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Anjouan - Moroni

Another ferry crossing

Having been thoroughly ill with food poisoning all through the night, we both feel rather fragile and weak this morning. I was very grateful that the water came back on again at around 6am, at least we could flush the toilet, and as soon as the restaurant opens, David goes down to get some more bottled water (which also ran out in the night).

A little while later there is a knock on the door and the waiter arrives with ‘Comorian tea’. “Good for bad stomach” he explains. How very sweet of him.


Neither of us can face breakfast this morning, so we just hang around in the air-conditioned room, half sleeping, feeling very sorry for ourselves, until Patrice comes to pick us up at 9 o’clock to take us to the ferry terminal. I can't say that my stomach is looking forward to the crossing today.

Checking out from the hotel we encounter our first problem of the day. Omar (the owner of the local agency who are in charge of the arrangements here in Comoros) very kindly agreed for us to half board at this hotel here in Anjouan to make up for the fact that we never did get to Mohéli Island (where our stay was booked to include dinner). Unfortunately, the hotel does not seem to know about this arrangement. We try to explain, but to no avail. Patrice intervenes. He does not know anything about it either, but he phones Omar and eventually it is all settled.

Squeezed into another tiny car, we leave the Al Amal hotel to drive the short distance to the docks where we will board the boat back to Moheli on Grand Comore. We only get half way through the town before we are stopped by the police. “Oh dear, here we go” I think, but it is only to let a procession of military cadets march through. Phew. I am not in a fit state to sort problems today.

Ferry Terminal

At the docks we are grateful to be able to stop fairly near today, at least to unload the bags and us. Patrice has to take the car off to park elsewhere.


Once inside the harbour area, we thankfully manage to find a spot on a bench in the shade as we wait for our turn to check the bags in. There are three ferries leaving the terminal this morning, the first one to Mayotte, the next two to Moroni. Ours is the last one. They are still just checking in for Mayotte, and there is a long queue, which moves extremely slowly.


Patrice tells us to be patient, just sit and wait rather than stand in the queue. “Best to check in last” he recommends. That suits us fine. We have plenty of drinking water and somewhere to sit.


We spend the time people watching, and encounter our very first beggar here in Comoros: an Imam selling shells. When we make it clear we do not want to buy any shells, he brings out some ylang ylang oil for us to smell. When this doesn’t tempt us to part with our money either, he lowers his voice to barely a whisper. He is so quiet that we can’t hear him at first, asking him to repeat it. He leans in closer but is still barely audible: “you give me money”. It is very much against their culture / religion to beg, hence his reluctance to speak up. We decline. After looking at us with doleful eyes for a while, he moves on.


We continue waiting. And waiting. As more and more people leave the outside area and move into the waiting room, young lads come and pick up the benches. Eventually there is only the one bench that we are sitting on left. Finally the queue is all but gone and we are able to check our bags in, as the two very last passengers. We are then herded into the 'official' waiting room, where someone makes sure that a couple of lads move so that I can sit down.

A small man with a big hat (who I secretly name Little Hitler) orders passengers to come forward by rows. A few people from the back of the room try to jump the queue, sending Little Hitler into a meltdown. There is obvious resentment within the crowd, with some people loudly voicing their displeasure. I really wish I could understand what is being said. As the agitation rises the jeering gets louder and more aggressive, antagonising Little Hitler to the extent that he grabs a bench and bangs it down on the floor to get everyone’s attention. Despite my unease about the building tensions, I find the whole scenario ludicrous, and struggle not to laugh. I am sure that would not go down well, and is not likely to help our little friend's management issues.

At last it is our turn to continue, and we are herded into a long, thin corridor where passports and tickets are checked. Being foreigners, we are hauled to one side and into an office for double-checking. This always takes a while here in Comoros, because they want to make sure we have a visa, which is found on the very last page in my passport. All the other pages before it have multiple stamps or visas, so officials tend to get a little side tracked looking through it.

Eventually we are let through, but the corridor only leads to another waiting room. There are nowhere near enough seats here either, but it is the same story as before: as more and more people vacate the previous waiting room, benches are picked up from there and passed over the crowd to the second room. These are ten foot long wooden benches (basically just a long thick plank with rudimentary legs either end) and are clumsy and awkward to haul across and over passengers. It seems such a long-winded way of doing things – surely such simple seating cannot be that expensive / difficult to make? Would it not be so much easier to have enough of them for all the waiting areas? I am desperate to take photos of all these shenanigans, but I don’t want to attract the wrath of Little Hitler. I do risk a couple of pictures though, shot covertly and blindly from the hips.


The cramped room is jam-packed with passengers and bags, and some people sneak out through the glass doors at the side of the room for a little fresh air and some relief from the stifling heat. Little Hitler is not amused. He pushes and shoves people around, dragging them back in again and slams the boors shut. Some people become locked outside in the mêlée. One boy receives a slap across he face for his disobedience. Again there is a lot of grumbling from the crowd, and I can feel a rising rebellion emerging against this extreme herding. What sounds like a communal growl emanates from the crowd, and people starts to surge forward. I feel a little uncomfortable and somewhat vulnerable, fearing a brawl in the making. Not understanding the language certainly doesn’t help. The whole scene is ridiculous and absurd to the extreme: I feel as if I am in the middle of a comedy sketch; except no-one is laughing.

After what seems like an eternity of shouting, mutual provocation and stirring up the crowd to the brink of a fracas, we are finally invited to leave the room for the last little walk to the ship. By row, naturally. There is plenty of clamouring with Mr Hitler barking orders; angry passengers pushing and shoving; and people on the right protesting and bellowing when those on the left get to go before them. And vice versa of course. I just keep my head down and only move when I am told to.

At the door there is another cursory check of the tickets and passports before we can finally leave Anjouan, the ferry terminal and Little Hitler behind to board the ferry. This is a different boat to the one we came over on, and it has a proper, level gangplank. It is about the same size as the last one, but with a slightly different layout and two passenger floors. There is less legroom but the saving grace is that it does have A/C. I settle down in my seat and try to get some sleep. Thankfully I no longer feel nauseous, although my stomach is far from settled.


After around three hours, I see lights up ahead, from another boat. Having been told all about pirates over here from both Yahaya and Patrice, and knowing that even these days the waters around here are a bit of a favourite hunting ground for such marauders, it does cross my mind…. I am therefore secretly relieved when I discover that it is just the other ferry, the one that left before us.

What a difference a few days makes. Today’s sailing is smooth, easy and very much quicker than the journey out. Despite being sick all through the night, we both manage to hold it together on the crossing. After a few more snoozes and a little people watching, we arrive in Moroni just as daylight fades. As expected, there is a massive crush to get off the boat, but at least there is a proper gang plank again.

Omar is there waiting for us, and manages to get permission to hang around at the dockside to pick up the luggage as it comes off the ship, rather than having to wait for everyone's bags to be offloaded and then collect them in the terminal building. That man has so many useful contacts in this country; he seems to be able to arrange most things.

Transferring the bags from the boat to the dockside is not very a well organised operation in my opinion. Surely it wouldn’t take much to create some sort of a chute or a slide for the luggage to go down, rather than have to throw it across the gap and hope that the guy on dry land manages to catch it.


They could even have the slide go straight into the van, or onto a platform at the same height as the luggage vehicle in order to save the workers from damaging their backs.


Omar has managed to bring the car right down to the mooring, so we don’t have to drag the bags so far this time. Once the bags are inside, the boot doesn’t close again, but that seems the norm in this country. We go off while Omar stays behind to sort out another passenger on the ferry we overtook and which arrived not long after us.

The driver takes us to our hotel for the next couple of nights. This time we are going to the other side of town, to the Itsandra, the most upmarket hotel in Comoros. We are very happy to find that the hotel is expecting us, and after checking in, we go straight to bed. We didn’t get much sleep last night, and not having eaten anything whatsoever today, we are both feeling a little washed out.

This trip was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in small group adventure and private tours to little-known corners of the world.


Posted by Grete Howard 06:40 Archived in Comoros

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Good to know you got off the island (well, obviously you did, as you are back home by now, but you know what I mean!) But that waiting room scenario sounds a nightmare, especially on a dodgy stomach!

by ToonSarah

I was glad my tummy was not still as bad as it was overnight. THAT would have been a nightmare. Thankfully I did not have to try out the facilities.

by Grete Howard

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