Baytil Ajaib on Chic Retreats

– by Closer Magazine

Baytil Ajaib is a small charming, privately run hotel located in Lamu town on a high incline providing one with a wonderful view of the town. Other views include the Lamu archipelago, sailing dhows returning from fishing, the occasional school of dolphins that pass through the channel not to mention some of the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Baytil Ajaib caters to the guests every need. With verandahs or an open courtyard on each floor this charming house is often frequented by birds and butterflies at different times of the day. One of the major features of a traditional stone house is that they are completely open.


Baytil Ajaib offers 2 double apartments and 2 double suites. All apartments and suites have their own private bathrooms. There are also scattered seating arrangements in Baytil Ajaib for those that may want to curl up and read in some other part of the house. ”Neither Africa nor Lamu is every man’s thing. Lamu is an island in a third world country with some drawbacks. Individuals who are not use to traveling in Africa may find it rather difficult to their normal life style and have difficulty in adjusting. Guests will not be walking on the Croisette in Cannes doing the film festival or some dreamy idea like that. There are basically two types of individuals that come to Lamu. Those that hate it immediately and those that love it instantly. Most clients fall in love with Lamu because of all the natural beauty, the friendliness of the people, the endless clean beautiful beaches with no one on them, the safety that prevails here not to mention the fresh giant crabs and lobster to be found in these waters. Shrimp, calamari, fish of many kinds as well as local exotic food dishes. The moment a client leaves the front door of Baytil Ajaib he or she are in a total African environment and will have to deal with it. There’s no Club Med here! What a horrible thought of such a possibility.” Malik Weaver, Owner.


Baytil provides a flexible service and for those who want to get in on the action they can help arrange the menu. The dining hall is on the ground floor. And of course for those who can’t quite make it to the breakfast table, can have it served in their room.

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Conte Nast Traveller

…on Manda Island just across the channel from Shela. He brought in a huge sound system and did his best to flood the island with pop music. He has since backed down and his property, The Manda Beach Club, now confines itself to serving lunch to guests ferried over from hotels in Lamu town. Shela residents have now set up an environmental committee to monitor further encroachments. Now is the time to visit: to sample the traditional Swahili culture of Shela, the wonderful beaches. the water sports on offer at Peponi and the sense of security and calm. Sometimes the beach boys, who offer rooms to rent, dhow trips and dope (in that order), can be a bit trying. But they have known Lars for years, and they never push things too far. There are no security fences around Peponi, and guests rarely feel the need to lock their rooms.

No trip to Lamu would be complete without a visit to Lamu town, about 10 minutes by speedboat from Shela. There few towns in sub-Saharan Africa whose infrastructure has survived so intact. Life still revolves around the harbour. Maritime industries form the basis of the Lamu economy (the old trade in ivory. hippo teeth and rhino horn has long been banned). ‘Walking the length of the main drag, Harambee Avenue. can be exhausting. Every inch is lined with wooden stalls selling a cornucopia of goods, from touristy artefacts such as necklaces to an array of vegetables, grains and chocolate bars; furniture makers can rustle up a safari chair in a matter of hours. Judging by the constant exchange of greetings, it seems most of Lamu town’s 20,000 residents know each other. Nobody hurries. It is hot and dusty. I felt as if I was walking in treacle.

Until now, accommodation in Lamu town has been limited to basic back-packers’ rooms and two mid-market hotels. Now, however, there is a new place to stay. Baytil Ajaib, or ‘House of wonders’, is the stuff of dreams, or at least one man’s dreams. Peter Weaver is an American from Michigan who met his friend and business partner, Norbert Herget, when he was working as a banker in Germany. They started visiting Lamu regularly more than a decade ago, and in 1989 found a dilapidated 18th-century town house and bought it for a snip. Weaver has been on Lamu ever since and converted to Islam, assuming a new name. Abdul Malik Bilali, in the process. Malik, as he is known, is now a prominent figure in the town’s religious community: a slightly eccentric, disarmingly charming character, his enthusiastic chatter laced with references to the Koran.

Over the past eight years Malik has painstakingly restored the house, preserving and enhancing the original features (basic Swahili homes are centred around a large courtyard, with inward-facing rooms), and dividing it into five apartments. Baytil Ajaib is extravagantly decorated. The ceilings are made from mwangati wood, painted traditional black and red: the walls are made from five types of lime-coral stone, including snail shell, with alcoves engraved with turtles, representing fertility and resistance to evil spirits. Malik has amassed treasure troves of African and Western ornaments and objets d’art. including German Meissen china.

I was Malik’s first visitor, his guinea pig. Ideally, he said. he would like to attract discerning travellers who would stay for a week or two — the kind who are writing books, perhaps, or who just want time to think. For inspiration. they could do worse than to sit on the huge roof terrace, surrounded by the sights and sounds of Lamu town, which never seems to sleep.



The chic retreat

Baytil Ajaib, Lamu, Kenya. Baytil Ajaib, which means ‘house of wonder in Swahili, is the ultimate in African chic. The

beautifully restored townhouse mirrors the traditional stone dwellings found throughout Lamu’s old town, and blends opulent Arabian furnishings with elegant Swahili decor. Antique rosewater decanters and incense holders line elaborately carved wall niches and, in the sunlit courtyard, birds swoop down to perch on the covered well. Four interconnecting apartments, each with a private verandah, provide seclusion, and the pillow-strewn harem terrace is perfect for larger gatherings. What else? After a day spent exploring the archipelago by dhow or wandering Lamu’s winding streets, let the chef and full staff prepare tuna carpaccio or

freshly squeezed lemon juice for you. Baytil Ajaib’s rooftop opens to a view of stone houses and minarets, with dhows passing in the distance.

- Apartments, from about £85 a person a night. Book with Chic Retreats (020 7978 7164;

- Elie Losleben


Hotéis de Sonho

Longe do mundo… urn lugar de sonho… uma ilha ladeada por corais, corn palmeiras, perfumes e aromas de especiarias conhe-cidas e invulgares, ao som do chamamento dos muezzins para a oracao, das criancas estudando nas Medersas, dos burros zur-rand° e das suas carrocas corn rodas pouco oleadas arrastando-se pelas ruas de pedra, e urn mundo de outros sons, é a melodia que melhor descreve Lamu. Cidade de comercio por seculos e seculos entre a Arabia e a India, vendendo e comprando especiarias e marfim, produziu uma maravilhosa e vibrante cultura num povo chamado de Swahili. 0 meio de transporte em Lamu é, ainda hoje, o dhow, o burro, ou simplemente caminhar — ainda nao ha carros na ilha. Baytil Ajaib, que significa Casa das Maravilhas, e uma das mais perfeitas representacoes das casas apalacadas de Lamu. Fica mesmo na cidade e, insta-lada numa pequena elevacao, oferece uma esplendida vista sobre a medieval Larnu, o mar salpicado aqui e au i pelos pequenos e delicados dhows regressando da pesca, e amanheceres e entardeceres deslumbrantes. Todos os quartos (dois duplos) e suites (duas, tambem duplas) abrem-se para uma varanda ou um patio e dispoem de casa de banho privada. A sala de jantar flea no piso terreo e a casa disponibiliza dois empregados e urn cozinheiro. Ali, pode viver coma se estivesse no seculo XVII, sentir-se urn comerciante de especiarias vestido com o seu kaftan, bebericando no terraco, ou lendo deitado numa das tradicionais e belissimas camas de mogno trabalhado. Pode ainda conhecer as belissimas praias em redor da ilha, fazer urn dhow cruise ao luar, praticar desportos aquaticos ou, simplesmente, perder-se nas ruelas de Lamu, sem destino…

Lamu, Quenia • Tel. 00.254 121 632033 • precos por quarto duplo/noite .desde USD 195 (corn pequeno-almoco). Pode alugar a casa par inteiro d semana por USD 5,000 (maximo de 8 pessoas) • pode apanhar urn aviao ern Nairobi on Mombaca.Todos os coos aterram na ilha de Manda, e um barco transporta depois os passageiros ate Lamu


W Magazine

On the Loose in Lamu

Where do European jet-setters and grubby backpackers collide? On the island of Lamu, Kenya’s fabled haven for aristocrats and other fugitives.

by Christopher Bagley

If you mention to anyone that you’re heading to Lamu, an island on Kenya’s Swahili coast, you’re bound to be asked one of two questions: “Isn’t that the chic resort where Sienna Miller, Princess Caroline of Hanover and the London art crowd like to go?” Or, “Isn’t that the grubby backpacker’s hangout where the streets are covered with donkey crud?” People might also inquire whether Lamu is a conservative Muslim enclave where alcohol and above-the-knee skirts are no-no’s, or if it’s a chilled-out party town.

The fact that these contradictory questions all elicit the same answer—“Yes”—goes a long way toward explaining Lamu’s appeal. With its rich and raffish history as an Arab trading post, its idyllic beaches and its downright bizarre mix of characters, the island may be Africa’s ultimate exotic hideout.

“Lamu has always been its own little world,” says Carolyn Roumeguère, a local jewelry designer whose pieces are worn by Nicole Kidman and Donna Karan. “And there have always been glamorous people coming here too. It’s just that nobody used to notice.”

What you think of the island will depend on which of its two neighboring villages you stay in—dusty, atmospheric Lamu town, or posh, serene Shela—and, more crucially, when you go. During the island’s brief high season at Christmastime, the place morphs into a sort of African St. Barths, packed with Hello! magazine regulars doing various things that couldn’t be featured in the party pages. For years, Prince Ernst of Hanover, who with his wife, Princess Caroline, owns a three-­story house on Shela’s waterfront, threw a huge bash on the beach, flying in a sound system from Nairobi and a DJ from Europe. (The couple has stayed away in recent seasons, though Ernst is still involved in a lengthy court battle with a German hotelier, who claims he had to be hospitalized after the Prince assaulted him during a drunken argument in 2000.)

Every January, after the heavy-duty Euro crowd goes home, Lamu largely reverts to its centuries-old ways. Lamu town, the main settlement on the island and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a kind of mini Zanzibar, with about 25,000 residents, 2,200 donkeys, 26 mosques and two cars. It’s the sort of place where Paul Bowles might have settled if he’d taken a wrong turn in Tangier. In the winding alleyways, fully veiled women scurry toward the outdoor market, their eyes darting beneath black bui-buis. Evidence of the town’s Indian, Persian, Omani and Portuguese influences is visible in the coral stone houses, with their carved teak and mahogany doors. Though there are a few interesting museums and one or two decent cafés, the main pastime for visitors is strolling around, watching the traditional dhow sailboats in the harbor while pretending not to notice the open sewer drains lining the streets.

Over in Shela, meanwhile, even the donkeys seem more relaxed and well groomed; you’ll see them nibbling on the bougainvillea blossoms that shopkeepers leave at their doorsteps. At Fatuma’s Tower, a British expat named Gillies offers yoga classes in the restored home of a Swahili noblewoman, and at a shop called Aman, the merch includes $800 pashminas embellished with ostrich and flamingo feathers. In the past decade, dozens of wealthy foreigners have restored Shela’s old villas or built new ones with swimming pools and fire pits. (Virtually all the houses can be rented by the week; see “Lamu 411.”) Most of these home owners come to town only a few times a year, and their absence is a mixed blessing: The village can seem eerily abandoned, but it offers a welcome break from the clamor of London or even that of Lamu town. At the edge of the village, past a starkly contemporary hilltop villa built by American Psycho producer Chris Hanley (locals call it Hollywood Heights), is a truly magnificent, dune-backed beach that rarely draws more than a handful of people. It stretches westward for eight miles.

What Shela and Lamu town have in common is a cosmopolitan, seen-it-all attitude that is like catnip to free spirits and well-to-do misfits. American writer-filmmaker John Heminway (No Man’s Land), a longtime Lamu regular, says that has been true since European runaways began trickling in a half century ago. “The first arrivals were real eccentrics who wanted to escape something—maybe their families, maybe society, maybe the law,” he explains. Heminway made a documentary about one such figure, Latham Leslie-Moore, who was believed to be an illegitimate son of Edward VII. In the Fifties Leslie-Moore converted to Islam and appointed himself sultan of his own nation-state on an island off the coast of Tanzania; forced out, he retreated to Lamu, where his servants carried him around town in a sedan chair. As for the later waves of Lamu pilgrims—artists, socialites, ordinary tourists—each crowd “feels like they discovered the place,” says Heminway. “But what is amazing is that over all this time, the bones of the society that made Lamu attractive to these people are still intact.”

One constant since the late Sixties has been Shela’s main hotel and social hub, Peponi. The word means “paradise” in Swahili, and you might not find that name much of a stretch if you spend an afternoon eating mangrove crab on the port-side patio. After dark, the crowd at the adjacent outdoor bar (one of the few places on the island where alcohol is served) is about as motley as you could find anywhere. On any given night you might see sunbaked upper-class Englishmen going native in traditional cotton kikoyi sarongs (some more convincingly than others); bejeweled fortyish Italian women unwinding after an afternoon on water skis; Sting or Ethan Hawke or Kate Moss; and one or two Masai warriors–cum–souvenir salesmen, wearing their homemade bracelets and other merchandise around their wrists and necks. (“I don’t need a store—I am the store!” one joked to me. “And I’m always open, 24-7.”) One section of the bar is known semi-facetiously as “bad boys corner,” where friendly young dhow sailors schmooze for boating clients and/or meal tickets. (Don’t be surprised if the Rasta-haired crewman on your sailboat has an iPhone that’s newer than yours—courtesy of his “girlfriend” in Stockholm.)

Whatever you do in Lamu, be sure to spend at least a day cruising around the nearby islands on a dhow. After dropping anchor, the crew will grill some snapper while you snorkel or swim, and they’ll serve it later with fresh mango and lime. The dhows are built the same way as in the days when they transported spices along the coast, though their names have changed: I spotted one Beyoncé, and word has it that there’s an Obama under construction. As you head back to Shela, you’ll sail past a cluster of palms sheltering Manda Bay resort, where honeymooners as well as Paul Allen and Jerry Hall camp in $1,200-a-night banda huts.

Authenticity junkies who don’t mind being awakened by braying donkeys might prefer to sleep right in Lamu town, at a place like Baytil Ajaib, a gorgeously restored 17th-century Swahili town house with four suites set off from a central courtyard. Co-owner Malik Weaver (né Paul Weaver, a former banker from Detroit) spent 10 years reconstructing the building’s mwangati beams and intricate plasterwork. Perhaps Weaver’s boldest move was hiring a Masai man, Wilson Sakimba, to be the hotel’s chef—virtually unheard of in Kenya. The Masai don’t eat fish or chicken, which means Sakimba won’t always taste the dishes he prepares. His lobster tagliatelle, in any case, is delicious.

Like most year-rounders, Weaver raises an eyebrow at what he calls the “fabettes”—the celebs and fashionable types who have been flocking to Lamu in growing numbers—though he notes that they haven’t managed to change the place very much. Sandy Bornman, the stylish South African blond who owns the boutique Aman, points out that Lamu’s nightlife options are still far too limited to compete with Saint-Tropez. “Here, you can either have a drink at Peponi, or you can have a drink at Peponi,” she says. One season, a group of blinged-out Russians gave Shela a try, but they never returned. “I guess there weren’t enough discos here, or hookers,” Bornman says.

Even those who come to Lamu for its raucous holiday scene tend to slip away at some point, heading off to one of several pricey hideaways that evoke Gilligan’s Island, albeit with better food. British artist Tracey Emin favors Kiwayu Safari Village, which is reached either by plane or by an alarmingly bumpy, 40-mile speedboat ride through the mangrove channels along the Kenya mainland, north toward the Somali border. The lodge’s 18 open-air, thatch-roofed bandas overlook a pristine beach that’s part of a marine reserve, with a game reserve right next to it, so it’s here that you’ll likely have that requisite East Africa experience: a wildlife encounter inside your hotel room. No sooner had the steward dropped off my suitcase than a monkey hopped through the window to inspect it.

Kiwayu’s co-owner Simone Pelizzoli is a native Ken­yan whose father bought the land in the Seventies, when elephants still hung out on the beach. Today tourism in Kenya is slowly picking up again after the violence in the wake of the country’s 2007 presidential election. While some visitors might be nervous about Kiwayu’s proximity to southern Somalia, where pirates menace the coast, Pelizzoli prefers to focus on the upside. At least the unrest serves as a deterrent to new Club Meds and, paradoxically, protects the things that lured travelers here in the first place. Pelizzoli makes this observation after returning from a late-afternoon walk on a deserted beach with her husband and their two-year-old daughter, who spent an hour and a half bouncing on dried seaweed and running after crabs.

“Often,” she says, “when there’s bit of trouble somewhere, the beauty remains, doesn’t it?”