By Adrian Kibai
The fast dash of the plane on the runway can be unsettling if you are not used to it. The lift-off of the small commuter jet that transports passengers between Nairobi and Lamu might make you a bit dizzy, not to mention the dips of air pockets just after take off and before landing. But there is a silver lining to it all once you hit the right altitude: up there, you are high enough to see the snowy peaks of the Kilimanjaro in its glory, the clouds obscuring the network of paths below, and the rivers as they snake on their course. I was only accustomed to seeing trees rush by on the road, so for me this was a sight to behold. Things move slower up there, but I could feel just how fast we were moving when we hit the ground and jerked to a break at the end. Landing at Manda Airport in Lamu makes you wish for a few more minutes on the plane because the heat wave rushes through the opened door with no warning.
Still, my trip to Lamu has been amazing and I will tell you why. I came for the Lamu Yoga Festival and while some found healing and relaxation from the yoga classes, I found my bliss in the island’s ambiance. From how the trees sway in the afternoon breeze and how nothing ever moves too fast. You won’t fail to notice how clean the air is from zero automobile emissions and noise. Life is taken easy, no matter where you are on the totem pole. And you can easily walk a long way before realising you never took your shoes with you.
Picturesque Shela village is so small that every place is literally a 5 minute walk. The streets are barely wide enough for you and a laden donkey to share. It’s easy to go in circles on the first few days, but once you know your turns and short cuts it’s easy to figure out. Amu town, the UNESCO Heritage Site just a boat ride away, is where life moves faster, but still not fast enough if you are used to city life. People are all chilled during the day, hiding from the sweltering heat and scorching sun — but everything comes to life after 3pm, when they pick up where they left off around 10am.
What most visitors hardly know is that Lamu island, where Shela village and Amu town are situated, is just one part of Lamu County. Like some foreigner might refer to Africa as if it’s a village, instead of pointing our the exact country and place, it’s a confusion watu wa bara or foreigners will only have resolved after the brief schooling.
At the festival there were Swahili meals and yoga sessions, but I got lost in the sunset meditation on the dhow, a traditional sailboat. The full moon waxing from the east as the sun set in the west can be so beautiful that the meditation comes easy, while the boat rocks on the ebbing tide. The dusk and dawn here give you a sense of yellow-mellow connection to nature on a whole new level.
My first yoga class included aroma therapy, and I kept looking forward to the breathing sessions because the stretching for me was taking it a bit too far. I am told it’s what all first timers experience. I managed to catch the Zumba class with Alexandra as it was ending, and got to join the Freedom Dance class with Joanne, where I felt more free with most of the shoki and other routines being familiar. I knew nothing about yoga when I came here, and now I can freely say my favorite stance is the warrior and downward facing dog, for all the good and pure reasons. I may have even channeled my chakras (inner energy) through some of these asanas (stances). And maybe I’ve learned enough Sanskrit, the ancient language, to ask for water and say namaste after every sentence.
My fear of drowning would not let me try Stand Up Paddle yoga, as the tide was high by noon. What was the beach just minutes before was suddenly a harbor, and the paddle boards and yogis bobbed in the water. I had the chance to catch it on camera and the poses contrasting with the blue skyline are life itself.
Lamu’s governor, Hon. Issa Timamy, dropped by and expressed his support for such festivities on the island. The travel advisories have hurt the tourism sector greatly and seeing people come in from over 20 countries for the Lamu Yoga Festival really made him glad. Lamu is called the island of festivals for a reason — it now hosts the Arts, Culture and Food festivals at various time of the year, and Maulid, a religious celebration that draws people from all over the coast.
The one thing that I regret not trying in Lamu is speed boating. I am a speed freak. I thrive on torque and adrenaline. It was probably for a good reason — otherwise I’d have relocated.