picture-perfect scenery these islands offer. However, adjacent to that old city are some of the most blissful islands you ever saw, one of which is enchanting Pate.

A few weeks past, a group of friends and I headed down to the North Coast for a working holiday. We took time to sample the Pate island, which has a rich heritage. From the old style, Afro-Arab buildings to a strong and vibrant culture, this place was simply magical.

We accessed the island via a chartered speed boat ride on the Indian Ocean from Lamu town’s main port that Saturday morning. A team of eight, most of us new to the strange, blue waters of the ocean, undertook the 45-minute journey.

To be honest, my heart was in my mouth as the fast boat split the water, churning out a high spray of the salty waters. The boat rose up and down, riding over the waves as the wind howled. It did not help matters that rain was falling hard, so the conditions for amateurs like us were far from ideal.

Sitting at the back, the roar of the engine was strong and the splashes of water got me soaking wet. We scampered for raincoats or sweaters and life jackets as the boat flew over the sea. 

Thankfully, our coxswain Ali Mohammed not only understood the terrain but the mood of the water too. It was with a sigh of relief for everyone as we landed at our destination all but jaded, drenched and hungry. Curious onlookers gave us quizzical stares as we sought accommodation.

The travel group enjoying a water cruise in the ocean.

To our delight, our hosts had prepared hot, tangawizi-flavoured chai and local bitings to warm our ‘cold blood’.

I was particularly impressed by moffa and mkate wa sinia, which really excited my taste buds.

Outside, it was still drizzling but we were up for it — the exploration had to go on regardless.

And so began a fun-filled adventure as we combed the length and breadth of the old, Swahili-themed surroundings. What wowed me was the hospitality of the locals who were always handy, especially in offering directions and information. They were also chatty and extremely knowledgeable despite their island being geographically remote.

During our two-day sojourn, we got glimpses of real cultural shockers such as greetings and eating styles. For instance, elders, especially women, are greeted and then their hands are kissed as a sign of respect.

During meal times, Pate residents, like most Muslims, sit on the floor in circles. The staple food, I learnt was wali (rice) laced with mango or coconut stew. Other popular meals the Pate residents love are kitumbua, pilau and bhajia. Those of us who had expected ugali with kales (sukuma wiki) and fried meat or matumbo were disappointed.

Language and dialect was another challenge too: the Kiswahili accent used by Pate residents, also known as Wagunya, is inherently different from that spoken on the mainland. I found their Kiswahili funny if not strange to listen to and the dialect left me utterly at a loss.

The locals are said to have settled in Pate after intermarriages between Africans and Arabs, thus their mixed race looks. Myth also has it that they originated from the dreaded Bony Forest near the Somalia border.

At the end of it all, my thirst for exploration was quenched after my visit to Pate. The three take always for me were the food, culture and people, which I found amazing. My team and I ensured we documented our stay on videos and photos for future reference.

Too soon, it was time to say goodbyes and head back for last-minute visits to Shela beach and to enjoy a brief sea breeze on Lamu Island.   Later on Manda Island, our trip back to Nairobi was ready for take- off. I boarded my Fly540 flight at 16.45 hours that Monday and headed for the capital.




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