Lamu is enchanting. As Kenya's oldest living town it has retained all the charm and character built up over centuries. There are no cars so donkeys are the main means of transport. Children play in the narrow streets, Muslim men chat on street corners and women in their black buibui eils busy themselves through doorways. Most houses have a rooftop which is used as a patio - indicative of a society where ‘hanging back’ and ‘catching the breeze’ is important. Keep an eye out for the intricately carved wooden doors and lintels for which the island is famous. The island has a long history and by the 1500s it was a thriving port, exporting timber, ivory, amber, spices and slaves. When the Portuguese arrived, it surrendered without a murmur and in the mid-1800s it became a subject of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, which nominally controlled the whole coastal strip until Kenya became independent in 1963. Until the 19th century dawned, Lamu's economy was hinged on slave labour and with the abolition of slavery it declined rapidly. That is until the advent of tourists. In the 1960s Lamu was up there with Katmandu as a hippy hangout and it has since been under siege by tourists. There are two banks, a post office and a book shop, the Lamu Book Centre, which sells local newspapers and international news magazines. Lamu also has world class hotel touts, who have the persistence of insurance salesmen, so be polite but firm in declining. Lamu is strictly Islamic, so be sensitive in the way you dress. The best way to get to Lamu is to fly. Prestige Air Services fly daily via Malindi and the price is affordable. Otherwise the road to Lamu is rough and while there are buses, the journey is tedious. There have also been armed attacks on this road in the past, so make enquiries before heading off.
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