Traders on Ocean Road in Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania

CNN was part of my old travelling life. I have watched its broadcasts in everything from five-star hotels to Uzbek tea-houses; even in Bedouin tents on a television plugged into a generator.

CNN provided entertainment when it was unsafe to go out in cities such as Beirut or Karachi and its coverage of the Gulf War made dramatic viewing in Bombay, but for novelty value nothing matched the circumstances of its transmission of the Clinton tapes in Dar-es-Salaam, the former capital of German East Africa.

The venerable YMCA is still there

Unable to find a reasonably priced western-style hotel, I was staying at the YMCA. It was central and cheap—only  $7 single or $12 double —and it was scrubbed from top to bottom by a team of women on their knees.

And they accepted women guests!

Good, I said. At that price, I’ll take a double room, but please bring me a towel, a glass and a mosquito net with a few less holes.

The recent bombing of the US embassy has seen a big drop in backpackers said the boy who brought my suitcase upstairs on his head. I had the bathroom to myself and unpacking after the eleven hour flight from London, I went down to watch the news.

The Askari Monument, memorial to African soldiers who fought in the British campaign against the German Army in East Africa in World I.

It was the night in 1998 that CNN broadcast President Clinton’s testimony in the Monica Lewinsky saga and while I may have been the only guest at the YMCA, half of Dar-es-Salaam was crammed into the TV room.

Office workers, curio-sellers, street sweepers and taxi-drivers, even a policeman had popped in for the occasion. In the front row of chairs sat the YMCA manager, the accountant and the night watchman heads craned to get a better view of a television screwed some ten feet up on the wall.

As Mr. Clinton recounted his version of the story, some of the audience had made comments in English and since Swahili is the lingua franca on the coast of East Africa, I assumed they were for my benefit.

Most African traders would sell their soul for an office or a shop

What is all the fuss? asked the YMCA receptionist who looked all of twelve. Men will be men chuckled someone else and turning, I asked of no one in particular, would he do that in his office? That is the point I repeated for emphasis.  It was in the Oval  Office.

To Africans forced to conduct their business on the sidewalk an office is almost sacrosanct and whispered around the room, the word left a palpable shock which saw us watch the final hour in silence.

Street scene in Dar es-Salaam, old German capital of Tanganyika

‘Why is your TV so high up?’ I asked the manager on my way to bed.

‘It will disappear otherwise. Good night Mama,’  he replied.

 In transit to Ngorongoro or Mount Kilimanjaro, most travellers skip Dar es-Salaam   but I found ‘Dar’ as it was affectionately known, a colorful, laidback old port.

Bureau de Change

With a population at that time of some 2 million, it clustered around three central districts: Kivukoni its old colonial heart, Mchafukoge the business hub and Kariakoo, a miscellany of markets and slums.

Lutheran Church, with Gothic spire and terracotta-tiled roof straight out of a Bavarian village

It was especially notable for a number of German colonial buildings of which the Ocean Road Hospital built in 1897 was the grossartige alte Dame of Dar-es-Salaam and I learned to have been born there carried considerable kudos.

Ocean Road, a long avenue lined with coconut palms, passed the hospital and the Moorish-style State House ending at the Fish Market where I soon discovered people hated having their photograph taken.

Crowds waiting to board the old car ferry in Dar es-Salaam

Boys wandered about carrying trays of octopus tentacles, women fried cassava chips on charcoal stoves under the Indian Almond trees. Others roasted cashew nuts and corn cobs and while Jambo!   – the Swahili greeting – was on everyone’s lips, definitely no pichuz!

Appalled by the cooking in the YMCA, I used to walk down Azikiwe Street to the New Africa Hotel for breakfast which cost the same price as my room. I also liked the Gamblers High Tea —tea, cup cakes and jam roly-poly served in its casino between 4-6pm.

Octopus and chill dip, a popular snack in the fish market

Now, more than two decades on, unsurprisingly everything has changed. Gleaming glass skyscrapers have risen above Mchafukoge, a little park has been created around the Askari monument and hydrofoils whisk tourists across to Zanzibar in the blink of an eye.

In catching up to the modern world Dar es-Salaam has lost some of its charm and having decided long ago not to return to places I liked, it joins a  long list of others  visited, some of which are unrecognizable.

Lady enjoying cup of very black tea


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MEMORIES OF RANGIROA, sans touristes.

One of my most treasured travel memories is of a visit to the great atoll of Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia.

It was 1969. There were no tourists because there were no hotels. I stayed with Tahitian-French friends who monitored the seismographic station. I had just completed six months work at the Club Mediterranee on Moorea. Responsible for a team of five lazy Tahitian hostesses who spoke no English and several hundred tourists, mainly American, who spoke no French. On learning it was not Club Med policy to carry luggage, one lady even flew straight back to LA. At Christmas the housemaids went on strike and it was left for me to deliver fresh laundry to the guests. It should have been a dream job on an island paradise, but it nearly did my head in and when someone suggested Rangiroa at the end of season, I booked a flight from Tahiti the following day.

Few people had heard of Rangiora before Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki raft grounded there following its epic voyage from Peru in 1947.

The largest atoll in the Pacific, its 300-mile-long coral reef encloses a lagoon, sometimes turquoise, sometimes jade, or aquamarine and literally teeming with fish. On a visit to the Tuamotus, the French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau declared Rangiroa’s lagoon the most beautiful aquarium on earth.

Life was very laid back when I visited in the sixties. Coconuts dropped off the trees and needing to eat, locals plucked a lobster off the ocean side of the reef, or speared a fish in the lagoon. To me, all those years ago, it offered a glimpse of the simple life immortalised in Gauguin’s paintings of Polynesia.

Today, predictably, there are hotels and dive centres so rather than spoil my memory of Rangiroa, I shall find another atoll in the Tuamotus, as yet untouched by tourism…

Roads exist in Rangiroa’s two small villages, Avarotu and Tiputa, but outside these communities, transport is only by boat within the great lagoon.


The sweet scented tiare, or Gardenia taitensis, grows on Rangiroa. and is woven into flower crowns by local Paumotuan women.
A scene reminiscent of a painting by Paul Gauguin taken on Rangiroa in the sixties. Population today is estimated at 2,700 mainly Paumotuan. Note the small dog.
Tropical storm clouds gather over Rangiroa’s great lagoon. The dark patches in the water are coral. You just dive in straight off the reef which is what I did, every day.
Sunset over the great lagoon of Rangiroa, with fish rising.  The Tuamotu Archipelago, is a French collectivity scattered over the Pacific north-east of Tahiti.
I don’t normally post pictures of myself. But here I am, way back in in the sixties, enjoying the simple life in French Polynesia.


Copyright photos: Christine Osborne Pictures

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“When I hauled the net in…I saw the strange fish and realised it was different from anything I had ever seen before…It lifted its lip and snapped its mouth shut…I told the crew to put it on the wharf and not to damage it… then I went home for my annual holiday. On my return I was told the fish was a coelacanth … a living fossil believed extinct for millions of years…” Captain Hendrik P.Goosen describing how he caught the first ever coelacanth off the Comores on 15th December 1938.

Early Arab sea-farers called the volcanic archipelago kamar ‘islands of the moon’ as the great silver orb suspended over the Indian Ocean guided their dhows to landfall.

The Islamic Republic of the Comores consists of four islands — Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli—anchored in the Mozambique Channel, 180 miles off the African mainland. The fourth, Mayotte, is geographically part of the group, but administered by France.

Local house built from woven coconut palm fronds

With a population of nearly 1 million, Comorians are descended from mixed migrations of Arabs, Africans and Malays. 99 per cent follow Islam and reserved, like many islanders, they are mainly subsistence farmers and fishermen.

Moroni, the Comorian capital, is located on the largest island of Grande Comore.  An old ‘Indian Ocean Coast’ style town, its flat-roofed coral stone houses line narrow lanes descending to a harbour packed with wooden pirogues.

View of the Friday Mosque  in Moroni, Grande Comore

A second coelacanth caught in 1985 is exhibited in the National Museum and to protect any remaining fish, an area off  the south of  coast of Grande Comore has been gazetted  a coelacanth reserve.

Inland from Iconi, the Karthala Volcano rises 2361 metres above lush rainforest counting exotic species such as thousand year old cycad palms. The coastal belt is cultivated with extensive coconut plantations, cassava, maize, bananas and ylang-ylang holdings.

The Karthala Volcano on Grande Comore last erupted in 2007 sending lava down to the sea

Grande Comore is one of the world’s biggest producers of ylang-ylang an essential element in many perfumes, but it takes nearly a ton of the flowers to extract just a litre of the precious oil.

Ylang-ylang a star-shaped flower grows on the Cananga tree (Cananga odorata)

Local life is generally low-key except on the occasion of a Grand Mariage when custom dictates the first-born daughter gets a big send off to married life.

As soon as she is born, her family begins building her future home which may take them twenty years and their life savings to complete.

A market in Moroni, capital of the Comoros Islands

The groom reciprocates with money, jewelry and livestock. He also pays for the wedding feast lasting several days when not only relatives, but the entire village of 3-400 people are invited to the festivities.

After recitations from the Qur’an and the signing of the marriage contract everyone joins in traditional dancing which grows ever wilder, but is always performed precisely in step.

Comorian women dancing the wadaha

Their faces painted with sandalwood paste (considered to be alluring) women perform the energetic wadaha which mimes the chores —— milling grain, sweeping, fetching water —in store for the bride.

Men dance the mougodro which has origins in Afro-Malagasy culture and not to be left out,  leaning on canes elders or ‘notables’ dance with great dignity.

Most grand marriages are held during the  May- October dry season which is also the best time to visit the Comores.

Postage stamp featuring the coelacanth found off Grande Comore in 1938
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