I was convinced that I’d be on this sticking hole of a boat until tomorrow morning. Imagine my relief when I went onto the bridge this afternoon to charge up my laptop only to see a whopping great island through the window. Thank the maker.
I readied myself to disembark. I would like to report that it was all very organised and efficient but ARE YOU ON CRACK?? THIS IS AFRICA FOOL!! No, the entry procedure was the usual elbow-the-women-out-of-the-way mad scramble to get the passports back (luckily Lee The Crazy Chinaman and I were kept apart from the braying mob as our passports were kept in a different plastic bag).
Eventually, we were herded through the ‘customs’ (a line of officials set out across the road like riot police) and into immigration. So much for my visa being included in the price of the ticket. It cost me $100 just to come in. Another poverty-stricken country scratching its head and wondering why everyone goes to Mauritius and the Seychelles instead. CAN I MAKE A SUGGESTION??! But the guy in the office was ultra helpful. The best news I could have hoped for – there would be not one, but TWO boats leaving for Madagascar on SATURDAY MORNING. Happy Days.
Hopefully they wouldn’t be as much of a grot-fest as the old Shassiwani II. I thanked the port official and I headed off. By now, the sun was setting over that nightmare of a continent Africa, although Comoros did not make me feel like I had left. Because everything is in Euros or local money and the ATMs don’t work, I had zero cash, despite the $500 of emergency cash in my pocket. I found myself walking, walking, walking. Sweating and panting, I found an internet café, and was speaking to the helpful guy inside about the possibility of a Wi-Fi connection when would you Adam-and-Eve it, who turns up but the VOGONS!!!
It was the usual hustle – show us your passport. As if they have a PLAGUE of Europeans coming over to their country (that nine out of ten Europeans have never heard of) and stealing kittens to use in their crazy European sex-fetish, black magic, voodoo parties. I refused, as always, because, as always, they were two plain-clothed policemen with just a laminated bit of printed card (no photo, as always) that I could knock out in five minutes on MS Paint.
I gave them a photocopy of my passport, my letter from the British Embassy in Kinshasa that said I was a good egg (in French, no less) and my European Driver’s License. But that wasn’t enough for these Vogon b**tards, for they wanted nothing more (as all Vogons want nothing more) than to lock me up for the night (or six) for being the pesky wrong colour of skin.
Like I was reliving the same nightmare again and again, they tried to bundle me into a random car (it’s NEVER a police car), I again refused and headed back into the internet cafe. Can I point out at this juncture that I had no evidence these guys were anything more than a couple of drunks with a possible fake ID and after being kidnapped in Bolivia a few years ago by a couple of fake coppers, I’m understandably cagey about getting in random cars at night with these Vogons.
Soon enough, the ‘chief’ turned up and inspected my passport (he had the same crappy ID, but if this was a set-up, it was getting so elaborate so I figured it might be in my interests to go along with it anyway, plus he had a moustache – always a sign that he’s in charge of something or other – collecting the stray trolleys in the Tesco Car-Park perhaps?). He was satisfied. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and got back to my Internet connecting.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Along with my mobile phone and my ATM card, my laptop didn’t stand a chance of working in Comoros. Happily, the guy running the Internet cafe gave me ten minutes free online. Just enough time (I love the way the speed of the Internet is directly and negatively proportional to the hurry you are in – how does it know?) to update Twitter to let you all know that I was still alive and to see that there were no CouchSurf contacts here in Comoros (meanies).
I checked into the cheapest hotel in the Lonely Planet, gave him my passport and fifty dollars as deposit. He gave me a room key and €20. I went out and bought pizza.
Can’t help but feel that I wasted today. I did waste today. Today was wasted. I got up when I could be bothered, which for the first time in a long time, was after 9. I then attempted to get some money. Ooooh. Forget it – for the first time since Liberia, I found myself in a country in which there are no ATMs that you can use a foreign cash-card in. What I could have really done with is some Euros – the price of the Comoros Thingymabob is pegged to the Euro, so I couldn’t lose. However, I only had rotten US dollars, which were about as wanted as a dead frog down the back of the radiator.
Oh well, I figured I could aim for just enough money to slip out of the country tomorrow, changed my dollars in the bank and headed down to the port.
The helpful port official (the first one in a long time, I can tell you) from yesterday was on his way to midday prayers on the back of a scooter. He shouted me across the road, told me he’d be back in half an hour and to hang on for him, which I did. When he got back, he told me that the shipping agents were closed, but no bother, I could get a ticket in the morning if I got here for 8am.
He also told me they would ask me for €155, since I was a Jonny Foreigner, but as there were two boats going tomorrow morning, I’d be able to haggle down to €80. Good stuff. I thanked him and headed back to the hotel, stopping off on the way to say hello to Lee The Crazy Chinaman, who was sitting having a Fanta. He was planning to hike up to the volcano in the morning. If I was around for the weekend, I’d join him, but there’s no way I’m missing these boats tomorrow. The next may not be for a fortnight.
Got back to the hotel, marvelled at how disgracefully grotty it was – the handles fell off the doors, the room was filthy, there was no running water. For €15 a night – more than double what I’d pay at a decent backpackers – it was somewhat of a rip-off, no-star bed and (no) breakfasts-have you by the short and curlies place, such as those.
Moroni was not particularly pleasant, though neither was it particularly unpleasant. It reminded me a lot of Cape Verde, only without the prison and the getting stuck for six weeks. There was far too much litter on the ground and the drains didn’t seem to drain anywhere, just stuck around like pimple-faced teenagers on a street corner stinking up the place with their foul odours.
The sunset over the harbour was admittedly pretty enough, but not nice enough to justify the gushing review that it was one of the most beautiful sights in Africa. I hit the sack early, using the kid-before-Christmas theory that the more I sleep. the quicker I’ll see my girlfriend again. God I miss her.
There is a big sign on the downward curve of the road (as you head towards the Friday Mosque) which lays claim to “Mayotte: the fourth of the Comoros Islands”. Unfortunately for the other three (Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan), Mayotte has other ideas, voting overwhelmingly (99%!) to stay a part of France. This is not too much of a shock – given the almost comical number of coup d’etats that have been held in Comoros (“Cloud Coup Coup Land”), why wouldn’t you want to be part of a stable, wealthy economy? Seriously, at one point, I think they were clocking up at least four coups a year.
But like the Falkland Islands, Guyana, Belize, Gibraltar and Kashmir, it doesn’t matter what the (overwhelming) majority of the population of a disputed territory want, what really matters is what the governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Guatamala, Spain, India, Pakistan and Comoros want. And they want their land back! And they intend to get ‘their’ land back by putting signs up around the place and sabre-rattling at the UN. I won’t for an instant suggest that if it was my country and I was an incompetent buffoon of a politician (which, let’s face it, most are), I’d just use something like this as an excuse to distract attention away from how badly I was running the country. Oh no, not me.
And to think, the Native Americans who sold Manhattan for a few beads thought that they had tricked the stupid white men – you can’t own land!
Oh, hang on…
One of those mornings where I really, really can’t be bothered getting out of bed, but I haul myself out regardless – after today, there isn’t another boat to Madagascar for a week or so, so I don’t have much of a choice. A cold shower in the morning is a pain as always, doubly so when there’s no running water and you have to give yourself a ‘bucket shower’ from a large water container that might as well put up a neon sign saying ‘Mosquito Motel – Vacancies’. The Malaria rate for Comoros is sky-high, which is weird because you’d expect an island to be able to do away with Malaria quick smart, all you need is some DDT. Oh hang on, the West banned DDT in the sixties didn’t we…? After (thoughtfully enough) eradicating Malaria in all our smartie-pants countries.
A bit like not finishing the course of antibiotics. Ho hum.
I headed down the port, kinda half-believing that the boat would be leaving today, but bracing myself for disappointment if it didn’t. I managed to snag a ticket for €90 and soon I was on the boat, The Mojangaya. It couldn’t have been more different from the damn Shassiwani II. First up, it was clean. Secondly, there were only ten passengers (not over one hundred) and we all had comfortable padded bench seats to keep on, like upper class tramps.
But would it actually – you know – leave? I looked over the quayside to the Shassiwani II – it was still unloading(!) Along with the passenger equivalent of a cruise ship, they had packed the cargo equivalent of a super-container into a tiny cargo vessel. Look out for that name – the Shassiwani II – I (slightly morbidly) bet you it sinks with horrific loss of life sometime in the next five years. No wonder the authorities in Dar were so reluctant to let it go. Given the small compliment of passengers and the lack of any discernible cargo, I was well expecting to be waiting all day (or all week, or all month) for such and such to turn up. But no! We were in luck, the Mojangaya and its sister ship, the Liege were raring to go! Two ships! Not only did I feel elated that we were pretty much leaving on time, I also felt for the first time since I lost my Sat Phone, you know, safe.
I waved a fond farewell to Comoros. I doubt I’ll be back unless circumstances dictate, but it wasn’t a bad place. I bet Mayotte is infinitely nicer though – there are certain advantages to not being independent. I know if I end up bankrupt at the end of all this nonsense, I’ll be a thirty-one year old kipping at my mum’s, and it doesn’t bother me a jot; we are all working for The Man: it doesn’t matter what colour hat he wears.
10:52am: we pull out of Moroni harbour. This boat is GREAT. No sleeping on the floor, no crap everywhere, no livestock, hurrah and hurry for The Mojangaya!!
Next stop: MADAGASCAR!!
So how did I come to be such a champion adventurer, eh? Not really the likely sort I guess – spent most of my teenage years picking my nose playing video games and dreaming of the day a girl might, you know, talk to me. Being born ginger meant a couple of things. First up, I was born without a soul, as are all ginger children. The only downside of which (so far) is that I have nothing to sell to Satan. Which is a shame as I’d really like to know how to play the guitar. Being a ginge also meant that I wasn’t allowed to play football, sing in tune, ballroom dance or frequent the gym.
I turned then, as all gingers must, to a distraction, something to keep me occupied whilst my peers were busy doing other stuff like drinking White Lightening and sniffing glue. Luckily (for me), the distractions that were chosen for me (it could not have been any other way) were Movies and Music. Specifically, rowdy, sexy, hot n’ sweaty ROCK N’ ROLL, at its best. Now I say this because there were other avenues for a young ginger boy to explore. I could have turned to that great hollow musical brocade that is religion, hoping one day baby Jesus might give me a soul for my birthday. I could have turned completely inward and romanced my love of the world of Tolkien all the way into full-on Dungeons & Dragons Comic Book Guy geekdom. I could have got into computer programming and spent hours and hours entranced in source codes, 1s and 0s.
No, not for me – my love was movies and my vice was music and I set out to live them to the max. I say this was not my choice rather that it was chosen for me. I say this with good reason.
Movies – if I had been born ten years prior, there would be NO WAY for me to ‘get into’ the film industry (I’m not that I’m saying we have a film industry in the UK). It just wouldn’t happen. I’m not the type to be happy wasting away my formative years ‘running'; and to set up a do-it-yourself operation (as I did in Liverpool) back then, it would have been so cost-prohibitive that it would have been ludicrous. Of course, it is just a co-incidence that as I turned eighteen, the Internet exploded onto the scene, hand-in-hand with DVDs. As I turned twenty, digital non-linear editing became available to all at 1% of the cost of a digital editing suite in the 80s. How could I say no?
This is all co-incidence, but as I say, if I was born ten years earlier, there’s no way I’d be here now. As is the fact that I was about sixteen when Blur, Oasis, Suede, Pulp, Radiohead, The Manics, Supergrass, Elastica, and the Second Coming of The Stone Roses burst onto the music scene. We were all still listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Pixies, REM, Offspring, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden at the time… bloody hell, what a feast for the ears!
And there was something in the lyrics that connected all these bands, something saying DON’T GET A JOB IN AN OFFICE. DON’T GET A MORTGAGE. DON’T CONFORM. All very rebellious and what we expect from rock n’ roll. So forget a job that slowly kills you, bank holidays that come eight times a year, being stuck in a pebbledash grave whilst spivs make the most of their acrylic afternoons with your wife. Some design for life that is – a race, a race for us, a race for us to die, etc. etc.
Thanks to Damon, Jarvis, Liam and Noel, Thom and Brett; a world of no alarms and no surprises was not a world was not one I intended in partaking in. I guess that’s the power of music, good music – it can change your life. It changed mine.
That’s all well and good and it explains how I got here, a rebellious filmmaker, 122 countries into a world challenge encompassing every single godforsaken corner of the globe. But what it doesn’t explain is how I’ve got this far without cracking up or giving up. That stamina, the fortitude, that damn-it-all Shackleton-like endurance… well I guess it’s in the genes, but then again, my training in such matters all stem from music. More specifically, it stems from Music Festivals.
Where else do you have to go for five days without going for a movement? Where else do you have to suffer unsanitary conditions, bogs that smell like something out of the 9th level of Hades, food that is just about palatable if you smother it in enough tomato sauce? Where else do you go to bed at crazy hours, wake up at crazier hours, stand for hours or queue for hours with a backpack in the stinking heat or the thunderous rain? Where else do you find yourself sleeping in the most preposterous positions (with the most preposterous of bedfellows)? Where else is it necessary to keep your wits about you even though your brain has just jumped on a one-way flight to Pluto? Where else can you spend an afternoon so squished in with a bunch of strangers that it almost feels impertinent not to ask their Christian names?
You want to learn how to wee standing up on a boat in choppy water without falling over? Try the moshpit at a Green Day gig. Or the dancefloor of the Krazy House when Killing In The Name Of comes on. You want to be able to make yourself comfortable sleeping on the concrete floor with ten other cellmates? Try kipping in the middle of a death metal gig at a Scandinavian rock festival. You want to find your way back to your hotel at night? Try finding your blue tent amidst the tens of thousands of blue tent that pepper the hillside… and while you at it, try doing it blind drunk.
Yep, as I’m sure my great festival buddies Dan n’ Stan would no doubt attest, if you’re too much of a wuss to join the army, Music Festivals are the closest you’re ever going to get to war… wet feet and trench foot included. Perfect training for Africa. Wax on, wax off Danielson.
Oh Graham, you tease, what’s the meaning of this, compressing an entire MONTH of gallivanting into just one blog entry? Well, truth be told if there was something of any note to tell, I would give you the Full Monty and no mistake. But as is the way of things in The Odyssey, stuff has a disgraceful habit of not going according to plan. It took me just 10 days to get from Dar es Salaam to Mauritius. It took me SEVEN WEEKS to get back.
I ran down to the port in Mahajanga bright and early on the morning of the 14th November eager to jump on the boat that was apparently leaving for Comoros. Ah yes… the boat. Try again tomorrow.
So I checked back into Chez Karon and waited.
The excuses were plentiful (although the one about the cyclone seems true if a little far away), but in the end I didn’t leave until the following Saturday. I’ll spare you the details, but when you think there is a chance that the boat might leave ‘tomorrow’ you end up doing nothing waiting for the damn thing, lest you’re out of town when the boat finally leaves..
Yeah, waiting for boats REALLY sucks. What else do you want to know? Although if you do find yourself stuck in Mahajanga for a few days, I seriously recommend Chez Karon. They can even organise wild-boar hunts for you, sadly for me the boar-hunting season finished at the end of October…! I’ll have to live out my Lord of the Flies fantasies some other time.
So one week to the day after I arrived in Mahajanga we set sail on the Liege (the sister ship of the good Mojangaya that brought me to Madagascar last month) and within a couple of days I had arrived back in Comoros.
Incidentally, (when it finally left) the little Liege was a treat (especially compared to that utter disgrace The Shissiwani) I had a desk with a powersocket so I could work, I got my own bed (fancy that!) and the sea was calmer than Whispering Bob Harris in a coma.
Once in Moroni, the capital of the three Comoros islands, the good Commissioner Madhi looked downcast when I told him of my plan. There are no boats, he said, not for at least a week. My heart sank. And there was worse news – the only boat going would be that DAMN Shissiwani. Things where not good.
To compliment its utter failure as a state, Comoros not only has no running water (or pubs, ATMs, bins, streetlights, backpackers, camp sites, scuba diving, container ports and international roaming networks) – it also has no CouchSurfers. Well, there is one, a guy called Hugh, but he’s on another of the three islands.
It’s hilarious that the UN even pays lip-service to Comoros’s demands that the French Island of Mayotte be ‘returned’ to them! Could you imagine?! Yeah, well, even though 99% of you want to stay with France (good call guys!), I guess we’ll just have to hand you over to the Chuckle Brothers to run the show – hell, why would you want to be a first-world country when you could be a forth-world country instead?! Those Mayottians must have taken their extra-crazy pills before THAT referendum.
Oo la la! Shall we keep this welfare state, health care provision and free schooling or shall we throw it all out the window (like a Comorian’s Trash) and work our nuts off – not for ourselves but for our disgracefully corrupt politicians to stuff their mattresses with ill-gotten Euros – in the spirit of independence?
Comoros is the first country I’ve been to that doesn’t even take Visa. What a joke. Even Sierra Leone takes Visa… as does Iraq, Afghanistan and even parts of Somalia. Ygads!
The first thing that you’ll notice on your arrival in Moroni (the capital) is the STENCH. There is litter EVERYWHERE. It looks like the end of a music festival, only nobody is busy clearing it up. At one point I saw some people in the back of a low loader and thought for one (idiotic) second that they were cleaning up the trash. Ha, no. They were just shovelling loose garbage off the truck and dumping it onto the side of the road. NICE! Just like London. In the middle ages.
The second thing you’ll notice is the price of everything. Seriously, it’s more expensive than Tokyo. Imagine a dirty, cobweb-filled room with a hard floor and a bed that’s second hand from the local jail (whose sheets never get cleaned unless you ask). The electrical sockets hang dangerously out of the wall as if on comedy go-go-gadget springs and the door handles fall off with gay abandon. Your ‘shower’ (not en suite, don’t be silly) is nothing more than a bucket of cold mosquito-infested water which you must scoop up in a plastic jug and pour over yourself. Of course you can forget about telly, air-con, mini-bar or room service; and breakfast – of course – is not included. The floor is so filthy that when you walk from the bucketroom to your bedroom your feet will end up so dirty you might as well have clambered Gollum-like over a coal pile. The only thing that’s complimentary are the ants. And spiders. And mosquitoes.
The price for such princely lodgings? Three Euro? Five would perhaps be a little much. Ten would be outright extortion. Fifteen would be taking the piss.
It was SIXTEEN Euro. A night. Mand and I have stayed in delightful B&Bs in Wales with a full English brekkie in the morning for less. To make matters even more frustrating, the guy who ran the place was a dick, charging me €5 for washing my t-shirts and laughing as I handed him the money for the first ten days of my incarceration.
Pension Faida is the first place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, but if you ever end up in Comoros (unlucky you!) please opt for the much more delightful (and shower-ific) La Grillade on the ocean road or, even better, The Jardin De La Paix nearby (I would nominate Jardin De La Paix as the best place in the whole damn island, for food and lodgings – it’s head and shoulders above the rest). But unfortunately, as well as being the nastiest, Pension Faida is the cheapest place in town.
On top of that, the beer is so expensive you can only drink half a pint a day before you blow your budget, the food is an utter rip, SIM cards are a whopping €15 (everywhere else in Africa they’re €1) and because there are no ATMs, every time you want money it’ll cost you €15 – and it’s not like you can change Comorian Francs into anything useful once you’ve left the country.
The third thing you’ll notice is that the people are rather pleasant. Yes, the service is diabolical (although still not as bad as Cape Verde – phew-eeee!) and if you get your camera out, you’ll meet a lot of angry women (and police – I did), but that aside, there are a lot of good people in Comoros. I never felt conscious about my stuff and was happy to leave my laptop out in the cafe while I went for a burst – it was that kinda place.
I didn’t entirely waste my three weeks on the island from hell. I attempted to climb the volcano – by all accounts the biggest active volcano in the world – but gave up LIKE A BIG FAT WUSS an hour from the summit. After doing bugger-all for the preceding few weeks, clambering up a mighty big volcano at four in the morning had it’s charms, but within an hour I had pulled a muscle in my leg and BLAH BLAH BLAH face it Graham, you wussed out, you wuss. SILENCE INNER DEMON. Ha! You wussed out ‘cos you’re ginger and you’re a quitter.
I AM NOT A QUITTER.
Then why’d yer quit?
MY LEG HURT!! I WALKED FOR FIVE HOURS UPHILL WITH A SORE LEG!!
Anybody else wanna quit?
I ALSO WALKED BACK DOWN FOR FIVE HOURS WITH A BLOODY SORE LEG (AND POSSIBLE SUNSTROKE) YOU BASTARD!
Saddle up people. We’ve got quitters to bury.
OH GET LOST!
After my ordeal on the volcano (I, unlike Sam and Frodo, was not rescued by giant eagles) I spent the proceeding four days picking strips off my sunburnt face, which is strangely satisfying. Like popping bubble wrap. Or bludgeoning Bono to death with his own legs.
After ten days in the BLOODY AWFUL Pension Faida, I took my new-found English buddy Gemma’s advice and checked out the Itsandra Hotel, 4km north of Moroni. The Itsandra Hotel is the best hotel on the island (although that’s a barbed compliment). I found myself a spot at the bar to indulge in my nefarious internet deeds. Ahh, nice views, lovely staff, private beach and free Wi-Fi. Bliss. Two drawbacks – the internet was slower than Steven Hawkins climbing a treacle staircase and the beer was €3 for a half. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS PLACE??
Finding myself homeless, I was taken in my a friendly local called Yaya, who was learning English. He was a top dude and even let me take his bed while he slept on the floor. But like all Comorians, (except the ones in power, of course) he was dirt poor – the government has not paid his wages for eight months. YOU HEAR THAT MAYOTTE? YOU SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING YOU CHEESE EATING SURRENDER MONKEYS?!! Now stop behaving like a spoilt brat and come join the povvo fun.
Yaya’s home was in desperate need of some TLC, but you know these guys are great – they just get on with it. I don’t think I could hack it. But then, what’s the alternative? Oh yeah, right – there is none.
The next day, Fanja, one of the guys who worked at the Itsandra Hotel, took me under his wing and I learnt an important lesson in life: YOU’RE NOT DEAD UNTIL JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME KICKS YOU IN THE FACE.
He can shoot you as many times as he likes, you’ll be okay, you’ll still be standing. He can set you on fire, chop your head off, pull your guts out and through them on the floor, but you ain’t going down until he does his roundhouse kick to your FACE! THEN YOU’RE GOING DOWN BITCH!! You hear me? YOU. ARE. GOING. DOWN.
I ended up staying with Fanja for the best part of a week in his one room shack in the ramshackle village/slum next to the Itsandra Hotel. It was a blast and we watched far too many crap action movies and reggae music videos for two guys who weren’t even stoned.
You see, by now I had spent all of the Euros I had taken out when I was in Reunion (canny!) and I was loath to have to go and give Western Union €15 towards an ill-deserved Christmas present just for the pleasure of removing my own money from my own bank account.
Speaking of the festive season… you know how Darth Vader knows what Luke is getting for Christmas?
That’s right! He FELT his presents.
Cracks me up every time.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was getting around to telling you about Alice, Daniel, Keith and Steph who would keep me entertained for the final week of my incarceration.
These crazies (first two were from North Carolina, Keith was from Florida and Steph was from our very own Cambridge) were all on their way to Mayotte to meet up with the boat they are due to crew on – a replica of a 2,600 year old Phoenician ship that has been built by a crazy British guy (who else?) in order to re-create the first circumnavigation of Africa.
So it’s all wood and oars and one mighty big nine-month sail. Check out their website – www.phoenicia.org.uk (and you thought ‘odyssey’ was hard to spell). Madness. Sheer madness. I love it.
Although I don’t actually know who the Phoenicians were (and neither does my spell checker) but I thought it impertinent to ask.
Alice, Daniel, Keith and I went out on a tour of the island one day, the highlight of which was the discovery that, yes, COMOROS HAS LEMURS TOO!! Woo! I meet one called Rambo. Lovely chap, invited me up his tree for a nice hot brew. The lowlight of the day was our guide, Joseph, who was so hilariously miserable he could have given Victor Meldrew a run for his money.
For the last few days I was there, Alice and Daniel (and once they left, Stephanie) allowed me to sleep on the floor in their hotel room like the dog I am.
My days on Grand Comores generally revolved around getting up bright and early, finding out how long my boat had been delayed (or that it simply wasn’t coming) and then heading up to the Itsandra Hotel to abuse that free internet connection. On the plus side, I managed to get fourteen spanking new Odyssey videos edited (much easier when you’re not sitting on a fifty year old bus with no suspension hurtling along a dirt track).
The US Navy dudes that we befriended at the Itsandra Hotel (this is a new initiative – the US are now sending troops to undeveloping nations to help small community projects, kinda like the Peace Corps, only these guys don’t play chess) treated me to dinner and even let me use their hot showers (after three weeks of cold bucket showers IT WAS BLISS).
Now I’ve made a lot of friends in Comoros, so I don’t want to slag it off too much, but when with eager eyes and undoubtable sincerity they as me if I’ll be coming back to Comoros one day with my girlfriend, I had to let them down gently. There is very little that would bring me back here – but the one thing that would certainly keep me away is the godDAMN police. As always in Africa, they are just out for one thing – to brainlessly destroy any tourism industry that might otherwise emerge. On the night I arrived (on my first visit) I was hassled by a bunch of bastard plain-clothers for my passport and, as I found out later from Gemma, had I (sensibly) left my passport in my hotel, they would have fallen over themselves to lock me up for the night. It’s a CRIME!
And I’m supposed to bring my girlfriend to such a place?!! So she too can enjoy the pleasures of an African jail? Two of Gemma’s British friends had been locked up overnight for this reason. WHAT THE ****? Are there swarms of European migrants swimming over to Comoros to abuse the non-existent welfare state? Is there a small legion of white suicide bombers planning to cause death and mayhem in Cloud Coup-Coup Land? Is it more important that everyone who comes for a visit is made to feel like a criminal than to be made to feel welcome?
It would seem so.. It kills me to say all this because, as always in Africa, it’s not the people’s fault that visiting their country for a ‘holiday’ is about as attractive a proposition as having your brains sucked out through your nose – it’s the fault of the bas***d politicians and the bas***d police who conspire to keep everyone poor and everything wretched. God I HATE them.
One day I was arrested for the crime of – get this – having a camera. Because I didn’t have a photo permit (possibly because they don’t frickin’ well EXIST) a horrible little toad-faced gendarme was trying to take me down to the airport and stick me on the next plane out of his country.. Luckily, the nice port police chaps that I had befriended calmed this nasty piece of work down. But seriously man, WTF??
I’m sorry to say this, but I won’t be back. Strike Comoros down as another nation-that-exists-but-possibly-shouldn’t along with Cape Verde and Sao Tome. Too small, too impoverished, too silly, too . The dream that began with being ‘independent’ has turned into a nightmare of poverty, isolation and a failed state held to the crappy whims of petty-minded politicians who are just out to line their own pockets.
At the end of the day, Comoros has had TWENTY-FIVE Coup d’Etats since 1975. It has no less than FOUR presidents at any one time(!) and as basketcases go, it has to be the basketcase to beat all basketcases. The port isn’t even big enough to take container ships – HOW ELSE ARE YOU SUPPOSE TO SUPPLY AN ISLAND WITH STUFF?? I hope I leave you in no state of confusion as to why 99% of the population of the ‘fourth’ island of Mayotte voted to stay with France.
In fact, rather than the UN putting pressure on France to give Mayotte ‘back’ to Comoros, I think they should be putting pressure on Comoros to return the three islands (Grand Comores, Anjouan and the other one) back to France. I’m serious. Just so you don’t think I’m some half-crazed Imperialist pigdog, can I just point out that Moroni, the capital city of Comoros, has gone without running water now for over a year. OVER A YEAR. If you think that the deranged bandits in charge deserve to get away with that kind of thing and that the people of Comoros deserve to suffer in the name of some false sense of independence, then by all means shoot me down on this one; but given the choice, if it was my country, I would want the schools, hospitals, social security, rule of law, freedom of the press, roads, railways, infrastructure, port facilities, electricity and, oh yeah, the FLOWING WATER SUPPLY that my evil French overlords would provide.
A final point: Malaria has been all but wiped out on Mayotte. On the three ‘independent’ islands it is rampant (moreso since the water was shut off – lots of lovely filthy buckets of water lying around to breed your mosquitoes in). People are dying because their government is about as much use as tits on a crocodile.
What have the Romans ever done for us indeed. Ah, Comoros, I love you to bits but my word your government needs a slap.
Country Count: 124
Yesterday I and 43 other passengers boarded the ‘Simacom’ bound for Dar es Saleem, three weeks to the day since I arrived in Comoros.
It was supposed to have left two weeks ago, then last Saturday, then yesterday. It’s now Tuesday we’re still in port. Time is not money. Time is not money. I’m here with a lovely French couple, Thomas and Sevine, who arrived in Comoros on Sunday. They live in Reunion and they’re trying to get back to France without flying. They spent the last three weeks waiting to leave Mahajanga on a boat – nice to know I’m not the only one!
But, given the choice, I would have preferred to be stuck in Madagascar for three weeks than here. But watchagonnado? The delay today is being caused by some passengers having outstayed their 45 day visa for Comoros (possibly because they’ve been waiting that long for a frickin’ boat…) but we should be out of here today, at some point.
Later that day…
We eventually left port at about noon and I waved my fond farewells to Comoros. I made a lot of good friends there and I’m sorry to see them gone. But Comoros itself… meh. So we’re now on the MV Simacom heading northwest to Dar es Salaam where I left a whopping two months ago. I’m trying not to think about it – I may burst into tears…!
The sea is quite rough today and Thomas and Sevine aren’t liking the mal del mer. I’m just about holding my own. Maybe, heaven forfend, I might be getting used to it. Although grotty as hell and full of scrap metal junk that we had to clamber over to get on board, the Simacom is head, shoulders, knees and toes above the damn Shissiwani (I’m SO glad I did not have to take that nightmare back). We all got wooden benches to sit (and sleep) on and there’s even a telly! They’re currently treating us to a Bond Marathon working backwards from Casino Royale. We’re currently up to Goldeneye. God it makes me want to play the game on Nick’s N64. That stuff was like crack.
Incidentally, I know this has nothing to do with anything but HEY YOU Holocaust/Evolution/Climate Change/Moon Landings/AIDS deniers… Yeah, you… You know what? YEEEEEER RIGHT and EVERYBODY CLEVERER THAN YOU IS WRONG.
The Next Day…
By the time I woke up this morning we were up to Octopussy. Ahh… Udaipur. Although I have to point out that one of the baddies has a killer yo-yo. A killer yo-yo? WTF??
The sea today was smooth as silk and with the wind behind us we made good time – we should hit Dar early tomorrow morning. I wasted today watching Mission Impossible III (meh), Angels and Demons (meh) and Wolverine (meh) on my laptop while stuffing my face full of Thomas and Sevine’s lychees while they sat and read. The only annoyance was this snaggletoothed Indian chap who insisted on tapping me on the shoulder every now and again and speaking in a whisper, forcing me pop my headphones out of my ears and to crane closer at which point he would unleash the full force of his killer halitosis. Urgh.
I can’t WAIT to be back in Africa.
Wow. Rwanda. Like, really, wow. I know what I like and I like what I see.
I dragged my reluctant carcass out of bed at some ungodly hour and headed over to the bus station with a local guy called Charles who was also taking the bus somewhere. It was too early for me to focus on anything, but before I knew it I was sitting on the front seat of a minibus heading towards the Rwandan border.
I arrived at 9.30am, glad to discover that the ‘six-hour’ border process took less than ten minutes. And, what’s more NO VISA REQUIRED!! So Rwanda started well and it just got better from there on in. One of the things that was annoying me about Tanzania was that my Vodafone mobile internet thingy wasn’t working, and it took about half an hour just to send a text from it (updating my twitter was a nightmare), but in Rwanda it worked as soon as I crossed the border.
And the scenery… my word. If you like hills (I do) and trees (I do) and you like hills and trees together (I especially do, see my comments on Colombia and Madagascar) then you would LOVE Rwanda. It just looks seven shades of gorgeous from to bottom. And… you’re not going to believe this, but there is no litter. Like seriously, no litter AT ALL. It’s incredible. After slogging it through 40 countries worth of filth and garbage for the last seven months and especially after just coming from the-city-tip-is-the-city Comoros, saying Rwanda is a breath of fresh air is somewhat of an understatement.
They even close the roads for half an hour on the last Saturday of every month so people can clear up any rubbish from the sides of the road. AWESOME!!
Finally, a country where people look after their country.
And then there are the towns. They are splendid, with well built brick buildings (which are – shockhorror – FINISHED and PAINTED), manicured lawns, flowers, trees and playing fields. Christ I could be in the friggin’ Cotswolds. The roads are all sealed, signposted and painted… what the hell is going on here?
And, as if the icing on the cake, the minibuses are brand new (incredible!). Makes a change from being trucked around in vans that were old when the Darma Initiative came to the island.
Finally, and there’s something else Rwanda has that will have me returning one day when I have more time… Gorillas. Oh yeah baby, SHOW ME THE PRIMATES!! No time on this trip I’m afraid, but I’ll be back. Oh yes, I’ll be back.
So yes, Rwanda got me grooving from the word go. I got to the capital, Kigali, at about 2:30pm which was a bit of a worry as I knew the border with Burundi (Nation 126) closed at 6pm and it took at least three hours to get there. But Rwanda had yet more good news for me – it’s an hour behind Tanzania! So it was really 1:30pm. SAFE!
So I trundled towards the Burundian border, excitedly sending Colm my blog entries for the past five weeks (all four of em – heh). At the delightful little town of Budare I changed my mode of transport for a taxi-motorbike and buzzed the last 20km to the border. I got stamped out of Rwanda (why not eh?) and crossed the river into Burundi. I filmed my crossing and had a chat with the border guards on the other side (you can get a three-day visa for $20 on the border, take note overlanders!) before turning back into Rwanda.
Lucky I did, as a my motorbike guy had disappeared and minibus for Budare was just leaving.. I dived onboard, excited at the prospect of racing all the way up to Djibouti this week. Dino has come through with the goods and found me a space on the ship CMA Turquoise next Sunday and if all goes to plan (it won’t!) I should be sitting pretty in Djibouti this time next week ready to meet Mandy before midnight on the 31st.
We rolled into Budare just in the nick of time – the last bus back to Kigali was revving up to leave. Go go go go go!!
Getting back to Kigali around 9pm, I was greeted with the delightful sight of the city by night. A few months ago I read a book by John Steinbeck in which he pointed out that cities that are flat have to try and make up for their lack of drama by building huge skyscrapers. In a town like Kigali that is just not necessary. Rwanda likes to bill itself as the land of a thousand hills and, for once, the place lives up to the hype and Kigali is no exception.. The million multi-coloured points of light scattered over the hillside of this pleasant, breezy capital are just magical.
I’m sorry, I know I have a tendency to gush over places that I like, but in Africa those places are few and far between so I think it’s just a case of credit were credit is due.
I headed over to the main bus station to try and get a ticket for the direct bus to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya (via Uganda) which leaves at 5.30 tomorrow morning. The offices had just closed but the guy there said there should be seats available in the morning, so I hunkered down for the night in the Kigali Guest House, had some goat stew for din-dins (yum!) and got rather excited about the new Forum page on the website.