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Entries about itsandra hotel

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 Moroni

Just chillin'

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

Breakfast

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

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Itsandra Hotel

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

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

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View from our balcony

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

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

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

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

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I love the clock table

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

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The cottages in the back belong to the hotel too.

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

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

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

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Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rude awakening

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

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

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

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

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

Me, even more confused now: “Pardon?”

Female voice: “I am ringing from Luna…”

Me, interrupting: “What is Luna?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Comore - Anjouan

Another day, another island, another spanner in the works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Volo Volo Market

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

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

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The Grand Marriage

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

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

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

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Check in – another spanner in the works

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

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

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The luggage truck ready to go

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

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

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

Itsandra Hotel

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

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

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Back to the dockside check in area

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

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Love the name of this boat: Air Force One 007

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

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

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The nearby 'Old Market'

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

New Select Salon de Thé

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

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

Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anjouan

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

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

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

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

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

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

This trip was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

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

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