In 72 days my wife Andrea and I will land in Rome to begin a 3 week backpacking adventure. Starting in Italy our travel plans also include Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. A West to Eastern European type route. We have very few plans laid and have no intention to muddle up this opportunity with cumbersome plans before we leave. Anyhow, this impending adventure got me thinking about some past travel experiences that I would like to share and I thought this may be the place to do that.
On December 31st, 2008, I watched the last rays of that years sun set over the Indian Ocean from a hotel rooftop on the remote Island of Lamu, Kenya. Lamu is approximately 120km (as the crow flies) south of the Somalia border and a full days journey, by bus then via an overcrowded ferry, from the port city of Mombasa. Defined as a UNESCO heritage site, alleyways substitute for streets, donkeys replace cars, it is truly one of the most unique places I have had the pleasure to visit.
For 2500 Kenyan schillings (~$40CDN) 3 of us reserved a room at the Bahari Hotel which provided a scenic view of the Lamu waterfront. For the next 3 days we ate fresh fruit, walked the narrow ‘streets’, and devoured freshly caught fish cooked beachside over an open flame. However, the highlight of this side trip was the questionable decision to hire local ‘captains’ to sail us around the archipelago in a dhow.
Our first sail took place shortly before midnight on New Years eve on a reasonably breezy evening with an incredibly clear view of the African night sky. The wind caught the sail, nearly upended us, and sent us racing off into the dark. With no lights on our dhow, and no lights on any other nearby vessel, we raced along the coast with the faints lights of Lamu flickering in the distance. The return voyage saw the dhow plough into a sand bar a few hundred feet offshore and sent ‘deckhands’ scrambling into the water to free us from its grasp.
We sailed that evening under the cool night sky and the next full day under blazing hot sun while taking time for swimming, fishing and exploring. At noon on New Year’s day we crowded onto the beach and became spectators to the years first (and presumably most important) sailing race which captivated the entire island.
Doesn’t matter how you get here … just get here!
My adventure in Lamu, as well as the trip there and back from Mombasa, is one that I will never forget — machine guns and yelling on a crowded bus leave quite an impression though that story is for another time.
In retrospect, turning over my cash and personal safety over to go sailing in an unlit boat in the middle of the night may seem like somewhat dubious idea. Also, sleeping on the open roof of an island hotel (while a perfectly good room waits below) while enduring the threat of malaria may also seem somewhat foolhardy. I suppose that even backpacking through Eastern Europe, with no firm plan and no reservations, may not sit well with some folks reading this blog.
None of these decisions were foolish. Travel should be embraced as an adventure. Having no firm plan does not mean you are unprepared. Trusting a stranger does not mean you blindly trust a stranger. Without stepping outside of my comfort zone I simply would not have had these wonderful experiences. Your adventure does not have to take you sailing into the Indian Ocean on New Years eve — it could be something much MORE ADVENTUROUS or something much safer and closer to home. Perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt put it best when she stated:
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Thanks for reading this blog of mine. I am really happy to share these stories with you and I hope you enjoy reading them as well. You can see me live in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada or listen for free online at waynehansen.bandcamp.ca.
Here is a song I wrote a song about my trip to Lamu – Sailing Under African Skies