A panorama of the Dragon Rocks

Comoros, Africa's Moon Islands - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 7th October 2018

Getting into the Comoros Islands

It’s an all-day affair to fly the 150 miles from Mayotte to Moroni, the capital of the Comoros, as I have to go via Réunion. I’m still trying to work out why. (Unless its name demands it?) It’s even more frustrating when the plane flies directly overhead of Mayotte on the second leg. Mine is not to reason why.

The immigration officer is surprisingly friendly and addresses me in English. She then offers to find me a driver. Well that’s a first, an immigration officer trying to sell me services. Reassuringly, after my refusal of her offer, my guide is waiting for me in the baggage hall. It’s not Mohammed, as intimated on my travel paperwork but Omar, who fills me in on the latest island happenings.

The young man who has arrived on the plane with me is scrambling into funeral gear, as his father was murdered by his brother yesterday. The brother had been sending money home from France and was not very happy to see how it had been spent when he came home for vacation last week. After killing his brother he then hanged himself, so it’s a double funeral. His widow was on the plane with me too. It’s just like the Nollywood movies I watched in West Africa.

First Impressions

Omar drives incredibly carefully, as everyone else’s driving is a problem it seems, but his English is good. And suddenly most people are happy to speak a little English. Perhaps it’s because they are very Francophobe at the moment - there are ongoing tensions over France’s retention of Mayotte. Omar tells me that Mohammed will be with us tomorrow.

And I’ve come full circle hotel wise. This one is reminiscent of Kinshasa; it’s not a good idea to look too hard at anything, especially the corners and the shower. My safe doesn’t work, the Wi-Fi crawls (there’s no 3G or 4G data at all) and the dinner buffet is cheap, but nasty. Re-heated chips, rice and chicken. A cocktail would have eased my suffering, but this is a Moslem country and the hotel is dry.

Facts and Factoids

  • Comoros is an archipelago of three main islands in the Indian Ocean. The total population is about 800,000 people.
  • They are known as Africa's Islands of the Moon, but also as the Perfume Islands because of their spice plantations.
  • Ngazidja, also known as Grande Comore Island, is the largest island. This is where the Comoros capital city of Moroni is located. There are also Anjouan and Mwali, the smallest.
  • More than 20 species of birds are unique to the Comoros, including the Karthala Scops-Owl, the Anjouan Scops-Owl, and the Humblot’s Flycatcher.
  • The official languages are French and Arabic.
  • This is one of the most unstable countries in the world. It’s also one of the poorest.

A Brief History of the Comoros Islands

  • It is thought that early inhabitants of the Comoros Islands were people of Malaysian and Polynesian origin. Colonists also came to the islands from Madagascar, Indonesia, and Arabia.
  • The presence of Islam is recorded as early as the eleventh century. With the arrival of Muslim Arabs, tribal chiefdoms evolved into sultanates in the fifteenth century.
  • The first European visitors were the Portuguese, in the early sixteenth century, but the islands were subsequently a base for many European and American sailors. These included whalers, merchants, and pirates, including the infamous Captain Kidd.
  • In 1886 Comoros become a French protectorate, and in 1912, a formal colony, administered from Madagascar.
  • There have been over 20 coups since independence from France was granted, in 1975, and presidents took over from sultans and princes.

Is It Safe to Travel to Comoros?

Crime levels are low, but it is advised to take the usual precautions against pick-pocketing and mugging and not to walk alone at night on beaches or in town centres. I didn't have any problems.

Is Comoros a Poor Country?

According to The World Bank, the living standard of almost half the population falls below the poverty line .

What to See on Comoros?

I took a guide with a car round Moroni, the capital and north and south, exploring. There is some stunning scenery, volcanoes, glorious beaches and a lot of litter.

Getting Out of the Comoros Islands

Much to my surprise the tiny airport features a business lounge. An online reviewer has given it 1/10. I’m surprised anyone actually makes it that far. The queues inch along. And that’s if you can work out which ones to join. The check in procedures are excruciatingly slow and the clerks seem bewildered. There is no sign for departures at all. The immigration officials’ booths are labelled 'Information'. And there is one scanner operating for the security check, with one man feeding it, extremely slowly. It’s no surprise at all that the plane is delayed by two hours, while they load the luggage. I spend most of the time talking flying with an Ethiopian Airways captain. He’s brought out a Hajj charter and is returning as a passenger.

Finally, we take off. It’s the end of another epic trip.

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