The Vagabond Sails Kenya

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I've always had a thing for sailing. I grew up next to one of Minnesota's 15,000 lakes (it says "Land of 10,000 Lakes" on the license plate, but that's just midwestern modesty) and spent a number of my summers at sailing camp, learning how to tie knots, race other pubescent sailors (or simply ram them), and drop tiny, yet vital and painfully expensive, metal attachment parts into the water, for which my parents were later billed.

So, for me, a sailing trip on a traditional wooden dhow seemed like the perfect contrast to three days of bouncing around Kenya's Masai Mara game reserve in a dusty Japanese minivan trying to spot wild animals hidden behind a ring of other dusty Japanese minivans.

From Nairobi, it was just an overnight train to the coastal port of Mombasa, then a two-hour matatu ride (same Japanese minivan, but 10 years older and filled with four times as many passengers) to Malindi, then a $30 flight north to the island of Lamu, where Signe and I landed at an airport with a terminal small enough to spit across. It was a thatched hut with a single podium check-in counter and row of wooden benches for waiting. Funny, I thought, that even in this remote spot, the concept of a waiting lounge was already an anticipated aspect of air travel.

Lamu is perhaps best known as one of the jewels on the budget traveler's "Hippie Trail," set into the proverbial crown along side the likes of Goa (India), Dahab (Egypt), Byron Bay (Australia) and Kathmandu (New Jersey). Locally, this island is known as an undeveloped Zanzibar, an ancient trading post with more Arabic and Portuguese influence than African. Though, with a casino on the way, a new four-star hotel and the celebrity of part-time royal resident Princess Caroline of Monaco, this predominantly Muslim isle may catch up to Zanzibar soon.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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