A Travellerspoint blog

Kanha National Park Part I - Kanha Zone

Talk about "Beginner's Luck"!


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After a restless night full of meflaquine dreams (nightmare-inducing malaria prophylaxis), I wake to a knock on the door. Thinking that Ahmed will leave our coffee on the table outside the door, I just shout out “thanks” to him. It is several minutes later that I realise he is still standing outside waiting for us to open the door, and I feel really guilty about leaving him there.

Kipling Camp has its own Gypsy (specially converted safari vehicle), driven by Rahim, who is not just an excellent driver, spotter and identifier, he speaks good English too and is a thoroughly nice person. This morning we are also accompanied by Jeswin, the resident naturalist at Kipling Camp, whose enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Rahim ensures we arrive first at the gate, in the pitch black, some 50 minutes before they open. As time goes on, a huge queue forms (but unusually for India, it remains orderly), and by the time we are allowed in (after having passports checked and tickets issued), there are dozens of Gypsies behind us.

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Drivers queuing for tickets

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Long line of Gypsies behind us

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We are finally let through the gate

Kanha National Park is divided into four zones, and visitors must drive the circuit stipulated on their tickets. This morning we have been allocated Kanha Zone, The first animals we spot, just inside the gate, are a pack of jackals and some cheetal (Indian spotted deer). It is still very dark, so the pictures are extremely grainy as a result of the high ISO (ISO 32,000 for my photography friends).

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Sunrise

And then the sun comes up, and what a sunrise it is, culminating in an elephant and mahout appearing out of the mist. Such a magical moment.

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We continue driving, seeing more animals and birds along the way.

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Cheetal (Indian Spotted Deer)

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Eurasian Golden Oriole

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Hanuman Langur

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Cheetal

Tiger

Before leaving the UK, I had warned Lyn and Chris that seeing tiger is not easy, and to expect maybe one tiger sighting for every five game drives. And here we are, before 07:30 on our very first drive when we spot a tiger in the undergrowth. Wow!

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The tigress strolls along, taking no notice of us whatsoever.

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She heads straight for us initially, then veers off to her left, pausing briefly to turn towards the elephant that has appeared behind her.

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As the tigress saunters down the path, Rahim manoeuvres the Gypsy to a better position, anticipating the she will cross the road right in front of us.

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He is right, of course.

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You can see from the fact that I have caught part of the car in the bottom corner of the photo, just how close she is.

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And then she's gone. After nearly four minutes of sheer adrenalin and excitement, we are left with just one word on our lips: “Wow!” “We can go home now” says Chris, “we've seen what we came to see.” What an amazing experience and such a clear and close encounter. What a beautiful animal!

How can you top that?

We continue on our game drive to see what else the park has to offer. At least the pressure is off now as far as finding tigers go.

We get quite excited seeing these Blackbucks, as they are a new species to us in the wild.

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The male is black, while the females are a more neutral fawn colour. Here seen with a male cheetal.

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Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Gaur (Indian Bison) sticking his head above the long grass

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At up to ten feet long and seven feet tall, the gaur is the world's biggest wild cow. They are HUUUUGE

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Wild boar

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Indian Peafowl

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Jackal

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Jackal

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Cheetal - apparently there are some 22,000 of these spotted deer in the park

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Cattle egrets flying

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Stonechat

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Stonechat

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White Rumped Vulture

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Paddyfield Pipit

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Indian Roller

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Common Kestrel

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Green Bee Eater

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Female Stonechat - very much more dull than her husband

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White Fronted Kingfisher

Breakfast picnic

At the Visitors Centre, we stop for a picnic. Kipling Camp made us some lovely scrambled egg wraps, plus fruit and juice - the best packed picnic on the whole trip.

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The monumental arch is made from antlers from cheetal, sambar and barashinga deer. Very impressive.

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Back on the road again for a little bit more game viewing before returning to the lodge for lunch. Unlike African safaris, Indian national parks only allow visitors to enter for a few hours in the morning and again late afternoon.

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Black Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Roller

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Sambar

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Changeable Hawk Eagle

What an amazing morning's game viewing, not just a tiger, but also quite a few lifers (new birds to us) to add to our bird list. Well done Rahim and Kipling Camp.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:31 Archived in India Tagged india elephant sunrise safari mist birding tiger peacock bison stork vulture peafowl egrets langur gypsy kingfisher oriole jackal gaur indian_roller chital sambar blackbuck stonechat kestrel wild_boar lapwing kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park breakfast_picnic cheetal pipit munia wild_cow Comments (8)

Delhi - Jabalpur - Bhedaghat - Kanha

Don't rock the boat


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The jetlag continues to blight me this morning as I lie awake from 02:30 onwards.

Flight from Delhi to Jabalpur

At Delhi Domestic Airport we are approach by a uniformed official as we queue to check in. “Would you be interested in an upgrade?” At 700Rs per person (less than £10), we gladly accept. It includes extra legroom and free food, as well as priority baggage. It doesn't stop us from having to pay excess baggage fees for being over the 15kg limit for checked in bags, however.

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Waiting at Delhi Airport

The choices for food on board are not great – sandwich or pot noodle (or rather pot lentil).

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It's a quick flight and soon we are met at Jabalpur Airport by Rakesh, our driver for the next few days. He takes us directly to a fancy hotel for use of the facilities and where his boss (I assume) talks to us about our itinerary; about which there seems to be some confusion. Rakesh does not speak any English, just a simple few words, and my Hindi is no better.

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Jabalpur from the air

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Fire engine at Jabalpur airport

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Baggage trolley at Jabalpur airport

Marble Rocks

Before heading to Kanha National Park for our tiger safari, we want to make a detour to Bhedaghat.

The small town is famous for two things: Dhuhandhar Falls, and Marble Rocks. After climbing down a number of steps, we reach the river's edge where we board a covered boat for our trip into the steep-sided gorge where the aforementioned marble rocks can be admired.

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As the boat moves upstream, the Narmada River flows through a narrow gorge flanked either side by steeply rising cliffs in various colours, from dazzling white to pale yellow and from a pinkish hue to different shades of green.

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Indian Cormorant

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Fisherman

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White Browed Wagtail

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Red Wattled Lapwing

Jumping boys
For 50Rs, young buys jump off the cliffs into the water below.

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The Journey to Kanha

The steps back up to the town and car again seem steep and we are all feeling the heat. The car, thankfully, is beautifully air-conditioned as we make our way towards our home for the next three nights: Kanha National Park. At this stage we realise that we will unfortunately not have time to stop at the waterfalls, as we still have a 4½ hour journey ahead of us.

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One step up from a zebra crossing - a horse crossing

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Overloaded bicycle

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Judging by the number of people we see along the road carrying hay, I would say it is harvest time at the moment.

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We go through some rural and agricultural communities, with the odd long-distance truck on the road.

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Once the sun goes down, we realise we are not going to reach the lodge in the light.

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Indian roads can be quite intimidating for the first time visitor, and even more so after dark. Lyn describes the experience as “Wacky Races on Speed”.

Kipling Camp

Our arrival at Kipling Camp is exceptionally welcoming. As we pull up in the dark, a whole welcoming committee appear with torches and wet flannels to wipe away the dirt from the journey. Astrid shows us around the main facilities of the camp – the Shamiana, an open sided terrace with comfortable seating as well as a bar and dining area; while the two volunteers, Alex and Franco, take the luggage to our rooms.

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As we relax with a drink, Ahmed, the friendly chef, brings round the tastiest pakoras I have ever eaten, followed by cream of vegetable soup in little cups. Dinner is buffet style, with chicken curry, cabbage, potato with capsicum and dhal, followed by a tasty sweet treat (banana fritters if I remember rightly).

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After dinner we continue our friendly chats with the staff: Astrid, the manager, the two young boys, Alex and Franco, who are here as volunteers and show a maturity way beyond their years, and Jeswin, the naturalist. We are the only people staying tonight, and by the end of the evening, we feel very much part of the Kipling family. What a fabulous place!

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Our Room
Our room is in a single-storey cottage set in the lovely grounds, shaded by tall trees; and with a path leading to it, lit by intelligent solar lamps that glow dimly and 'magically' light up brightly as we approach.

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Our cottage in the middle.

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Our room is on the far right of the cottage

We have a balcony with seating, and the interior consists of a four-poster bed with mosquito netting, ample storage space and a generously sized bathroom.

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The terrace in front of our room

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My only 'complaint' is that the bed is rather high, making it impossible to sit on the edge of the bed to get undressed

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I know we will enjoy our stay here very much, and I go to sleep a very happy and contented bunny.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:18 Archived in India Tagged boat canyon india cows harvest boat_trip jabalpur kipling_camp bhedaghat marble_rocks rowing_boat harvest_time khana Comments (5)

Delhi

Revisiting India's bustling capital


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After a great night's sleep, we are ready to take on Delhi. Maybe.

Jama Masjid

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Officially known as Masjid-i Jahān-Numā (World-reflecting Mosque), this is one of the largest mosques in India. The courtyard can accommodate up to 25,000 worshippers at any one time, with 899 black borders marked out on the floor. Today there are more tourists than worshippers here; most of whom have been given a gown to cover themselves. I am deemed respectful enough and am allowed to continue in as I am.

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We have to pay 300Rs each per camera (including mobile phones) regardless of whether we intend to use that camera inside or not.

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Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (or more precisely, his 5,000 workers) between 1644 and 1656 at a cost of 1 million rupees, it was inaugurated by an imam from Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan).

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Chandni Chowk

From the mosque we grab a couple of rickshaws to explore Old Delhi in the traditional way.

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One of India's largest wholesale markets, Chandni Chowk is basically the main street through Old Delhi, with a maze of side alleys leading off it. It is a crazy mix of new and old, a manic onslaught on all the senses and a real 'baptism by fire' for Lyn and Chris' first visit to India.

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The market dates back to the time of the capital city Jahjahananebad (now Old Delhi) and was designed and established by Shah Jahan's favourite daughter in 1650. Originally containing 1,560 shops, the bazaar was 40 yards wide by 1,520 yards long. The name Chandni Chowk means 'Moonlight Square' as the market was once divided by canals (no longer there) to reflect the moonlight.

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Custard apples

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Spice Store

No tour of Delhi would be complete without the obligatory stop at a tourist shop – this time a spice store.

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Melon seeds - eaten like popcorn

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Turmeric

With prices higher than our local ethnic store in Bristol (Bristol Sweetmart), we leave without buying anything.

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Betel leaves

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Celebrity Status

As jetlag overcomes me and I sit down for a rest, I gain quite an audience as everyone and their dog wants to have their photo taken with me.

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While Lyn and Chris continue to explore the parts of Delhi we have seen more than once before, we go back to the hotel for a rest, and meet up with them later for dinner.

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Dinner

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Aloo Kashmiri, Soya Keema Curry, Jeera Rice, Naan and Sweet Lassi - all very tasty. And so to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:01 Archived in India Tagged mosque religion india muslim delhi spices islam cows chillies curry rickshaw custard_apple old_delhi turmeric chandni_chowk jama_masjid hotel_jivitesh cycle_rickshaw auto_rickshaw animal_powered_transport Comments (1)

Bristol - London - Delhi

We've arrived in Delhi


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After a reasonably comfortable and totally uneventful flight we land in Delhi, one hour early. Unsurprisingly, our driver is not yet here. To our surprise, however, our friend Sabu turns up soon after we arrive, showering us with flowers and gifts.

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From the airport we head directly to our hotel, fighting for space on roads crowded with scores of huge trucks, which are banned from the country's capital between 05:00 and 23:00. With the time now at 23:30, we are caught up in the middle of a transport frenzy, as an avalanche of overfilled, slow-moving trucks enter Delhi to make their deliveries to shops, restaurants and hotels, contaminating the still, hot air with plumes thick pollution as they go.

Jivitesh Hotel, Delhi
At Jivitesh Hotel we enter another world, one that is clean, quiet and cool, where we collapse into bed and immediately fall into a deep sleep.

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Welcome to India.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:19 Archived in India Tagged travel india flight delhi air_india jivitesh hotel_jivitesh Comments (4)

Moroni - Dar es Salaam - Dubai - London - Bristol

The long journey home


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The air-conditioner slowly gave up its will to live some time during the night, meaning that the room is mighty warm this morning! We sit outside on the terrace for a while to cool down before going for breakfast.

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Breakfast

Despite advertising that their breakfast starts at 06:00, there is precious little choice when we arrive at 06:20. Potatoes it is then.

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Checking out

Hopefully this will be the last time we check out of this hotel! There is some confusion this morning with the bill: because we came back to the same room when we returned from our aborted home journey yesterday, they seem to have added items from the previous two nights onto our bill this morning. We query it, but can’t quite understand the receptionist’s explanation. It doesn’t help that the short (just a few minutes) phone call to England yesterday cost us £45. Studying the bill more closely it becomes obvious. Yes, they have added the first two nights on the bill, but they have also subtracted the bill we paid yesterday. We didn’t notice that there is a Debit and a Credit column. Doh.

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Moroni Airport

Confusion over and we make our way to the airport. Again. Thankfully Omar still has the VIP pass from yesterday, so we walk straight in, despite the airport not being officially open yet. Check-in for the Dar es Salaam flight isn’t due to start until 07:30 anyway, so we are over half an hour early.

The departures hall has a grand total of five seats, and we have three of them. Result.

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Nothing seems to be happening though, and Omar goes off to check what is going on. “Check in will start at 8:00” he informs us when he returns. 08:00 comes and goes. “At 08:30” says the official when we ask. Meanwhile we people-watch. We see the first ill-behaved young child since we arrived in Comoros, causing havoc while waiting in line to check in.

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Photography is not permitted, and an officious looking security guard tells me off. I try my luck again though, very surreptitiously, as the wording on the back of the porters’ jerkins amuses me. I thought exploiting your staff was illegal, and not something you’d want to advertise.

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By 08:30 we are told that the plane hasn’t even arrived yet, and won’t be departing until 13:00. Groan. Omar phones the Air Tanzania office in town and comes back with good news: we are definitely on the passenger list. Yay! One step nearer.

An hour or so goes by, with more people watching. A kindly official appears and looks at our tickets for the connecting flight in Dar. I am not exactly comforted when he mumbles “sorry” and wanders off. Omar explains that he is going to phone the office to “make sure the flight leaves on time” so that we don’t miss the onward connection. I don’t hold out much hope though. We have just over an hour in Dar, but we have to queue to get our visa ($50 just to collect our bags!), queue for passport control, wait to collect our bags, make our way to departures, queue to check in at the Emirates counter, then queue again for immigration and security.

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Finally the Air Tanzania desks open up and we get to check in. To save some time in Dar es Salaam, I ask if they can check our bags all the way through to London. The clerk shakes his head: “No, sorry”. I plead with him and explain the situation. He fully understands my predicament, and wishes he could help; but the truth of the matter is that he cannot physically do it as they do not have a computerised system with access to international flights. Wow. I can’t remember the last time I had a hand written boarding card!

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Our main luggage goes through an x-ray at the check-in desk, and I am invited behind the counter to open mine up as they claim to have seen something ‘suspicious’. They are placated, however, when I point out that it is just some camera equipment.

Before we are even permitted to join the queue for passport control, a security guard checks our passports and makes sure we have completed a departure card.

At the immigration counter our passports are checked and stamped, our photograph is taken as are fingerprints from all fingers on both hands.

In the next booth they check our passports again and relieve us of the departure card.

At the x-ray my AA batteries are confiscated, as are a couple of safety pins. The batteries go in the manager’s drawer. Hmmm. A nice little business sideline?

We have now officially left Comoros and are technically in no-mans-land: the departure gate.

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And so we wait. And wait. And wait. I anxiously look at my watch with regular intervals, getting more and more convinced that we will miss the connection in Dar.

Eventually the plane arrives at 12:50. There is no way we are going to get away by 13:00, so now I have accepted that we will have to sort out a new flight when we get to Tanzania. Oh well, so be it. There is nothing we can do about it. On the mainland, arranging a new flight should not be so difficult though: Dar er Salaam is a big and busy airport, and London is a popular destination. And English is the lingua francas.

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It seems our VIP status is still valid, as only people with walking difficulties, plus us, are invited to board first.

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The plane takes off at 13:20, which means we are thankfully another step nearer home, or rather further away from Comoros.

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As the plane makes its way across the Indian Ocean, I start to think about the connection again. There is still a glimmer of home that we might make it, but it was such a crush at arrivals on our way over, and it took over an hour to get through immigration just to get to the luggage carousel, which was another nightmare. This is obviously a much smaller plane than the one we came from Dubai on though, so there may not be as many passengers wanting to get through at the same time.

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Being right at the front of the plane means we get into the arrivals hall first; and thankfully there are not very many travellers there are all. I make a beeline for the Transfer Desk, and breathlessly explain that we are on a very tight schedule, and we have checked in on line for the next flight, but haven’t got boarding cards, and we have to collect our luggage and check in again…. The attendant senses my slight panic and in a calm and soothing voice (and impeccable English) says: “Give me your onward flight ticket and your luggage tags, then go and sit down. We’ll sort this for you. It is all fine”. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

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By the time I have text my dad and emailed a friend, the nice chap comes back with our boarding cards and baggage tags, having collected our bags, and checked them and us in with Emirates. Wow! I could hug him. That is such excellent service. He then lets us through the back door behind the Transfer Desk, which leads directly into the Departures Hall and Duty Free. Result!

So many people have shown so much kindness and have gone so far out of their way to help smooth out all the issues and obstacles we have encountered along the way on this trip. I feel quite humbled by it all.

The rest of the journey home via Dubai and London Heathrow is totally uneventful and we gratefully open our front door some 31 hours after leaving the hotel in Comoros.

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Home, sweet home

All that remains now is to thank Undiscovered Destinations for arranging another fascinating trip. It didn’t always go to plan, but UD, and their ground agents in Comoros, did their very best to ensure we were still able to make the most of our time in this little-known country, minimising any disruptions caused by various circumstances beyond their control. I guess this is why they call it adventure travel.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged flight tanzania airline aiport emirates_airlines dar_es_salaam air_tanzania moroni itsandra_hotel dealy flight_connection Comments (1)

Moroni - Dar es Salaam. Or maybe not.

More problems


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Some of you may remember the saga we had with our international tickets before we left home:

1. The Precionair cancelled tomorrow's flight from Comoros to Dar es Salaam, and re-booked us on Air Tanzania departing at the same time.

2. Emirates, however, issued us with tickets for the section Moroni – Dar es Salaam for today on Ethiopian Air.

Going by what happened on the way over here (Air Tanzania had no record of our booking), it is anyone’s guess where and when we are booked.

Much as I would obviously much rather take the Air Tanzania flight tomorrow, if we don’t turn up for the flight today that has been booked by Emirates, there is a real danger that they will cancel the rest of the homeward flights (that is industry-wide policy: passengers who fail to utilise any part of a flight schedule, are deemed as no-show and all further sections are then cancelled). Hence the reason why we have to travel today as per Emirates itinerary. It means having to get a hotel room in Dar, plus transfers from and to the airprot, so it really is a bit of a nuisance.

Omar arrives early this morning to tell us about the plans for today. He explains: “Ethiopian Air is a very big plane with lots of people and long, long queues. Very, very slow.”

He has therefore arranged for a driver to come and pick up our bags at 09:30, who will stand in the queue for us for a couple of hours (in the hot sun). Another driver will then pick us up at 11:30, by which time the first driver and our bags will hopefully be very near the front of the queue and we can just take over. Now THAT is what I call fantastic customer service.

But it gets better.

A little later Omar phones to inform us that there has been a “change of plan”. My heart sinks. But not for long. Somehow Omar has managed to arrange a VIP pass for us, so that we don’t have to join the queue at all, we can just walk straight in. Wow! These guys are really pulling the stops out to make our journey as smooth and easy as possible.

Moroni Airport

When we arrive at the airport at 11:30, the queue still reaches the grounds outside the terminal building. I can only imagine what it would have been like at 9:30, especially after the slow check in for the ferry we experienced the other day. We walk up to the security guard checking tickets at the entrance to the building, flash our VIP pass and we’re in! Bypassing the long line of passengers snaking around inside the terminal building itself, we really do feel like VIPs – but we are also uncomfortably aware of the stares from the other passengers who have waited a long time. I wonder if Omar also senses this, as he holds the all-important piece of paper in such a way that the words VIP are clearly visible to everyone.

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Ethiopian Air opens up a new check-in desk, just for us. I guess we are very important then. I hand over our tickets and explain we are only going as far as Dar es Salaam, not Addis Abeba as per the notice board. The clerk looks confused. He checks his computer, then calls a supervisor over. He hands back my paperwork: “We have no record of your booking”. I protest: “But we have a ticket!” The clerk agrees that my reservation number is on their system, but our tickets have been cancelled. Groan. Does that mean our homeward flights on Emirates from Dar have been cancelled too? It doesn't even bear thinking about.

Even more confusingly is that it transpires that although this flight will be landing in Dar es Salaam to refuel on its way to Addis Abeba, they do not have permission to let passengers disembark there. It seems the flight, that Emirates allegedly booked us on, doesn’t even go to Dar; there is absolutely no way we will be travelling to Dar es Salaam on this flight today. So what on earth were Emirates playing at issuing us with an itinerary to include this flight? I guess we’ll never know.

At this stage I am feeling rather travel weary, and a little concerned about the other flights we have booked for the return journey. I ask Omar if we can check with Air Tanzania to make sure we are on their flight tomorrow. No such luck: today is Friday and the office is shut. We will just have to hope for the best and come back tomorrow.

Itsandra Hotel

There is only one thing to do: return to the hotel and hope they still have rooms for tonight. They do. In fact, they give us the same room as we had last night.

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Undiscovered Destinations

I ring Undiscovered Destinations (back in the UK) from the front desk to ask their advice – can they I go ahead and buy a ticket for us on Air Tanzania tomorrow? I would rather be double booked so that I know I will get to Dar es Salaam tomorrow and wont miss my international connection.

UD refer me back to what I was saying earlier: if we already have tickets, and the system sees that there are two bookings with the same name and DoB, they will automatically cancel one. This could, and probably would, then lead to us being deemed as ‘no-show’, with the Emirates flight cancelled. Groan. Again, the only thing we can do is hope all is OK tomorrow. At least if we get to Dar, we can fight it out with Emirates at the airport there, should they have cancelled onward flights too. So, basically Undiscovered Destinations are not able to help us with this, however much they may want to.

At this stage I must point out that we did not book our flights through Undiscovered Destinations, so they have no obligation, nor ability, to make any changes or observations in respect of our flights. They have been very supportive indeed of all the problems we have encountered while here in Comoros, all of which have been outside their control. As soon as they heard that we were unable to get to Mohéli Island, they sent an email to assure us that they will cover any extra expenses we might occur as a result of any itinerary changes. I cannot praise their consideration to customer satisfaction enough. This is why it pays, in the long run, to book through a UK based company when travelling to countries that are generally unprepared for tourism.

Lunch

We take our usual place on the terrace and ask about lunch. David holds up his menu and points half way down the page: "I'll have one of those please", much to our favourite waiter’s amusement.

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My tummy still feels very fragile, so I order something familiar: spaghetti bolognaise. “No bolognaise sauce”. What about pizza? "No pizza. We are waiting for a delivery of cheese". I order spaghetti Nepolitana, with just a plain tomato sauce. Five minutes later, the waiter comes back: “No tomato sauce”. We can have spaghetti with chicken in a white sauce. Whatever. That will have to do… Perhaps that empty menu was trying to tell us something.

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I eat the pasta and the sauce, but leave the chicken as my stomach is nowhere near right yet.

Red Guava

We also get some red guava juice, which is absolutely delicious, tasting like fresh strawberries. I will admit my ignorance here: I had no idea there were different types of guava until I got home and started looking it up for this blog. According to the waiter, this ‘red guava’ is found only in the Comoros and is known as ‘peru’. During my research back home, I found that there are ‘apple guavas’, ‘lemon guavas’, ‘cherry guavas’, and ‘strawberry guavas’. Well, I never!

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We wander around the grounds for a while, photographing anything that moves.

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And if it doesn’t move, it gets a helping hand. It’s got to be posing ‘just so’ for the camera, you know!

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Unlike in Anjouan, there are a number of lizards here at Itasandra.

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There aren’t many birds here, however, but plenty of bats flying around.

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People Watching

The elevated terrace at the Itsandra Hotel offers a great view of the fishermen in their rudimentary outrigger canoes in the bay below.

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There is eye-candy for David to admire on the terrace too.

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Late afternoon we return to the room to find that there are no towels. Again. David goes off to find the maid (again), who eventually brings a couple. Which are wet. Again. Is there a national shortage of towels in this country?

As I still am still suffering from the runs, we decide to forego dinner once again and just take it easy in the room.

Our spirits are raised when we receive a text from Emirates reminding us about checking in on line for our flights tomorrow. We are most definitely on the system for those sections still! Phew.

Our last evening

And so endeth our last full day in the little known island nation of Comoros (we hope), nestled in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique on the African coast and Madagascar to the East. Our waiter asked us this afternoon what we thought of Comoros. “Lovely people and culture, corrupt government” was my reply, and I think that just about sums it up. We thoroughly enjoyed learning about their way of life and seeing the two islands of Grand Comore and Anjouan. I am sure we would have come away with a much more positive impression of the holiday in general had we been able to fulfil the Mohéli portion of the trip, as that is where most of the activities we had planned are available. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the poor infrastructure worked against us, creating problems out of everyone’s control. The grounding of the the domestic airline aside, all the other issues we encountered here in Comoros were really just small-fry and only add to the whole adventure experience. The disastrous international flightmares obviously didn’t help matters.

(Look out for tomorrow’s blog entry to read all about our journey home.)

Would I recommend Comoros as a holiday destination? Only to extremely laid back travellers who are open minded and prepared for an adventure and change of plans. Would I recommend Undiscovered Destinations and their ground operators? Most definitely! They have been extremely helpful and nothing has been too much trouble. They have really gone out of their way to minimise any inconvenience to us as a result of itinerary changes. Kudos to them for great customer service!

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:43 Archived in Comoros Tagged flight airport emirates pasta problems dar_es_salaam undiscovered_destinations cancellations air_tanzania moroni itsandra_hotel precionair Comments (4)

Free Day in Moroni

Just chillin'

I slept really well last night, but I wake up at 06:40 desperate for the loo. Although I still have diarrhoea, at least I have stopped vomiting. I can cope with that. But then I haven’t eaten anything for around 36 hours, so I guess there isn’t much left in there.

Breakfast

I am not exactly hungry, but I am sure it would do me good to eat something, maybe some bread? Usually I love to try local foods, and even if no regional food is available, I tend to order dishes I would not normally have at home. This morning, however, all I want is something familiar. I knew there was a reason I packed those little individual Marmite portions.

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Itsandra Hotel

In stark contrast to the last few nights in Anjouan, the Itsandra hotel comes across as a well-run, nicely finished business hotel. Judging by the other patrons at breakfast, I am pretty sure we are the only holidaymakers here at the moment.

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Our room has a king sized bed scattered with frangipani flowers (despite the ‘nutmeg’ theme), there is plenty of storage space, and we have a terrace which looks out over the grass, garden bar and the sea beyond. There is no furniture on it though.

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View from our balcony

The double basin in the bathroom is a first for us: not because it has two sinks, but the fact that one of them has an integral washboard for laundry! I have never seen that before in a hotel!

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We are also delighted to have not just two (dry) towels, but a hand towel and a fluffy bathrobe too!

The A/C is very efficient, although we did have some trouble getting it to switch on last night. I guess the batteries in the remote control are dead or at least dying.

The lobby is bright and airy, with plenty of seating as well as a bar. It even features an ATM. Complete with an Out of ‘Order’ sticker.

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I love the clock table

The hotel has a lovely looking beach, furnished with parasols and sun loungers; and unlike the beach in Anjouan, this one is easily accessible via steps from the main hotel area. Scuba diving is available, and there is a roped off swimming area. The sea looks lovely and clean and changes colour from a pale blue through lime green to a bright aquamarine according to the weather conditions.

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The cottages in the back belong to the hotel too.

Alas, just like in Anjouan, the swimming pool here is also devoid of water.

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Our favourite part of the hotel, however, is the partly covered outside terrace / bar. We spend the whole morning here, following the shade: moving from one table to the next as the sun travels across the sky, trying to keep out of the hot sun.

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Over a nice cold ginger beer, we chat to one of the other guests, Ian from the UK, who is an armed security guard employed to work on various ships sailing in dangerous waters, protecting them from pirates! “Some people call us mercenaries” he says, “but we don’t like that term”. He keeps us amused for ages, regaling some captivating stories for sure, none of which I feel are mine to share here.

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Lunch

By lunchtime I am still not particularly hungry, but I think some food would do my stomach good. Our delightful waiter, who speaks excellent English, goes to enquire with the kitchen if they can make me some soup. “Vegetable or fish?” he asks when he returns. The mere thought of even just the aroma associated with fish soup make me heave, so I settle for vegetable. It comes with mostly carrot and potato, which suits me down to the ground.

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David orders BBQ chicken. “No BBQ”. Chicken and chips it is then.

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We return to the room to find that the maid has removed our towels, but not yet replaced them. David goes off on a towel hunt (AKA chasing the maid), and comes back with a couple of fresh ones. Towels, not maids.

After a lovely siesta in a very cool room, we return to the terrace bar, where we are almost immediately approached by a young lad who “wants to talk to us”. It soon becomes obvious that he is suffering from mental illness, as he rambles about his life in France and the hardship he has suffered. At first we are quite willing to listen, but he go on for far too long, and then comes the crunch: can we help him? He claims he has been sending money over to his mother is Comoros from France (he proudly shows us his French passport). When he recently arrived here, he found his mother has stolen all the money and now he has no way of getting back to France. According to him, the French embassy are refusing to provide any help, telling him to “get a job and build yourself a life here”. He believes his doctor and psychiatrist are ganging up on him and he has no-one left to turn to. "I need your help!" he begs. Sigh.

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The more we try to make suggestions, the more aggressive he becomes. Looking at the amount of camera equipment sitting on our table and the notebook where I jot down what we do / eat / see each day to help me write this blog, he declares: "You're a journalist, you must have contacts?" When we both renounce my suggested profession, he gets very agitated, flailing his arms around and starting to shout: "That's a joke. That's the biggest joke I ever heard!" Seeing the hotel waiter walking in our direction, however, our new-found 'friend' reluctantly leaves. We breathe a sigh of relief.

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We’ve only just ‘recovered’ from this episode, when we are joined by another 'new friend'. After some general chit-chat, he reveals himself to be a tout, trying to sell us sightseeing tours. Thankfully he does take "no" for an answer and leaves without a scene. Maybe it’s time to retreat to the room. Neither of us want any dinner tonight anyway, we are still feeling far too fragile from the horrible bout of food poisoning.

There is live music on the little stage right outside our window tonight, and it is all rather pleasant. A small band is playing 70s and 80s ballads at a respectable volume. Looking out of the window, I only see four guests sitting in bar. It's not exactly all the rage then? It is all over by 10pm anyway.

By this time I am feeling a bit too cold, even under the bedclothes. I try to increase the temperature a little, but the remote control doesn’t seem to work. Feeling way too tired to even contemplate getting dressed and going down to reception, or even worse, having to change rooms (again), I put on legging, socks and a fleece before crawling back under the covers.

Rude awakening

I go into a deep sleep but a few hours later I am woken by a shrill, piercing noise. It sounds like a telephone. It is a telephone. Do we even have a telephone in the room? We must have. So where is it? I guess I should answer it.

Me, in a sleepy, confused voice: “Hello…?”

Bright, cheerful female voice: “Hello, how are you?”

Me, just starting to wake up: “OK” I reply tentatively, hoping this stranger hasn’t phoned me in the middle of the night just for a welfare check.

Female voice: “I am ringing from Luna, wanting to know the name of your ship”

Me, even more confused now: “Pardon?”

Female voice: “I am ringing from Luna…”

Me, interrupting: “What is Luna?”

Female voice, now containing thinly veiled irritation: “Luna is the name of the company.”

Me, also losing my patience: “But what is Luna?”

Female voice, no longer hiding her irritability, and speaking slowly and loudly as if to a petulant child: “I. Am. Ringing. From. Luna. To. Find. Out. The. Name. Of. Your. Ship. Are. You. Sailing. With. XXX or YYY (she mentions two names that I assume are referring to boats).

Me: “We are flying. To Dar es Salaam. Tomorrow.”

Female voice, now rather sheepish, but still unapologetic for having woken me in the middle of the night: “Oh, OK. Bye.”

Did I just dream this? Unfortunately not. I shake my head, get back into bed, but sleep totally evades me for the rest of the night.

This eventful and adventurous trip was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in arranging private tours to unusual places.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:02 Archived in Comoros Tagged travel adventure africa journalist luna beggar a/c phone_call comoros moroni itsandra_hotel air_conditioning mental_health cold_room Comments (3)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:40 Archived in Comoros Comments (2)

Free Day in Anjouan

Chilling in the hotel

During breakfast we have a chat with the two British guys and an American girl from the US Peace Corps, who have all been stranded on the island for the last couple of days as a result of the flights being grounded and the ferry not operating due to bad weather.

One of the men has an international flight connection tomorrow morning, and is getting a little concerned that he will miss it. If he has to make other arrangements and stay longer on the islands, he would be struggling, as he has very little cash left and, a very low credit limit on his credit card, and no easy way of getting hold of more cash. While I sympathise with his predicament, it does seem to be a rather irresponsible situation to leave yourself in, especially in a place like Comoros where spanners can – and will – be thrown in the works. He is very well travelled, trying to get to all the countries in Africa before he dies, so I find it all rather odd. I heard Patrice advice him yesterday that they should leave here at 06:00 this morning and go to the airport to sit there all day hoping for a ‘window of opportunity’. “Oh, I won’t be around that early, can you make it 07:30?” he asked Patrice. I find that even more odd – if I was worried about missing my international connection, sleeping in would be the last thing on my mind; I would want to be first in that queue at the airport.

Anyway, we see them all go off this morning, feeling hopeful for a seat on the small 9-seater plane that is flying a shuttle service between Anjouan and Moroni today.

When Patrice arrives, he collects our passports, and after he has taken the others to the airport, he will go and try to and get ferry tickets for us for tomorrow. He tells us he has spoken to the boat captain already this morning, who has assured him that there will be a sailing tomorrow. Inshallah.

Walk?

The area around the hotel is lacking in places of interest or even scenic beauty, with piles of rubble and heaps of trash lining the roads.

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It is too hot to have a longer walk further afield, so we decide to spend the day chilling in the hotel.

Al Amal Hotel

Not being very good at ‘chilling’, I wander around the hotel grounds to look for something to photograph. Anything. Maybe some good macro work? Or an interesting insect?

Nope. The hotel grounds are what you might call sparse. There is no outdoor furniture, no benches, nowhere to sit and enjoy the scenery. It’s pretty bare and rather bleak. I assume this was once a thriving terrace with a cafeteria, tables, chairs, and umbrellas; with stimulating conversation, subdued laughter, iced drinks and colourful cocktails… In the heyday of the hotel maybe? Did it ever have a heyday? I find it hard to imagine.

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I walk around the other side of the building to find the few flowers that do dot the grounds.

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And the scrawny looking local cat, eyeing me suspiciously.

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I do find a sparrow and a carpenter bee as well.

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Even lizards are in short supply.

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To say the hotel is run down is an understatement. It has certainly seen better days and could do with a spot of refurbishment and lots of TLC, but these days Comoros is such a poverty stricken country with tourism being almost non-existent, so I doubt if they are able to spare money for doing the hotel up.

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The entrance to the hotel from the car park

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The reception area to the left and the restaurant straight on.

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The restaurant

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The outside dining area

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The corridor leading to the rooms

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The fusebox on the landing

Swimming Pool

There is a fairly large swimming pool, and a small paddling pool, but no water. I am guessing it is not financially feasible to maintain a full pool with just a handful of tourists (just four at the moment).

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David decides to do a dry run anyway.

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Beach

With no water in the pool, maybe we should try the beach. There is a gate in one corner of the grounds, but it is locked. Which means going up the steep hill to the main road, through the sports stadium and down a series of steep steps to get to the beach. In your swimwear. No thank you.

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Fishing

We watch the fishermen for a while, working in teams of four, with one man in the boat, throwing out the nets, with the other three in the water, splashing around to frighten the fish into the net.

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Chilling on the balcony

Having exhausted the ‘leisure facilities’ in the hotel, we go to chill in the room. The bedroom is the only place with A/C (or at least some of them have), but there is no wifi, or chairs; the restaurant has wifi, but no A/C or comfortable chairs; the reception has comfy seating but no wifi or A/C. We grab a couple of chairs from the restaurant and sit on the balcony for a while in the shade.

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We brought some bubbles with us to play with the local kids, but haven’t seen any children around, so David has to play with himself.

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Sporting my 400mm lens, I do manage to capture a couple of birds from the balcony.

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Common Myna Birds

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Pied Crow

Tripadvisor

You know you are in a fairly obscure place, when even Tripadvisor is confused about where Anjouan is, showing a photo from Ait Benhaddou in Morocco on their site for the island.

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This hotel, despite being the 'best on the island', is not even listen on Trip Advisor. Yet. I have tried to add it and written a review so hopefully it should show soon. .

Even David’s mobile phone seems to have doubts about this place.

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Lunch

The restaurant is calling, as much for the wifi as for the food: with little to choose from, we have another chicken sandwich. Considering there is only the two of us in the restaurant, I am somewhat surprised that the sandwiches take 45 minutes to arrive. Not that we are in a hurry, quite the opposite.

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Patrice arrives with our passports and tickets for the ferry tomorrow. This looks promising. He tells us the others are still waiting at the airport, with a glimmer of hope for a seat on the plane this afternoon.

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The rest of afternoon is spent just chilling, a little siesta, a short walk, some internet time, a drink (non-alcoholic) in the bar… The usual stuff.

Dinner

This evening they have vanilla, but no lobster, so I have to make do with chicken in vanilla sauce. It is absolutely delicious. David has another pizza.

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Later Patrice joins us for a drink and confirms that the one British guy who has an international flight tomorrow morning did get away today, but not until 18:00 this evening. Once the pilot had finished his scheduled flights for the day, he took some of those passengers who were most desperate to go to Moroni in his nine-seater plane, charging them €160 per person. That still has to be worth it to save all the hassle associated with missing your international flight.

As it is still too early to go to bed, I attempt some astrophotography in the grounds of the hotel. There is too much light pollution to be successful, but I have a go anyway. At least we can see the Milky Way quite clearly.

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As soon as we get back to the room, we both complain of feeling nauseous. Some ten minutes later, David starts vomiting violently, followed almost immediately by me. Oh dear.

I go to bed, hoping that having got rid of the content that was bothering my stomach, it will settle it down now. No such luck. I still feel terribly nauseous. Half an hour later I also have diarrhoea. Followed almost immediately by David. It is one of those cases where you don’t know whether to sit on the toilet or kneel in front of it. Thankfully, our urgent bathroom visits do not clash at any time, but they do go on throughout the night. 27 times to be exact, and yes, I am counting.

By around 2 am there is no more water in the tank to flush the toilet, so we start using the reserve from the buckets. By 4am this has run out too. So has our drinking water. If we weren’t already feeling nauseous, we certainly want to be sick as soon as we enter the pungent bathroom. We both feel like wet rags that have been wrung out and turned inside out. We try to get some sleep, but really only doze. Vomiting doesn’t bring any respite or relief from the dreadful nausea, it is constant and overwhelming.

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The buckets in the bathroom. You will be grateful to know that there is no photographic evidence of tonight's experiences.

Food poisoning is all we need for tomorrow’s ferry crossing back to Moroni. Right now I just want to be able to say “Beam us up Scotty” and be transported to home. I eventually drift off into a restless slumber.

This adventure was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in trips to unusual places.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:17 Archived in Comoros Tagged water fishing beach hotel flight cat crow ta lizard chilling swimming_pool run_down frangipani decay passports runs bubbles astro sickness stomach tummy trip_advisor comoros nausea milky_way food_poisoning moroni anjouan al_amal_hotel mutsamudu chicken_sandwich hibiscus vanilla_sauce astrophotography diarrhoea Comments (2)

Anjouan: Mutsamudu City Tour

Historic citadelle and colourful markets

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I wake up this morning bathed in sweat, despite the A/C being on, so I go to check and find that it is blasting out hot air. Outside, on the balcony, I discover the reason why: the whole system is iced up! That is totally absurd: seeing all that ice, exposed to the heat outside!

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Breakfast

The last couple of mornings we have had a most delicious juice for breakfast, and this morning they are serving slices of the fruit too. I ask the waiter what it is, but he only knows the French word for it: karasol. I am none the wiser. He kindly brings out the whole fruit for me to see; and I recognise it as something we were first introduced to in Haiti last year: soursop. It makes a very refreshing juice and apparently it also has medicinal benefits, being hailed as an alternative cancer treatment.

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Mutsamudu City Tour

Patrice arrives in his little car to whisk us off on a tour to show us the delights of the capital of Anjouan Island - Mutsamudu. With our hotel being on the outskirts of the city, we don't have far to go.

Citadelle

Our first stop of the day is the Citadelle, perched high on a hill with great views overlooking the town and port.

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The port here on Anjouan is the only deep-water harbour in Comoros, and large ships will deliver the containers here, with lightering used for transporting goods to the main island as well as Mohéli.

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The Citadelle was built in the 18th century to protect the city from Malagasy pirates who plied these waters looking not just to ransack the place, but also for people to abduct and sell as slaves. .

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There are both French and English cannons within the fortifications.

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There is a slight drizzle when we arrive, but it’s not heavy enough to be a problem, and it does create a very nice rainbow.

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The drizzle turns into a refreshing rain shower, removing some of the oppressive heat and humidity that hangs over the city today. Strangely enough, looking straight up there is a bright blue sky, yet it is still raining slightly. Hence the rainbow I guess.

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Mutsamudu Market

From the Citadelle, we descend the numerous and crowded steps down to sea level, through the bustling market. For someone like me who loves to see and learn about the produce of the areas I visit, and capture images of local scenes and people, this walk is a real treat.

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The locals, however, are generally not very keen on being photographed; although some, when asked, will oblige. Therefore many of the pictures here are captured covertly, often ‘shooting from the hip’.

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Chillies

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Pigeon Peas

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Mataba (cassava leaves)

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Dried fish

I also want to mention that most of the market is extremely dark, at times necessitating ISO speeds of up to 32,000, hence why some of the images are quite grainy. Also, Travellerspoint, like so many other websites, seem to add extra grain / noise to photos.

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Aubergines and green bananas

Mafane
The leaves of this plant (Acmella oleracea) are widely consumed in salads where they add a peppery flavour, or as a leafy green vegetable with meat dishes. Like so many other plants, it is also said to have various medicinal properties.

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Ginger root

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Peanuts in their shells, AKA 'monkey nuts'

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Tamarind

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Turmeric root

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Green chillies

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Chilli sauce

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Onions and garlic

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Extra hot red chillies

Baobab Fruit

I know that I have sung the praises of this enormous fruit on more than one occasion in the past, but as it is now being hailed as the new ‘superfruit’, I guess once more won’t hurt.

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The fruit tastes a little like sherbet, and can be mixed with milk or water to make a drink. Baobab fruit has three times as much vitamin C as an orange, twice as much calcium as milk and is high in potassium, thiamine and vitamin B6. The powdery white interior can be used to thicken jams and stuff, and the pulp can be dried and is used in the fermentation of beer. Baobab fruit is also the basis for cream of tartar, and is used in cosmetics, smoothies, or as a sugar substitute. In the UK apparently one manufacturer is adding it to gin! Oil is extracted by cold-pressing the seeds, or they can be ground and used as thickening for soups, fermented seeds can be added as flavouring, or the seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack. Decorative crafts are made from the dried fruits.

Msindzano

Many years ago I saw a picture in the Undiscovered Destinations brochure of a woman whose face was made up with the traditional msindzano – sandalwood paste spread on the skin. I was captivated and intrigued by the picture, the practice and the country, and this single photo is what initially inspired me to come here to this little known nation.

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The photo that started it all.

The use of this paste is considered a beauty routine as well as protecting the delicate facial skin from the ravages of the sun. To create the paste, the rock hard blocks of wood are scraped to extract a powder, which is then mixed it with water, lemon juice, rosewater or milk. Sometimes turmeric is added too.

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It has antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties and is said to offer relief from sweat and prickly heat as well as protection from harmful sunrays.

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The aroma offers stress relief and can help soothe headaches, is said to have anti-ageing qualities and can help against acne and pimples, leaving you with a fresh, glowing skin.

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From the downtown area of Mutsamudu, we drive to the hills to take a look at the embassies, hospital, stadium and the President’s residence, all in a drive-by tour. I have to say that this area doesn't offer much in terms of photographic opportunities.

Lunch

Then it is back to the hotel and a spot of lunch.

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Chicken sandwich with frites.

The two British guys also staying in the hotel are going down to the ferry port this afternoon, hoping for a ride back to Moroni. They were hoping to go yesterday, but the ferry was cancelled. We wave them goodbye with the words: “we hope we don’t see you again”. Having said that, I fully expect to see one of the chaps again, as he lives a mere six miles away from us and we have actually met him once before at a wildlife group I sometimes do talks for. It’s a small world!

There is still no beer this lunchtime, so David asks if they can stock up before dinner. I am not holding my breath, however.

This afternoon we chill in the room with a little siesta. The A/C has ‘re-set’ itself now after this morning’s problem, and is blowing out some delightfully cool air.

Dinner

I was wrong. The hotel has received a fresh supply of beer! Maybe David’s desperate pleading this lunchtime worked?

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Comoros is famous for using vanilla in savoury cooking, lobster being a favourite. I ask about it. “No lobster”. So I suggest: “chicken in vanilla sauce…?” “No vanilla sauce”. I settle for a chicken curry with extra hot chilli sauce on the side.

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David orders Boeuf Massalé, another local speciality. Massalé, a local variation on the Indian garam masala, is a spice blend usually consisting of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, whole cloves, cinnamon stick, dried chillies and nutmeg. Very much like a curry in other words.

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Just as we are finishing off our food, the two English guys arrive back. No ferry today either: the sea is still too rough.

Back in the room, we find there is no water in the taps or the toilet. Reception tells us “All rooms same. Maybe tomorrow” Great. I guess that is why the bathroom has a large container and a bucket filled with water. This is presumably a common occurrence.

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We sit on the bed and read. Unlike our first (and second) room, this one has no chairs in the room, nor on the balcony. After a while there is a knock on the door: the water is back on! Yay! All is well and we can sleep soundly.

Thanks go to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:32 Archived in Comoros Tagged people view market fruit rainbow capital photography baobab chillies curry dried_fish ac comoros citadelle city_tour soursop pigeon_peas mutsamudu birds_eye_view ainr_conditioner karasol chicken_sandwich msindzano sandalwood_paste baobab_fruit mafane vegetable_market Comments (3)

Anjouan Island tour

Lobsters and lemurs

We both slept reasonably well, considering the party right below us went on until 04:00 this morning.

Sunrise

I stay behind taking photos of the sunrise while David goes off with Patrice to collect our bags from the port.

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Sunrise from our balcony

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Sunrise over the rocky beach

Picking up the luggage

Over at the quayside, David takes up the story:

”Arriving at the docks, we are faced with (what seems to be) a corrupt official, who insists we have to pay a 'port fee' just to go and collect the bags. They charge us per bag. It all seems like a total rip-off to me, and Patrice is furious.

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By the time we reach the ship, the crew are just starting to unload the bags, but ours are nowhere to be seen. Patrice arranges for me to be able to climb on board the ship to search for them rather than having to wait for every single case to be unloaded. Today there are not even any steps, nor gangplank, so I have to jump across the gap between the quayside and the ship.

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On board the boat last night's crew are busy cleaning up sick from the seats and gangways - not a job I envy them. I thankfully spot our luggage almost immediately, sitting just behind the bulkhead, and as soon as I hand over the luggage tickets, I am free to take the bags; which then have to be manhandled across the same gap between the ship and the docks. Once we are off the boat, we still have to transport them the considerate distance between the mooring and the dock gate, and from there back to where the car is parked, a couple of streets away. Thank goodness for luggage on wheels”

Back at the hotel, after a decent breakfast we finally have our shower and change, before setting out on a tour of the island with Patrice as the guide and Khalid as the driver.

Anjouan

A bit of a rebel child, Anjouan has never really fitted in. Declaring its independence from Comoros back in 1997, then changing its mind and asking to be re-integrated into France. Not being welcomed by the French, Anjouan reluctantly re-joined Comoros in 2002, only to once again declare itself an independent nation in 2007, prompting military action from the Comoros. The island now has a semi-autonomous status.

Island tour

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Setting off in a clockwise direction, we initially skirt the coast, then head inland and up into the highlands.

Cloves

Our first stop is at Koki Village where we see cloves being dried by the side of the road.

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Originally native to Indonesia, the Comoros is now one of the top exporters in the world of cloves. Patrice talks us through the whole process from harvesting through to bagging it up ready for export.

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The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to around ten metres high, with large leaves and crimson coloured buds growing in clusters, turning into white tufty flowers.

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When the flower buds have turned a bright red, they are ready to be harvested. Patrice gives us a raw clove to try – it is very strong and the taste lingers for a long time afterwards.

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At this stage they are 1.5-2.0 cm long with one end housing four outer petals and a central ball of four tight, unopened petals.

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The flower buds are then spread out on the ground to dry in the sun where they gradually turn brown, hard and slightly shrivelled up, just as you see them for sale in the west.

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Used in many culinary dishes as well as medicines and even cigarettes, cloves are also often used as a traditional treatment for toothache.

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I love spices and find it interesting how various spices are produced from various parts of the plants they come from: cinnamon is the bark, ginger is a root, and cloves are the aromatic flower buds. The whole area where we are standing is filled with the aroma, and I am sure from now on the scent of cloves will always remind me of Anjouan.

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Cloves bagged ready for export.

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Some of the local workers

Village of Bazimini

Further along the road, we look down on the village of Bazimini, which has been built inside the basin of an old volcanic crater.

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Sisal

Introduced to Africa from its native Mexico in the 19th century, the fibrous leaves of this spiky plant are stripped and dried to produce fibres used in rope, twine and sack production as well as mattresses, carpets and handicrafts.

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Pigeon Peas

Patrice calls them “petit pois model Comorione”: pigeon peas are very popular here, and are often served cooked in coconut milk.

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We try them raw and they are very pleasant.

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Tratringa Falls

Featuring on the 100FC and 125FC stamps, this waterfall is popular for more than one reason. and the natural beauty of these cascades is obvious.

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Unfortunately, the tranquil charm is ruined by heaps of trash floating in the water and blighting the side of the falls.

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The falls are wide (at least during the rainy season, today the water does not extend across the whole width of the falls) and tumble into a small pool before making their way under the road into another narrower chasm the other side.

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Being a Saturday, the area around the falls is quite crowded, and Patrice explain that they have mostly come up from Mutsamudu. The reason this place is so popular does not just have to do with the beauty of the place (although we do see a car full of locals pull up, get out, snap a few pictures with their mobiles and drive on); it is a much more practical and mundane explanation: People from the capital come here to do their laundry in the river.

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The paradox of someone driving here in a large, fancy, 4x4 or gleaming pick-up truck to wash their clothes in the river by the side of the road completely blows me away.

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Ylang ylang

Anjouan is affectionately known as the ‘Perfumed Isle’ as a result of its bountiful flora whose aroma often wafts with the wind and hangs in the air as we found earlier with the cloves.

The most prominent of those aromas, however, is arguably the ylang ylang, an ingredient found in many of the world’s most popular perfumes (including Chanel N°5, my mum’s favourite perfume). The ylang ylang, a tropical tree producing yellow flowers, is highly valued for its essential oil, of which Comoros is the world’s largest producer, exporting some 50 tonnes each year.

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The process is a fairly simple operation in this basic and somewhat primitive set up. But it works, and the surrounding area is enveloped in a glorious aroma.

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The aroma is slightly floral, so it is primarily used in women’s perfumes and other cosmetics, but it can also work as a middle note in fragrances and products for men.

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This aromatic oil is not just used for perfumes; however, it is also popular in aromatherapy. It is also said to increase libido, help fight depression, lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. Maybe I should try some to get mine back up to scratch after all the illnesses and antibiotics I have had this year! It is also said to be extremely effective in calming and bringing about a sense of relaxation, and is thought to help with releasing feelings of anger, tension, and irritability. David says I definitely need some!

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Mango

As it is my favourite fruit, I am disappointed when I find out that this is not the mango season.

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Patrice, however, picks an unripe fruit from the tree, and eats it like he would an apple, skin and all. I remember having a salad in Laos some years ago made from green mangoes, and try the hard fruit when offered.

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After finding the skin a little tough and difficult to bite through, the fruit is tart and quite refreshing inside, like a cross between an apple and a pear.

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Once I have finished the whole fruit, I recollect the old adage about eating fruits and vegetables ‘abroad’: “Peel it, wash it or forget it”, and my mind goes back to eating an apple bought from a market in Ghana and the subsequent dreadful sickness that I suffered as a result. Oh dear, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten this mango… only time will tell.

Mausoleum of Abdallah

Continuing south, we reach the town of Domoni and the revered resting place of Abdallah. The first president of Independent Comoros in 1978, the late Ahmed Abdallah Abdermane is considered to be the ‘Father of Independence’ and very much a national hero. He was assassinated by a military guard during a coup d’état in 1989, allegedly on the order of the French.

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Turning inland and climbing higher, we can get a good look back on the town on Domoni.

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The town of Domoni

Sales people line the road side.

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As we turn inland, both he road conditions and the weather deteriorate, with a thick mist enveloping everything in its wake.

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The road snakes its way down from the highlands towards the south-west coast in a number of spectacular switchbacks

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Men and women climb the steep road, carrying firewood and animal fodder.

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Sometimes the road disappears into oblivion, as we can barely see more than a few feet in front of us.

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As we descend, however, the mist gradually lifts, and we can start to make out the beautiful coastline below.

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Moya

The road leading into the small town of Moya is particularly bad, with more potholes than actual road.

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Lunch at Moya Plage Hotel

After climbing down a number of pedestrian switchbacks and steep paths, we reach the Moya Plage hotel, perched on a ledge overlooking the ocean.

The table is bulging with seafood: lobster, tiger prawns, octopus curry, and tuna fish; plus a number of accompaniments such as fried bananas, taro, salad, mataba (cassava leaves) and rice.

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It is all absolutely delicious, and I gorge myself full of lobster, one of my favourite foods! (I eat three of them, but don’t tell anyone. Shhhh)

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Maki

Being very disappointed that I am not going to get to Mohéli Island on this trip to see the whales, dolphins, turtles, bats and lemurs, I am overjoyed when I spot a baby maki (AKA mongoose lemur) on the restaurant terrace. Never mind stuffing myself on lobsters… I am off to photograph the lemur!

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I don’t know what it is about feet / shoes and lemurs; I remember the ring-tails in Madagascar licking our feet. It must be something to do with the salt in the sweat, but why feet in particular?

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Although it seems my fingers don't taste too bad either.

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Despite not quite understanding my excitement about seeing a maki (“but they are always here…”), the kitchen let us have some fruit to entice the young animal with.

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Comoros is the only place outside Madagascar where you can find a population of wild lemurs. This little guy, although still quite young, is obviously used to people and is quite content to clamber over anyone who sits still long enough and happy let you stroke his back.

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In fact, he is rather partial to having his ears scratched.

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When Patrice informs us it is time to leave, I reluctantly tear myself away from my newfound friend.

William Sunley

In the 19th century, there was great rivalry between Britain and France in the Indian Ocean, prompting the British to establish a consul on Anjouan. The man appointed was a retired naval officer, William Sunley, who was later invited by the local Sultan to establish sugar plantations. As a result of using slaves provided by the Sultan, he was forced to resign as consul (slavery was by that time abolished in the British Empire). Concentrating on his export business, his holdings expanded and at one stage he controlled around half the arable land on Anjouan.

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What remains of William Sunley's warehouse

With a widespread rebellion among the slaves in 1889, the French took the opportunity to intervene and conquer the island. Thus started the French sovereignty in Comoros. Despite being implicated in the slavery trade, William Sunley appears to be some sort of hero on the island.

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The tomb of William Sunley

Coastal Road

Patrice gives us the option to travel back the way we came, or go along the coast, but “the road is bad, very bad” he says. We are OK with that; I would rather see something new.

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As we travel along the south west coast, we see glimpses of sandy beaches and rocky promontories with surf spraying up over the built-up road.

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Seeing those waves crashing in, I am glad I am not on that inter-island ferry today; yesterday was bad enough. Patrice tells us that the ferry is actually cancelled today and tomorrow because of bad weather.

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Small communities cling to whatever flat land can be found, eking a living from the sea.

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On this narrow country lane we meet a cavalcade of flash looking black cars with blackened windows and headlight on full beam. “It’s the Vice President” explains Patrice.

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Breakdown

We also come across a friend of Patrice’s, whose car has broken down. His battery is flat because the alternator is not working. We swap batteries so that he has a good battery, while we take the flat one and hopefully our (good) alternator will recharge his duff one by the time we get to the next village.

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Naturally we have to jump-start his car, but after that everything goes well all the way up a long hill to the village where we yet again swap over to the original battery.

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Another spanner in a trip full of spanners.

Malagasy Pirates

Comoros was a favourite haunt for Malagasy pirates in their quest to capture slaves they could sell on to Europeans. Patrice points out the headland where the buccaneers used to hang out and congregate before raiding the capital Mutsamudu.

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Abandoned ship

It seems that it is not just cars that are abandoned where they die; we see this rusting hulk beached just outside Mutsamudu.

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Hotel Al Amal

Yesterday the reception hinted that they may move us from Room 121, so when we arrive back at the hotel today, we ask “which room”. "121" the receptionist confirms, the same one as yesterday. As we are not particularly bothered whether we change rooms or not, we go and start to undress ready for a shower.

Looking forward to relaxing in the cool air-conditioned room, we are dismayed to find the remote control for the A/C is missing. With no other way of turning it on or off, we put our clothes back on again and go back down to reception.

”Oh, we have moved you,” says the same receptionist who a mere five minutes earlier told us we were in Room 121.

We pick up the key for Room 112, one floor down, and move all our stuff over. Yet again I take my shoes and trousers off and slump down on the bed and try to switch on the A/C. However much I try, and whichever button I press, the remote does not work. Clothes back on and back to reception. They agree to send an engineer up to look at it. He arrives around ten minutes later and after fiddling for some ten minutes more, concedes that the A/C is not working. Yes, we know.

Change rooms. Again. Clothes back on. Again. Move stuff over. Again.

Room 114 does have a working A/C! Hurrah! “No TV” reveals the engineer. “No problem” we assure him, but is it safe to get undress (again) yet? We check the bathroom. There is only one towel, which is wet. We still have the key for Room 112, so collect the one and only towel from there. That is also damp. I cannot work out whether they are leftover from the last occupant or just haven’t dried from being laundered, but as I’d rather not risk it, mausoleum I use the towel I brought from home.

The bathroom is somewhat shabby to say the least, with a shelf that looks like it is just about to disintegrate any minute. As for the bath mat – it is dirtier than the cloth I wash my floor with at home! Thank goodness for flip flops.

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Time for a shower. As there is no shower curtain,, it’s a sit-down job. I didn’t realise how much dirt was on that road today – the water that is coming out of my hair is the colour of mud!

Feeling much more refreshed after the shower, we go to change into something cool before going for dinner. “Where are the shorts?” Both David’s and mine are missing, and I know I packed them in Grand Comore. We wore them on the last night there and I distinctly remember asking David: “Is it OK if I put these in your bag as I have already done mine up?” I placed them on top of the other clothes in his bag and zipped it up. Oh dear. Somehow they have gone ‘missing’ between packing the bags before going for breakfast in Moroni and looking for them this evening in Anjouan. Hmm.

Dinner

One saving grace about this hotel is that they do serve a very good pizza! I have mine topped with lobster, while David chooses a pizza called Oslo, with meat and vegetables.

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What they don’t have, however, is stocked up on beer after David drank the last one yesterday. Another dry evening.

After dinner I look for stars. Last night the skies were full of them, but my tripod was in the luggage that was still on the boat. Tonight I have a tripod, but no stars. Oh well. Time for bed then I guess. There is a party on again this evening; in the sports stadium right next to the hotel.

This trip was booked through Undiscovered Destinations, an excellent tour operator who specialise in adventure tours to unusual destinations. Such as Comoros.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:45 Archived in Comoros Tagged hotel surf waves ship river sunrise fruit waterfall africa dinner lobster lunch mist docks pirates ferry trash pizza bags mango breakdown swimming_pool luggage aroma fragrance indian_ocean octopus chasm laundry lemur abandoned towel distillery smell a/c perfume spray ylang_ylang comoros cloves malagasy_pirates anjouan al_amal_hotel quayside luggage_on_wheels maki photograhy bazimi sisal pigeon_peas tratringa_falls runnish unripe_mango green_mango moya moya_plage hotel_moya_plage ahmed_addallah_abdermane mausoleum_of_abdallah domoney switchbacks bad_road mataba tuna_fish william_sunley coastal_road car_battery alternator jump_start abandoned_ship room_121 air_conditioning Comments (3)

Grand Comore - Anjouan

Another day, another island, another spanner in the works

This morning there are no bowls or spoons at breakfast, so David ends up eating his cereal out of a coffee cup with a teaspoon.

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After breakfast we meet with Omar in the lobby to hear of news about today’s ferry to Anjouan. “We leave in five minutes” he declares, which is not a problem for us: we are ready and packed!

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Another small car, unable to close the boot with our luggage inside, arrives to take us to the ferry ticket office to check in our bags. We are an hour early: check in starts at 09:00, with the ferry leaving at 10:00. Inshallah.

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We are not the first, however, there are already a lot pf people here: families travelling together, young men arriving in taxis, sales people trying to cash in, children throwing tantrums…

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Rather than hanging around here in the heat and melee, Omar suggests we go for a drive around town and come back when the office is open. Good idea.

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It seems to me that all the streets of Moroni are one giant market place with everyone selling and no-one buying.

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Volo Volo Market

We take a short walk through the new market, which, to be fair, doesn’t look all that different to the old market in the Medina that we saw a couple of days ago.

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Clothes, household good and food are sold from a number of very similar stalls.

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The Grand Marriage

On our way back to the check-in area, we come across a Grand Marriage. An age-old tradition that has been passed from generation to generation and is very much kept alive today, the Grand Marriage is so much more than a ‘mere’ wedding; it is all about a symbol of social status, being elected to the rank of a person of note, something that every self-respecting Comorian must do. A Comoran man can only wear certain elements of the national dress, take part in decision-making at the bangwe (gathering place where village elders meet to discuss important matters), or stand in the first line at the mosque if he has had a grand marriage. Apparently, the current president has not had a Grand Marriage and for this has become the scandalous subject of consternation and ridicule.

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While most people here in Comoros get married in a small wedding like many other places in the world, some men will then devote the entire rest of their lives to pay for the Grand Marriage. Most men are middle aged before they can afford to pay for this important celebration, having been officially married to their spouse for years already. Sometimes the Grand Marriage involves taking a second, much younger wife; Comorian men are permitted to have up to seven.

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The celebrations for this important occasion involve a major series of parties, processions and gatherings that can last up to two weeks and take over the whole village.

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Check in – another spanner in the works

When we get back to the port area, lots of people are queuing with their luggage, ready to check it in. Omar takes our nags to go and get them weighed and comes back looking somewhat concerned. “There is a little bit of a delay…” he says his voice trailing off into a kind of embarrassment.

The security police are on strike and refuse to go back to work until the government has made promises that they will repair the badly potholed road leading onto the docks. Their luggage truck has been damaged several times now and they are fed up with it.

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The luggage truck ready to go

”How long is it likely to be?” I ask. Omar shrugs and looks defeated: “It could be one hour, or two, one day or two days or more…”

My heart sinks. This trip started off as a three-island tour; then yesterday it became a two-island itinerary after all the flights were grounded. Now it looks like we may be stuck on this main island for the duration.

Omar suggests going to the Itsandra Hotel (the best hotel on the island) for coffee while we wait. He leaves our bags in the safe hands of the harbour master while we head for some refreshments.

Itsandra Hotel

Even in the aftermath of a heavy rainstorm, the hotel looks friendly and welcoming.

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We sit and enjoy a cold drink and the view out over the bay, while Omar goes to check on availability of a room for tonight, ‘just in case’. They have two rooms left and Omar asks them to reserve one of them for us, in case that ferry never leaves.

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Back to the dockside check in area

In order to reach the docks again, we have to drive right through the capital, Moroni, and as usual there is a traffic jam. At least this gives me a chance to people watch and take some photos.

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Love the name of this boat: Air Force One 007

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Meanwhile, back at the loading area, everyone is still waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

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The only people benefiting from this situation are the local tradesmen and women.

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The nearby 'Old Market'

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After 1½ hours of nothing much happening, Omar thinks lunch is in order, so we yet again leave our luggage in the office and head out.

New Select Salon de Thé

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Today being Saturday, I decide to try the Comorian Saturday Special. It’s off. We see someone on another table with a very tasty looking baguette, so order ‘”one of those please”.

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Chicken, chips and coleslaw sandwich. It was really tasty and fresh.

Rain

Suddenly the heavens open and torrential rain that within minutes has caused quite some flooding of the roads outside.

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Half an hour goes by, no sign of Omar. We pay for our lunch and get ready to leave, and after 45 minutes they turn up. Africa time. There has been no change in the strike situation and Omar suggests we go down to the docks one more time, and if there is still nothing, we’ll grab the cases and go to the hotel for the night. That sounds like a plan to me.

When we get to the docks it is all go! A compromise has been reached, the luggage has left and the passengers are making their way on foot towards to docking area. Omar hands us our tickets and luggage tags and we drive the kilometre or so down to the docks.

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Yay, I have a ticket! I am a little concerned that the date of departure shows tomorrow's date, but Omar tells me "not to worry, it is correct".

The entrance to the docks is locked. It seems the ferry company decided to tell passengers to go, before any agreement had been sorted with the security, so now we are left standing, in the full sun, on the pavement outside the dock gates. Women on the right, men on the left. After 20 minutes or so of communal baking, we are let through the gate (tickets checked) into a waiting room, where we are asked to take a seat.

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An official walks around the room, collecting tickets (and in our case also our passports, which he has to check in with the ‘big boss’) and puts them in a large pile on a desk. After collecting all the tickets, he then picks them up again, and walks around the room, shouting out the names on the tickets, the corresponding passenger must show ID in exchange for a boarding card (which he carries under his arm in a cardboard box, wrapped in glittery red Christmas paper).

Once we have our boarding card, we are free to leave the waiting room and walk the ¼ km or so to the boat.

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The free-standing aluminium steps are steep and wobbly, without a hand rail, and there is a one foot gap between the steps and the ship. One man each side holds my arms, and they helpfully (and thankfully) take my bags off me as I board. Then I watch the local women carry a child in one arm, a large bag in the other and a bundle of stuff on their head, all while wearing flip flops, negotiate the steps as if they were a smooth marble floor. I suddenly feel very ungainly and awkward.

Having already been told off twice for taking photos, I daren’t scratch my itchy shutter finger any more, despite being ‘desperate’ to document every part of this whole day’s shenanigans.

We take our seats, and as soon as all the passenger have boarded, we cast off. Just then they remember that a motorcycle must come off. The gap between the ship and the step is getting bigger and bigger as four men try to haul the heavy bike across. I am fully expecting it to end up in the water, but it seems they have done this sort of thing before. I risk a photo when I think no-one is looking.

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The crossing

We finally leave at 14:45, nearly five hours late. At least we are on our way.

You know it is going to be a rough crossing when the first thing the crew do, is to routinely hand out sick bags to every single passenger.

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I really cannot find anything good to say about this crossing, much as I would like to. The temperature is sweat-drippingly hot, and the TV is showing a bloodthirsty film full of violence, gore, and carnage (not just one, but three savage films, back to back). There is lots of screaming going on, by unwell kids, and each time a child screeches, a mentally disabled youngster near the front of the ship wants to imitate, shrieking his lungs out, jumping up and down in his seat and frantically flailing his arms about.

In addition to crying children, there are a number of adults shouting into mobile phones, holding the top part of the phone up to their ear for listening (as normal), then removing the phone from their ear and shouting into the ear-piece when talking. I have never seen that anywhere else on all my travels, but it seems quite common over here.

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We follow the shore for some time, and the waves are reasonably calm. Once we round the tip of the island, however, huge swells make the ship bounce around in a most unpleasant way. All around us people are throwing up (I am sure watching the awful films does not help one bit!), and shouts of “sachet” (bag) can he heard almost constantly. The crew are very attentive; collecting used sick bags and handing over fresh ones.

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Omar told us the journey should take 3½ - 4 hours from Moroni to Anjouan. After four hours its starts to get dark, and land is still nowhere to be seen. 5½ hours: I see land!

Anjouan

There is another big step to negotiate off the boat at this end, with the added disadvantage that it is almost pitch black. As soon as we step on land, Patrice, the local guide, greets us warmly. I guess, as the only white passengers, we are easy to spot.

Although I was not actually sick on the journey, my stomach does feel a little unsettled, and it feels good to be on dry land again. I can’t wait to get to the hotel for a shower and change out of these clothes that are soaked through with sweat. So, where do we collect our luggage? “Tomorrow” is the answer. The crew are not taking any luggage off the ship this evening; we will have to come back at 07:00 tomorrow morning. Groan. No toiletries. No nightwear. No sandals. Thankfully I always carry a change of clothes in my hand luggage, so at least I do have some dry clothes.

As it turns out, by the time we reach the hotel, it is so late that we go straight to dinner.

The good news is that they have beer! The bad news is that they only have one.

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We both opt for chicken pizza tonight. There is a cute old guy (he looks about 80, but I am guessing he has just had a hard life) who speaks excellent English waiting on the tables tonight. Table. We are the only two diners this evening.

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As we leave the restaurant at around 22:00, we notice some pretty impressive speakers being installed in the restaurant. We soon find out that Saturday night is party night in Al Amal Hotel, with loud music (our room is two floors directly above the restaurant), singing, dancing and shouting. I am too exhausted to take any notice and despite the ruckus below, quickly drift into sleep.

This trip was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:18 Archived in Comoros Tagged rain market ship music party africa sick docks ferry pizza floods street_market queue strike sandwich comoros nausea delay moroni grand_comore spanner_in_the_works itsandra_hotel tantrum anjouan volo_volo_market ferry_crossing al_amal_hotel grand_marriage new_select_salon-de-thé rain_shower torrential_rain sea-sick boarding_card loud_speakers violent_film Comments (3)

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