Travel Through Comoros on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Comoros on a Harley (1/6/06 - 21/6/06)
Distance 211 km (458320 km to 458531 km)

This is part of the twelfth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Madagascar  

1/6/06 The seas were not rough nor smooth. A 2-3 metre swell with a following sea. The night passed fitfully with a strong wind blowing across the deck. The engines stopped about 8 am as we were passing the Comorian island of Moheli. This time it was more serious, we had run out of fuel. We didn't even have enough to limp to the sheltered waters of a small port town less than 10 km away. Apparently there was a leak into the bilge and the diesel had been pumped overboard. A radio call was sent to bring a small boat from shore and the captain and a crewman departed with 50 litres of plastic capacity to get diesel ashore. We were left bobbing in the open ocean, slowly drifting towards the islands. It was 2 pm before they returned and with the fuel filler plug situated under a few tons of timber the tank's breather vent was disconnected and the 50 litres poured in through it. We could then motor to sheltered waters, part of Marine National Park Moheli. There didn't seem to be any concern as we pumped theArriving with the first load of fuel bilge of diesel and oil residue and dropped anchor inside the park boundary. We had bobbed about all day with only a pod of perhaps 50 dolphins to amuse us, frolicking in the waters just off the ship. Now in the calm,  hundreds of frigate birds circled on thermals preparing to go to sea to fish. The small boat made a number of trips ashore for diesel and we watched humorously as our large vessel was being filled with small plastic fuel containers. By 10 pm there was sufficient on board and we left but not before we had to cut free the anchor as after an hour of trying it could not be prised free of the bottom. The penny's worth of tar analogy came to mind as if the original leak had been prevented the series of expensive consequences would also have been avoided. We settled into another night of rolling. 

2/6/06 Moving about on deck had been dangerous. Timber was been stacked up to be as high as the guard rail tops in most places. Water was washing over the sides on the lower deck and occasionally a crew member needed to go down to secure the timber with ropes. Moving on our deck had the same problem but without the water gushing. We arrived to the jubilation of the passengersThe welcoming crowd at Moroni port, capital of the Comoros at 6 am and without an anchor idled about the bay till we were given permission to come alongside at 8 am. It was an excited crowd of onlookers that welcomed us and despite officious officials we managed to have the motorcycle unloaded and out of the port area by just after 10 am, using the carnet for customs clearance. Still rolling, now getting our land legs, we headed for the one bank in the capital that changes money and closes for a long weekend at 11 am Fridays, this being a Muslim country. The cold shower at our hotel was welcomed after three days of below basic facilities on the boat. Another boat was leaving for Tanzania this afternoon, and after having just waited nine days in Madagascar for a boat to the Comoros the idea of taking it crossed our minds, but fleetingly. Hopefully there will be another one in about a week's time. 

3/6/06 The Comoros voted for independence from France in 1975 and since then there have been 20 coups d'etat. A civil war between the two major islands was only resolved in 2002. The capital Moroni shows all the signs of this turbulent period. There has been little infrastructure built or repaired recently. Added to these problems is that the island is dominated by a huge volcano that periodically erupts and is too young to have yet produced good soils for agriculture. Consequently almost all the produce for theOld Mosque in Moroni 400,000 inhabitants is imported and expensive, especially compared to Madagascar. Even Coca Cola imports it's products from Madagascar, the investment here probably too risky. Through all this the people are incredibly friendly, outgoing and much more welcoming than we would have thought. English is spoken and understood by many people, the economic ties with East Africa. We went to the local theatre in the evening. A visiting French performer, a one man show, mime and comedy. A rare opportunity here. 

4/6/06 With the economy stalled, so are the buildings. I estimate half the countries buildings are only partially completed. As people get money they buy bricks and build, more money more bricks. The banking sector is not that established so money is stored in buildings. The newly elected president, of only two weeks, has promised to be less corrupt than previous presidents, perhaps, but what of his advisors. We went for a ride to the north, along the coast. The lava fields extend out into the ocean creating black headlands with seemingly incongruous white sandy beaches between. Up the mountain, vanilla and ylang-ylang grow alongside banana and cassava in small subsistence crops. 

5/6/06 We had narrowly missed drenchingVolcanic Lake Sale on Grand Comoros rain on our ride yesterday and it continued all night, pounding on the tin roof, and all day today flooding the roads and turning an already untidy city into a soggy depressing one. We only left the hotel for food.

6/6/06 Again raining all night and this morning. Unseasonally this late in the year. It was time to start checking on boats to Tanzania. One was in port. It had been there for a week with mechanical problems. Six local passengers who bought tickets in Anjouan for Dar es Salaam had been sleeping on the boat for the week, waiting. It is supposed to leave tomorrow, but that has been the every day story. Another boat is going to Zanzibar but will take four days, island hopping, picking up passengers along the way. We walked some old back streets, jumping puddles and avoiding roof run off as we quickly became soaked in the rain. An enterprising umbrella seller had two extra sales, but it was almost too late to be of any benefit, we were so wet.

7/6/06 Back to the port this morning. The rain continued but more as showers than the continuous downpouring. The tomorrow boat is still planned to leave tomorrow. I wonder how long it will be before it becomes a today boat. The engineer seems to think it will be soon. Often a more honest answer can be obtained closer to the source of the problem as the CaptainShissiwani, the Tomorrow boat, with engine problems and the agent have a vested interest in keeping passengers in a sense of imminent expectation. That way they won't go looking for alternative transport, if there is any. We have been having ongoing battery problems with the motorcycle for years now. They just don't seem to last very long and are a specific size are virtually unobtainable as we travel. The large engine and the car starter motor the motorcycle comes with is difficult enough to crank when new with the standard 32 amp battery. Now that it is old we seem to have ongoing problems and kill batteries regularly. Perhaps an electrical fault I can't find. We purchased a 45 amp small car battery and installed it within the rear luggage box. A permanent affair. Now any small car battery can be used. Not ideal as it is a lot of weight at a high centre of gravity.

8/6/06 The usual morning trip to the port. Everyone is friendly and we are now well known and are allowed in without a second glance. Again the ship will be leaving tomorrow. But there are signs it actually will. We were allowed to clear customs. Come early tomorrow at 7 am to load the motorcycle. And the main sign, oil was now being poured into the repaired engine. Between rain showers, now just a few, we headed for a ride south, not far. The vegetation here is more dense, growing between the volcanic rocks are breadfruit, Sleeping on the cattle deck, but it didn't depart today!! the main starch staple for locals. The starter motor clutch started slipping yesterday and today was a sufficient problem to need repair. A result of the weak battery and the engine kicking back places extra load on it. A three hour job as we carry a spare one. Another trip to the port in the evening and it still looks good to a tomorrow sailing.

9/6/06 Our accommodation is about three km from the port but the journey takes fifteen minutes due to the condition of the road, still we know just about every pot hole by now. The cars slow, the traffic navigates around the deep potholes. Again at the boat we were told "definitely leaving today, come back at 2 pm". Checked out of the hotel and arrived only to be told the engine problems still existed. The old oil hadn't been fully flushed and water was still present. Another oil change, we leave tomorrow. Six passengers have been sleeping, waiting on the boat for ten days. One couple have a nine month old baby. More passengers have joined the boat, now about a dozen in all. Once your fare is paid and the boat doesn't leave, you are the boats responsibility. They have to feed and accommodate you. We haven't yet paid our ticket and went back to the hotel.

10/6/06 Another trip to the wharf,Sunrise as the wooden boats go out to collect imported bags of rice again leaving tomorrow. Kay has been doing her needlework and I have been writing the book to keep from frustration. We are only now getting restless to be moving on. I recently read a good description of Africans. "They don't believe in becoming stressed, for what can be put off till tomorrow can wait". Certainly different from the lesson I was taught growing up. "Don't put off till tomorrow what can be achieved today". Perhaps that is the difference between how the two societies function.

11/6/06 Everyone was particularly excited about a today departure. We were so convinced we bought tickets, handed over our passports and again checked out of the hotel, the third time. From 1 pm till 4 pm we waited, all 20 passengers. No one bothered to inform us that again there would be no sailing. The captain and crew were watching TV in the lounge and had such little respect for us they didn't have the politeness to even let us know. It amazes me how the other passengers accept this treatment. I went to the agents office fuming with the intention of demanding my money back. He seemed concerned and came to the ship where the other passengers also demanded a refund, something some had previously asked for but had been denied. A guarantee was given, if the boat didn't sail tomorrow everyone would be refunded their tickets. We chose to move Bike gantried across for a second loading onto Shissiwani the motorcycle onto the boat and sleep there. Still there are no other boats in port leaving for Tanzania, but nor is ours.

12/6/06 The head agent had arrived in the evening and there had been frantic work in the engine room last night. An engineer from another ship had been brought for a second opinion and this morning a third engineer became involved so by lunch time the problem had been solved. The ship went for a test run out of the harbour and again all expectations were for a departure. But not today. To the surprise of everyone, including the captain, the agent informed us there was not sufficient money to buy diesel and it would have to come from Anjouan, at least another two days. We demanded and received a refund after involving the port authorities. Other passengers who had purchased tickets in Anjouan would have to wait till tomorrow, but I suspect they will never receive one cent. The main problem with the other passengers situation is they have not much money. Whilst they have a ticket the boat must feed and look after them. In a strange city they have nowhere else to stay. But this ship might never leave, and they might never receive a refund. There is now talk that the ship we arrived here on, almost two weeks ago, is heading for Tanzania. It will be ironical if we have to take it.Between two ships It has taken this long to just unload the vessel, there being no onward cargo from The Comoros. They are also caught up in the new president's anti corruption policies. One hundred tons of salt is still aboard. Previously the agent paid a bribe to the port authorities, about one third of the official duty, to import salt. However with the anti corruption policy the salt, with its official import duty, will be too expensive to sell, so it sits on the ship. This could be the main reason few boats are currently arriving here.   

13/6/06 We had arranged with two female passengers to try and see someone in authority regarding their predicament of not getting a refund and their visas expired. Why not go to the new President's office and try to see the new President? After waiting almost an hour, a representative who was not at all interested in us impolitely listened and hurried back inside the gate, nothing achieved. Nothing new on the boat front and again a slow day.

14/6/06 There was a great rush at the wharf as we arrived this morning. Shissiwani, the boat we have been waiting on, was leaving. In fact it should have already left other than the police found a couple of tons of stolen copper aboard and it had to be unloaded. We rushed back to the hotel and checked out for the fourth time. The agent was saying the passenger list and cargo list was completed andSelling fish from small boats we could not get aboard, he would not take us. A result of us having insisted on a refund when the boat hadn't sailed a couple of days earlier and us trying to help other passengers also to get a refund. Again after a quick fight with the authorities, the passports were stamped, the motorcycle was gantried across by another ship to the outlying Shissiwani and we actually left at noon. The now thirty passengers, now relaxed at leaving, settled into lying about the deck in the shade on wooden pallets and on mattresses. The relax was short lived as by 6 pm, on dusk, the ship turned about to return towards Moroni, from where we had just left. Apparently the repaired engine, wasn't. The same problem reoccurred. Equipped with an auxiliary generator engine it took eight hours to return on the smaller motor. 

15/6/06 Our visit to the President's offices two days ago had coincided with being filmed and interviewed by Comorian TV, only a couple of months since it started broadcasting. This and the fact a couple of Madagascan nationals visited their embassy, who phoned and threatened the agent if the boat didn't sail or a refund given seems to have placated the agent this morning and those passengers who asked for a refund received one, without fuss. The boat left on it's auxiliary engine for the island of Anjouan, it's home port,Small spice markets to complete repairs. Our only option for getting off these islands now seems to be on the boat we arrived on, now leaving in two day's time, also delayed again. We checked back into our hotel to await our fifth departure, hopefully with success.

16/6/06 We are now behind the best time we had hoped to be leaving Tanzania, with an Angolan visa, to move through that country in the dry season. If we get the visa easily, we will still need to move quickly. If it takes the reported two weeks to get we will be in a rush. Whilst our accommodation is comfortable the electricity goes off occasionally and the water is off every day from 11 am till 9 pm making the cold showers colder as they can't be taken in the afternoons. It is now becoming the busy season. Many Comorians work overseas, particularly France, and return now for holidays, weddings and festivities. This influx of money from overseas workers is what keeps the prices and demand here high. The boat again delayed, now leaving in three day's time. Another one arrived from Tanzania today, departing in five days and another is due to arrive Monday. There is increasing demand to bring live cattle from Tanzania for the weddings and a boat will leave soon, so everyone says. 

17/6/06 One of the few days there was no need to visit Painted faces look a bit ghostly the wharf. No boats were here that could be leaving. Friday is a half work day, as is Saturday and Sunday is a holiday. Hardly any work gets done on any of the three days.

18/6/06 Not expecting any boat departures, but not being prepared to miss one, we were at the wharf in the morning. The boat that arrived from Dar es Salaam two days ago had unloaded cattle but would not be returning for at least a week. A French traveller who was still aboard had waited three weeks for the crossing from Tanzania. Capricorne, the boat we arrived here from Madagascar on, is still leaving tomorrow, nothing else for a week. We wandered town again, still fascinated by the many women who put yellow sandalwood paste on their faces and wander about the streets looking a bit ghostly. It is supposed to keep the skin soft and and pale.

19/6/06 Capricorne is definitely going today. They have cut a door in the gunwale for loading and unloading cattle. We were told to be at the wharf by 2 pm to load the motorcycle. Again checked out of the hotel, the fifth time we have been advised we are definitely leaving. Again the motorcycle had to be craned aboard as Capricorne was sitting one ship off the wharf. This time we had decided to stay on board whether we left or not. Unloading containers at the shallow port A seemingly easier alternative than checking in and out of the hotel and having to come to the wharf each day looking for boats. Our tent was set up on the cargo deck, there being no cargo out of The Comoros. The main export, coconuts, had stopped when the trees became diseased and no fruits are now being formed. The hillsides are covered in useless coconut plantations. A Tanzanian couple with a young daughter set up their tent besides ours and again the boat stayed in port. Diesel and water could not be arranged in time to leave today, the excuse.

20/6/06 Assured we would be leaving by lunch time, diesel and water were loaded in the afternoon and again we slept on the boat without departing. The toilet is a plastic bottle in the tent emptied overboard and a bucket wash can be had in the forward locker dipping from the fresh water tank. The pump that used to have water to the rest of the boat is now broken. We wandered in and out of the port freely for meals and I worked on the computer in the agent's office as there is no electricity on the ship unless the generator is running, only for two hours each evening for the crew's meals and then total darkness.

21/6/06 The owner is on board, for the first time, Making tea on the boat this trip and apparently is the main cause of the delays. We didn't leave yesterday because the crew had not received their advance. Crew are normally paid prior to sailing, which had not happened. On Shissiwani, the crew had not been paid for months, perhaps that was part of it's problems. We have settled in now. Kay did some washing of clothes, dip bucket from the forward locker and I worked in the agent's office on the computer. Immigration came aboard about 4 pm and as our visas were expired, four days ago, tried to get money. We had been stamped out of the country six days ago, when we had left and returned on Shissiwani, and now considered ourselves in transit and argued not to pay what was only a bribe. Money was however exchanged to the port authorities by the ship's owners and we left port at 5.30 pm to great jubilation from passengers and crew. 

Move with us to Tanzania  

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