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Anjouan: Mutsamudu City Tour

Historic citadelle and colourful markets

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

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Breakfast

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

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Mutsamudu City Tour

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

Citadelle

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

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

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

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There are both French and English cannons within the fortifications.

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

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

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Mutsamudu Market

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

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

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Chillies

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Pigeon Peas

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Mataba (cassava leaves)

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Dried fish

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

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Aubergines and green bananas

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

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Ginger root

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Peanuts in their shells, AKA 'monkey nuts'

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Tamarind

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Turmeric root

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Green chillies

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Chilli sauce

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Onions and garlic

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Extra hot red chillies

Baobab Fruit

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

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

Msindzano

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

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The photo that started it all.

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

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

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

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

Lunch

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

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Chicken sandwich with frites.

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

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

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

Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks go to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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

Anjouan Island tour

Lobsters and lemurs

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

Sunrise

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

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Sunrise from our balcony

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Sunrise over the rocky beach

Picking up the luggage

Over at the quayside, David takes up the story:

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

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

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

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

Anjouan

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

Island tour

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

Cloves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cloves bagged ready for export.

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Some of the local workers

Village of Bazimini

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

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Sisal

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

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Pigeon Peas

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

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We try them raw and they are very pleasant.

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Tratringa Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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Ylang ylang

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

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

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

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

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

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Mango

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

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

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

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

Mausoleum of Abdallah

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

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

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The town of Domoni

Sales people line the road side.

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

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

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

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

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

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Moya

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

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Lunch at Moya Plage Hotel

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

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

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

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Maki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Sunley

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

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What remains of William Sunley's warehouse

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

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The tomb of William Sunley

Coastal Road

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

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

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

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

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

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Breakdown

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

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

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Another spanner in a trip full of spanners.

Malagasy Pirates

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

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Abandoned ship

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

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Hotel Al Amal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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