When a pandemic subjects you to captivity, it is not surprising that you start to find wonders in ordinary things. Your backyard suddenly starts looking like the garden of Eden, and every time you step into it you take a deep breath and a wave of calmness sweeps over you. When you slide into bed at night, Dr Mattress has you imagining that this is how it feels to float in those white fluffy clouds redolent of cotton candy, the ones you used to see whenever the planes you took ever so often cut through them at 35k feet above the ground. You run your shower at 4.00am having tramped the demons of sleep and the 4 degree weather, and you sigh with relief when your bathroom steams up, a clear sign that the gods of hot water have not failed you. To crown it all, you catch a magnificent sunrise from your bedroom balcony, the orange glow slowly sipping into the dark sky. A clear promise of a gorgeous day ahead, even when you know that the sunrise does not equate to warm weather. All these are things that existed before Christ, but you are only in awe of them now, thanks to the pandemic.
You look forward to the drive to the office at 6.30am, and you cant wait to listen to Esthero’s Black Mermaid, Benny Blanco’s Eastside, or on somedays, you want to immerse yourself in an entire album uninterrupted, like Justin Bieber’s Justice. And on the days you are feeling youthful, you blast Taylor Swift’s 22 or Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop, singing along and bobbing your head so hard oblivious to the weird stares from other drivers. You look forward to hugs from the tiny humans (not so tiny anymore) when you get home in the evening, your body numb from the chilling Nairobi cold.
It is even less surprising when for months, you are excited at the prospect of travelling. You plan your holiday six months in advance, imagining how you will leave no stone unturned in that charming island that you plan on visiting. How you will walk all the narrow corridors of the ancient town and soak in the history, probably even teleport yourself to 14th century when the Portuguese fleet sent a ship to blockade Lamu. You are excited at the prospect of losing yourself in the labyrinth of the little streets. You get giddy when you imagine how you will go for a run on the expansive beach in the morning as you chase the sunrise and how you cannot wait to take a dhow cruise in the evening as the sun dips into the sea. You smile when you think of how on one of the nights you will visit the floating bar and frolic with the locals. You have all these plans because you have been in captivity finding joy in normal and often mundane things. But when you finally get to your destination, you are not entirely surprised when you discover a sudden change of heart and you only have one goal in mind, which defies every plan you initially had.
When we disembarked from the plane at Manda Airport in Lamu, a wave of heat befell us, like we had suddenly walked into an open air kitchen. It was a welcome break from Nairobi’s cold, and the humidity in the air was thoroughly comforting.
“It will be a ten minute boat ride to the hotel.” Pato, the guy who received us at Manda airport informed us. Abdul, our boat’s captain, cruised through the sea at back breaking speed, causing us to cling onto the edges of our seats. Others clung onto their wigs as the breeze slapped our faces with the force of a tornado. It was unsettling and hilarious at the same time.
The sight of the resort was magical, like a double spread on a travel magazine. The colours were inviting and my eyes happily feasted on them- elegant and timeless white villas interspersed with several resplendent shades of blue from the various swimming pools and a deep verdant green from the palm trees and tidily mowed grass. The Majlis is a vast resort on Manda Island in the quiet side of Lamu which makes for a perfect relaxing getaway. This epiphany is what probably put all my original plans to their death bed.
Consumed by my thoughts of paradise, I suddenly realised that Pato had been going on and on about possible activities that one could engage in while at the hotel and within the island as well, but I heard none of that. One of the girls was already getting the rest of us to commit to a time the following day when we would do a tour of old town Lamu, possibly after breakfast.
“Our property has a superb beachfront location that spreads all the way to that end.” I caught Pato narrating as he pointed to his right with this white envelope he had in his hand. “You can take long walks on the beach or even run if you are up to the task.” Everyone, as if on cue, turned to look at me. The pressure!
“I can tell you for free (why do Kenyans like saying that? Like are there times you tell someone something at a fee?) that there will be no walks for me and no tours. I don’t care if Vasco da Gama is here to inspire me. Not even the prospect of meeting the famous Omar Lali will swing my needle.” I said in protest.
“You are here for four days, you may want to fill up your time with a number of interesting things.” Said Pato as he walked us up the entry steps where the hotel’s entrance adjoined the beach.
“I am sure there’s plenty to do and some of us will rise to the occasion, but please, show me our villa and the beach bar where the explorers will find me everyday after their excursions.” I retorted.
I wanted nothing but to rest. The Joy who has always been an explorer, planning excursion after excursion and frustrated by my friends who in the past would rather hang out by the poolside for days in a row was nowhere to be found. In her place, was this new Joy. For the next four days, my routine was pretty simple and predictable, just as I have come to love of my life lately. My stay revolved around the beach bar right after breakfast where I would sit on the bar stool and ask for the tequila sunrise cocktail to complement the time of the day. I would stare at the white sand as fine as cake flour that framed the calm sea in the background, a perfect picture that almost looked photoshopped. The breeze at this time was a silk jacket. If you have read Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now”, my state at this point is what he describes as “The realm of nothingness.” Later, I would grab my kindle from the room and head to one of the various pools. They were about three in total, each designed very differently from the rest allowing us options that would sometimes make me feel like I was visiting a different resort, which is perfect for a long stay. I would immerse myself in my current read “Eat That Frog”, an apt read as my predilection for procrastination has been getting out of control lately.
On the first evening during dinner, we joshed at how bizarre it felt to be hanging out at 9.30pm without feeling like we needed to be on the move, or attending to more important things. You know how typically in Nairobi, you would be having delightful moments several coordinates from home. Suddenly, at 8.30pm, just as Darwin at Social House places their delectable spare ribs on the table accompanied with your favourite wine, or when the stories have shikad, you suddenly feel rushed and cannot even enjoy the rest of the hour in peace with the looming 10.00pm curfew causing you distress like an overdue assignment.
Despite my disinterest to move about, my adventure came in the form of exploring the diverse food menu. The Swahili Coconut Prawns were heavenly, as was the Lobster Thermidor which was as electrifying as the name, offering an explosion of flavours from the rich wine sauce and oven-browned cheese crust. There was the Jinga Masala which was peeled prawns in an infusion of ginger and blended herbs, but my absolute favourite that I had on two occasions was the Swahili Crab. It was mind-blowing, from its presentation inside a shell, to the sensory high it evoked once its ginger and peppery flavour landed on my palate. There was never a dull moment for me when it came to meal times. However, one of us who finds seafood uninspiring, decided to have steak on one of the evenings. The travesty! I mean, why even order steak at the coast? Seriously, why place such high expectations on anyone? It’s like asking for camel meat in Nairobi, or fish in Murang’a. I think it’s just fair to everyone (yourself and the restaurant) to stick to the basics. My mantra is simple, if it is not available locally, keep off it. As you probably would have guessed by now, the steak was insipid right from the sight of it to its unpalatability. It looked unloved and depressed, like it was just dropped on the plate (not placed artistically) and some chips thrown to accompany it. It felt like chewing rubber-blunt, hard and exhausting. She learnt her lesson the painful way, and stuck to chicken for the remainder of her trip.
Suffice it to say that I wasn’t the only one looking for and enjoying solo moments. While the rest of us wanted nothing but to sleep in, one of us woke up at 5am on day one, went for a swim, had breakfast and took a boat across the channel at 8.30am for a Yoga session on the opposite side of the island. But in between these moments of solitude, we found plenty of opportunity where we would all be together and had absolutely refreshing conversations while laughing heartily at the follies of our youth.
It was pure bliss, this simple laid back vacation, and for the first time, I did not come back home needing a vacation to recover from the previous vacation as has always been the case! I was super charged and at my desk at 6.30am the following day, ticking off items on my to do list with the speed and intensity of a bush fire. Perhaps the next time I go back to Lamu, the adventurous and exploratory fire that I once possessed will have been reignited. But for now, I have no regrets about wanting stillness, and I will live in this moment for as long as it lasts.
Whether your spirit burns with the fire of an explorer or you are simply yearning for stillness, rest assured your desires will be fully met at The Majlis, Lamu.