Aye-aye to the Skipper or should we just sloth?
Antana…nana..nanana…., no, Tana is far easier – and whatever you do, don’t give your passport to a stranger!
After months of decisions, planning and dreaming, finally our trip to Madagascar had started. We flew from Johannesburg to Antananarivo. Flying over Madagascar, we were disappointed to see how barren some areas were. This was of course due to the slash and burn technique used to destroy some of the rain forests for farming. Just before landing at Antananarivo we noticed some rice paddies just outside the city. That at least added a bit of greenery to the scenery.
When we arrived at Antananarivo we had limited time before our next flight to Nosy Bé. We would not be spending time in Tana (as Antananarivo is fondly known. I can understand why – it’s quite a mouthful.) before heading over to Nosy Bé. Paul needed to change some Rands for Malagasy Ariary, so he went off to a 'bank' which was really just a kiosk. At that stage we could only use cash in Madagascar. Credit cards weren’t widely accepted as they probably are now. He told the boys and I to wait with our bags and not leave them unattended and under no circumstances let anyone touch them.
Not long after Paul left, someone approached us wanting our passports. Now there’s one thing I might do, is give my luggage away, but not my passport. That’s just not on. We’ve all heard of horror stories about losing passports, so I don’t trust anyone with mine. He couldn’t speak a word of English and I certainly couldn’t speak Malagasy or even French. His gestures were very insistent, though. Just short of him dragging me to go with him, I relented and handed over our three passports with four boarding passes. (Paul had his passport with him.) Make no mistake, this guy wasn’t going anywhere without me – I latched on to him like a leech. Luckily he simultaneously gesticulated we must follow him, but I tried to tell him I was waiting for my husband. However, he was adamant we had to follow him and grabbed some of our bags. This didn’t give me much option, but to tail him.
We ended up at the check in counter. It turned out that he wanted us to check in onto our next flight because the plane would be leaving shortly. His forcefulness made me think the plane was already wheeling down the runway and I pictured us sprinting behind it to take a running leap just before take-off.
He looked at the four boarding passes and jabbed at the three of us then held up the fourth boarding pass. By now I was wondering if I should start panicking that Paul might be left behind. With strict instructions to one of our sons to follow this chap and look for Paul at the bank but to come straight back if he didn’t find him. I would go without my hubby but I wouldn’t leave one of my sons behind. Fortunately the airport wasn’t that big, they found Paul and we all boarded the plane only just on time, thanks to the help of the porter.
Who moved my cheese?
Hopping on to the plane, we could choose any seat to sit in. One of us chose a seat but found it rather unstable. I think the plane was probably already pensioned off for scrap metal from a first world country and then they reconsidered and gave it to one of the Madagascar airlines. It looked rather fatigued. We were convinced we weren’t even going to take off. We chose another row, far away from that one.
The next lot of seats were at least secure and we sat down. We glanced at the windows and they looked fairly secure. The escape exits wasn’t our problem. Upon inspecting one of the pockets in front of our seats for the sheet of safety procedures, we found a lump of rather old and melted cheese! I don’t think chomping on the cheese would help us through any emergencies, although we might not have starved straight away if we were going to be stranded on a desert island.
Finally we took off, without too much shuddering or other unusual noises and managed to glide quite gracefully in the air. The flight was only about an hour and we landed at Nosy Bé with relief and no mishaps. The airport was tiny and the humidity immense. Once again we were dressed in jeans because it was winter at home.
Going through customs was a breeze and after collecting our bags, we met Elize who greeted us with intoxicating garlands of fragrant flowers – ylang ylang and frangipani - to welcome us to Madagascar. Draped around our necks, we gladly followed her to our taxi outside. A tiny Renault. How were we going to fit into this minute vehicle? Six people in total, including four bags. We balanced the bags precariously on the roof of the vehicle and the six of us squashed in like sardines.
We drove to Ambataloake, where we were going to meet up with our skipper, Willem, and see our home for the next couple of weeks. The drive was an experience in itself, with narrow roads and typical tropical forests and fragrances, and a few goats dashing across the road. At Ambataloake, by now feeling like oily roasted sardines, we slid out from the Renault. Sticky denim clung to our legs, but there was nowhere to change. Our boat, Bossi hadn't arrived yet. We walked along the beach, rolled up the legs of our jeans and dipped our toes in the calm water, dying for a swim. After what seemed like forever, Elize spotted the catamaran sailing towards us. By now it was dusk. The closes that Bossi could drop anchor was about a hundred meters off shore. Apparently the hold up was trying to fill the water tanks with fresh water for us, which took longer than usual because the water trickled into the tanks at the pace of a sloth.
There was no jetty to gracefully step off and onto the yacht. We had to wait for the inflatable boat to fetch us, and by the time it reached us it was dark. Waves were starting to lap the beach and we needed to get on board. Admittedly the waves weren’t that big, but big enough to drench us. All inhibitions set aside, we took off our jeans and clambered on board the inflatable in our undies and t-shirts. Nothing like greeting your skipper for the first time, with only half your clothes on!
We introduced ourselves and sped off to our cabins, partially from embarrassment but mostly to don some shorts and went back on deck to sip our welcoming drink. By this stage we were dehydrated, not having had much to drink for the entire day. Ah…bliss…for a short while. As the minutes ticked by, the fragrance of the cloying garland felt as if it was throttling me and I turned a light shade of emerald green. It wasn’t long before I turned a darker khaki green. Very soon I dashed to the back of the boat and proceeded to feed the fish with the contents of my stomach.
What had I let myself in for? Looking at the photos, you won’t believe that someone could get seasick on such flat water. Pick me! My sea legs just didn't want to kick in. For some reason I have been blessed with this altruistic phenomenon. It wasn’t the first occasion I have experienced this malady and I had to spend 10 days on this boat! I had hoped the tranquil waters would be kind to me. To my defence, the sea wasn’t quite as calm and glassy as in the picture, but it was close enough.
In hindsight, it was probably because we were hungry and dehydrated and anyone who has been on a boat before knows there is always some movement. Paul, of course, was happy as a fish in water! A delicious dinner was served but obviously I couldn’t stomach it. We spent the night moored in the bay and the next morning the clarity of the water that greeted us alleviated some of my queasiness, but it took a while for me to adjust to the constant motion of the boat even though the sea was as flat as a pancake.
The boys however were perky as pigs in mud and needed no encouragement when told they could jump in the sea before they’d even fully awakened. They couldn't get over how warm and clear the water was. It didn’t take them long to put on their mask and snorkels to discover what was under water.
After breakfast we pulled up anchor and headed south…but that’s for next week.
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