Where is that? That was the question we were always asked when telling anybody we would be exploring the Comoros for a few days.
The Comoros is an island group off the coast of Africa, just north of Madagascar, off the coast of Mozambique. The four main islands are Ngazidja (Grand Comore), Mwali (Moheli), Nzwani (Anjouan) and Mayotte. The last one is a bit of an anomaly as it chose to remain a region of France, whereas the others are a separate country with the capital, Moroni, on Grand Comore. If you don’t include Mayotte, it is the third smallest country in Africa (do you know which ones are the smallest?!).
All islands were formed by volcanic activity and on the main island one of the two volcanoes, Mt Karthala, is at the moment one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The most recent minor eruption was in 2006 and a more major one just before in 2005.
We of course planned to hike to the top of it. The original schedule would have allowed us about 4 hours of sleep in our hotel before being picked up at 4am. Kenya Airways however decided to delay our flights, resulting in a mere 1 hour sleep before getting up in the dark to drive the few minutes to the start. We were exhausted before we even started!
As dawn broke we seriously contemplated turning back as so far the track had been bush bashing up a steep and rocky slope followed by a section on what appeared to be a logging track. Jon convinced Jude to continue and assess in another hour and luckily we did. As we ascended higher and higher, the track became better and more interesting, the scenery spectacular and sunlight, as well as some food, helped alleviate a bit of our fatigue.
Six hours later we reached the top and peered down into the crater where we could see steam rising and the actual caldera in the distance. We ate our lunch and had a quick snooze before we started our slow descend. Lots of mini breaks on the way down to deal with our disco legs (wobbly and shaking because we were so tired) we reached the end of the walk just before 4pm. Back at the Jardin de la Paix (our hotel) we had a shower, an hour of sleep and then we had dinner together with Ellen and Franz. They were here to write a book on the Comoros and are travel agents for Madagascar…. Of course we swapped details in the hope they can help us cobble together an itinerary for Madagascar in a few weeks!
The next morning we woke up to hammers banging on metal pipes… we felt a little better but would have loved to sleep a little longer… As we were awake, we had breakfast and set out on foot to explore the town. First stop the Int’Air Iles offices to confirm our departure time to Moheli, another island of the Comoros. Our scheduled morning flight was postponed to 5pm, so we headed into the old centre of town with little narrow and winding streets just like in Stone Town on Zanzibar. They even have some of the old beautifully carved doors here.
On arrival at the airport we met John, the American who has been living in the Comoros for 6 years and speaks the language fluently. Luckily for us he did as he tried to help us get on the delayed flight… It was chaos. Flights had been cancelled and delayed since the day before, this seems normal here, and the plane for our flight was stolen by the president who wanted to fly to Moheli too…. Finally, after hours of waiting, we were allowed to go inside and check in. And then we had to wait some more…. 3 more flights were called, all to Anjouan (the other island) and we were told to wait… until it became clear we weren’t going anywhere that night as darkness arrives early in the tropics (and planes don’t fly here in the dark).
With a promise of an early morning flight we were told to return at 6am. We grabbed a taxi and headed back to Moroni for a meal at a little restaurant on the beach called Simsim. The food was absolutely amazing, we were glad we made the effort to get there.
Another short night followed as we were picked up at 5.15 for the return taxi to the airport. We were the first to arrive and of course there was no flight at 7 or even at 8… We started to look into options to leave the country as it was getting less and less likely a flight was going to Moheli in the morning. As we had such limited time left now on Moheli it was becoming silly to make the trip out there (we still had to return too in time for our flight out on Monday and we had lost confidence in this airline that we could do this on time…!).
And then we were told to go inside. Excitement until yet again flights for Anjouan were called, and we were left in the waiting room again… But then, finally, around 10am we were told it was our turn… we were happy, but we imagine the groom who had missed his own wedding the day before because of the flight cancellation was even happier!
The red carpet was laid out on Moheli, not for us, but for the President who was yet again laying claim on the plane so nobody else could get off the island that day… we saw him arrive a little later.
The drive to the lodge was stunning, along narrow roads with steep cliffs and through thick jungle. ‘Luckily’ our driver fell asleep behind the wheel on a section of thick jungle and not along a steep cliff, so we only had some branches hit the car before he woke up and got back onto the road again…
We were definitely happy when we arrived, all in one piece, at the Laka Lodge. John and Ginny run the place and soon we were sitting in the restaurant eating a fantastic lunch of fish with local casava leaves. Delicious.
No rest for the wicked as we jumped into the dive boat for 2 afternoon dives in the bay. They were nice, but unfortunately not a sign of the manta rays that should be here this time of year… lots of lobsters, a few moray eels, 2 relaxed turtles and of course loads of colourful and large fish as well as tiny things. We were happy.
The next morning was a sleep-in for us. We had breakfast at 8am before jumping in the car for a leisurely walk to see the Livingstone fruit bats, also called the Comoro flying fox. They can have a wingspan of 1.4m and are one of the biggest bats in the world.
After lunch we went on one more dive with John before relaxing in the late afternoon finished with a spectacular sunset from the viewpoint. Another delicious dinner followed and as we had to get up early again the next day we went to bed shortly after.
As we didn’t trust the airline to actually take off at the scheduled time of 10am (and later we learned that we were right to not trust that departure time as it had been postponed to 5pm), we had asked John to arrange a spot on the local ferries for us. For this a police permit is required, so the head of police came to the lodge for us to issue the necessary permits. The boats leave around 9am from the central north of the island (Fomboni), but before heading there, we would first drive to the most eastern tip of Moheli (Itsamia) where green turtles come ashore every day of the year to lay eggs… This usually coincides with high tide which was at 4am that day. So, we were up again at 2.45 for a 3am departure…
We didn’t have to walk far to find our first turtle. In fact we had not even reached the beach yet when we saw the first two turtles digging! A third one was just around the corner and we watched those three in various stages of the laying process. One gave up half way through digging, we think she didn’t like the many roots she encountered when digging and dragged her heavy body back to the ocean without laying eggs. The other female was almost finished with laying her eggs and the third one restarted digging in another location before laying her eggs. It was amazing to see from so close, not another soul around us. Just the guide and our driver.
We watched until the sun came up and it was time to head to the north of the island for our ferry across. The drive was beautiful again.
On the beach we had some trouble convincing the police that Jude’s passport was mostly letters and only a few numbers, but we were finally added to the bit of paper that was the passenger list. We were on the second boat out. Of course a little chaos before everything was loaded (18 adults, 5 kids and lots of luggage) onto a tiny boat. Once we were off there was a lot of reshuffling of luggage required to find the right balance before we set off.
The trip was around one hour, a tad uncomfortable, but we were happy to get back to the main island on time! A sighting of dolphins just before we arrived was a lovely bonus!
Landing back on Grand Comore we still had to drive back to Moroni, the capital. This was done in an old minivan where we managed to squeeze in 22 adults and 5 kids, plus all our luggage on top. Picking up passengers as soon as one was dropped off (one out and two in seemed to be the going rate) we slowly made our way back to Moroni. As soon as we arrived there we hopped out and grabbed a taxi, we still had another 40 minutes to drive before we were at the airport.
We arrived just in time for check-in. Kenya Airways had moved our flight forward by an hour (!) and changed it to a flight with a stopover on Madagascar instead of the direct flight to Nairobi we had originally booked. We would of course miss our connecting flight from Nairobi because of this and they had cancelled our Nairobi to Dar flight and not re-booked us onto a later flight… Jon had to call to arrange a re-booking. Instead of arriving in Dar at 21.00 we would now land around 2am in the morning! Another short night!
After more than 3 years in East Africa we have been very lucky with our flights so far. But this time every single flight was either delayed, cancelled or moved forward! Hopefully we have now had our share of bad luck with flights for a while! What was your worst flight delay or cancellation?
To book your trip to the Comoros, get in touch with the following people who come highly recommended.
Chauffeur – He is the best guide around, his English is ok. He is an excellent guide for Mount Karthala as well as any other sightseeing trips you want to do on Grand Comoros. Contact him on +269 336 5387 and be aware he might be on the mountain with patchy reception, so try again if he doesn’t pick up or if the conversation is interrupted.
For accommodation as well as all excursions on Moheli, get in touch with Jon at Laka Lodge. He can help you arrange anything you want on Moheli, including organising the permit for using the local ferry to get back to the main island (Grand Comoros). He pretty much organised everything for us and was very responsive via email. You can contact him direct via email, check out the Laka Lodge website or on the Laka Lodge facebook page.