Funny Travel Story: Rags to Riches in Kenya

Funny Travel Story: Rags to Riches in Kenya

“We’re rich!” said Rich announcing the news that our precious travel money had magically doubled overnight. It was a stroke of personal good fortune and a funny travel story that really happened to my husband Rich and me after the Kenyan Shilling halved in value while we were staying on Lamu Island.

Some of my happiest and simplest moments were spent on Lamu, a small island with strong Swahili and Islamic culture off the Kenyan Coast.

Those were lazy days hanging out with travelers and locals and joking around with the beach boys who befriend tourists in the hope of taking them out on day trips or sunset cruises.

We sailed to Shela beach by felucca every day and swam in the sea, cooled and carried by the trade winds and Indian Ocean.

I shopped at the market, weaving my way through the narrow alley ways, past donkeys, cats and bui-bui women covered from head to toe in black robes to buy papaya and limes for breakfast.

In the evenings we played chess, backgammon or cards with other travellers and vied to see who could come up with the craziest travel story. The competition was tough.

It was an easy life apart from one small problem; money was tight because Lamu was the last stop on our travels and our money was running out faster than we expected. It happens.

Although Lamu’s not expensive we were struggling to make our travel money last. By the time we’d paid the rent on the 18th Century traditional stone house we were renting (it was cheaper than a hotel!) there was barely enough money left for beans and chapati to eat plus a water taxi to the beach.

1992 was a tough year in Kenya with huge inflation and locals struggling as food prices doubled over the space of a few months. To correct this overseas governments asked Kenya to devalue the Kenyan Shilling to secure foreign aid which they did.

So that’s why the value of our travelers cheques literally doubled overnight.

We went from eking out our meager funds to splurging on as trip to Mike’s Camp on Kiwayu Island, a sunset cruise with the funniest Lamu beach boys Captain Banana and Prince Charles (not their real names) and giant prawns every night. We’d been a super tight budget and now we were living the good life.

Currency changes are impossible to predict but we got lucky in Lamu. I found out what it feels like to get a sudden windfall and go from pauper to princess overnight.

Have you got a funny travel story (or not so funny travel story!) about sudden currency exchange rate changes?

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  1. Johanna April 20, 2015 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Love the feel of the long languid days you write about on Lamu, a place which I’ve always wanted to get to. You’re so right about not ever being able to predict currency exchange. We thought we were quids in when we returned from England to South Africa to buy a house … when we made the offer in 2002 the exchange rate was something like 19 South AFrican Rand to 1 Pound Sterling, then it went down to 12 to 1 when we had to pay for the house. Oouch!

    • Annabel Candy April 20, 2015 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      Oh Johanna, I feel your pain! Bug currency exchange fluctuations can make a huge difference, especially when you’re exchanging a large sum of money like that. Ouch indeed.

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