The Comoros & Mayotte
African country no. 49…getting close….
Poverty in paradise!
The Comoros is a safe tropical island nation with beautiful beaches, a healthy coral reef and protected marine park, volcanic craters, rain forests, an active volcano and friendly people.
It has a laid back ambiance and small country charm, while also being the sixth least visited country in the World by tourists, as well as having the reputation of being the World’s dirtiest country. I’m no stranger to tons of rubbish lining the streets in just about every African nation but this place takes it to another level.
Comoros is one of the slowest developing and poorest nations on the planet with a history of twenty-four military coups and attempted coups since independence in 1975. That’s an average of someone attempting a coup in the Comoros every two years! After being here for a few days I can see why. I reckon if I’d lived here, I would have organised one as well.
The country declared independence from France in 1975 and the new President didn’t quite make it into his second month of rule before being ousted in a coup. Since then the country has been in a continuous downward spiral. Sound familiar??
Just like many more nations on the continent, driving around you see crumbling hospitals, dilapidated schools, pot holed roads, collapsed bridges and decaying colonial architecture, all built prior to 1975. The photo above is a resort slowly being dismantled by the ocean, sand and wind, with the help of a few locals.
In 2018 eighty percent of the Comoros central government’s annual budget was spent on the country’s complex electoral system and it’s politicians. YES, you read that correctly, 80% of the entire nations budget is spent on its politicans! The current president has recently changed the constitution so he can rule for another ten years, which he managed to achieve after having the opposition leader arrested. Sound familiar?
I wonder if there is a single country anywhere in Africa where an opposition leader hasn’t been arrested and spent time in goal? Usually just before an election.
The islands initial wealth came from the spice and slave trade as they are ideally situated close to Dar es Salaam, Madagascar and Zanzibar.
The main island is called Grand Comore and due to a lack of inter-Island flights I had to spend six days on the island before jumping across to Mohéli.
My three weeks on the islands were far from relaxing, although the days I lost to rain were mostly spent in my motel rooms. The four inter island flights each pretty much took up an entire day and my choice of accommodation on the remote far side of two islands also cost me three days of travel just negotiating terrible roads and waiting for taxis but spending time in remote coastal villages was certainly worth the hassle.
My guide on Grand Comore was yet another local who years ago managed to get to South Africa where he learnt English and made enough money to return to The Comoros and start a travel business. This is a common theme I’ve encountered in many African countries across the tourism industry from local guides to wealthy hotel owners.
I travelled across an uninspiring centre of the island along roads lined with rubbish and endless rusting car bodies. The rainforest had been cleared with slash and burn decades previously and was now useless scrubland.
Hitting the North Coast you immediately see the country’s tourism potential.
Following the coastline a few old lava flows intersected the coast at ninety degrees.
It wasn’t long before I reached my first beach and although in the middle of a town it was relatively free of rubbish, with soft white sand and azure blue water.
Travelling along the coast we passed one beautiful beach after the next, all deserted.
The Comoros is the World’s largest producer of Ylang-ylang oil, which is extracted from the flower and used to make perfumes such as Channel No. 5.
The second island I visited was Mohéli, the smallest of the group and also the least populated. The much shorter road to my hotel, which was on the far side of the island had been washed away, so I had to do nearly a complete 2hr circumnavigation of the island just to get to my hotel. With plans over the next few days of hiking in the mountains and snorkeling I went to bed early only to be woken at 2am by torrential rain.
Unfortunately by 6am in hadn’t eased off and at 4pm the next afternoon it finally slowed. Day one…. Washout!
Day two dawned fine and sunny and I walked into the mountains behind my accommodation. One of the things I wanted to see was Livingston’s Fruit Bat, which is just about the World’s biggest bat with a wingspan of nearly 5ft!
Seychelles Fruit Bat is common along the coast and even seen flying out over the ocean in front of Laka Lodge but the huge Livingstone’s is now restricted to the highest ridge lines of the island`s central mountains and involves a 4-5hr hike up slippery rainforest trails just to get a short glimpse of one and when you do, they’re certainly impressive. The future for this species looks bleak.
In the photo above, I climbed to the horizontal ridge on the right just below the clouds and saw three LFB’s flying along the ridge.
After two days of walking I spent the rest of the time at the beach doing some snorkeling. The star attraction in these parts is Coelocanth but despite trying I wasn’t able to get down deep enough.
After Mohéli I boarded the Inter Isle Air flight to Anjouan. The plane was a little smaller than I expected but we quickly island hopped to the capital city, Matsamudu where I spent a night. Once again the entire coastline near the capital was one long rubbish dump.
The next morning my taxi driver arrived 30min late, then spent an hour shopping, then drove like a maniac for two hours on atrocious roads only to run out of petrol 3km from our destination and then he had to hitch a ride into Moya to buy fuel while I waited. I might be on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean but its still Africa!!
I booked into the beach front Le Sultan Hotel in Moya where I had spectacular coastal views and the local specialty for lunch, Vanilla Sauce Lobster.
I sat on the veranda with rainforest clad mountains behind me and watched the sun set over the ocean.
From Anjouan my next flight took me back to France, which was only a 30min flight to the French island of Mayotte.
I only spent a couple of days on Mayotte and it rained most of time, so i didn’t get to see the island’s beautiful and World’s second largest lagoon but I did manage to sit out the rain in a couple of nice cafes and enjoy some French food.
The French President E. Macron arrived from la metropole just before me, which also kept me entertained as his entourage travelled around and people sported the tri-colour on their cars and houses.
From the colony I transited quickly back to Moroni where I spent my last full day in The Comoros hiking up Mount Karthala.
Mt Karthala has the largest caldera of any of the World’s active volcanoes and dominates the Grand Comore skyline, although most days it’s summit is obscured by cloud. It also has several endemic birds, which kept me occupied on the hike.
The two mobile phone pictures below are Grand Comore Brush Warbler and Lesser Vasa Parrot.
Above rear: The lower slopes of Mount Karthala.
From Moroni I’m flying to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from where I’ll make my way to country number 50, Burundi.
Bye for now….