The Malagasy people live basically and have very little; farming, fishing and craft making. We are often approached by locals in small outriggers seeking food for a sick child, perhaps an offer of fresh octopus in exchange for money, clothes or fishing gear. One guy wanted to exchange a bunch of bananas for our starboard jib sheet, but he had to suffice with a cap. I have a stash of Chupa Chups, exercise pads and pens, balloons, and a few tennis balls to give to children, and I’ve gathered a few of our t-shirts, clothes, and hats that we can exchange for fruit and fish along the way. It’s not much though…
As kids do they have fun with whatever they have – dragging a stick on the end of a piece of fabric, girls playing the age-old game of ‘elastics’ (remember that ladies?), young lads kicking a ball or playing in the dirt, or just causing mischief. One little fellow had the wheel from an old pram tied to a stick; he thought this was great fun pushing that along. These happy children attend school during the week, wear their Sunday best to go to church and are loved by their families.
We arrived at the touristy island of Nosy Be to check in last week after taking our time down the northwest corner of Madagascar. Sounding more like a Stephen King novel, the main town, Hellville, is an old French colonial town on the southeast corner of Nosy Be. We arrived at the port and it wasn’t long before we were circled – by the Boat Boys of Hellville!
It’s dog-eat-dog here and the fastest reaps the spoils. First to reach Blue Heeler was Romeo who had commandeered a speedy boat with functioning outboard. Coming in a poor second was the rival. Crouched on the bow, we watched as he slowly paddled his dinghy with non-functioning outboard across to us. Introducing himself as Koole, he was friendly and told us he works with another local entrepreneur, Jimmy. Today he just wasn’t fast enough. Romeo got the gig.
An institution at Hellville, the boat boys will make sure your dinghy is looked after while you go about your business on land. There’s no dinghy dock for yachties so for a few local ariarys, they’ll make sure no-one nicks your outboard. Romeo’s English is very good and soon after we’d dinghied to the port where he and his sidekick, Bob, dragged our dinghy up the boat ramp where Bob would keep an eye on it. Another boat boy (I didn’t catch his name but with metal rimmed shades he reminded me of Lenny Kravitz) tried to butt-in but Romeo barked at him to go away.
With Romeo guiding the way our first stop was the friendly Police located in a small blue/white office. Between their English and my French we managed to communicate. Of course there’s ‘no such thing as a free lunch’ so we were asked to pay 60000 Ariary (MGA) fee. Since we didn’t have local money they asked if we had Euros. I said yes (which was a mistake) as they then wanted €30. This didn’t make sense as the exchange rate was more in the vicinity of €20, but they thought that a little bit more for them would move things along a bit quicker. Aha! The old ‘complimentary’! (tip; be sure to say you have no money and need to go to the bank).
Next stop Port Master; a youngish bloke with long eyelashes draped over his eyes. Smiling, he meticulously completed the necessary forms and processed our cruising permit. His fee was around MGA60,000 but he was happy for us to pay him after we’d been to the bank.
Next, Customs, although they were closed at 3pm. With a bit of time up our sleeves, Romeo walked us around to the bank/ATM for some local funds and the Orange store to buy a SIM card and internet. Cheekily I was tempted to ask him “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thy supermarket?”, but thought perhaps not.
Returning to Customs which was now open, a disinterested officer had us processed in five minutes, and for only MGA20,000. Back to Port Master, we paid the fee and we were done. The whole check-in took two hours.
The next day we took empty jerry cans to the dock then caught a tuk-tuk to the Shell fuel station to have them filled. Returning to the port the tuk-tuks cannot go the last 400m to our dinghy, and the local lads that swarmed around the vehicle knew that. A lot of jabbering and outstretched hands as 50 guys wanted to carry four jerry cans, all after some easy money.
Once again the fastest reaps the spoils. Two guys grabbed one jerry each, and another smallish guy thought he’d get more money by carrying two. He puffed and wheezed as he struggled with 40kgs of diesel, so Wayne had to take one from him before he keeled over. Back at the dinghy it was time to dish out the dosh. Unfortunately we didn’t have local notes smaller than 10000 except for three 100 ariary notes. They laughed at this meager offering (fair enough because that’s around 4 cents each). In the end I gave them half a Euro each and they were more than happy with that. Probably won’t see those guys again though…
Besides looking around this interesting town, we needed to replenish some fresh groceries. The Shampion supermarket near to the veggie market is stocked pretty well so we bought a few items there. Eateries include La Oasis where all the foreigners tend to have a late petit dejeuner, Nandipo where you can have a drink or meal, or the slightly more posh Papillon where the chateaubriand zebu is very tasty – all with free wifi.
For the weekend we sailed the short distance to Nosy Komba, known by tourists for the abundance of lemurs. After anchoring we spent an hour or so cleaning the hull above the water as it was smudged with black tyre marks from Le Port and also from Caudan at Port Louis. Now back to brilliant white, we have only the bottom to scrub.
The crew of Coruisk have now caught up to us so at Nosy Komba we had afternoon drinks at Chez Yolande followed by dinner at Maki House to celebrate Chris’s birthday. Maki House restaurant sits high above the beach on the northeast side of the island. Unfortunately for Chris, her dish was the one they forgot to make! So after waiting an interminable length of time for our meals, they quickly rustled one up for her to eat on her own. As a peace offering, a local band strummed and sang a Malagasy version of Happy Birthday!
The next morning at the beach a local fellow, whose name escapes me, agreed to take us to the lemurs, indigenous to Madagascar. The walk wasn’t far, but seems that inflation has hit the island, with entry to see the lemurs now MGA4,000 per person. Our mate took us through a dirt track through the village, passing huts, mothers feeding babes, artisans selling woodwork, beautifully embroidered table cloths, paintings and other souvenirs.
Grabbing a bunch of bananas he walked us a short while up the hill to see the lemurs. He called them down from the trees and as you can see from the photos it wasn’t long before they were clambering all over us for a nibble of sweet banana.
Lemur’s paws are soft, kitten like, and they appear to have no nails. After our enjoyable morning we finished it off with a coffee at Floralies Restaurant on the northern end of the island.
Walking back through the village on a Sunday, we heard the locals singing at the church, while kids played in their Sunday clothes. Mums washed at the local laundering area and lay their clothes on the hot slabs or just on the sand to dry. Nosy Komba is a relaxing place to hang out for a few days and we can only suppose that in years to come it may turn into another tourist trap like Thailand.
This is just a taste of Madagascar. We’ll hang around this area for a little longer before returning to Hellville to check-out, but we have one eye on the grib files as we have only a few weeks before we cross the channel. My next post shows the smiling faces of some of the delightful children we’ve met here at Nosy Be and Nosy Komba. I couldn’t fit them into this post but thought you might like to meet them!