Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!
Sep 07, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day8
In the morning, the Bir and Lito came to the hotel in the morning to say good-bye. They brought me the address of Bir’s and wanted to go with me to the airport. The taxi driver did not mind. At the airport, I bought them long sleeve tops from the Baobab Company, as it was rather chilly in the morning and they came dressed in sleeveless basketball shirts. I thought they wanted to wear them straight away, but they insisted the ladies in the shop fold them properly, pack them in plastic and put them in the Baobab Company bags. One each.
The fight on the ATR72 landed in Antananarivo 15 minutes early. On the plane, I drew a map of Madagascar on the back of the sickness bag, indicating where I have been in the country and how I got there. This was for a 71 year-old Japanese gentleman sitting next to me, when he asked where in Madagascar I have been. He kept my terrible and hardly legible scribbles! He said he loved the country and the Malagasy people and that he would want to go to Madagascar again, stay longer and see more. He only saw Fort Dauphin and Morondava.
Miguel was already waiting for me in the arrivals hall. He drove me to the hotel and said that he would come back for me at 11:30am to take me to his place for lunch. I unpacked the necessary gear and sat down in the front garden for a while.
Miguel and Vony lived in the poorest part of the capital. That was according to Vony. The district was indeed a bit uninspiring, but their place was big and had a nice view of the capital with the Royal Hill of Rova. The lunch was fantastic. Vony prepared the starer - a delicious prawn cocktail with home-made mayo, pineapple and a few other fruits. Miguel cooked the turkey. It was slow cooked on charcoal for three hours. He only used salt. No oil was involved in the cooking. It was superb. There was papaya for desert followed by cheese. The cheese was probably the highlight of the meal. It was incredible! One was soft like Cabernet and the other was hard cheese, similar to Parmesan. Both produced locally in Madagascar! We also had wine (I brought a bottle Chateau Joinin 2007) and Miguel got another bordeaux. We chatted about the past 12 years, their kids, my travel experiences and music.
At about 2pm, the entire Miguel’s family and I went to the UNESCO-listed Blue Hill at Ambohimanga, some 20 kilometres from the capital, a former seat of the Malagasy royal family. I was there before in 2001, but it was great to have a look at it again. The views from the hill were spectacular. The entire Antananarivo could be seen as well as the mountains in the background and picturesque villages between.
The sun set, and we went to see Miguel’s parents, who lived nearby. It was fascinating to find out that Miguel’s father spoke excellent English. He was a chemist and used English a lot in the past. Now, he was retired and preferred to live in the country and keep turkeys and free range chickens. Miguel’s mother was a warm person, who could not quite believe the story of me finding Miguel and Vony after those 12 years without contact. She insisted that we had some milk before we went. Miguel’s daughters loved it there in the country.
We went back to the capital, picking up a few hitch-hikers with small children, and dined at Vony’s favourite Chinese restaurant in the central Antananarivo. Their portions were huge.
Sep 06, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day7
In morning, at 7:30am, I went whales watching. At least at that time in the morning, this is was what I thought I was going to do. I put on shorts and t-shirt, took my iPhones and camera and the 50,000 ariary to pay for the trip, and walked barefoot to the pirogue station. The guy, who made a deal with me, Torti, 28, brought a smiling boy Lito, 18, with him to pick me up from the hotel. On the way, Torti asked me if I wanted to go with the sail. I said yes and Lito went to fetch one.
At the pirogue landing by the river, I found another boy preparing the pirogue. Bir, 17, was grumpy and bossy, ordering everyone around. He did not smile much at all and used three small boys, aged probably 8-10 to assist him a bit. But was also bossing with Torti and Lito when standing up the mast. For the first time, I saw a young person so bossy and cocky with people around him. When he took his pants off and stayed in his boxer briefs, I understood why. Let me just say that Bir was a full package of a man.
Lito was clam and had his Malagasy smile on almost all the time. He was the captain at the beginning and took us out into the open ocean. Bir was standing in the front of the pirogue, holding on to the mast, looking out for cetaceans.
Torti was the calculative one. I think he knew there were little chances we were going to see any whales, as the ocean was a bit bumpy and it was relatively late. We did not reach whale depths (normally 40-60 meters or more) until 10:30am, which I originally thought was going to be the time I would be back at the hotel. So, he took some line fishing gear with him.
I told the guys that I was going to take a lot of pictures and they better smiled nicely. I also told them that they should expect to receive a bonus if the photos looked great. From then on, Bir was smiling nicely. Torti later explained to me that the boys did not sleep well and had no breakfast that morning, and this was why Bir was a bit grumpy.
The trip lasted 5.5 hours instead of 2. In Morondava, unlike Fort Dauphin, where waters are deep near the shore, one had to go over 20 miles out into the open ocean to reach the whale depths of 40-60 meters. Madagascar disappeared from the horizon and there was just ocean around. I was mighty impressed with the navigation skills of the teenagers. They had no equipment, no compass, just the sun in the sky. They were quite accurate guessing the time by looking at the sun. I did not see any whales. The boys snoozed. Torti sat deep in the pirogue, covered his head with a shirt and went to sleep. At that time, Bir was the skipper, so he sat at the back and steered the boat with a paddle. Lito snoozed at the front of the pirogue.
As we went back, the waves picked up near the shore. It was a trick to get to the beach and keep the pirogue stable. One of the waves eventually covered the entire pirogue and us. The boys were rather stressed that my big camera got wet. But this was just right at the beach, where the depth was slightly more than a meter.
I invited the crew for drinks at the hotel. I gave them the bonus and they were ecstatic. I also gave them t-shirts and Bir got a pair of underpants with Fred Flintstone on them that said ‘Big Daddy’ printed in a strategic spot on the pants. We chatted but it was a difficult conversation. Torti was the only one that spoke French, and my French was terrible. The boys spoke only Malagasy. I told them that I was thinking of going to the Avenue (Alee) des Baobabs again and the boys said that they wanted to go with me as they have never been there. So, I gave them an hour to grab some food and change and meet me at the hotel. Torti was given a task to find a car that was going to takes us there for 50,000 ariary and not more.
At the avenue, there were again kids with the chameleons, offering an opportunity of a photo. I later found that kids in Madagascar kept chameleon as pets and often organised chameleon fighting.
In the evening, I had lobster dinner with prawns at Les Bougainvilliers. It was perfect. At 9:30pm, the entire pirogue crew plus two other guys, one aged 20, the other aged 15, wanted to show me the night life of Morondava. But the new hot spot on the town, Tapas our la Nuit, was closed! My Lord Club, just opposite, was shut down and the area was boarded off for some construction work. So, I asked them to take me to a local bar at the beach. There was one near the main post office. We had some beers and I bought the boys some skewers of zebu and grilled fish for Bir, who only ate seafood. It was a good night, but it was hard to communicate, as Torti was the only one with whom I could try to have a chat.
Sep 05, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day6
In the morning, I went to say good-bye to ‘my fishermen’, had a cup of coffee on the beach listening to Kayah’s “Jak lisc”, which for some incredible reason found itself included on the hotel’s iPod playlist! I shook the hand of the Directrisse of the hotel and climbed my four wheel drive. The driver must have been at least a 100 years old and had concentration and movements of a chameleon. But the ride to the airport did not take longer than 90 minutes. He took the coastal route.
The flight left 30 minutes early! It took ages for the ground staff to deliver the luggage. They just left it on the tarmac and disappeared for 20 minutes! I was not impressed.
The trip to Nosy Kely in Morondava was a quick ride in a taxi for 15,000. I chose Hotel Maeva right at the beginning of the peninsula. It was the simplest of all hotels I stayed to-date, and the cheapest - at 70,000 ariary per night. It was right on the beach, all rooms had ocean view and the breeze was sweeping the rooms when windows were open. Mosquito nets were provided.
I strolled on the beach a bit and hiked to town. There were a lot of changes since 2001. There were a lot more sealed roads and pavements. Back in 2001, Nosy Kely was not paved, had few buildings on it - maybe three of four hotels. Now, there were many more, there were more households and buildings overall, and a few bars and eateries right on the beach.
I went to the bank to change €100, but I cringed at the long and slow moving queue. I did not have my visa card with me, otherwise, I would have taken money out of the ATM right there instead. I had to go back to the hotel. On the way, I spotted a bright red Renault 4L. I asked for a driver but he could not be found. A few guys cried his name, but after a while, I said that it was not important and continued to Nosy Kely. But the car caught up with me, of course. I chatted to him about the trip to the Avenue des Baobabs, agreed the price for the tour (50,000 ariary) and he insisted we went right now. It did not matter to him how long I was going to take at the spot there. He therefore took me to the hotel for passport and cash card. On the way, we stopped at the bank, I took cash out of the ATM and within 30 minutes I was again standing in the middle of the magnificent Baobab Avenue (Alee des Baobabs). It was a pleasant deja vu. We also continued 7 kilometres farther to see the Baobabs in Love, and then went back to the main avenue for sunset.
The only difference between 2013 and 2001 that I spotted were souvenir stands at the Avenue and Baobabs in Love and kids with the chameleons.
The sunset was perfect. Back in Morondava, I had lobster dinner at Les Bougainvilliers - 35,000 large lobster probably older than me, which was grilled to perfection. I wanted to go out, but My Lord club closed! I therefore visited Chez Jean le Rasta bar for live band performance instead.
Sep 04, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day5
I was scheduled to go for a boat trip to see the whales, but the hotel made an error or something and the trip did not happen. I was up early enough for this, and then such a disaster. Had I not pre-arranged this, even by email before I left home, I would have organised myself with a local fishermen, who were all too keen to take me. I had at least 20 offers the day before. I am not sure how genuine all they were, but there were also two stations on the beach, which offered whale watching trips, one of them advertised on a board that they did daily departures at 8am. Oh well. Perhaps when I am in Morondava for a bit longer than 30 hours, I will eventually get a proper whale watching trip.
I walked on the beach and watched the fishermen prepare their gear as the sea was still high. There was a group of seven guys mending their net, sitting on a large lakana. As soon as I approached they said hello and everyone welcomed me with a big smile. A young one among them had the best and widest smile I have seen in Mangily. He did not say a word and appeared a bit shy, but every time I looked in his direction he smiled showing his perfectly white teeth. I chatted with the others. They were passing comments about my gear. They loved my mirror sunglasses, wet surfing shoes, bright orange polo shirt, black-and-white 3/4 pants, the D7000 Nikon camera and both of my iPhones. I snapped a few photos of them with the cameras and they loved it too. The guy with the perfect smile had no t-shirt on, so I asked him if he wanted one. He nodded yes, so I went back to my hotel and fetched one for him. It was blue with white patterns. I took an extra one as well (a white one with geographic coordinated of Le Meridien Ile Maurice, which the hotel gave me) just in case. When I came back, two other guys took their shirts off hoping that they would get something as well. Well, they could not quite believe that I was giving clothes away. The two guys that benefited from my visit immediately put the t-shirts on, smiled almost uncontrollably to laughed off the comments from the others, and then took the shirts off and folded them neatly. I left.
I lingered on the beach for three more hours. Deflected countless propositions for a massage, to buy necklaces or wooden boxes or to go fishing and snorkeling. I sunburnt my elbows, as I must have missed them when applying sunscreen.
I had two grilled lobsters on the beach again. This time, I asked they were grilled with garlic and the fisherman obliged nicely. I actually saw the entire grilling process as it was daylight this time. The inside of an uncooked lobster does not look very appetising, I must say. When ready, it looked fantastic and the garlic made it perfect.
When sitting at the table right on the beach sipping a drink, I decided to spend an extra night in Mangily. Hardly ever have I been able to adjust my route like this. I am normally on a tight schedule to see maximum possible in a short time. The hotel had rooms available and were very happy for me to stay an extra night. I had to move my Toliara transport to the next day, too. This was not a problem.
I donated half of my clothes to the fishermen, who smiled best. This caused a bit of commotion and perhaps some jealousy from other fishermen. The news was travelling very fast. Some other fishermen later walked towards me, introduced themselves and said that they were also fishermen and asked if therefore they get a t-shirt, too. I had to explain to them that I was giving t-shirts not to fishermen specifically, but to people who smiled the friendliest to me. Tony Halik, one of Poland’s great travellers, always said: “Do not give gifts. You will not have enough!” And this was very true. I did have a feeling that I should have brought more t-shirts from home, but I did not want to overload my luggage.
I also gave away my wet surfing shoes. They were a bit too small for me anyway. I walked around the village and saw a football match with the team from Toliara.
Had two lobsters for dinner and went out to a local bar and the disco.
Sep 03, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day4
In the morning, weather was dramatically different in Fort Dauphin. There was plenty of sunshine, it was already very warm at 7 o’clock and the air was clear. The view from the bungalow was even more photogenic. I pre-arranged a taxi for the airport at 8:30am to meet my flight to Toliara at 10:10am. It only took about ten minutes to drive from the hotel. As the airport was tiny, there was no need to arrive 2 hours before departure time. An hour or 45 minutes would be perfectly sufficient.
As the taxi passed by the coast, a whale was jumping out of the water. Not that far from the coast again. I wish I had had more time to stay in the city and get into a pirogue to see the whales up close.
A short guy at the check-in insisted that I put my carry on into the hold. I could have argued, but since it was a short flight from one tiny airport to another tiny airport, I did not care that much. The bag was locked, so I did not expect any problems. Also, all my important staff was safely stored in my shoulder bag.
The 45 minute flight took off and touched down on time. Although I asked the hotel for the transfer to Ifaty, no-one was waiting for me. I had to deflect a few taxi drivers, as normal. I called the hotel and the voice on the other side said that the car for me was on its way. It turned out that the Directrisse of the hotel herself was picking me up. She drove very well and within about 90 minutes my luggage was offloaded to my room on the first floor of the boutique hotel and spa called Princesse du Lagon. It was obvious that a lady director made all the difference to the decor of the venue. It was indeed a boutique hotel with artistic detail, plenty of local art of supreme quality and yet a rustic feel. The main building, the rooms, the terraces, the bed, the linen, the tables and chairs in the garden, the garden curtains - all white. It looked fantastic. But I could imagine how hard it must have been to keep it white in Madagascar, where the soil is blood-red and the dust is orange.
At night, the garden and the beach bar and restaurant were tastefully lit up with all sorts of lamps hanging from the trees and standing in the sand. There was even fire made surrounded lounges and reclining armchairs. It was truly fantastic.
On my first day in Mangily, I strolled on the beach, arranged a lobster dinner with a local fisherman and went on a hike in the baobab forest. The hike was about 2 hours long. About 90 minutes with plenty of stops for photos until the 1800 years old baobab tree, and then 30 minutes on the way back to the village. The forrest featured four different species of baobab, including the bottle baobab, but excluding the tall andasonia grandidieri.
After the hike, I strolled around the village a little peeking into people’s shops, local bars and watched five guys play boule (petanque). They were really good. One of the smaller slim guys, who was the second best in the game, had a perfect smile. This is why I love Madagascar so much. People smile so nicely. As soon as I approached the guys, he welcomed my presence with his friendliest smile. It is an incredible feeling to be instantly accepted like that.
I had lobster dinner at the beach arranged with a fisherman. He charged me 35000 (£10) for two grilled lobsters.
In the evening, I went out. Mangily was pitch black. The village did not have electricity and only the more sophisticated venues had generators. I had my little torch with me, so it was easier to navigate. As soon as I reached the centre of the village, I was scraped from the street by two guys I earlier saw on the beach, or rather who spotted me on the beach. They wanted to join me for a drink, hoping that they found a sponsor. And they did. I did not bring too much cash with me that night, so there was only enough for eight large bottles of lager. We sat down at one of the local bars, next to the Chez Sebastien Disco, which played loud Malagasy music. It had a great ambiance. One of the local guys was drinking some potent rum from a tiny bottle and within minutes he was on his feet dancing away as if there was no tomorrow. It was really funny, as he knew all the songs and mimed the lyrics as well. This caused a bit of sensation, as the villagers kept peeking from the street what was going on, they kept pushing the curtains hanging in the windows with no glass pane to make sure they had a good view.
I was ready to go to bed at some point, yet I was a bit curious how animated the next door disco was going to get. And the lads obviously did not have enough and they definitely wanted to check out the discotheque. So, I went back to the hotel to get more cash, and we went back to the same bar for a while until the disco opened. But the venue did not pick up at all. Until 1am, we were the only customers, and then just a handful of locals came, but no-one was dancing and it was a bit boring. In fact, a few local kids and teenagers hopped a little in the street benefiting from the fact the music was loud and the disco was almost an open-air venue.
Sep 02, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day3
Air Madagascar changed the aircraft for the flight from Antananarivo to Tolanaro (Taolagnaro, Fort Dauphin) from the Boeing 737 to the ATR72. It was still a comfortable aircraft but it took much longer to fly the distance. So, I landed about 30 minutes later than original schedule suggested. That was a pity, as I had rather limited time in Fort Dauphin. Yet, on the other hand, weather was not perfect, with heavy gray clouds hanging low and therefore there was only a limited number of things that I could do in town.
My pre-arranged taxi, which was in fact unnecessary, as taxis were available at the airport and were willing to make the trip for MGA5,000. I pre-agreed MGA7,000. The shy taxi driver was not immediately recognisable. I am not sure where he was standing with a small blackboard with my name scribbled on it in white chalk. He obviously did not speak English and the hotel knew I was British, so they sent an interpreter or a guide with him. The guide was very disappointed to hear that I was staying for one night only, as he wanted to sell me side trips and tours. That was strange for he should have known that I booked the hotel for just a single night.
Anyway, the ride from the airport was quick. About ten minutes. The car passed by the coast. I look at the ocean and all over sudden a giant spray from whale’s lungs pops up high above the surface! That was incredible. I quickly found that it was very easy to organise a solo trip to see the whales up and close with any hotel or a ‘tour guide’ in town.
When I arrived, the receptionist of the Hotel Lavasoa greeted me nicely and showed me to my bungalow. I got bungalow number 6, that has a private terrace with the best view in Madagascar. The view featured the Libanona Beach that is depicted on the 5,000 ariary banknote. It was really rather spectacular. Its unsubtle yellow crescent contrasted dramatically with the green vegetation nearby and the rugged mountains in the distance. Fort Dauphin is said to have the most spectacular setting of all Malagasy cities. I would have to agree. It had three large crescent beaches and mountains few miles inland.
The bungalow could sleep five people. Two downstairs on a double bed, where the bathroom and the terrace where as well, and three upstairs, on a double and single beds. Each bed had a mosquito net fixed on the ceiling. It was super clean and bed lined smelled fresh. The rooms had tables and chairs and the terrace had two wooden armchairs with cushions and a wooden table with two wooden benches. No toiletries were provided except a tiny bar of vanilla soap. But the bathroom had toilet rolls and the towels were big and spotless.
Within a few minutes I was ready to explore the town. I descended from the hill to the Libanona Beach, deflected offers to buy silver bracelets and necklaces, and found myself on the coastal road that went around the town. For Dauphin was not large. It had a population of 60,000 but it did not show. It did not boast any spectacular sights, other than its setting. There were three very different churches, a small mosque, a handful of run-down colonial houses, great Malagasy houses with verandas supported by thick square columns and huts with giant roofs. There was also an old Portuguese fort, but it was a military base and access was not guaranteed. Reportedly, one could apply for access to wander around, right at the gate without prior arrangements. But it really depended on the guards at the time whether visitors were going to be allowed or not. Even if one could get in, photography was categorically and strictly forbidden. I had a look from a distance, and it was not that much to see there, anyway. The gate to the perimeter looked interesting and I think there was an old fort portal that still remained.
The central square leading to the old harbour and the old fort was a very pleasant spot in the city. It had a few stone benches from where the view of the city’s main beach, the harbour’s decaying facilities and the mountains in the background. The square had a large stone statue of a chameleon and one of a dolphin as well. The locals liked to linger on the square or make it as a meeting spot, such as “let’s meet at the chameleon”.
I wandered a little bit here and there, snapped a few photographs and as it was getting dark, took a taxi back to the hotel. Despite some reports that Fort Dauphin was not safe, I was not advised to hide my watch, my camera or my phones. I obviously had to be street wise, but the locals insisted that I should have no trouble by walking about on my own. However, the receptionist at the hotel recommended that I took a taxi at night. There were two reasons, both related to darkness and a lack of street lighting. One was that it was easy to get lost and the other was it was not very pleasant to be walking in almost complete darkness.
But the two minutes walking distance between the Lavasoa Hotel and the Talinjoo Restaurant (at the Talinjoo Hotel & Spa) was not an issue, so I braved this one. I did have my small torches with me. The Talinjoo was a lovely hotel, actually. It was more upscale than Lavasoa. It had eight rooms with massive terraces overlooking the ocean and the mountains, and six more were being built. They charged €70 per night and that included breakfast and airport transfers. The rooms were of good size and had en suite bathrooms. The spa had a fantastic setting. It was located slightly lower on the slope and had some wonderful views, too. There was a large infinity pool as well, a pool bar, a very nice restaurant, a lobby bar and terrace, a pool table and small shop. The personnel was very professional and some spoke good English. The very friendly guy at the reception showed me the entire grounds and a couple of rooms. I also ordered dinner with him. He introduced me to the chef, who was going to grill my lobster. Nice touch!
The hotel was not very busy that particular night, as most guest left in the afternoon. Yet, the hotel expected to be full from the next day on. I was so far the only client for the restaurant. Perhaps it was early for anyone else, as it was just 7pm. It took the chef about 40 minutes to prepare my dish. While I waited, I had a bottle of Coke and the hotel thew a saucer of roasted peanuts gratis. The lobster, of which (rather oddly) were three halves, was grilled to perfection. The chef did not spare any garlic either, which was superb. The lobster was divine and the sautéed vegetables were nice and crunchy. I was happy although not necessarily surprised that I paid just MGA25,000 (£7.40, €8.60) for this dish.
At the reception, I enquired about the nightlife on the town. The notorious Panorama Club was only opened on Saturdays, so I could not sample that. But he said that the Florida Bar next door was a lively bar during the week and that I could try that one instead. It sounded like a plan.
By the time I was ready to leave the personnel of Lavasoa was in bed. I asked the security guard for a taxi number but the number did not work. I walked down to Talinjoo hotel and ask the receptionist to call a cab for me. But his mate, who happened to be there and decided to make some money said he would take me for MGA10,000, which was twice the normal taxi fare. But I agreed for a reason I do not totally understand. He also made me take his number in case I wanted a trip back after the party.
The Florida, actually called Florida by Anita, was a lively place. The owner, a native Mauritian, who spent several years in Manchester, England, ran this place with his Malagasy girlfriend Anita. I had four 0.6l lagers there and a 0.3l bottle of tonic and my bill came to MGA11,000. That was great! Over the drinks, I chatted to four local girls, one French vazaha (who was after the boys, I later learnt from the locals), and three local guys - all of whom wanted to practice their English, bar the French guy. The guys were probably the smallest Malagasy people I met so far. Slim and short, with small hands. In general, the people in eastern Madagascar were smaller than the people in the west. They had more Asian features, while those from the western coast had larger built, more muscular and were darker and taller, similar to the continental Africans. I was a bit surprised how many locals could afford to come to the bar and party. They guys even started buying me drinks, so I made a tactical move and left. It was a good night out.
Sep 01, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day2
Finally a late start. Yet, it seemed that my body clock was getting into a routine by waking me up at 6am. This did not mean that I got up, though. It was still about 2 hours before I rolled off the bed. A stroll on the beach in the opposite direction than the day before. It was easier at the low tide. I found a couple of pretty leaning palm trees and their shadows to photograph. I chatted to a couple of locals and got back to the hotel to pack.
I had an espresso and a glass of papaya juice before Momo arrived. He took me to the crater lakes and the Mount Passot, the highest point on the island at 329 meters above sea level. The peak offered a great view of the entire island, as well as a few isles around and the main island of Madagascar in the distance. The spot must have been a popular tourist attraction as a number of souvenir stands were fitted up there with the people trying to make a sale. But the quality was rather poor if someone was looking for ‘gallery’ quality.
The lakes, Anjavibe, Bemapaza, Antsidihy, Maintimaso and Amparihibe all seem to have had green water in. One of them, I cannot remember which one, had also crocodiles. Man-eaters!
Then, I went to the ‘little Italy’ - the Andilana Beach, a sandy stretch of the west coast lined with upscale resorts frequented by the tourists from Italy. The locals even learnt Italian to better negotiate the sale of t-shirts, batiks, table cloths, figurines, spices, paintings and... massages. It was in fact a very nice beach, and there were a few more affordable spots like bars and eateries. This was the first, and the last, beach on Nosy Be where I saw other vazahas (white people) taking a dip in the ocean. In the moment of weakness, I bought a t-shirt with baobab prints for MGA20,000 (£5.85) from a girl with a painted face. I later found out that girls painted their faces as a form of protection against a sun - some sort of sunscreen. She told me that she painted her face herself in front of a mirror. She looked great. As I made a purchase, she had to agree that I snapped a photo of her.
On the way to the capital of the island, Hell-Ville, we almost ran over a small chameleon that was slowly crossing the road. What a classic picture of Madagascar! It had a green body but its eyes were colourful. It was moving slowly in the chameleons’ hesitant fashion.
In Hell-Ville, I had only a couple of hours. So I went around a bit, snapped a few photos at the fishing harbour and the central square (there were quite a few nice colonial building around, in fact), and stopped at a great little bar called Ankoay. Its entire bar was modelled on a boat, and they sold drinks for the normal MGA1,500 for softs and MGA3,000 for lagers.
The flight to Tana was on time. It arrived from Mayotte, and there were already a few people on board when we boarded. It took one hour to reach Tana, the nation’s capital - as Antananarivo is nicknamed.
Miguel, whom I met in Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) in northern Madagascar back in 2001 picked me up from the airport. We re-connected about a month ago over Facebook. It was very good to see him happy and making living despite the 12 year-long political turmoil that has been shaking the nation six months after the left the island in June 2001. He married that girl, whom I also met in Diego, and when they had just started to go out. They now have two daughters, 10 and 6. Both run a small photo printing business. I asked them to join me for dinner at my hotel, La Ribaudiere, which was actually running an excellent restaurant. We went for the full monty: proper starters, including foie-gras and carpaccio de zebu, followed by king prawns and roasted duck, accompanied with a nice bottle of French bordeaux, finished with fruit and ice-cream and some yummy digestifs. It was so great to catch up. I will see them again on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Madagascar Day1
The flight landed on time. The Nosy Be airport was small, and I quickly remembered how complicated the border procedure the Malagasy could make. Although it did seem much more straightforward that 12 year ago in Antananarivo. Still, there were too many people checking your passport, as if the person just a few seconds earlier was not trusted to do a proper job checking the bio page of your little travel document.
The airport had no cash machine. There were a couple of bureaux de change just across the terminal building and a couple of people approached me to change money. In Madagascar only licensed bureaux de change were authorised to exchange Malagasy ariary for foreign currency. People were strongly discouraged to deal with individuals when changing money, as both them and the locals were breaking the law.
The taxis outside the terminal building had a price list of rides to destinations around the island, and the list featured all of the hotels. So, it was not something you could negotiate on. My hotel was about 20 kilometres away, and my price was MGA45,000 (€16). This is how much the hotel charged as well, I later found out.
The driver named Momo, a native from Nosy Be with funny dimples on his cheeks, did not speak much English, so we had to chat in French. He was not fat, but it was clear he managed to fed himself well and had a little beer belly. He, like most Malagasy, smiled a lot. The car, an ancient peugeot 306, had no safety belts. I therefore demanded that he drove slowly. The tarmac on the road had seen better days, so Momo had not much choice anyway. He almost immediately started to make a sale for some side trips on the island that he could arrange for me. He was very disappointed that I was staying for one day only.
Momo mentioned that the second largest town on the island was organising the Malagasy boxing championships and that later on everyone was going to be partying at Boom Beach Club in Madiro Kely. Apparently, the boxing and the partying was taking place every Sunday. I was intrigued, so as he dropped me off, we agreed that he would come for me in time for the boxing event, which was starting at 4:30pm.
The Vanila Hotel & Spa (vanila with one ‘L’) was a lovely place. It was set in own botanic garden, right at the beach and was tastefully decorated. It had a large airy lobby with a high ceiling. The lobby was opening into a bar, at the end of which there was an infinity pool with a view of the beach. The venue had three other, smaller circular pools in the other part of the property. The walkways by the buildings were lacquered wooden planks based, which made a great impression. This must have been one of the loveliest hotel exteriors that I have seen.
The room I was given (no.52) was large, had a king size bed and a sofa, tiled flooring, minibar, flat screen TV, a small desk and a chair, en-suite bathroom with shower, a fan, air-con and a good size terrace with deck chairs offering an ocean view.
I walked on the beach a little and stopped at a local beach bar called Bell Vent. A group of men played dominos slamming the pieces loudly on the table. Three handsome young guys sipped beer and the attractive slim young girl at the counter struggled to give me change for my MGA10,000 (£3) after I ordered a bottle Fanta for MGA1,500. So I also asked for MGA3,000 bottle of THB lager (0.6l) and she eventually managed. I got a small glass for my lager and sat down at a free table with the view of the ocean. I had only about half of the bottle and gave the rest of the lager to the lads.
Back at the hotel, I learnt that the venue allowed the locals access to the pools, which was very kind. About a dozen of kids played in the pools. There was a slight breeze that afternoon and some of the younger ones were shivering clinking their teeth.
Momo was on time. It was a short ride back in the direction of Hell-Ville. A ticket to the boxing event was MGA3,000. First, it started with the presentation of the athletes and none of them had boxer physique. Most of the guys were short and slim. I expected something else was going to happen there. When it started, it was more of a kind of kick-boxing. The rounds were very quick, just under a minute, and winner of each round was immediately announced. After the round, the opponents lifted one another in turn. I thought that was a great sport-like gesture! The guys had no gloves, so although the rounds were quick, there were injuries. They were quickly dealt with by a medics team right by the ring. The champion that week won his round by a knock-out. The sun has just set, when the event ended.
The Boom Beach Club, a few miles from the boxing arena, was already jumping. They must have started at sunset or about 6pm. It was a great place. People were hopping on the dancefloor, sipping drinks at the tables (large bottle of lager was MGA3,000), standing or swaying on the beach listening to the music and feeling the vibe, watching others, and... peeing into the ocean, lads and gals included!
Aug 30, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Reunion Day5
An early start, again. Alarm clock rang at 06:05am, an hour and ten minutes before Corail Helicopteres was to pick me up for the tour. Just enough time to shower, slap some sun screen on and scoff some breakfast. A Malagasy-looking guy arrived for me already at 07:05am, so I just finished my pineapple juice and went.
As we were all in early, the helicopter captain decided to start the tour early to make most of the weather, which could shift quickly on Reunion. And he was right to have suggested that. Clouds were gathering very fast and already the main crater of the volcano was completely obscured. The tour lasted an hour and made a €300 dip in my budget. But it was worth it. Reunion island was remarkably spectacular, but it was clear that its true awesomeness could really only be appreciated from the air. And the helicopter could fly low in the canyons and pick up easily so close to the waterfalls and the mountain ridge. I originally opted for the Full Flyover Tour for €240 but it was leaving at 09:00am, finishing 45 minutes later, which was a bit too close to my 10:30 departure on the Whales Safari with Le Grand Bleu. Although, it was still possible to do it, with a bit of stress in case of missing the boat. The trip from the helipad to the harbour was only about 7 minutes ride.
So, I had about an hour or so to kill in the harbour. It was time for espresso and vanilla ice-cream. The port of Saint-Gilles had a number of cafes, bars and restaurants. I picked the Bar de la Marine, which charged me €4 for the goodies. It had free wifi and personnel spoke some English.
The cetacean safari started about 30 minutes late. This was because the company extended the tours from 2hrs to 2.5hrs due to a number of whales near the shore and at least one mother with a young one, so people could enjoy the spectacle. The laws of Reunion permit whale watching from a distance of 200 yards, so the boat could not approach the creatures close enough for decent photos. But I think I might have captured the famous tail with my zoom camera. I was still a bit annoyed that the captain decided to keep a distance of at least 350 yards all the time. I definitely support maintaining a good distance with the whales and their young if it is a large vessel. But the catamaran I was on could afford to the 200 yard minimum without threatening the creatures. At least for a few moments. Anyway, a smaller boat with snorkelers arrived and they approached the mother and calf to about ten yards. Furthermore, three of the men jumped into the ocean swam closer to the whales.This angered the mother and the captain of the boat I was on. He reported the perpetrators to the authorities over the radio and the mother-whale took the young to deeper waters, so the viewing ended. But this could be the moment when I might have snapped the tail.
After the whale watching, I was planning to go to Saint-Pierre but as the tours were all extended, 1:30pm was a bit too late to leave. The bus was not going to reach Saint-Pierre by 3:40pm, which would have given me only about 1h30’ for visiting and still risking not having transport back to Saint-Gilles. Given Reunion’s notorious reputation of shutting public transport before sunset.
So, instead I headed to the main beach looking for a good beachfront eatery for some lunch. I walked from Saint-Gilles to Ermitage and stopped at the Kabanon, a simple and unpretentious beach bar and eatery, who did superb skewers of large prawns for €22, which came with green salad, a small pot of vegetables and rice. Their half pint draft lagers were €2.50.
Then, it was time to relax. I had another early start the next day to catch my 10:30am from Saint-Denis to Nosy Be. Two hours before the flight, plus an hour to get to the other side of the island...
Aug 29, 2013 08:00 PM The Indian Ocean Extravaganza - Comoros Day4
It was still dark, when I boarded Miki’s tiny boat. The sun rose about half an hour later. Already many fishermen navigated the ocean. The sea was relatively calm and it was not hard to keep a balance on the waves. We must have passed two thirds of the island in the northerly direction and reached Mitsamiouli before a whale appeared. Actually, it was its massive spray from its lungs that we spotted. It was much too far to take a picture though. Miki caught a small yellow tuna fish and we proceeded to the dolphin station. They had plenty of young ones and they were very playful. The faster the boat accelerated the closer they were getting to the boat and jumped right in front of it. It was amazing, actually. A couple jumped very high out of the water spinning like crazy. We must have spent about half an hour with them. They were rather near the shore, so it would be easy to swim with them. But there was no beach, so I am not sure how one could get to from the island. Perhaps boat was the only sensible option. I snapped a few pictures with my big and iPhone cameras and we turned back towards Itsandra. It was already 08:30. We reached the hotel at 09:05. Miki grabbed his phone and we went to Moroni to see his girlfriend out as she was leaving for the Anjouan island. I gave Miki a few more euros that he asked. Petrol was not free, he did not earn only a little and had a small boy to raise.
I liked the playful dolphins but I was still a bit disappointed that we could not see any whales up close and that I could not take any photos. Perhaps I will have more luck in Reunion and Madagascar.
It was time to pack and check out of the hotel.
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