Trying To Cash In On Crops In The Comoros And Finding Paradise In Madagascar

Having already covered my survival of Somalia and safari hopping up and down the continent, we left off on the last leg of my big Africa adventure. I had just departed Mozambique and was headed for Madagascar. But before I tell you what Madagascar is like in reality, as opposed to in theatrical animation, I’m going to rewind things all the way back to the beginning of this Africa trip.

It all started in the Comoros of all places. You may have heard of the Comoros because of the passport industry, something with which I am very familiar. Unlike some other “gurus,” I don’t have a Comorian passport. But I can tell you how to get one and what the conditions are like in this small African island nation. I can also tell you about my aborted business venture in the Comoros. It basically ended with me being scammed, but don’t worry, I didn’t lose much money. 

And if you want a preview of Madagascar, it’s beautiful. Think of another Indian Ocean archipelago that is very popular and touristy. This other Indian Ocean island nation is also needlessly expensive when you discover the beauty and affordability of Madagascar.

Getting to know the Comoros

My big African adventure began with me being surrounded by extreme poverty. The Comoros is, by lots of different metrics, one of the poorest countries in the world. One such metric is that the country has a GDP per capita of less than the equivalent of a one-hour consulting call with me.

This country of about 800,000 people makes up much of a volcanic archipelago that lies between the north of Mozambique and the north of Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel. The Comoro Islands consist of three major islands, as well as numerous smaller islands. There is a political division and complicated relationship between the Comoros and the French territory of Mayotte, which is also part of the archipelago.

A coastal Comorian view

In 1975, the Comoros declared independence from France. Mayotte voted in 1974 and 1976 to remain part of France, and now Mayotte is an overseas department of France. Yet the Comoros has a territorial claim to Mayotte.

The Comoros has three main islands, with the largest and most populous island being Grande Comore. The other two islands are basically in a state of civil war. Those two islands, which each go by a couple different names, declared independence from the Comoros in 1997 in attempt to rejoin France. The French rejected their requests, and bloody conflicts were fought between rebels and federal troops.

I only visited Grande Comore since I did not want to venture off into a civil war.  Another fun fact about the Comoros is that it has had 20 coups or attempted coups since 1975. 

The population of the Comoros is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, though the Islam they practice is fairly moderate. Alcohol, hookers and other haram goods and services are readily available. I was propositioned quite often during my stay. ?

The Comoros is a Sunni Muslim country with its own unique twist.

French is spoken by most people, but Comorian is the main language, and Arabic is also an official language. Lots of French names are still used, such as Grande Comore.  

The country is notorious for selling passports. Its passport is the world’s cheapest. Comorian citizenship will cost you about $45,000. It doesn’t come with a very handy passport, though. The Comorian passport will get you into 53 countries visa-free. 

The business class flight that brought me there

You may be wondering why my Africa trip started with the Comoros. Last year in July, I put on a travel hacking seminar for frequent flyers. The seminar took place in Schloss Kronberg, a big castle in Frankfurt. I was driving around the castle in a convertible. It was quite an event. 

Schloss Kronberg + my ride

One of the guys from First Class & More, a luxury travel portal, was explaining the best tricks, one of which I used to find an error fare on a business class flight from Sweden to Africa and back. This was an Ethiopian Airlines flight that went for only 800 euros with the error fare. 

Super secret travel hacks being revealed

Actually, this was an open-jaw flight. I was flying from Stockholm to the Comoros, then returning to Stockholm from Nosy Be, an island that is part of Madagascar. 

I booked the flight nearly a year in advance because it was so cheap. Yes, 800 euros for a roundtrip Sweden-African island business class flight is very cheap.

Come April 2019, it was finally time for me to take this flight. I like Ethiopian Airlines a lot, especially because of the yummy injera (bread made out of teff) that they serve onboard.

Travel hacking in action

Unfortunately, Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is a mess. I had a short stopover in Addis Ababa before flying to the Comoros. This leg of my Ethiopian Airlines Flight was the last luxury I was going to experience for a few days. Nonetheless, the Comoros would make for a good lead into my African adventure. 

Exploring Grande Comore

The week before I arrived in the small island nation, a big cyclone struck Mozambique and some neighboring countries. Cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones to have ever affected Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. The storm killed more than 1,200 people, and it was all over the international news. I arrived in the Comoros quite worried and indeed found a lot of damage, but in the end, there was no lingering danger from the storm.

My arrival on rainy Grande Comore… no cyclone, though.

My hotel provided me transport from the airport, which is located about 20 km outside the Comorian capital of Moroni. My accommodation was actually more of a guesthouse, than a hotel. It was a small place that wasn’t so bad. There was a big security guard seated outside. On the inside there was a decent restaurant that served a nice breakfast and, for that matter, nice dinners as well — mostly French food. 

Nice setting

I had three full days to spend in the Comoros and on Grande Comore. I made the most of this time to explore the island.

Admittedly, I was a bit timid in my exploration of the Comoros. Not only did I stay on the big island and avoid the conflict zones, I also didn’t really dare to venture out of the guesthouse alone. On the first night, I stayed in, worked a bit, ate dinner and arranged for a tour guide for the next two days. I ended up finding out Grande Comore is safe. It just doesn’t look very safe. The place is so poor that it gives you the feel that it’s not safe to walk around alone. 

The next morning Joseph came to greet me. Joseph was an interesting guy. He is in both the vanilla and ylang-ylang businesses. Those are the Comoros’s cash crops. The latter is a tropical tree with flowers that are used to extract perfume. The Comoros, believe it or not, is the world’s largest producer of ylang-ylang oil. 

Vanilla extract and ylang-ylang… business opportunity ?

An opportunity appeared. Joseph said he had a plantation on the island but had fallen on hard times because of the cyclone. He said he owned several cars that were destroyed by the storm, and he had some beachside huts for tourists that were also destroyed. Suddenly, Joseph was a very poor man, or so he claimed. 

I used Joseph’s services as a tour guide because he was one of the few people on the island who could speak English. On the first day of the tour, we drove around the island in his SUV. Well sort of. It’s not really possible to drive all the way around the island. You have to stop in the middle and then turn back around. We covered the north of Grande Comore on day 1 of the tour. 

A bit dark and dirty for a beach

We drove to some beaches that were not looking so nice because of the recent storm. There were lots of fallen trees and debris, as well as other garbage. But the weather began to improve, and so did the scenery. We visited a nice beach and some untouched, beautiful reefs. 

Much better

Grande Comorian beauty

Moving on to a couple more beaches, we ran into some tourists. It turned out they had come on the same flight as me. My estimation was that, at any given time, there are no more than 15 tourists on Grande Comore. 

Tourist-free tourism

We continued along the road in the north, stopping to eat some tasty bananas for lunch, before heading to a crater lake next to the sea. The crater lake is called Lac Sale, which is French for Salt Lake. It’s like an African version of Lake Darwin in the Galapagos Islands. Definitely a beautiful sight.

Lac Sale

After Lac Sale, we headed back to Moroni. Joseph arranged a massage for me, so I could relax after the first day of sightseeing. The massage would take place in my guesthouse room.

A female masseuse arrived. She couldn’t speak English, and she was talking on her phone while trying to massage me. The experience was very weird, and I ended up kicking her out. 

The second day of sightseeing on Grande Comore was the volcano day. Joseph took me to the south of the island, where there is an active volcano, Mount Karthala. The volcano erupts every few years. In 1977, a big eruption occurred, and lava flows destroyed about 300 homes in the coastal village of Singani. 

Lava flow with a view

We went for a hike and saw the trail of volcanic rock formed from the lava flows that reached the village. We could even see houses covered in hardened lava. I posed for a photo on the remains of the last big eruption of Mount Karthala. The ocean in the background adds to the appeal of the setting.

My foray into the vanilla trade

On day 2 of the tour, we passed through some villages, navigating very old roads along the way. Other than the road from the airport to Moroni, none of the roads in the Comoros are in good condition. So you need to drive slowly.

We also passed a lot of plantations and stopped for a tour of one vanilla plantation. Joseph, too, showed me how vanilla and ylang-ylang grow in the wild. I had no idea that vanilla and ylang-ylang basically grow everywhere in the Comoros.

I was starting to really get into vanilla. I knew vanilla is one of the most expensive spices, and I saw how it is produced in the Comoros. I thought about possibly starting a vanilla export business. I had my brother research how it works.

Thus far, my walnut farm in Georgia has been a success. The trees are growing as planned, and I want to expand my investments in the sphere of agriculture. 

Progress in Kakheti

Joseph claimed he had 100% organic vanilla, which is very rare. He seemed to be trustworthy. And it seemed like he just needed money. I didn’t have much to lose. I gave Joseph 250 euros. He promised to send me 40 vanilla essence bottles to my address in Germany.

100% organic vanilla

A few months have passed, and the vanilla extract still has not arrived. It could be that Joseph sent the bottles and they were held up in customs. But my guess is he never sent them. 

Joseph actually gave me some vanilla essence and ylang-ylang oil as a gift. I still have it. But what he gave me in person is worth maybe 20 euros. So most likely, he scammed me out of more than 200 euros. 

The money is not a major loss for me. It serves as a valuable lesson, though. Joseph treated me very nicely and seemed to be worthy of trust. But he didn’t deliver in the end. 

For a short time, I was very excited about going into the vanilla business. But it turned out it would not really work, at least not with this guy. So business aborted.. for now.

Getting out of the Comoros

A little beauty in Moroni

We did a little sightseeing in Moroni at the end of the tour. The Comorian capital has some beautiful nature, but it also has plenty of ugliness.

The Bakaara Market of Moroni?

I had a morning flight from Moroni to Nairobi, Kenya. When I arrived at the airport, I received a surprise. The flight was canceled. Or was it? I really had no idea what was going on. No one could really help me because no one could speak English. 

I waited and waited. Major nerves crept in. Two days later I would be flying from Nairobi to Mogadishu, so I became very worried that this flight out of the Comoros would impact my much-anticipated trip to Somalia. 

After waiting two hours, I finally found out the flight had been delayed, not canceled. Unfortunately, there was a 10-hour delay, which would mean I wouldn’t really have time to see Nairobi because I was going on a safari elsewhere in Kenya before traveling to Somalia. 

I took a taxi back to the guesthouse in Moroni and used the day to work. At night, I returned to the airport and flew to Nairobi. Getting stuck in the Comoros for half a day was annoying, but it worked out all right in the end. 

Time traveling to Madagascar

You already know I safaried underneath cloudy Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya, got shot in Somalia but survived and embarked upon a bunch of other safaris, culminating with the ocean one in Mozambique, during which I tragically lost my Go-Pro. So we’re jumping ahead in time to my flight to Madagascar. 

I was flying from Mozambique to Madagascar with a stopover in Johannesburg, even though it is geographically out of the way. Madagascar is a hop over the Mozambique Channel away from Mozambique. Despite being separated by just several hundred kilometers, there was no direct flight between Mozambique and Madagascar.

Scenic Antananarivo

This time I would not be staying in the airport hotel. After waiting two hours at the Johannesburg airport, I flew to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. Upon arrival, I checked into a very nice hotel in the hills of Antananarivo with a very good view of the city. This hotel, called The Citizen, has a nice restaurant with very good French food. I relaxed and enjoyed my beef tartar. ?

The benefit of French influence

I went to sleep early on my first night in Madagascar. I had to wake up early the next morning to fly to Nosy Be. 

The Asia of Africa

In the morning, a taxi driver picked me up to take me to the airport. But I still had four hours before I needed to be at the airport, so the taxi driver drove me around, allowing me to explore Antananarivo and its surroundings.

The Rova of Antananarivo

I saw the Rova of Antananarivo, the former royal palace that served as the home of the king of Madagascar. I also saw some impressive government buildings, like the presidential palace, and passed through my first tunnel in Africa.

My first African tunnel

On the way to the airport there were rice paddies. It had a very Asian feel. Madagascar is probably the most Asian-like country I have experienced in Africa. It almost looked like Bali. And there are lots of Asians living in Madagascar.

A mixture of continents

The highlands of Antananarivo provided us good views of the city. We saw a lot of the main sight in Antananarivo from above and from within the taxi. It’s a scenic capital, and the taxi ride made for a nice city tour. 

Antananarivo from above

A bit about Madagascar

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Well, it’s main island is. The country looks like one big island floating off the coast of Africa, but it actually consists of the main island, also called Madagascar, and numerous small neighboring islands. 

Nosy Be is one of those small islands… or is it?

The country isn’t so small in population either. Madagascar has a population of more than 25 million people. 

Madagascar was a French colony prior to its independence in 1960. French is an official language, along with Malagasy, an Austronesian (common in Southeast Asia and the Pacific) language that most people in Madagascar speak. Being that it’s a former French colony, the food is generally pretty good, as you have already seen.

Small island paradise

Even though I saw most of what there’s to see in the capital, my tour didn’t take very long. I ended up at the airport with a few hours to spare. I took a seat in a Chinese/Asian restaurant, ate some food and let the time pass until I finally boarded my flight to Nosy Be. 

Nosy Be lies off the northwest coast of the main island. It is one of the northernmost islands of Madagascar and a major tourist destination. There are direct flights to and from Ethiopia. Apparently, planes fly directly from Rome to Nosy Be, as well. Lots of Italians own property on Nosy Be and go there for holidays. My hotel, for example, was owned by an Italian. 

Nosy Be is actually not that small of an island. I should point out that I wasn’t even staying on Nosy Be. I was staying on a little island next to Nosy Be called Nosy Sakatia. On Nosy Sakatia there is a resort called Danae Beach. It’s a dreamy destination.

After landing on Nosy Be, I hopped in a taxi that drove across the island, bringing me to a beach, where there was a boat waiting for me. By time time I landed, the sun was already setting. I got to see Nosy Be at sunset, which was very nice, and drove through the main town on the way to the boat. 

Entering paradise?

The boat then brought me to Nosy Sakatia. It was a very enjoyable boat ride that lasted about 50 minutes. As we reached shore, we needed to take off our shoes and go barefoot to avoid ending up with soaked sneakers. I foolishly was not paying attention to where I was walking and slammed my toe into a stone. I nearly broke my toe. It hurt so much that I thought I had broken it, but I didn’t. The pain lasted the next couple days. Luckily, shoes or no shoes, I was stepping into paradise.

I spent the first night at Danae Beach getting drunk with the Italian owner, Alberto, who is an amazing host. We drank nearly an entire bottle of local rum, something Madagascar is very well known for. 

Alberto had three daughters who were visiting him at the resort. One of the daughters was lesbian and was there with her girlfriend. At first the girls were not so open, but I told them a bit about my life and they opened up. They joined in the fun and helped consume some of the rum. At the end of the night, Alberto hugged me goodbye. He is a cool guy. 

Morning view

I was staying in a little beach hut at the resort. At first I had no internet. The wifi was apparently broken. I activated my Google Fi, which initially didn’t work either. But I played around with the settings and reconfigured some things and eventually it worked. This meant I could do consulting calls from my little beach hut. ?

The one and only Danae Beach

I handled some calls, walked along the beach and, in the afternoon, went for a boat trip with Alberto’s daughters. 

The area surrounding Danae Beach is famous for turtles. I grabbed my snorkeling gear and hopped in the water. I saw the largest turtle I had ever seen. It was probably two meters long. We stayed in the water for almost one hour just following this amazing creature. We came very close to this huge turtle. Once again, unfortunately, I had no Go-Pro.?

Great snorkeling area

The reef we were exploring is a very good reef for snorkeling. I snorkeled a bit away from the huge turtle and saw another turtle that was not as large, but was more active. It swam away, and I followed it. That was a cool experience as well. 

After seeing a bunch of turtles, we hopped back on the boat and returned to the island. Along the way we caught a very beautiful sunset. 

Nosy Sakatia sunset

Back at Danae Beach, I spent another nice evening with Alberto and with Madagascan rum. This time there was also wine. I think I emptied a whole bottle of wine. Danae Beach is a great little resort. I highly recommend a stay there. 

As alluded to at the beginning of this post, there is no need to go to the Maldives (I’ve been there multiple times). A stay at Danae Beach on beautiful Nosy Sakatia right beside Nosy Be costs you just 60 euros a night. That includes 3 meals consisting of excellent Italian cuisine. ?

My future in the region

Truth be told, the Comoros isn’t a small version of Madagascar. Rather, it is a shithole.

The Comoros has about 1/120th the population of Germany yet produces 120 times more garbage — trash that just lies around and does not get picked up.

Sign of a shithole

But the Comoros does have a passport for sale that gets you visa-free access to 53 countries. So if you want to become Comorian, just contact me and I will arrange that for you. Then maybe you can run the vanilla and ylang-ylang business and filter out all of the scammers. We can make a splash in the spice trade in similar fashion as we are doing right now with walnut farming.

Will I be returning to the Comoros? Perchance. I need to come back to the Mozambique Channel sometime to visit Mayotte. Maybe, when I’m in need of an adrenaline rush, I’ll visit the war-torn islands of the Comoros as well.

As for Madagascar, I’m definitely coming back. Actually I plan to buy a trimaran — a bit more luxurious than this one from Nosy Sakatia — and then sail around the world. Should Madagascar be my starting and endpoint for circumnavigation? ?

This, but in the form of a yacht ?