A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about flight

Arusha - Dar es Salaam - London - Bristol

Heading home


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

With a free morning before our flight home, we were hoping for some decent bird watching in the grounds on Kia Lodge. There are, however, surprisingly and disappointingly, few birdies this morning.

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House Sparrow

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Millipede

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Some sort of butterfly or moth - I have been unable to identify it

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Dwarf Yellow Headed Gecko

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The Fork Tailed Drongo makes it the 158th trip tick (number of different species we've seen on this trip), of which 19 are lifers (new species to us).

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Some of our lifers from the trip

We spend some time chatting to a Dutch lady by the swimming pool, chilling in the room, and having lunch, before it is time to leave. The transfer to the airport is by open sided safari vehicle!

We fly via Dar es Salaam, and have a great view of Tanzania's former capital from the air.

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Soon the sun is going down and we sit back to sleep our way to Doha and onward to London Heathrow.

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The only thing I worry about when we get to Heathrow, is that Big Bertha (my Canon 600mm lens, which, because of its size, I had to check into the hold) arrives in one piece. She does, and all is well in the Howard Household yet again. Now all I have to do is to edit the 55,000 photos I took. Footnote: it took me six months to finish!

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Big Bertha in her solid housing.

The safari has been amazing from start to finish, with super accommodation, fantastic company, and some great bird and animal sightings. Thank you again Tillya and Halima of Calabash Adventures, and of course, the wonderful Malisa, without whom the trip would not have been what it was. Love you guys ♥

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:54 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunset flight airport tanzania birding butterfly gecko sparrow heathrow millipede drongo dar_es_salaam big_bertha calabash_adventures kilimanjaro_airport kia_lodge Comments (1)

Bristol - Gatwick - Oslo - Evenes - Risøyhamn

Heading for the cold north


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Thursday 14th November 2019 Bristol - Gatwick

Originally booked for February this year, we had to cancel when my dad was very poorly. Fast forward to November, and we are on our way, with our good friend and fellow photographer, Lyn.

Our flight is early in the morning from London Gatwick, so we stay in the Premier Inn at the airport the night before. As Lyn was working today (these poor people who are not yet retired!), we get there late, and go almost straight to dinner.

While the waiter is dishy (and way too young for me unfortunately), the food is just passable. Both Lyn and I have the Hunter's Chicken, which is very much on the small side and served with too small a portion of BBQ sauce. Never mind, we are having churros for dessert, a firm favourite. What a disappointment! They are cold and chewy. We are offered another portion, or a free drink to compensate, but decide to call it a day.

Friday 15th November 2019 Gatwick – Oslo – Evenes - Risøyhamn

We are always excited when we get a new experience on our travels, but this is a first I could definitely have done without: I spend the entire night awake, just lying there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to catch up with me. It doesn't. At all. All night. I am hanging this morning.

With valet parking arranged, they picked the car up last night, so all we have to do is walk across to the airport this morning.

Self check in is easy. Or at least it is when the young man comes over and does it for us. We are now finally on our way. We are pleasantly surprised that we are able to check the luggage in all the way to Northern Norway despite the second leg being a domestic flight.

The first flight is reasonably painless, it is not full and we are able to spread out a little. There are two large groups on the plane, one of which I assume is a large Indian family, and the other is a number of Caribbean Africans who speak a form of Creole or Patois.

Transfer at Gardemoen (Oslo), however, is anything but painless. Mrs Hitler at Security wants everything out. All the cameras. All the batteries. She could do with a personality transplant as she tuts and sighs when we are not fast enough for her liking, and I put my stuff in the basket she is trying to grab. We still make it to the gate in plenty of time.

Arrival at Evenes is very low key. By the time we get to the luggage carousel, the bags are already going round. Mine and David's. We wait for Lyn's. And wait. And wait. When there are no more bags arriving and the belt stops, the realisation that her case has not made it sinks in.

We head for the Service counter to report it missing, where we are lucky to go straight up to the waiting staff. By the time we have finished explaining when we last saw it, what it looks like, what flight we were on, and given our forwarding address to the young trainee whose typing speed must have been around one word per minute; a long queue has formed behind us. We are given a receipt with a telephone number and told that the case will be sent on to Andenes this evening where we can either collect it or it will be delivered tomorrow.

Meanwhile, David has arranged our hire car, and we walk down the dark slippery pavement to the car park, where the car is not only waiting for us, unlocked; the engine, and more importantly, heater, is on.

We're on our way.

Our first stop is the local convenience store, part of a petrol station, in order to buy some food for the next 24 hours. There is very little choice, the store is full of chocolate, crisps and other snacks, but as for 'meals', frozen pizza is about the only thing they have.

Despite it only being around 4pm by this stage, it is pitch black, and we can't see much as we make our way to the first accommodation.

Hjerterom i Andøy

Half an hour before we are about to arrive at the house, I ring the owner. I speak to him in Norwegian and he answers me back in Norwegian. We are clearly speaking two different Norwegians, and I spend the entire conversation asking him to repeat what he said. Eventually I have to admit that I have spent 45 years abroad and my Norwegian is somewhat rusty. It is not, but the 'dialect' they speak in this part of Norway might as well be a foreign language.

We find the house without problem thanks to the Garmin Sat Nav we brought with us from home, and are given a guided tour by Ole-Robin, the owner.

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On the ground floor is a large lounge-diner, a sizeable kitchen-diner, another small lounge area, the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.

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Lounge area

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Dining area

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Kitchen-diner

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The other small sitting room

Up some dangerously steep stairs are another three bedrooms. I now understand why there is a bucket in the bathroom named “potty”. There is no way I would want to climb those stairs in the middle of the night – they are lethal!

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Tonight is cloudy with no chance of seeing the Northern Lights, so we settle in for the night with a few drinks and the pizza we bought earlier.

Posted by Grete Howard 13:31 Archived in Norway Tagged oslo flight stairs norway norwegian churros gatwick lost_luggage risøyhamn premier_inn valet_parking vesteralen norwegian_airlines evenes gardemoen hire_car hjerterom_i_andøy andøya Comments (5)

Ashgabat - Dubai - Heathrow - home

The long journey home


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After breakfast we wander down to the lobby – partly to access the internet, and partly to get away from the drab room. An English-Danish couple approach us, asking if we know anywhere around the hotel to change money. They are very well travelled, and we hit it off immediately; so much so that they end up sitting there chatting to us for nearly three hours, sharing travel stories.

By this stage we manage to arrange a room swap, and thankfully return to something more comfortable. While we have stayed in very much worse rooms on our travels, they were never part of a four-star hotel!

With the help of a porter, we move out stuff over, followed by another room picnic using up all the leftover snacks. This room is a big step up from last night, with two chairs, a nice rug on the floor, two sets of towels, extra loo paper (that's a first in Turkmenistan!), two dressing gowns, extras pillows, a bolster on the bed, pretty bed spread, and two bottles of complimentary water.

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We take a nice long nap, followed by a shower, and get ready for dinner at 18:30. The restaurant is deserted. We are the only people there (yet they couldn't find us a decent room yesterday?), and the menu is limited.

We both order chicken in cream sauce and I ask for a Fanta. No Fanta, only Coke. Not being particularly keen on naked Coke (without rum or vodka, that is), I ask for an apple juice instead. As with everywhere else, they don't seem to provide individual cartons, so I end up with a whole litre of the stuff!

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They have no Berk beer (but there was some in the mini bar in the room earlier), only Zip Light. Light? At 11%? As Boney M says: “Oh, those Russians!”

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The waitress brings over a huge basket of bread while we wait for the food. It is very fresh, and would be delicious with lashings of butter. No butter.

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After a few minutes the surly-looking waitress comes back to explain that they have no chicken. I ask for beef stroganoff with rice instead, while David chooses beef in cream sauce with chips (or rather fries, we've made that mistake before here in Turkmenistan). When the food arrives, David's dish comes with rice and mine is accompanied by chips. Oh dear. The chef had TWO meals to make this evening.

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Locals do not eat with a fork and knife like we would, only a fork, using the bread to push the food onto the fork. The food is quite tasty, albeit a little greasy. We don't linger in the restaurant after the meal, but return to the room for a very short night.

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Tonight's sunset

Friday 20th September

We're up at 01:00 for a 02:00 pick-up. There is quite literally no traffic, so we reach the airport in just ten minutes, ready to start the rigmarole of getting through the bumbledom of official pomposity and nonsensical regulations.

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In order to enter the airport terminal, we are scanned and the luggage is X rayed, and passports are checked. As soon as we are deemed suitable to be able to get inside, we request a wheelchair for David. Airports in general are such huge places with miles of corridors to make even the most able-bodied traveller weary.

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At check in, we yet again have to show our passports, and by the time we reach the pre-security passport check, we are waved through in front of the queue waiting, without anyone even looking at out passports.

The security check is much the same – the carry-on luggage goes through the X ray, which detects what the official suggests might be a knife. I show him my nail file and again we are just waved through.

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By the time we reach the boarding gate, our passports have been checked five times, and we've been through three X rays. Should be safe then. One of the benefits of travelling in a wheelchair, is that you do get priority boarding. Pushing David in the chair down the slope to the plane is hard work, not made any better by the fact that the rubber handles come off the chair where I have held on so hard to make sure it doesn't run away from me.

The plane between Ashgabat and Dubai is nowhere near full, and we get to have a row of three seats each. One poor chap has paid for two seats in order to have the extra space, and not only could he have got that without paying, the two seats he has been allocated are actually far part! Doh!!!!!

The second flight from Dubai to London Gatwick is full, however, and we end up with the two middle seats in a row of four – our least favourite seats. Arriving at Gatwick, we are amongst the first off the plane, and the porters point to a bunch of wheelchair just inside the tunnel “pick a wheelchair, any wheelchair...” It even comes complete with a porter to push this end, so I don't have to. In fact I struggle to keep up with them, and when the lift is not big enough for the three of us, I end up taking the escalators and have to run to catch them up again. We end up in a holding area, which has a great atmosphere, and while we wait for the electric buggy to come and collect us, we bond with fellow kindred spirits (ie other invalids).

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In the buggy

At immigration, the buggy driver gathers up all the passports and takes them over to an official, who brings them back as soon as he has checked them out. The buggy drops me off at the luggage carousel and takes David right through customs to a pre-agreed meeting area while I collect our bags. After helping a girl who is on crutches get her bag, I meet up again with David outside Marks & Spencer for the short walk to where the Valet Parking chap is meeting us with the car.

The journey home takes almost twice as long as it normally does, due to series of traffic jams every few miles. David has booked an appointment with the chiropractor this afternoon, but we have to ring him and cancel, as we won't make it. Which is probably just as well – for the last few miles David's stomach has been feeling increasingly unsettled, and as soon as we walk through the door, it explodes both ends. It must have been something on the plane, as mine follows half an hour or so later. Welcome home!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:46 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged flight airport security dubai passport luggage plan wheelchair gatwick ashgabat diarrhoea room_picnic grand_turkmen_hotel delsey_dining fanta Comments (2)

Turkmenbashi - Dashoguz

A day of travel


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I don't know what I ate last night that didn't agree with me, but whatever it was certainly aggravated an already unsettled tummy. I won't go into detail, as I am sure you don't want to know. Suffice to say it was messy. Very messy.

Typically, the breakfast buffet this morning, as you'd expect from a five star hotel, is superb, but all I want is some plain bread. At least the bread is deliciously fresh.

A couple of times during breakfast I have to make use of the toilets in reception. Beautifully clean and modern, they have motion activated light sensors in each cubicle. I am all for saving the environment, but these have been set to switch off after three seconds. Between me reaching out to pick some paper, and actually using it, the light goes off. I spend more time waving my arms around trying to see what I am doing than actually doing it. If it wasn't for my awful upset tummy, it would be rather amusing.

We have a slightly later than normal start this morning, and while David hobbles back to the room to rest his poorly leg after breakfast, I wander around the hotel and grounds taking pictures.

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Our room

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David elevates his leg on cushions on our balcony

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The balcony overlooks the grounds

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The leaves on the trees are just beginning to change colour for the Autumn

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The accommodation is in villas featuring four rooms per building. Our room is bottom right.

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The entrance to the hotel

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I find this Instagram swing totally surreal, especially since Instagram is blocked in Turkmenistan

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The front porch

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Reception

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The bar

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Lounge area

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Patio

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Swimming pool

It's a shame we don't have time here to enjoy all these lovely facilities, especially as David could do with resting his leg, and I would love to be somewhere with a toilet easily accessible, rather than spending the whole day travelling.

When Meylis arrives, he arranges a taxi to take us back to the car park where the driver will be waiting for us.

According to our programme, Artem - the driver who has been accompanying us so far on this trip - is to pick us up at the car park this morning, then drop us off at the airport for our flight to Dashoguz, where another driver will meet us. Artem, apparently, has had so much fun driving us around, that he has begged his boss to do the rest of the trip with us too. This of course means he has to drive from here to Dashoguz, a 14 hour journey, so he set off right after he dropped us off last night. We are not just feeling greatly honoured that he enjoys our company that much; we are also delighted to have him as our driver - we find his driving safe and comfortable, he is courteous and fun to be with, and he plays great music!

It does mean, however, that we have another, local, driver for our tour this morning. Because of David's inability to walk, we do our city sightseeing by car rather than as a walking tour.

The Port

Turkmenbashi is the second city in Turkmenistan and has an impressive modern port. From here oil and gas is exported, and passenger ferries run across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan.

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Oil depot

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Japanese Cemetery

During WWII, some 3,000 Japanese prisoners of war were incarcerated in Turkmenbashi; and even after they were 'liberated', they were never permitted to leave the town and were employed as forced labourers. We see a number of houses in town that they built, distinguishable from the Soviet blocks and modern buildings by their architectural style.

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Turkmenbashi Airport

This modern terminal was built for the 2017 Asian Games and is desperately under-utilised now, almost empty.

In order to enter the terminal building, all our luggage has to go through a scanner while we enter through an X-ray arch. The machine bleeps ominously as I walk through, yet I am dismissively waved on. Much as it makes my life easier, it is frankly quite a ridiculous and futile exercise and no way to conduct a security screening.

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Two trolleys turn up laden with snacks, and for a while we watch the Tuck Shop Wars in the terminal as they both vie for customers. There is only our flight departing this morning, and we see only one person purchasing something.

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As usual we receive VIP treatment here, as Meylis takes our passports, tickets and luggage to check in for us. The same thing happens after we land in Dashoguz – we are ordered to sit down while Meylis collects our luggage.

My tummy is still troublesome, despite taking Ciprofloaxin antibiotics earlier. I hope I can get rid of the problem before we venture into the desert tomorrow.

Hotel Dashoguz

Having stopped off at the supermarket for essentials (water, vodka, coke and ice cream), we continue to our hotel. As we make our way along the wide avenue, I spot an impressive large marble structure, and exclaim: “Wow, look at that fab building”

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“That's your hotel” Meylis states, wryly.

Like other hotels here in Turkmenistan, the lobby is palatial, with polished marble and grandiose furnishings.

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The room is of a good size, with a comfortable armchair complete with foot stool for David to rest his poorly leg on.

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Dinner

The restaurant is equally grand, with padded seats, cloth-covered tables and fancy drapes. But no diners. Nor staff. We hang around for a bit, coughing and talking loudly hoping to attract someone attention, but although we can see people in the kitchen, no-one appears to greet us.

Having seen that there are several people in the bar as we walked past (including the first two westerners we've seen since we left Ashgabat), we decide to head back there instead. We find a small table as far away from the party of six Russians as possible – four of whom are smoking while the rest are eating. Having been used to non-smoking establishments for so long now, I find second-hand smoke quite revolting. It does, however, bring back memories of the good (bad) old days of my nightclubbing era, especially with the dim lighting and loud music.

Most bars in this country have a huge TV screen, and in the evening can be found showing Russian and western music videos. The music tonight is excellent, and the raunchy videos are bordering on being pornographic; which I find quite surreal in a Muslim country where the vast majority of women are dressed conservatively with headscarves and long flowing dresses which cover the arms and legs.

We order two small pizzas, and a drink – David has beer, but I have to have a Pepsi as they don't have Fanta or anything similar.

The pizzas, when they arrive, are huge; and here there is no napkin snobbery – we get neither a cloth nor a paper one!

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We retire to bed feeling as ready for the adventure ahead of us as we can be considering David can't walk and I have the runs. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private tour of Turkmenistan.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:05 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged flight cemetery port pizza turkmenistan turkmenbashi ig instagram undiscovered_destinations upset_tummy yacht_club domestic_flight caspian_sea yelken yelken_yacht_club dashoguz torn_calf_muscle turkmenistan_airlines japanese_cemetery tuck_shop ciprofloaxin Comments (6)

Gatwick to Tanji

Better late than never


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As expected, the hotel room was way too hot overnight (it is a common problem with Premier Inns) and I didn't sleep very well. The benefit of this is that I will then hopefully sleep on the plane, making the flight go quicker.

After dropping off the car at the valet parking, we head for the Titan check in desk. It is a number of years since we travelled on a charter flight, and I am concerned about my hand luggage which is full of camera equipment and borderline as far as the weight limit goes. To mitigate this, David is carrying one of my lenses in his backpack, and another in his coat pocket, whereas I slip all the batteries in my pocket and wear one of the cameras around my neck with yet another lens on it.

As it turns out, all this worry has been for nothing – they don't even give the hand luggage a second glance, yet alone weigh it.

Wondertree Restaurant

Duty Free purchase comes next, then breakfast.

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David's full English

I order pancakes with bacon and syrup.
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Flight

Boarding is simple and straight forward and we strike lucky with a row to ourselves.

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As we settle in, ready to relax for the next six-and-a-half hours, our hearts sink a little when the captain comes on the intercom with an announcement: “Things don't seem to be going too well for us this morning; we have developed a technical fault and have to go back to the stand to get an engineer to check it out.”

Oh dear.

One hour later, he updates us: “We're ready to go, air traffic control is ready, but Eurocontrol is not ready”.

At this point he switches the engine off to save fuel, which of course means no A/C. The cabin becomes hotter and hotter and hotter as people's patience wears thinner and thinner. After some (uncomfortable) time, he reassures us: “I am aware that you guys are getting rather warm back there...” and switches the power back on.

More time passes before the next announcement: “A restricted no-fly zone has cropped up in the south of France, so our flight path needs re-routing.”

More waiting time.

That sorted, we are informed that “we need a courier to push us out from the stand and they are all at the other side of the airport”.

At this point the lady across the aisle from us becomes very irate, shouting obscenities, calling the captain a liar, refusing to switch her phone off etc. While I understand that nerves are getting frayed and tempers short, that sort of outburst is not doing her – or us – any favours.

We finally take off two hours and twenty minutes late. What should have been a 6 and a half hour flight, now becomes nearly nine hours of having to sit in this tin can.

The flight itself is reasonably painless after all that, with quite good food (spicy chicken noodles and a very nice chocolate and orange mousse). Wine, of course, has to be bought – and paid for – separately. I guess we have been spoilt over the years with scheduled long haul flight where everything is included.

Banjul Airport

The modern terminal building has been added since we were last here; in fact, it is not fully completed yet. We are last in the queue for immigration, but it doesn't matter as the luggage has only just started to arrive when we get out there.

Some things have never changed since we were here last, 23 years ago: porters wishing to change the British coins they have been given as tips into notes which they are then able to convert into Dalasi, the local currency. I am happy to oblige.

My bag arrives and we watch everyone else collect theirs, one after the other. Still no sign of David's. Some bags go round and round, again and again, but David's is not one of them. More and more people are leaving the baggage area and heading for the customs and exit. Still no sign of David's bag. With only a handful of passengers still remaining around the carousel, all apparently in possession of their luggage, the belt stops. Without David's case. After a few tense moments, I spot it, partly hidden by the curtain at the entrance to the belt, stopping just short of actually coming into the baggage area. Phew.

Tanji Bird Lodge

As expected, we have a private minibus transfer to the hotel. Our accommodation for the first five days is in a very small eco-lodge with just eight rooms, and it soon becomes apparent that we are the only tourists staying here for those nights.

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The lodge is all very open plan, with a thatch-covered bar and tables in amongst the trees as well as on a ridge overlooking the ocean for eating and drinking.

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A meandering path leads us to the four simple brick huts housing two rooms in each.

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There is no A/C in the room, but it has been designed with a high domed ceiling to help disperse the heat, and with slatted windows, the sea breezes are allowed to flow through.

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The inside is basic but adequate, featuring a narrow double bed which has been lovingly strewn with flower petals. In all the years we've travelled and all the hotels we've stayed in, this is a first for us. We have had petals on the bed before, of course, but never has it spelled out our name – such a special and personal touch.

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Domed ceiling

The bathroom has a shower and toilet but no running hot water (we were fully aware of that when we booked), and we cannot seem to manage to get any water out of the shower hose, only through the tap. Cold bucket showers it is then. In this heat, that can be quite refreshing, and is an excellent way to preserve water.

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Bird Baths

But first things first: bird watching. The lodge is set inside Tanji Bird Reserve, and have enticed birds to visit the grounds by providing a series of bowls and pools filled with water. To encourage human visitors, chairs and benches are available for us to sit on as we watch our feathered friends come to bathe and drink; with strategically placed tables for our drinks too of course.

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David's preferred way to spot birds

We see a surprising amount of birds in the short time we are here this afternoon (by the time we get settled in to the room, we only have around half an hour left of daylight). They come to bathe and drink, or maybe just hang around with their mates. Here is a small selection:

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Blue Spotted Wood Dove

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Blackcap Babblers

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Red Eyed Dove

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Village Weavers

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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Black Necked Weaver and Grey Headed Bristlebill

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Laughing Dove

Dinner

As is the Howard tradition, we enjoy a Duty Free tipple in the room before going down to the restaurant for dinner. We find it surprisingly chilly, with a cool wind, to the point of wearing a fleece. We never expected that in The Gambia; in fact, while packing we contemplated whether or not to bring any type of warm clothing at all. Just as well we did.

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As the sun goes down, some interesting clouds appear, later taking on a muted pink hue from the setting sun.

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With us being the only two guests in the lodge this evening, catering is down to what they have in the kitchen, which is fish and chicken.

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We choose butter fish, which is thankfully de-boned and absolutely delicious. I have mine with rice while David orders chips.

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With a glass or two of the local beer, of course. While the main religion here in The Gambia is Islam, they are a secular nation and quite liberal – the country even has its own brewery.

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Being situated inside a bird reserve, there is no light pollution here. Walking back to the room in almost complete darkness, we are glad to see someone has been to the room and switched our outside light on while we were eating dinner. How thoughtful.

We have only had a couple of beers each this evening, but David really struggles to get the key in the lock. s we are fiddling, a knock from behind the door makes me jump – there is someone in our room! Then it dawns on us: this is not our room. It seems we have tried to enter the room where the manager was sleeping. Oops. Sheepishly we continue to our own room and make a mental note of leaving the outside light on tomorrow night.

Being used to a super-king sized bed at home, we worry that the four-foot bed in this place is going to feel rather cramped. Surprisingly, it doesn't, but it is somewhat chilly this evening so we reluctantly grab the duvet from the cupboard and put on the bed. While the bed is narrow, the duvet is miniscule. It is basically a single quilt inside a double cover. It looks like we will have to cuddle up all night, then.

Once the lights are out, the room is pitch black. The sort of blackness that you cannot imagine without having experienced somewhere with absolutely no light whatsoever. Your eyes never get used to it. You cannot see anything. At all. I make sure my torch is within groping distance, and drift off to sleep.

The Gambia Experience featuring Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Posted by Grete Howard 10:59 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds hotel flight airport breakfast dinner birding dove weaver gatwick titan bird_watching delay valet_parking check_in bajul charter_flight wondertree tanji tanji_bird_lodge bird-bath babbler robin_chat bristlebill butter_fish narrow_bed Comments (4)

Bristol - London - Lisbon

A painful start

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

“Where are you going?” I laugh at the question, not because it is stupid or even funny, but in anticipation of the reaction when I tell them “São Tomé & Principe” (pronounced something like sang tomere ee prisp, with the emphasis on the last syllable). As usual I receive a blank stare in response. “Where's that?”

It is a reaction we are familiar with, however, as we do tend to favour the path less trodden over the mass-tourism destinations, and have travelled to a good few 'unknown' places over the years. São Tomé & Principe is no exception.

A former Portuguese colony, the island nation of São Tomé and Principe can pretty much be described as being situated in the centre of the world: the closest landmass to the point where the Equator and the Meridian meet, some 200 km off the west African coast.

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As with most of these virtually unknown and little visited destinations, São Tomé is not an easy place to get to. We start our journey at Heathrow for a short flight to Lisbon.

Check in

As seems to be the norm these days, we are asked to print our own luggage tags using the automated machines at the airport. I explain to the chap directing the flow of passengers that we have tickets all the way to São Tomé, but would like to collect our bags in Lisbon as we are staying overnight there. “Go and see the man on the Help Desk”.

'Help Desk' is somewhat of a misnomer: as we approach the elderly gentleman barely looks up while spitting out a brusque “You need to check in on that machine”. I try to explain “We were told to come here...” Without enquiring why, or even letting me finish the sentence, he barks: “Check in there” while pointing at the nearest machine (which incidentally is out of order). Once again I start to explain and am interrupted, but eventually he has to concede and takes our passports without another word.

By this time Mr Officious is obviously stressed at the thought of having to do some work, and types away furiously on his keyboard. I have to repeat our destination several times. He flicks through every page in my passport before asking about visas. I show him my e-visa which I thankfully applied for after checking various websites and getting completely conflicting information (even the agents in STP did not know the definitive answer, the Foreign Office website said we didn't need one, whereas the Bradt travel guide said to ignore the FO site as they were out of date and to obtain a visa prior to travel). I guess that is one of the hazards of having a Norwegian passport, not many people from Norway travel to São Tomé via London. Now extremely flustered, Mr Officious stares at the piece of paper, which is mostly in Portuguese, trying to make out the dates. He then struggles to read the flight detail on the screen and I eventually have to lean across and point to the dates and assure him that “yes, we are only travelling for a week, and yes, the dates on the visa correspond with the dates of our travel”. Still not convinced, he goes off to check with the girl on the check-in desk. More furious typing ensues when he gets back, followed by an even more frazzled look. We go over the dates again.

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Next our transit in Accra is questioned (he pronounces it “ack-rah”, with the emphasis on the 'ahh' at the end, making it sound more like 'Prague' as he mostly mutters under his breath by now). “Where is your visa?” Groan. We are only there for 45 minutes, I doubt if we will even be allowed to leave the plane. He looks at the flight details on the screen again and states “It's OK, you are only in transit”.

Finally satisfied that we are fit for travel, he prints our baggage tags. Or tries to. The printer jams and he has to start all over again from the beginning. On his forehead little beads of sweat are appearing. “Chug chug chug” says the machine, then silence. With shaking hands, and his face a dark shade of crimson, he pulls out the jammed labels and tears them up. His breathing is so laboured I fear he is going to have a heart attack. “Go to the desk” he grunts, pointing to the young girl who answered his questions earlier. With great relief, both for us and him, we leave Mr Personalityless behind and make our way to the baggage drop-off desk.

Smiling sweetly, she takes our bags, checks us in, gives us our baggage tags and boarding cards and wishes us a pleasant flight. If only everything in life could be as easy as that!

Apart from being pulled aside at Security and given a pat down and swabbed for explosives, the rest of our airport experience is uneventful.

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Fish and chips at the airport

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Milkshake served in a miniature milk bottle

Heathrow - Lisbon

The TAP Portugal flight leaves 1½ hour late, and is thankfully not full as the legroom is minimal and comfort non-existent. We have arranged for the owner of the apartment where we are staying tonight to pick us up from the aiport in Lisbon, which she duly does. A delightful girl, with excellent English, she drives us the short distance to an unassuming, dull-looking block of flats.

Lisbon Woods House

On the second floor, the apartment is small but delightful, and has everything we need for this very short stay. As we are required to be back at the airport in six hours' time, we go straight to bed, leg one of the journey completed.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:57 Archived in Portugal Tagged flight visa lisbon heathrow tap air_portugal sao_tome check_in Comments (3)

Bristol - London - Delhi

We've arrived in Delhi


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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


View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

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


View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

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 (5)

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)

Dar es Salaam - Moroni (Comoros)

We're here!


View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Much as I love Tanzania, this trip is something totally different. Today we are continuing to the small island nation of Comoros.

“Comoros? Where’s that?” has been the common refrain when I tell people where I am going.

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Nestled between Madagascar to the east and Mozambique on the African mainland to the west, Comoros consists of three major islands: Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan (Nzwani) and Moheli (Mwali). Internationally, the islands are known by their French names, and I have added the local Comorian names in parentheses.

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It’s not exactly all the rage

The reason you haven’t heard of Comoros lies largely at the door of its total lack of commercial tourism, unlike that which its neighbours Mauritius and Seychelles close by ‘enjoy’ (or endure, whichever side of the fence you are). According to the Tourist Office, the islands receive fewer than 3,000 visitors each year (the last data I could find was from 2011, when 2,497 tourists entered the country). To put things into perspective, the Seychelles received 36,000 tourists in April this year alone.

As described by an online travel deal comparator promoting the islands: “Not many tourists travel to Comoros in the Indian Ocean and for good reason: there is regular seismic activity on top of great political instability”.

Cloud Coup Coup Land

Affectionately known as ‘Cloud Coup Coup Land’ as a result of its numerous (more than twenty) coups d’états since its independence in 1975, with various heads of state assassinated. Subsequent instability has left the small archipelago desperately poor (said to be the third poorest country in the world), unsurprisingly corrupt, and relatively untouched. It has an unemployment rate of 80% and it is believed that around 50% of the population live below the poverty line of US1 a day; and unfortunately it has few natural resources with which to recover its failing economy.

Dar es Salaam - Moroni

Anyway, back to today’s journey.

We are up at the crack of dawn this morning for a 5am pick up for the transfer to the airport. The journey that took well in excess of an hour last night in the terrible traffic, takes us a mere 20 minutes this morning.

Check in

We approach the Air Tanzania check-in desk with trepidation, and hand over our passports. The young girl types away on her computer and we are asked to place our bags on the scales. This is looking promising. My heart sinks, however, when she asks: “Are you travelling with Air Tanzania?” I hand over the original e-ticket plus the email and explain that we were originally booked on the Precisionair flight this morning which has been cancelled and that they informed us we have been re-booked with Air Tanzania instead (see yesterday’s blog for the full explanation). "Ah, that's why I can't find you on my system" she confirms. I hold my breath, waiting for the rejection and expecting her to pass the buck and tell us to go and sort it with Precisionair. She doesn’t. She calls them herself and asks us to sit down and wait while she sorts it out.

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We sit and we wait. And we wait, and then we wait some more. After around 30 minutes the supervisor comes over to tell us “it is being sorted”.

One hour. I go and ask. The supervisor tells me: “It is all confirmed, we are waiting for the second paper to be completed. Just sit down and relax.” I sit down. And relax. Sort of.

We eat the packed breakfast the hotel provided us with while we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

20 minutes before the departure of the flight and 2½ hours after we first checked in, we finally have boarding cards!

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Passport control is very slow, leaving us no time to buy any rum in the Duty Free as we go straight on to the plane.

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As we climb high and leave the metropolis of Dar es Salaam behind, I am looking forward to lazy days on tropical beaches in this ‘hidden paradise’.

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I am surprised to be served a small snack on the short flight – it is only about one hour and 20 minutes long.

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It’s not long before we spot the peaks of Comoros’ highest point, Mt Karthala in the distance.

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The origin of the name Comoros comes from the name given to the islands by an Arab geographer in the Middle Ages: Djazair al ‘Qamar’, which translated into English means Moon Islands. It is said that the first Arabs who arrived in the archipelago were enthralled by the lunar-like landscape caused by petrified lava on the pure white sand of the beaches. Looking down on the coastline below, I can see what they mean.

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Soon we are approaching the small runway of Prince Said Ibrahim Airport in Moroni (I have no idea how this airport got its three letter code HAH).

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At immigration there are two forms to fill in, and my Norwegian passport seems to cause a bit of a stir, with the official calling her supervisor over to check it out. She speaks no English, I speak almost no French and even less Comorian. She keeps repeating “Visa! Visa!” I am not sure if she means I should have obtained a visa before travelling or that she is going to issue me with a visa.

It turns out to be the latter.

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I am very impressed they manage to produce a sticky-backed printed visa complete with my picture right here in the little immigration booth. She even asks me which page of my passport I would like it stuck on. There isn’t much choice in my case, as I only have one single spare page left in my passport; the rest is full with stamps and visas.

After a cursory luggage check in the Customs area, find ourselves outside in the sun looking for someone carrying a sign with our name on it. Again. We look around, nothing. Again. Neither of our mobile phones seems to work here in the Comoros, something we were warned about, so we are unable to call our guide or the office. Hovering by the exit for a few minutes soon attracts the local taxi touts, one of whom speaks a little English. He is thankfully not persistent and we chat to him for a while, explaining that we have someone coming to meet us from a local agency. When, after around 20 minutes or so, our pick-up still hasn’t arrived, he kindly uses his own mobile phone and rings the telephone number we have been given for the local agent’s office. It goes through to an answering machine. He then tries the number the agent supplied for the local guide we are to have for the duration of our stay here, Mr Akim. Success. David talks to Mr Akim and explains that we are waiting at the airport for him. Mr Akim is somewhat perplexed, and stutters as he laments: “I didn’t know you were coming… I am nowhere near the airport…” He sounds genuinely concerned (and extremely confused) and asks us where we are staying. “Take a taxi to the hotel… but the hotel is not booked…” We are both feeling a little tense and rather uneasy by this stage, wondering what else can go wrong, and if this trip is maybe jinxed in some way

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a chap walking purposefully directly towards us, and in his hands I can see a sign “Grete & David Howard”. He introduces himself as Yahaya, and is full of apologies for being late. Great! First a feeling of relief, then confusion. Oh. So, if this is our guide, who is the person we are talking to on the phone?

(It later transpires that the local agent had arranged another guide for us, but didn’t let us, or Undiscovered Destinations, who we booked the trip through, know)

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Waiting for the car at the airport

The car boot is not big enough to take both the bags and close as well, so we drive along with the boot lid open. It doesn’t really matter: these are not fast roads.

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But first we must get the car started. It fires, turns and then dies. Time after time, again and again. We, and the luggage, get out of the car in order to access the spare battery the driver keeps in the boot, and the tools under the rear seat. This is obviously a regular occurrence.

As we approach the capital, we hit a huge, slow-moving traffic jam. “There is a strike,” says the girl whose name I heard as Malika and David thinks is Monica. We take a short cut through some badly pot-holed back streets, and stop at a small shop that doubles as a money changer.

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Pretty beach outside Moroni, the capital

National Museum

On the way to the hotel we stop for a visit to the small, but reasonably interesting National Museum.

All the Comoros islands were created at various times as a result of volcanic activity on the seabed resulting in each of the islands having a distinct topographical characteristic as a result of their different ages.

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Volcanic stones

According to pre-Islamic mythology, however, a jinn (spirit) dropped a jewel, which formed a great circular inferno. This became the Karthala volcano, which created the island of Grande Comore.

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A cross section of the earth, showing Mt Karthala, the still-active volcano on Grand Comore

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Pottery shards

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Coelacanth - the fish thought to be extinct for millions of years until it was re-discovered here in Comoros in 1938

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Pufferfish

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Whale skull

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Shells

A few bedraggled and sad looking stuffed birds

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Caspian Tern

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Common Ringed Plover

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Comoro Blue Pigeon

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Drums and other musical instruments

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Various pots and containers

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Oil lamp - usually whale oil was used

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Outrigger canoe - the museum guide explains that he was a fisherman himself, using one of these for many years; much to his father’s disappointment, as he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and become an Imam.

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Sugar cane crusher. The juice is later turned into 'honey'.

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Items made from the coconut palm - no part of the plant is wasted

Medina

Walking down through the Medina (old market) of Moroni, we cause quite a stir. There is lots of laughter, pointing and many shy smiles, plus a few requests for us to take them back to England with us. Tourists are a rarity here.

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Fruit and vegetables

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Beans

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Chillies

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Onions

Many Comorians believe that having their photograph taken will bestow them with bad luck, so I am therefore very surprised when this lady actively wants to have her picture taken with me. Don’t you just love the look on the face of the woman behind though?

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Butcher

This lady not just asks us to photograph her young daughter, she begs us to take the child back to England to “give her a better life”.

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I am not sure the girl, however, is equally enthralled with that idea.

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Some more images from the market:

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Shoes

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Tailor

Also in the Medina, behind these elaborate doors, is the palace once used by the last prince of Comoros.

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The Old Town

We continue through the maze of narrow alleyways in Moroni Old Town.

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Similar in many ways to Zanzibar’s Stone Town (they share a lot of history and culture), the old town has many beautifully carved doors.

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As we get nearer to sea level and the large Friday Mosque, the alleyways open up and the vestiges of grand mansions appear, now but sad relics of faded glory.

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Sultan Ahmed Mwigni Mkou Mosque

Historically, Comoros was divided into a number of Sultanates following the arrival of Arab settlers starting in the 11th century. Mwigni Mkou was the biggest of these Sultans, reigning for over 40 years.

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The Town Hall

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Retaj Moroni Hotel

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After checking in and dumping the bags in the room, we head down to the restaurant to see if we can get a small snack for lunch. Passing through the bar, we see a pizza oven and someone rolling dough, which will be perfect as neither of us are particularly hungry.

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Pizza oven!

When we arrive at the restaurant, all they are doing is an international buffet. We both hate buffets with a passion and decide to forego lunch and take a wander around the hotel grounds instead.

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Swimming pool complete with water!

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Dinner

After a stroll to the local supermarket and a nice little siesta, followed by a shower and change, it is time to go down for dinner. This time they do have pizza, which is what we order.

Mine has meat, chicken, vegetables and egg on it – it is the first time I have ever had egg on a pizza.

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David chooses his to be topped with turkey and mushrooms.

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The Retaj Hotel is own by a Qatari organisation, and as such they abide by their strict Muslim beliefs: no alcohol served in the hotel at all!

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It is not quite the same toasting our safe arrival in Comoros – our 139th country – with water!

Starry sky

As we make our way back to the room, I notice the sky is clear and full of stars, so I go and grab my camera and tripod and head for the darker areas of the hotel grounds to look for the Milky Way. Considering we are on the outskirts of the capital, there is surprisingly little light pollution here.

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The land arrangements of this trip was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:47 Archived in Comoros Tagged mosque beach travel hotel volcanic_rock market flight museum africa tanzania muslim lava tourism old_town pizza swimming_pool airline islam indian_ocean medina town_hall sultanate hah dar_es_salaam comoros undiscovered_destinations air_tanzania precisionair moroni retaj_moroni coelacanth pufferfish mt_karthala Comments (4)

Bristol - London - Dubai - Dar es Salaam

First leg of the journey

30 °C
View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Where do I begin? I know a lot of you have been anxiously looking forward to reading all about the challenges we faced on our trip to the Comoros, and I shall try my best to make sure this blog lives up to expectations.

So, stay tuned and follow along as we make our way to – and to a certain extent around – Comoros, also known as Cloud Coup Coup Land (explanations of this moniker to follow in the next instalment).

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Flight changes
Our (potential) problems start a few weeks before we lave home, when we receive the email below from Precisionair. All our flight tickets are booked through Budgetair, using Emirates from London to Dar es Salaam via Dubai, and onwards to Moroni (Comoros) on Precisionair.

"Dear Sir/Madam
Kindly be informed that your flight from DAR to HAH on 17th Aug is cancelled and you will depart with ATC departing at 08:00hrs same day. Kindly be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your precision airline document."

As this really does not cause us a problem, I print the email ready to show at the check-in desk at the time and file according.

Fast forward to five days before departure, when we receive a phone call from Budgetair, our flight agent, offering us a refund on the flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni which is cancelled. It seems Precisionair didn’t inform Budgetair that they rebooked us on the Air Tanzania flight. I explain the situation and forward them the above email and all is well: they are happy and we are happy.

Five minutes later they ring back. The timing has changed. The 08:00 Air Tanzania flight is now leaving at 06:00. I have to admit that I am impressed with the service from Budgetair, they do seem to be diligent and on the ball. Little do I know…

Check in on line
48 hours to go, and it is time to check in on line for our main Emirates flight. When inputting our details returns an “Unable to process your request” message, I open an on-line chat to find out what is happening. A very nice lady called Yasmin informs me that it is because we have two different airlines on the same booking but reassures me that the flight is confirmed and that we have seat numbers allocated. I am happy with that.

The next day (the day before departure) we receive a confirmation email from Emirates with all the above information as per my conversation with Yasmin, although it seems Precisionair haven’t informed Emirates of the cancellation and re-booking of their flight either, as we are still shown on today's itinerary from Emirates as being on the (non-existing) Precisionair flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni, not the Air Tanzania one that we have been re-booked on.

I am still not concerned, I am sure it will all be fine when we get to the check in desk in Dar es Salaam. Then we notice the details for the return journey.

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According to the Emirates itinerary, we are now departing Comoros one day earlier on an Ethiopian Air flight. Where on earth did that come from? Having to travel a day early puts all sorts of spanners in the works: it means we will not just lose a day in Comoros, but we will have to rearrange the flight coming back to the main island from the smaller island for a day earlier; and we'll have to get a hotel, transfer and visa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in order to catch our Emirates flights the following day.

Panicking ever so slightly, I contact Budgetair, first by email and later by phone to try and find out what is going on. The guy on the other end of the phone (most likely in an Indian call centre) does not appear to understand my problem, and he “will get back to me within 48 hours”. Doh! After explaining the situation for the fifth time, I can feel my irritation rising: 48 hours will be too late, we leave in less that 24! He tries to pass me off and says I should contact Precisionair or Emirates, but I strongly remind him that my contract is with Budgetair and stress the importance of this. Eventually he reluctantly promises to get back to me as soon as he can. I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

Surprisingly enough, we do not hear from Budgetair before we have to leave for the airport the following day.

Check in at Heathrow
We start our journey at Heathrow Airport, where we encounter our next challenge at the check-in desk. We have a single ticket all the way through to Comoros, but are breaking the journey for 19 hours in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (it was the cheapest flight option and we are cheapskates), and the airline representative (or rather the system) wants to check our luggage all the way. Normally this is also what we would want, but as we have an overnight stop in Dar es Salaam, we would very much like to have access to our clothes and toiletries. The guy totally agrees with us, and eventually manages to get his supervisor to override the system.

Another spanner in the works, this one deflected, however.

Dinner
Whenever we have a long-haul flight, especially an overnight one such as this one today, we like to have a decent meal at the airport before we board so that we can sleep through food service on the plane.

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At Planet Restaurant I have Prawn and Chilli Pasta, which at first looks a little disappointing: I can only see a grand total of three prawns. There are, however, several more crustaceans lurking underneath the surface. As they do. The fresh pasta is nicely al dente, and the chilli carries a bit of a kick. David enjoys his fish and chips too, with a crispy coating and flaky fish.

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David’s only disappointment is that they have no ‘proper’ cider, only berry.

Bar
Naturally, the next stop then has to be the bar for David to get his fix. As we are only drinking, not dining, we are not permitted to sit down at a table, but have to perch on uncomfortable, high bar stools, so we don’t linger.

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Heathrow – Dubai – Dar es Salaam
The flights from London Heathrow to Dar es Salaam via Dubai go smoothly (we both sleep a lot of the time), but not totally without incident, as David manages to pour a cup of hot coffee all over his beige trousers. The crew helpfully provides him with a number of face cloths to mop it all up.

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Ready for an adventure

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Tanzania coastline from the air

Dar es Salaam
The Arrivals Hall at Tanzania’s biggest airport is absolute chaos. The so-called queue for immigration is just one massive throng of people, with no-one knowing what to do or where to go and several flights having arrived at the same time. Passengers with connecting flights struggle to get anywhere near the Transfer desk for the crowds, and there are no signs to advise visitors that there should be one queue for people who already have visas (us) and another for those wishing to obtain visa-on-arrival.

Eventually, after a lot of pushing, shoving and shuffling for nearly an hour in the stifling heat, we get through Passport Control to be faced with the next shambles: the luggage 'carousel'. Five deep with passengers and trolleys, we can’t get anywhere near the conveyor belt. We both hop around on tiptoe to try and spot our cases for a while, then decide to go and check the pile of luggage at the end of the belt. Sure enough, there, right in the middle of a huge mound of bags, is our luggage. With much back-straining, David manages to rescue our cases and we make it out of the terminal building, fighting our way through the traffic jam of luggage trolleys, prams with kids, cling-wrapped boxes, abandoned suitcases and people milling aimlessly around.

Although it is nice to be out in the fresh air, the temperature is no cooler. Having pre-booked an airport transfer with an included city tour on the way to the hotel, we look for someone holding a sign with our name on it. Nothing. We hang around for a while, fighting off the hoards of taxi touts and tour guides. Still nothing.

Checking tomorrow’s flights
While we wait we might as well take the opportunity to visit the Precisionair counter to check on tomorrow’s flight. I hand over the email we received from them and the girl looks at it without a word. With a dismissive wave of the hand, she points to the Air Tanzania counter and states: “Check with them”. Not surprisingly I get the same response (in reverse) from the girl at the Air Tanzania counter. At my insistence, she reluctantly saunters over to the Precisionair counter with the email and comes back stating word for word what is on the email: “Be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your Precision Airline document.” I enquire if the tickets are definitely confirmed and am brushed off with a “Yes, yes”.

As there really isn’t much else we can do at this stage, we go and change some money and wait for our transfer. And wait. 45 minutes later and having been unable to contact the transfer company, we take a taxi directly to the hotel.

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Dar es Salaam street market

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Safari inspired street sculpture

The traffic through Dar es Salaam is horrendous. A new overpass is being constructed, and the police are directing the traffic. We sit in a queue, not moving an inch, for nearly 20 minutes while we watch the traffic crossing the junction from left to right and right to left. When will the police let our long line of waiting cars go? Eventually we move on.

We are so pleased to finally get to the hotel that David accidentally pays the driver in Pounds rather than US Dollars. Nice tip for the driver!

Golden Tulip Dar es Salaam City Centre
The hotel doesn’t look very welcoming from the outside. The entrance is down a dodgy looking side street and the armed security guard outside doesn’t exactly make me feel any better. The steps leading up from the road are very steep, making it difficult to haul the cases up. Eventually a porter arrives and takes over. That is better.

Reception is on the 20th floor and we travel up in a fabulous glass-sided outside lift, with great views of the city below.

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On checking in, we are delighted to find that not only are they expecting us, we have been upgraded to a suite!

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We have a comfortable living room, bedroom, the usual shower and toilet and a separate large double corner bath with Jacuzzi!

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On the 19th floor, we also have stunning views of the city as the sun is going down and the Muezzin calls the faithful to prayer at the local Mosque.

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Night Photography
After a quick shower and change (thank goodness we have our luggage!), we head for an outside seating area on the 20th floor to take some shots of Dar es Salaam at dusk.

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David, always the joker, thinks it is funny to point out the cladding following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

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Dinner
Not wishing to explore the dodgy-looking neighbourhood, we opt for dinner in the hotel at a restaurant named “Fire” which promises to serve “hot, tasty cuisine”.

What they don’t have, however, is alcohol. This is a dry hotel.

I order a Swahili style Miskaki chicken kebab that is advertised to come with a ‘spicy tamarind sauce’. I ask to have it extra spicy.

David chooses a Red Hot Pepper Beef Fillet, medium-rare.

After some time the waiter appears, full of apologies: the kitchen has cooked David’s steak well done. Can he bring it anyway?

When the food arrives, I am pretty sure they have mixed up the sauces, as David’s steak (or rather small pieces of fillet) comes with a dark, rich, sweet sticky sauce, very much reminiscent of tamarind, whereas my sauce is red and weak without any ‘fire’ at all. I am too tired to even be bothered to question it.

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My somewhat insipid chicken

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David's well done steak

After dinner we slope off to bed very early. Not only did we travel all through the night last night, we are also getting up very early tomorrow morning. With high hopes of tomorrow being a much better day, we drift into a nice deep sleep.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel flight adventure tanzania trip dubai uae flights united_arab_emirates heathrow emirates suite problems dar_es_salaam upgrade comoros air_tanzania golden_tulip spanner cloud_coup_coup_land budgetair Comments (9)

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