I didn’t expect to be making any entries in the Blog at this time. No offence to those of you that take your well-earned vacation at the beach but writing “Day 1 – sitting on a white sandy beach under swaying palm trees against the backdrop of calm azure waters”, followed by “Day 21 – sitting under…..” doesn’t quite hit the mark for me!
Anyway, I’m pleased to say that the Kenyan Coast threw up a few surprises along the way that hopefully makes this entry a little more interesting. Malindi’s beaches are lovely and they also contain a little history and some old relics, dating back to Vasco De Gama’s first arrival in Africa in 1498.
There is the impressive Vasco De Gama Pillar that sits proudly on the coastline, like a sentinel, overlooking the ocean and all the ships that sail by. I have taken some shots of it at sunrise that hopefully do it justice. It was erected in 1498.
I also visited the ancient Portuguese Chapel of St. Francis Xavier that dates back to the same time. It was here that I came across the grave of Major JJ Drought. There was something about the inscription on the gravestone that captured my imagination. It simply read “ 1875 – 1956 Soldier, Pioneer, Farmer”. It reminded me of the famous poem “Soldier” that starts with “If I should die, think only this of me, that there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”.
I took a photo of the grave and decided to find out more about Major Drought. Here is what I dug up (pardon the pun!) …….
Major JJ Drought claimed the distinction of having been wounded in each of the South African (Boer) and the two World Wars. A hero in all the wars in which he fought. He was well acquainted with Africa and its people and led many an expedition into enemy territory with his band of warriors.
In The First World war, Lieutenant J.J. Drought and 18 other officers, NCOs & men were posted to the East African Mounted Rifles. They stayed in the eastern Lake area and were known as “Drought’s Scouts”. They raised a force of tribesmen for cross-border patrolling known as the “Skin Corps” because of the tribesmen’s aversion to using clothing.
Here is an excerpt from The Book “The Meinhertzhagen Mystery written by Brian Garfield. This account was written by Richard Meinhertzhagen….
“On the 23rd, I left Kurungu with Drought and his fifteen Intelligence Scouts……..We crossed the border on the 25th and soon got news from natives of an enemy patrol at Kitambi Hill, so we continued our march and at 5pm, we located four tents, fires burning and by the mercy of God, no precautions, no sentries, and men lounging about. We…….rushed them silently, from not more than a few paces. We used bayonets only, and I think we each got our man. Drought got three, a great effort. I rushed into the Officers tent, where I found a stout German on a camp bed. On a table was the most excellent Xmas dinner. I covered him with my rifle and shouted to him to hold his hands up. He, at once, groped under his pillow and I had to shoot, killing him at once. My shot was the only one fired……Drought said he was hungry, so was I, and why waste that good dinner? So we set to and had one of the best, though most gruesome dinners I have ever had, including an excellent Xmas pudding. The fat German, dead in bed, did not disturb us in the least nor restrain us from our appetites, but looking back on it now, I wonder how we could have managed it.” The dead German was in fact, Graf Wecklenburg, a Duke.
In the Second World War, Major J. J. Drought was British Liaison Officer and founder of the Kenya Independent Scouts. The Kenya Independent Squadron was one of the smallest operational units created in WW2. It was raised around 10th June 1940, when the Italians attacked across the Kenya –Abyssinia border. He had a thorough knowledge of the surrounding country. He and his hardened horsemen of Kenya Independent Scouts, on their small, surefooted Somali mules patrolled the eastern areas to the waterholes at Gombo and towards Arba Jahan.
The KIS comprised some 80 – 85 Europeans and around 100 mules. The men came from all parts of Africa and from all walks of life but a large proportion were Dutch settlers who were thought best able to fulfil a major stipulation of service, the ability to live off the land. The object was to send pairs of mule-mounted men into Abyssinia to raid behind enemy lines.
The story touched me. We put fresh flowers on the grave, took photos of the grave together with the Curator of 25 years, Benarick Masha and put together the story of Major JJ Drought for the Malindi Trust (that takes care of the Chapel and the graves). They were most grateful and had no prior knowledge of the Major. It’s pleasing to know that a brave old soldier is not entirely forgotten. The Trust will show the laminated story to all that visit.
Lamu Town 3rd to 6th June.
Lamu is just a 20 minute flip in a plane from Malindi. I had always wanted to visit this unique little island on Kenya’s north coast. It’s cloaked in history and remains an outstanding example of early Swahili culture. The town is characterised by narrow streets and magnificent stone buildings with impressive curved doors, influenced by a unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian and European building styles.
We stayed at a little Riad style place, close the promenade, where we met an interesting American couple who live in Kenya, Sean and Whitney and their characterful little girl, Shilo!
Lamu is a maze of tiny alleyways, it’s heavily influenced by Islam and has no cars – just donkeys! Transport is either donkey or boat, depending on where you need to go. I decided that riding a donkey is probably about the most uncool thing to do, so we walked around the town, accompanied by smells, sights, and sounds that were not quite a revelation, but certainly something different! It just didn’t feel like Africa, in fact, it doesn’t feel like anywhere I’ve been before. Sean informed me that Lamu is second only to Mecca in terms of its importance to Islam.
Well, I’m sure the Mullah next door agreed with that! At 4.30 am, every morning, we would get woken by the wailing of the call to prayer from the 1000W+ speakers from the Mosque next door! He wasn’t alone, there are so may Mosques in such a small area that the wailing of calls to prayer echo around the town and ensure nobody gets a lie in. I’m sure I could make a fortune from selling ear plugs. If you ever visit don’t forget to take a pair, I forgot mine!
We saw the sights like the Museum, Fort, and toured around the old buildings and unique architecture on day 1. Day 2 was a trip on a boat to the mangroves and some old slavery ruins on Manda island, with a sunset cruise on the way home.
There are some good restaurants, my fave was Lamu House, facing the sea, with its excellent seafood pasta…..mmm. They also serve alcohol, not readily available around the island. But there’s a fair choice to suit most palates.