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Lake Natron

Fish pedicure and hominid footprints


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

Lake Natron Camp

We can see the camp from a distance, initially looking little more than dark pointy hillocks or large boulders on the landscape.

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The 'boulders' are in fact large camouflage Bedu style net covers, hiding the accommodation. Like everywhere else we have been so far, a whole army of helpers arrive to help carry our stuff as soon as we pull up in the car, and we are ushered into the open mess tent which doubles as a reception.

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After the usual formalities, we are shown to our tent. They are well spread out, making them very private. The whole tent, as I said, is under a huge fly sheet, offering shade from hot sun.

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The accommodation is relatively spacious and offers three parts – first the screened veranda , with a couple of chairs and a table. The staff leave our lunch boxes here, which we brought with us from Kilimamoja this morning.

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The main part has a large double bed, a writing desk and a day bed which in our case doubles as a luggage rack.

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A partial wall separates the bedroom from the bathroom, where there is a wash basin, compostable eco-toilet and bucket shower.

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We dump our stuff, change into swimwear and head down to the 'spa area'.

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This is another area shaded by a large fly sheet, offering chairs, day beds and a couple of hammocks alongside a natural spring which feeds the main lake.

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We take our picnic boxes with us and enjoy our lunch overlooking the spring and the marshland.

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The main attractions here, however, as far as I am concerned, is the little freshwater spring. As soon as we step into the cool water, the endemic cichlids start to nibble at our feet.

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For a number of years I have wanted to have a fish pedicure, but I have always been concerned about the hygiene in the tanks in British salons (they have since been banned in the UK for that very reason). Here, however, I have no such concern, and am loving every minute of it!

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David, on the other hand, is way too ticklish to get pleasure from it, and merely dips his feet in briefly.

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I could spend hours here, but the sun is very strong and I worry about my photo-sensitive dermatitis on my shins; so we reluctantly go back to the tent.

This area is affectionately known as 'Zanzibar' to the locals, as it is very much hotter than Arusha and the northern safari circuit. We try to have a little siesta, but it is really rather too hot to get any decent sleep.

The not-so-distant thunder than rumbles on and on and on doesn't exactly help. We prepare ourselves for a deluge, but it appears the storm travels all around us, and by the time we are ready for an afternoon excursion, it is thankfully still dry.

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Malisa, ready to see what nature has to offer us this afternoon

Homenid Footprints

Malisa is taking us, along with a local Maasai guide arranged by the camp, to see some old footprints left on the mud flats. When we spoke with Malisa about it yesterday, he had some concern about whether we would be able to reach the site because of all the flooding, and indeed we do get a little lost this afternoon as the road has washed away.

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The floods and subsequent receding water have left some strange formations in the mud.

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When I say “some old footprints”, I am grossly understating, of course, these impressions captured for eternity are seriously cool.

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Some 19,000 years ago, the nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano erupted, spewing out its innards down to the shores of the lake. Unable to outrun the fast flowing lava, the local people left their footprints in the hot magma as they made their desperate escape attempts.

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Judging by the way the footprints are facing in different directions, it is assumed that the family (there are different sized prints too) were overcome with panic, unsure of which way to run.

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While these imprints are seriously cool to see, I can only begin to imagine the anguish the people felt at the time, stepping on the ground which measured at 600 °C.

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The Ol Doinyo Lengai is unique in that it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava. What that meant for these people, is that the thin silvery lava flowed faster than they could run, so there was no escape.

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Today the volcano looks peaceful.

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From here we continue on foot down to the lake edge for bird watching.

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Great White Pelican, Lesser Flamingo, Great Cormorant, Long Tailed Cormorant, Slender Bill Gull

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Blacksmith Plover

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Chestnut Banded Plover, our second lifer on this trip.

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Eurasian Avocet - I love the way they move their head from side to side to stir up the bottom, just like a spoonbill.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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The Gang

Flamingos

As I said in my previous blog entry, this time of year normally sees thousands of flamingos descend on the lake to breed. Here the water evaporates leaving behind very high concentrations of soda. Algae and zooplankton thrive in this water, which in turn supports great numbers of flamingos. The combination of remoteness and the hostility of the soda mud-flats provides the flamingos with a relatively safe area to breed and rear chicks. This year, however, as a result of the heavy rains, the vast majority of them have remained at Big Momella Lake in Arusha National Park. We still see a few here though.

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Greater Flamingo

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Lesser Flamingo

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There is a group of four South Africans staying at the camp tonight too, and we see them walking with their guide much nearer the lake edge.

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They look rather unsteady as they cross a small stream, and I keep my camera handy should one of them take a tumble. I am all heart!

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No-one fell!

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We return to the camp via the spa area, where Malisa also finds the fish pedicure too ticklish!

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Little Egret

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White Throated Bee Eater

Sundowners

It is time to sit and watch the sunset with a drink or two.

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The camp fire is lit, but the sunset is rather unimpressive.

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It turns out we've all been facing the wrong direction, the clouds away from the sunset are colouring up beautifully!

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Sustainable Tourism

Lake Natron Camp prides itself on being eco-friendly, with $15 per guest per night going to the local village (as well as an annual fee for rental of the land). It has been agreed that this money be used primarily for secondary education. They are also involved in community projects that have been requested by the villagers themselves such as building new classrooms at the school, teaching the local community about permaculture, making keyhole gardens in the local bomas and creating a vegetable patch by the school.

The camp employs local staff, with 19 Maasai woman working on a 6-week rotation to give an opportunity to other Maasai ladies who may wish to have a job here.

The structures are 100% removable, the toilets compostable with all human waste taken off the site. All kitchen waste is taken off site with all non-biodegradable waste removed to Arusha for disposal, while paper waste is incinerated. Limited charcoal for cooking comes from eco-friendly brickettes – made from recycled wood or coconut husk sources. The decking and furniture in the mess area and pool area, is made out of recycled plastic by a local company from discarded items collected from Arusha.

The glassware they use is from Shanga Shaanga. Over the years Shanga has grown to employ more than 60 people with a range of disabilities to make creative products including weaving, glass blowing, beading, paper making and metal work, using recycled materials wherever possible. We were lucky enough to visit this enterprise in 2011 and 2016.

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Dinner

Once the colourful clouds have disappeared, we move on to the mess tent for dinner.

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Tilapia fish from Lake Victoria - fish and chips Tanzania style

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Ginger pudding with custard

By the time we have finished eating, the camp fire has gone out. So much for toasting marshmallows!

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I set my camera up on a tripod with a wide angle lens to try and capture some of the amazing stars; but the bright moon and bottle of wine (as well as a couple of rum and cokes) that I have consumed this evening, renders it a complete failure.

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Instead we watch parts of Malisa's wedding video on his laptop before retiring to our tent for the night.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:53 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunset volcano tent safari tanzania camping wine moon birding spa hot lava seagull maasai flamingo thunder eco egret pelican avocet community_projects glamping magma cormorant sustainable gull bird_watching sundowners camp_fire calabash_adventures shanga plover bee_eater lake_natron ol_doynio_lengai volcanic_eruption lake_natron_camp compostable_toilet fish_pedicure freshwater_spring homenid_footprints footprints_in_lava carbonatite_lava shanga_shaanga Comments (1)

Kilimamoja Lodge - Lake Natron

Exploring new ground


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

Despite having lots of strange and unpleasant dreams, I slept very, very well last night. I get up before dawn this morning to try and capture the sunrise.

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Breakfast

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A continental selection is available as a buffet, and Lilian comes to take our order for cooked food. As soon as I see Eggs Benedict on the menu, I know what I am having.

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We slide along the same muddy track back to the main road this morning. It hasn't improved any overnight!

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We are joining the sealed road only briefly today, as far as Mto Wa Mbu, where we turn off left towards Lake Natron

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My mum used to meet me with my bike and hers after school when I was eight, but I have never before seen someone cycling with THREE bikes before!

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There are always a lot of baboons near Mto Wa Mbu. This one looks somewhat philosophical!

The Road to Lake Natron

We are now entering new territory for us, this is the first time we have come this way. The track follows the Ngorongoro Escarpment on the left, with the flat plains of the Great Rift Valley on the right.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

Roadworks

Work started on repairing this road last year, with the rocks just having been arranged in place when the rain came and washed them all away. Now they have to start all over again.

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We can certainly see why they are having problems. I find it amazing that Malisa can manage to negotiate these sort of tracks. He has brand new chunky tyres, four-wheel drive and is an excellent driver, but even so.

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The track crosses a number of rivers on the way. Why does this make me think of a UB40 song?

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As we get nearer, I realise that the river is really rather fast flowing. "Are you sure you are going to drive across that Malisa?"

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So far so good...

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At this point I am getting a little concerned that we are going to wash away down the river. The water is so murky that it is impossible to see what is at the bottom, or how deep the river is.

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At least we'll have a good video for YouTube if we do!

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We make it, safe and sound (and dry) to the other side!

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The track doesn't get much better this side – I have seen smoother dried up river beds.

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This looks like another impossible crossing – a sheer drop of around a foot.

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A few little boulder the other side of the drop does the trick. We're fine!

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White Throated Bee Eaters

Abdim's Stork

A migrant from Europe, who comes to this area for winter; this is the first time we have seen the Abdim's Stork in Tanzania.

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Uh, uh.

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It is not as bad as it first looked; there is a slightly easier route to one side. But only slightly.

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Another river to cross, although this one is nowhere near as deep.

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We pass a few villages, with straw and mud huts.

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Ngaruka

We drive through the small settlement of Ngaruka Town, which has only recently had electricity installed.

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Of course, not everyone has power.

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Gotta love the petrol station, where fuel is sold in plastic water bottles.

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This may look primitive to us, but it is also pretty eco-friendly: true basic upcycling.

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Blue Naped Mousebird

Another river to cross. We're getting good at this!

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Traffic Jam

We encounter an unexpected traffic jam.

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Affectionately known as 'Maasai Landrovers', donkeys are much sought after within the agricultural community and are generally well looked after.

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I have never before noticed that donkeys have a stripe along their backs and down their necks.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano

Meaning 'Mountain of God' in the local Maasai language, Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano that last erupted in 2008, although in 2017 scientists confirmed it was quietly rumbling, showing signs that an eruption may be imminent.

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From a scientific point of view, it is extremely fascinating: it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava. This thin, silvery lava melts at a lower temperature (around 600 °C), and more importantly, it can flow faster than a person can run. This sensational discovery was not made until as recently as in the 1960s.

More bad road surface.

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Layers of lava clearly showing.

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Augur Buzzard

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Ostrich

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Brown Snake Eagle

Giraffe

I don't think I will even get used to seeing exotic wild animals such as the giraffe, roaming free. In the national parks, yes, but here we are just driving across the country, not actually in a designated animal park. There are no physical barriers and the animals don't know where the borders are of course.

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The youngster is about a year old.

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Broken Down Bus

Up until this moment, it has felt like we are pioneering travellers in a land that time forgot. Knowing that this is a bus route ruins all that in a flash.

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I am not at all surprised that it has broken down, I am more amazed that it managed to get this far in the first place!

When we realise that there are people working underneath the vehicle, we stop and give them some of our water. They are delighted, and even more so when they find that the bottles are cold out of the fridge!

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Kori Bustard

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Booted Eagle - a dreadful photo, but it is a lifer.

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We have no idea what this boy was doing under the tree miles from anywhere, but I think he makes an interesting silhouette.

The original sheep contraception. Sometimes simple solutions work better than chemicals.

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Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

From a distance we can see tonight's accommodation, so I will finish this blog entry here. Thank you Calabash Adventures for making this trip possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife volcano bus sunrise breakfast safari eagle birding lava donkeys petrol giraffe baboons ostrich goat electricity ford gas_station kori_bustard bird_watching buzzard roadworks great_rift_valley broken_down_bus calabash_adventures eruption mto_wa_mbu snake_eagle tawny_eagle traffic_jam mousebird augur_buzzard bee_eaters sandgrouse wildlife_photography petrol_station kilimamoja_lodge muddy_tracks lake_natron river_crossing abdim's_stork ngaruka fuel_station maasai_landrovers ol_doynio_lengai mountain_of_god volcanic_eruption broken_down goat_contraception Comments (4)

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)

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