Friday, September 29, 2017

Meandering around Mayotte

First order of business after arriving in a new port is to take care of the formalities of checking in. Here in Mayotte, this consisted of getting the forms from the small, local yacht club, completing the one page form, taking a taxi to the airport, finding immigration there and getting the form and our passports stamped, then taking the form to the Customs officials, getting another stamp, and lastly, returning the form to the yacht club, who, as a courtesy, would take care of the final step, which is getting the form to the Port Captain at Mamoudzou, a ferry ride away on the big island, “Grand Terre”. (We are anchored off Petite Terre, at Dzaoudzi).

This is a map of Mayotte.  The red line shows our track into the anchorage at Dzoudzi on Petite Terre, the small island on the right
Things don’t happen at a hectic pace here, so we had to wait until 11:00am, when the yacht club opened before we could get the form we needed. Then it was a walk back to the ferry terminal, where the taxi stand was located, to catch a taxi to the airport. The thing we liked about the taxis here is that there is a set price, regardless of where you are going, and no haggling required! The charge is per person, (€1.4) and the taxi can pick up as many guests as can fit in the car. So off we went. At the airport, there is a nondescript telephone with a message to call a number should you require assistance (for clearing in). Our pretty much non-existent French was met by a totally non-existent English speaker on the other end, and it took a while to explain that we had arrived on a boat (Baton), no, not a plane, and we required police clearance.

Eventually a lady came out and reviewed and took our passports. While we waited, Dave decided to go and investigate car hire. Since we had such a short time with Stephan, we decided the best way for him to see some of Mayotte would be by car. So off Dave and Stephan went, and not 10 minutes later, the police lady returned, asking for Monsieur du Toit (Stephan). After tracking him down at Avis car rental (the only ones who had a car available), he returned to face the French police. Where is your visa, she asked? You are on a South African passport, and you need a visa to enter Mayotte. If you don’t have a visa, I have no choice but to put you in jail. GULP! Stephan explained that he also had an American passport. She seemed a little doubtful. “Give me”, she said, wiggling her fingers, motioning him to hand it over. It’s on the boat, Stephan replied. She asked us to give her a minute, as she wanted to speak to her captain. She came back a few minutes later, and gave back all our passports. To Stephan she said, “Go back to the boat, get your American passport, and come back”. To me she said, “I am not stamping your passports yet. Once you all come back with Monsieur du Toit’s passport, we can start all over again”. By now it was almost 1:00pm and we had not accomplished anything!

Dave secured a car, which also took forever, and we drove back to the boat. We got Stephan’s US passport, and headed back to the airport. Back to the non-descript phone, and another futile conversation explaining we had not arrived by air, but by boat and wanted to clear in. Luckily, our lady happened to walked past, and we were able to give her our passports. Off she went, and soon came back with our stamped passports. 1 down, 2 to go… On leaving, Stephan jokingly said, “Is the food good in jail?”, to which she replied, “But of course! You are in France!”

Jail Food :-)

Off we drove to the customs office. There was only one person there, which was a good thing, because we were worried no-one would be there as it was now Friday afternoon! The gentleman lead us into his office and when we said we were from Cool Runnings, he said, “Ah oui…you met our Interceptor last night…oui!”. Um…oui, yes….that was us…sorry….forgot to radio you…oops! Oh well…at least we’re well known on Mayotte! We got our second stamp and headed back to the Yacht Club. The last stamp needed was from the Port Captain in Mamoudzou, which the Yacht Club was going to take care of for us. It was about 3:00pm by the time we were officially checked in! We decided, since we had the car, and time was running out for Stephan, we’d take a drive around Petite Terre, which didn’t take long at all, since it’s very small! The one sight to see is “Lac Dziani”, which is a lake in an extinct volcanic crater, and due to the Sulphur content, is an emerald green color. Unfortunately it was raining by the time we walked up the sandy track to the crater’s rim, and we didn’t experience the majestic green color, but it was cool to see regardless.

Not quite emerald green on this rainy day!  

The next morning we used the car to complete our boat chores, namely filling up with diesel. While Dave and Stephan did 2 trips to the petrol station to fill up the jerry cans, I packed, made lunch and got the boat ready to be left for 2 days. We were going on a road trip to the big island! We took “le Barge” (the ferry) over to Grande Terre and disembarked into the chaos of Mamoudzou! 

On the ferry to Mamoudzou

Looking onto Mamoudzou from the ferry

We decided to head south since that was the lesser of the traffic jams! We drove through village after village, around bay after bay. Unfortunately there were not many look out points, and the foliage on the side of the road was not trimmed, so it was difficult to see the scenery, which, from the few glimpses we had, was very pretty. We were also unlucky with the weather, as it rained, and sometimes, poured, on and off all day. 

Mayotte is a Muslim country with mosques at every corner

Dave enjoys a well deserved beer break after driving around for hours on crazy roads!

A typical town...through a rainy windshield (sorry!)

Kids enjoy a game of soccer on the large beach created by the huge tidal ranges

We found these Optimists and a Laser just sadly forgotten and in disrepair.  

What a gorgeous little face!  When she eventually smiled, she had two huge dimples!  So sweet

Near the southern point of the island we started seeing Baobab trees…huge ones with their branches sticking into the sky. You can see why legend says they were mistakenly planted upside down! Another lovely surprise was seeing the lemurs, locally known as “maki”. They made grunting noises and were quite curious, their amber eyes watching you as you walked by and jumping effortlessly from tree to tree!

First lemur sighting!

A close up look

Baobab on the beach

It's difficult to capture the height of these trees

This is one third of the trunk of one of the baobabs!

We started looking for a place to stay around 3:30pm. The choice was limited! We found Mayotte was not really geared towards tourists, and although there were places shown on google maps, or listed in the (French) guide book we had, the signage was so bad, we generally couldn’t find them! Or if we did find them, they were shuttered up or just vacant buildings. This is definitely more Africa than France! Two places we did find were fully booked, and when we stumbled on “Perle du Sud”, we really didn’t have a choice but to stay there. We got 2 rooms…one for Dave and I, and one for our 3 kids, Stephan, Benjamin and Gaby! We also ate dinner there…it sounded promising, but when we heard the constant “ding” of the microwave, we knew we shouldn’t expect much. For what we got, it was really, really expensive. Feeling a little dejected, we left early the next morning. At least the rate included breakfast, which was probably the best part…hot coffee (black) and a plate of crepes that we ate with our fingers (no plates, knives or forks provided)! 

Stephan peruses the dinner menu while our hotel proprietor looks on...lots of sign language was used to communicate!

We had planned a hike up Mont Choungui, the tallest mountain on Mayotte at 594 meters, and once again, the signage was terrible. We found the road that, in theory, should have led us to the start of the hiking trail. We parked our car on the side of the road, the only indication that this might be the right place being a few other cars parked there. We found one trail, but it went DOWN, not UP, as one would expect when hiking up a mountain. It also seemed to be going away from the mountain and not towards it. Dave and Stephan walked down the muddy path for a while, but then we decided it must be the wrong place. We later found out from Shuti that it was, in fact, the right place, and you had to go down the path first, and then it later turned to go up! The only reason they managed to do it, was that there were people there that they were able to ask. Oh well, what a pity! We continued driving, and got Stephan back to the ferry terminal in time to catch a ferry back to Dzaoudzi, from where he would take the dinghy back to the boat and collect his luggage (his kite surfing gear was too big to fit into the car with 5 of us!!), and then he took a taxi to the airport to catch his flight to Nairobi, Johannesburg, and then Cape Town! Thanks for joining us, Steph, and we hope you had a great time! You certainly got a good dose of what this cruising life entails! Check in and check out procedures, light winds, strong winds, night shifts, beautiful anchorages and fancy marinas, deserted atolls and crowded third world towns! We hope we answered all your questions, and hope to be following YOUR blog in the not too distant future!!

Stephan relaxing at Le Chato Cafe...a cool little place we found near the southern tip of the island
After Stephan left us, we continued driving along the north coast of Mayotte. There were more beautiful bays, but looking at the charts they are too deep for anchoring, and the tidal ranges here are huge! This means you can’t anchor too close in, because you’d find yourself aground at low tide, or alternatively, on a reef. Further out, the depths are too deep for anchoring. We took photos instead and enjoyed the scenery from the land! 

One of the few viewpoints on the north tip of the island...unfortunately littered with litter!

Beautiful bay...but no white sand beaches here!

Another look across the lagoon to some of the smaller islands

We have never seen so much corrugated iron in one concentrated area (ie. Mayotte) in our lives.  It was EVERYWHERE!

By Sunday afternoon we got word from Shuti that they had checked into a place in the forest, near a town called Combani, a place that had been recommended to them by another boat, “Ui”, that we had both met in Chagos, and that had left the day after we arrived. We decided to head that way, and check it out for ourselves. Being a little weary after our previous accommodation, we told Shuti not to commit to anything on our behalf, and that we would be there soon. We were pleasantly surprised by this funky little place in the forest called Le Git Du Monde Combani. We were shown a room with outside toilet and showers. The room itself was pretty basic, but the grounds of the “resort”, if you can call it that, were beautiful. They had little platforms/decks with hammocks scattered all over, and over a beer and a beautiful view, we caught up with Momi and Lilach while the kids played mini golf, tag and hide and seek in the surrounding rain forest! We also managed to score a wonderful dinner, and breakfast was also included, again, delicious! Our faith restored, we left the next morning and headed back to the ferry terminal to take “le Barge” back to Petite Terre and to our boat. 

These little ghekkos were so pretty!  Bright green with red markings

Beer time with Lilach and Momi from Shuti

Dinner for 9...5 Shuti's and 4 Cool Runners!

The little bar (very important!)

Beautiful flowers and fruit at the reception

Resident Lemurs (maki)

Our little abode...sleeping room on the right, separate shower in the middle, toilet in the door to the left!

Gaby relaxing in one of the hammocks on one of the hideaways

This little guy was eating the papaya on this tree

Cruising kids...with the Shuti boys

And once again in height order!

The ferry workers had been on strike since we had arrived a few days before, and all ferry rides had been for free. Dave had purchased a pass for the car and driver when we hired the car, so when we finally arrived to board the ferry (it was absolute chaos, gridlocked traffic), the guy directing the cars onto the ferry asked for the pass and for the passenger’s tickets. I guess the strike was over. Ben, Gaby and I had already gotten out of the car, since we had learned on the way over that no passengers were allowed in the car when driving onto the ferry. But then the guy asked us for our tickets, which we did not have. We also did not have any money, using our very last Euros to pay for dinner the night before! At the last minute, Dave told me to grab my wallet and his phone, and the next thing we knew, Dave was driving onto the ferry, and the kids and I were left behind!! 

The ladies of Mayotte with their painted faces and beautiful cloths.  This one is not the  most colorful one I found, but it it considered rude to take their photo, so I had to do some clandestine photography!!

 I walked to the ticket counter and asked if they took credit cards (ha ha! Highly unlikely, but it was worth a shot!!) Of course the answer was no. So off I went in search of an ATM. The reason we had no cash was because a fraud alert had been put on our card when we first attempted to draw cash here, and the only way to clear it, was either by calling the US, or going online. Internet access had been sketchy to say the least, and Dave had tried the link to say “Yes, it’s OK…I am in Mayotte, and I tried to draw cash”, but his mom had emailed us to say the bank needed us to call them, which was not possible. So anyway, off I went, wondering what to do if I couldn’t draw any money! I found an ATM and tried our debit card. Nothing. “Contact your bank” was the all-too-familiar message. Now what to do? I tried my credit card…hold your breath…YES! €20 approved! I was so happy to see those 2 notes coming out of the machine! The transaction fees are probably more than what I drew out, but at this stage, I just wanted to buy 3 tickets and get on the ferry!! Dave met us back at the ferry terminal in Dzaoudzi and Team Cool Runnings was together again! We returned the rental car, and went back to the safety and familiarity of our floating home! 

Ben and Gaby at the ferry terminal...Gaby not too happy with the whole situation!

People getting off the ferry

Some more clandestine photography!  
It was after our window cracked that we first entertained the thought of skipping Madagascar and heading straight to South Africa. Stephan had been to Madagascar twice to go surfing, and confirmed what we had started suspecting. It was pretty much like Mayotte, except poorer. And since the beauty of Madagascar was inland (we suspected), with the avenue of Baobabs, and rain forests with lemurs and unique flora and fauna, and inland travel in Madagascar was not an option for us, we started thinking seriously if we wanted to go. We had read of reports of corruption and bribery (OK, it’s Africa), but unless the anchorages were spectacular, with crystal clear water and the scenery stunning, like nothing we’d seen before, we were starting to think that getting to South Africa early held more of an appeal to us. As we did more research, and found both pro’s and con’s, we found that probably our biggest con was that “fear of missing out”. So many of our boat friends were heading there…Shuti, Ui, Aerial IV, Peregrine…how could we say we were not going?! But getting to South Africa a month earlier was even more of an appeal. We had so many boat things we needed to get done there…new sails, the window repair, hauling out, painting the bottom, and we wanted to be able to see all our friends and family, and tour South Africa without feeling rushed, and still be able to leave in time to enjoy the Caribbean and Bahamas before heading home for good. We had a family meeting, and were surprised to find that the kids were more than OK with skipping Madagascar and rather heading straight to South Africa!

So we had to break the news to Shuti, which is one of the sadder parts. We had planned to cruise Madagascar with them, and make the crossing to South Africa together, but we also knew they had friends coming, and they could meet up with Aerial IV or other boats and cross with them. It was sad to think we’d traveled so far with them, and we would part ways in Mayotte. But we will see them, and Moby, again in SA, and pick up from there! So, with the decision made, we started looking for a good weather window to make the long trip down the Mozambique Channel towards South Africa. We will get as far as we can, with the option of pulling into Mozambique to shelter and wait out bad weather. It is a 1,300 mile journey from here to Richard’s Bay in South Africa, so it’s not a hop, skip and a jump, but we are ready! We spent the last few days in Mayotte getting the boat ready, doing laundry, getting the kids to do some schoolwork and checking out. We even managed to squeeze in an afternoon of Optimist sailing for Ben and Gaby, borrowing 2 boats from the yacht club!

Gaby and Ben getting ready to launch the borrowed boats

Pottering around among the moored boats...walking in their father's footsteps? (Or should that be, sailing in their father's wake?)

Ben looking cool

Gaby doing her thing

We leave with mixed emotions. It’s always tough to have to miss a place, but we are super excited to get to SA a little earlier and enjoy our time there! Click on the “Track us Here!” tab, at the top, right of this page, to see where we are and watch our progress down the coast of East Africa!  

PS:  On a completely different note...we just learned that our "Garden Fairy" (John, our FL neighbor) has just returned from diving with Great White Sharks off the coast of Mexico, so John, we think this deserves a promotion from Garden Fairy to Garden Elf ;-)!  Thanks as always for all you do, and for dropping us a note yesterday - it's always great to get news from home!


  1. Hi Dave and Gudrun - Chris Sutton here ( very slow Laser sailor from back in the day when you still lived in Durbs ). Could you guys keep me updated re your eta at Durban so that I can arrange a 'meet and greet' ? Sadly PYC no longer produces the famous pie but the beer is still cold.

    email =