Prior to this trip, I had wanted to visit Lamu for about three years. Every year, whenever I needed a break I would imagine the sea calling out my name and teasing me with its undulating rhythm. I would end up at the coast alright, but never in Lamu. A month ago, on a random Thursday after having a nasty experience with a mean-spirited cop, I knew I desperately needed to go to the coast for no less than 4 days. This time round it had to be Lamu.
Having read several blog reviews on some establishments in Shela, I had an idea about where I wanted to stay. Unfortunately, my top two, The Majlis and Forodhani were not available on the days I intended to travel. In retrospect, I am glad that the unavailability of those two led me to discovering the gem that is Manda Bay. I came across it on Jumia Travel. It had excellent reviews and its sea facing rooms got me sold.
Let me attempt to paint you a picture. There’s Lamu Island where most of the establishments are found. Some within the ancient Lamu town that dates to the 13th century, and others along Lamu’s water front and the popular Shela beach. That’s where I thought we were headed but it turned out that the hotel I had booked was on its own private island!! How about that for my 32nd birthday? The mister and I only discovered this while at the airport. Right after disembarking the plane and hauling our luggage onto the trolley, we were met with some enthusiastic porters and helmsmen. You may already know that to get to Lamu one must walk for about 200m from the airport to the sea and take a boat from to the island.
We followed the group ahead of us like lost sheep and when one of the helmsmen inquired whether we were going to Lamu Town or Shela Beach, I responded that we were headed to Manda Bay.
“Salala!!”, said the guy, loosely translated to mean “Oh my God!”
His countenance suggested that he was worried for us. I was confused. The mister was disturbed. He turned to me and asked me a question which was already running in my head.
“Are you sure this hotel is in Lamu and not Malindi or Mombasa?” By this time, this rider had alerted one of the airport staff who had arrived just in time to answer the question whose answer both the mister and I were dreading.
“Manda Bay sits on the shores of Manda Island and not Lamu Island.”
At this point, I was afraid he would say that Manda Island is in Kisimayu, Somalia! Perhaps my fury as I was booking the hotel had blinded me to not seeing pertinent details like location. I held my breath.
“Manda Island is a private island and Manda Bay is the only property on that island. You will need to walk back to the airport and wait for them to send over their speed boat. It will take approximately 25 minutes for the boat to get here.”
Right there, I knew our four-day vacay was going to be nothing short of exhilarating!
Side note- If you ever decide to book yourself at Manda Bay Lodge through any of the travel apps, it helps to call the hotel and confirm your reservation which ensures that they send the boat ahead of your arrival.
Here’s 5 things about Manda Bay Lodge that blew me away.
A haven of tranquility
There’s really no need for rhetoric to send this point home as the fact that the hotel sits on a private island says it all. From your room, you will hardly hear any noise except the sound of waves crushing against the rampart when the tide is high, which is music to my ears really. At the restaurant or bar, you will cross paths with a lonesome water buck which was adopted by the lodge recently, two dogs that are always running around playfully or swimming and only bark when there’s an oncoming boat and two adorable bush babies that appear in the evening for their daily dose of bananas. The hotel has 25 rooms which means that it can host a maximum of 50 guests. At 6am, the beach makes for a breathtaking running trail, though it poses some challenges in areas where the sand is thick and you find your feet sinking. The view makes up for the struggle. If this proves tedious, one can run along the airstrip that stretches behind the hotel.
The chef, Daudi, who we sadly never got a chance to meet had his entire back into his job. His prowess in making scintillating and tasteful sea food is unrivaled. His passion for the job was evident in his creativity and the ability to transform boring meals such as French beans into gastronomic delights (he served them with sesame seeds!). Manda Bay, is a sea food heaven, so brace yourself for that. From crusty sea fish, to saucy prawns, crab, shrimps and squid, you could easily have a different sea food experience every day for seven days. Who knew that there’s such a vast array of palatable sea creatures? If you find yourself at Manda Bay, ask for the chilli jam. I discovered it on our first evening when it was presented as a condiment for the fish. Thereafter, I requested to have it with all my meals, including breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, this was the only meal that did not tickle my fancy as it was the standard English Breakfast every day. I was hoping for the more exciting coastarian dishes including mahamri, viazi vya karai, beans in coconut sauce etc. I am sure that this is something they can work on. Also, I was disappointed when I couldn’t find any Single Malt Whisky at the bar, something I was looking forward to indulging in. However, this led me to discovering Martel, a refined cognac that tastes amazingly good but sucks the paper out your wallet at the speed of lightning!
Warm and proactive hostess
Debbie was receptive and gracious right from the onset. She apologized for the wait at the airport, much as we were partly to blame. I loved the fact that she was proactive in ensuring that her guests had an action-packed day. In the evenings right before dinner, she would go around inquiring from guests whether they needed a wake up call and what they were interested in having. Every morning at 6am, one of the staff would wake us up and deliver the most amazing coconut cookies (i think) and coffee outside the room which came in handy given that breakfast was served at 8am.
Debbie would also remind the residents of the possible activities that they could engage in the following day, which was perfect for people like us who had not planned any activities in advance. She would then make arrangements for the same. We made the most out of our stay by going snorkeling, fishing and bird watching. The hotel has a number of speed boats that it deploys for the various activities every day hence the need for prior planning to avoid disappointments.
We made new friends at the hotel, two families that had traveled from Nanyuki and the UK and together, we set sail to Lamu town on Friday morning to see what the ancient town had to offer. After lots of walking and shopping, we had a drink at Peponi on Shela beach which was a far cry from our little heaven in Manda. We were glad to be back “home” in the afternoon.
From ensuring we had a most gratifying experience in Manda and Lamu, to surprising me with birthday cake on Saturday evening despite the fact that I had only mentioned my birthday in passing when we checked in, knowing that I had a very hands on and efficient hostess would see me going back to Manda Bay over and over again, if not for anything else. She was also kind enough to put us up in a sea facing room despite having paid for the garden one. I had rehearsed a speech on how I was going to convince her to upgrade us but I ended up tossing my speech in the sea!
The bush experience
Would you believe that at the back side of the establishment right next to the airstrip is a forest that is home to buffaloes, monkeys and Impalas? When Debbie mentioned it, I did not see any truth in that statement until she took the mister and I on a safari on Thursday evening. If you are a safari enthusiast, count a trip to Manda Bay as a double win. The forest is however dreadfully dry and in a sorry state owing to the drought. Manda Bay is therefore forced to feed its animals every evening with lucerne pellets donated by well wishers. The beauty about this is that one is guaranteed to catch the animals at the feeding and water stations from 5.30pm when their dinner is served.
To add on to the bush experience, the design of the chalets is rustic with stone flooring, raw wooden poles supporting limestone and coral walls and makuti ceilings. Huge glassless windows adorn the space feeding the room with plenty of light and air. Salty water runs from the taps but fresh water is provided in buckets. This was a low for me as my sun burnt skin could not stand the salt and I had to take bucket showers. The pool is also filled with salty water so I kept off swimming after a not so exciting experience. The rest of the guests loved it though!
The sea facing chalets are lined up along the beach with a rampart separating the sea from the land where the property sits. A hammock hangs outside the chalet, from which you can lie and watch the sea do its dance or catch the sunrise. The spectacular view that our room accorded us was the highlight of my stay. I could easily have camped in my room for those four days and only left during meal times. The view was divine. Perched on the slab at the foot of the chalet at 5.55am on Sunday morning, I watched the most spectacular sunrise for about 20 minutes. The golden hues of the morning light streamed in, cautiously filling up the sky, like paint spreading out on canvas. The clouds dulled to a sooty color, like balls of cotton wool that were slowly going up in flames. Finally, after 15 minutes of flirting and showing off, the sun finally peered through the clouds. A stunning round ball of fire taking its time to rise above the clouds behind which it was hiding. Totally worth the wait. I was convinced that the sun is a very gorgeous woman possibly with very long legs.
Manda Bay stole my heart but I am not too worried because in due time, I will be back for it!
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