Two years ago, Babu Obbo, a young entrepreneur ploughed his all his savings in turning an old tamarind tree into a hotel. There is nothing luxurious about this hotel built with tamarind tree branches peeping from its windows, yet it attracts tourists in droves to Lamu.
“Initially, when it was just a tamarind tree aged over 100 years, locals and tourists loved to just seat under its massive shade and enjoy the cold breeze from the Indian Ocean. Then I saw an investment opportunity. I asked myself, how about I turn it into a permanent hangout spot with plenty of delicious Swahili food and definitely the tamarind juice? That’s how I opened Lamu Tamarind Tree Café,” says Mr Babu.
He says he spent about Sh1 million to construct the café using locally sourced materials. Babu later left the tree-house hotel to his brother Hassan Obbo.
The café made from mangrove poles, casuarina trees and thatched with makuti is located in front of Indian Ocean, offering guests idyllic views of the sea.
It has two floors with a kitchen and a reception on the lower part while the restaurant sits on the top part of the tree. The sprawling tamarind tree branches and leaves are part of the roof top.
At the hotel, food is not as expensive as in most fancy restaurants in Lamu. The hotel is run like a kitchen home. Mr Hassan’s wife, Fatma Walad is the chef and at the same time the manager.
“I was initially a beach operator and coxswain but for now I have decided to focus more on running the café,” says Mr Hassan.
His wife adds that the hotel gets guests from Spain, Italy, the US, the UK as well as domestic tourists from Mombasa and Nairobi.
Edson Kalama, a waiter at the cafe says when tourism peaks, they can serve over 100 guests per day.
Apart from giving tourists a taste of Lamu food from the top of a tree, the restaurant provides a ready fish market for sellers of lobsters, prawns, tuna fish, octopuses and crabs.
After enjoying a meal, either grilled lobster, pan-fried calamari or octopus stew and a cold glass of tamarind (mkwaju) juice, visitors can tour Lamu Fort and Mkunguni Square Museum situated just 100 meters away.
The museum was opened in 1971 and houses one of the best ethnographic collections in the region.