Friday, 6 October 2017

25 September Nosy Kalakajoro

13.57.26S 47.46.50E 20m (it might have been possible to go in closer)
The next logical place to break our cruise after Honey River was the Radames islands; islands with some villages, sandy beaches and clear water.
Today the wind and swell were coming in from the NW so picked a spot on the SE side off a white beach and a resort. Later we went to visit the resort and found they had no guests, but seemed to be getting ready to open soon. Next to the resort is a small local community and a boat builder. The gentleman was re-planking and re-caulking a ferry boat. He had another mid size boat under construction in his 'yard'.

We liked this island, very pretty, and a quiet anchorage overnight. In the morning I went snorkelling and found healthy corals about 50m off the beach with plenty of fish life. In a falling tide the water wasn't clear - about 8m visibility.

24 September Baramahamay or Honey River

13.42.81S 47.54.03E 7m mud
In the onshore afternoon breeze we sailed the short distance from Nosy Iranja to Baramahamay river and then motored in past the village to a quiet spot behind a (low water visible) sand bar. We had hardly set the anchor when the first entrepeneur arrived with a supply of locally collected honey. It took an hour to negotiate honey for gifts with my limited French. The lady is called Copine and she knows what she wants. We began with a price tag of £5 for one and a half litres of golden honey which is collected wild bees in the forests, but when I offered a new bed sheet / tablecloth Copine was won over. I added a man's polo shirt, soap, glass jars, a replacement one and a half litre bottle and a plastic storage jar to seal the deal with both parties happy with their bargain.
While I was haggling David was talking to young boys who had come to say hello. They went away with sweets and 30m of fishing line.
On our first night we were the only boat in the river. On the second day Ngalawa with George, Mairi and Angus aboard came in while we were off in the dinghy visiting the small communities on the river banks. Like us on the previous day, the pirogues were gathered behind Ngalawa before the engines were turned off. One of them was Copine and her honey. Having had a chance to taste her honey we were so impressed we bought a second bottle (and this time we gave her the cash).

23 September Nosy Iranja

13.36.33S 47.49.69E 7.5m lunch stop only
On the way from our overnight stop in Russian Bay to the Honey River we made a lunch stop on the east side of Nosy Iranja. This is two islands joined by a sandspit at low water. On the northern island there is a village which charges visitors to the island 5,000Ar (£1.25) per person, handicraft shops similar to those in Nosy Komba and a short walk up to the lighthouse. The water is clear and I enjoyed a short swim and snorkel around the boat. There are large turtles close to the northern beach but we only saw them from the boat.

21 September Diving at Tani Kely

13.29.25S 48.14.22E 14m sand
We lifted anchor and left Crater Bay before breakfast to motor the five miles to Tani Kely island. The small island of Tani Kely is a marine park with mooring balls and a fee of £5 per day per person. Unfortunately the mooring balls seem to be in water too shallow for us and too close to the reef for comfort. Instead we anchored on the sand spit at the south east side of the island in about 8m. The park ranger came straight out to meet us and to collect the fee. We had to be early to take advantage of the morning calm; at 1 o'clock the will be blowing 15 knots from the west and it won't be comfortable to stay here.
For our first dive we tied the dinghy to one of the two black balls on the east side of the island where the charter boats stop. From here we descended down the mooring line to 8m sand and continued south to reach the start of the reef. The coral is healthy and there are fish here, some nice schools of three stripe yellow fish and some huge grouper, Moorish Idols, clown fish and the usual suspects to be found on a reef. I think the quality of the reef and the size of the fish show the value of a marine park where fishing is banned. It was a nice dive.
Our second dive was a disappointment. We'd been told to start off the the south west corner near a beach and it is a good place to see reef sharks. Perhaps we started at the wrong place, perhaps we were too late in the water. There wasn't much to see, few fish and no sharks and we were being swept over the sand bar back to Jackster in under 15 minutes. By the time we surfaced it was approaching 1pm and the wind was building. We got back in the dinghy, quickly unloaded our kit and by the time we picked up the anchor the wind and waves were making it uncomfortable.
We had thought to go on to Russian Bay for the night but that course would have been straight to wind. We chose to sail back to Crater Bay for the night instead and then to sail to Russian Bay the following afternoon when our angle to the wind would be preferable.

13 September Nosy Komba

13.26.55S 48.21.30E 11m
Nosy Komba is a big island set to the east of Nosy Be and is known for handicrafts and lemur encounters. There is also Chez Yolande, a guest house and restaurant which is known to be cruiser friendly. Yolande is married to a French man and they spent many years cruising. She offers a safe beach to leave your dinghy, showers and free drinking water, free, but v-e-r-y slow internet and good food. Her place is easy to find – two storeys with a red tin roof. We ate at her place a couple of times with our friends and had good meals both times.

In the small village, of which Yolande's is part, is a jumbled collection of wood huts with thatch roofs, simple guest houses, six eating places and more handicraft outlets than you can shake an hand embroidered table cloth at. The speciality of the island is cloth with cut out sections edged in blanket stitch forming images of lemurs, turtles, fish, flowers, etc. They would be attractive if I used tablecloths. However, we did go mad on buying souvenirs, something we do rarely. I bought a table runner with matching place mats. David spotted a painting of stylised men and women walking towards a sunset which he liked and an ebony carving of a chameleon was winking at both of us. As I said, a big day for shopping! I also bought baguettes, tomatoes and bananas.

Early one morning, before 8 o'clock, we went ashore to visit the lemurs. It is a village business. You pay £1 each for a guide who speaks excellent English and a bunch of bananas. (If you keep your entrance ticket it is valid for a year of unlimited visits without a guide.) Dominic led us up the path past yet more handicraft stalls in to the start of the forest. We were the first visitors of the morning and were rewarded with hungry black lemurs ready for breakfast. They jumped on our shoulders, sat on our head and were very appealing. Their hands are soft and they have finger nails, not claws. Their fur is soft and they are surprisingly light. Dominic is knowledgeable and told us that lemurs pre-date primates. Their local name is Maki. These lemurs are black ones, but only the males are black. The females are brown. One who came to see us had a week old baby hanging on to her stomach. When she was sitting on my shoulder I could hear the baby suckling. It was a magical encounter and to see all the lemur was very special.
A week later we came back for a second early morning visit, met another group of animals, and it was just as amazing.
On both visits we saw chameleons and bright green geckos. In the 'park' there are large enclosures with tortoises; 65 year old Carolina from Seychelles, small tortoises from the northern part of Madagascar and the larger striated species from the drier south part of Madagascar.
As we were leaving we met the first of the large tour groups that would be coming at regular intervals during the day.

7 September Russian Bay

13.32.18S 47.59.83E 10m sand
From Crater Bay on Nosy Be we headed south across the big bay passing humpback whales on the way to a very large, protected bay called Russian Bay. Although the bay is big most yachts anchor just inside on the west side of the entrance off the beach from Andreas place. 
Adreas, an Austrian man, came here many years ago after walking from the east to the west coast of Madagascar. He came. He saw. He liked what he saw, married the daughter of the first local man he met, split from her soon after, met her sister and started a family and a restaurant. His beers are the coldest beers we've enjoyed and at sundown time a small family of black lemurs visit. They are partially domesticated in that they sit on your shoulder if you're feeding then bananas.

After the lemurs had left for the evening Andreas and his lady prepared a feast for us – what is on the menu is what is available that day. For us it was fried fish and one of his chickens in sauce, rice, beans and papaya salad. After dinner he offered a small glass of rhum arranger, a local tradition of steeping fruit in rum. I choose the orange, but could have had coffee, lemon or ginger. The orange was good, good enough for us to buy a litre for £2.50, pour it in an empty Cointreau bottle and imagine it's the real thing, just a lot stronger.
It is so peaceful in Russian bay that we stayed for five days. On one of them we went for a walk starting behind Andreas' house and climbing up to a ridge where we could see both into the bay and out to sea. Someone had made a seat in the shade of a tree which was a nice place to stop and watch a humming bird scouting for nectar.
Back at sea level it was low water and we were able to walk along the beach towards the headland and out on to the sand spit. The tide was starting to come in and when it does the water level rises quickly. Time to pick up shoes and return to the beach.
view from hilltop

Andreas' beach

Sunday, 17 September 2017

6 September Island tour day 2 and Sail repair

The sail loft in Hell-Ville had offered to complete our repair in a day if we could drop it off early morning. David was at the motorbike shop with the main sail when they opened at 7.30am. We'd organised the bike and paperwork yesterday afternoon so he was good to go and arrived at the loft as they opened at 8am.
He came back to the marina to pick me up for a day of island touring. Our plan was to circumnavigate Nosy Be in a clockwise direct, so turning away from Hell-Ville. We rode up the west coast with views out to Nosy Sakatia, turned at the NW corner and arrived at the turn off to Mont Passot. At 326m this is the highest point of the island with the road running past half a dozen of the crater lakes. There are resident freshwater crocs in the lakes and in some the animals are protected by a local fady. At the end of the road is a gate, a car park and a ticket booth. Guides are available to take you the last few hundred metres to a viewing platform and to show you the walks.
view from Mont Passot

ylang-ylang distillery

From Mont Passot we continued clockwise along the much quieter northern road. There are still potholes to avoid and areas without tarmac to slow down for. The vegetation is less altered here and the view across to Nosy Mitsio fine. We passed smiling faces, waving children, villages, a ylang-ylang distillery and the island airport with a very expensive private Lear jet parked outside.
ylang-ylang tree
Coming into Hell-Ville at just after 2 o'clock we had time for a leisurely lunch at Oasis restaurant. We made a quick stop at the wet market to buy fresh vegetables and were back at Profil sail loft at the appointed 4 o'clock to collect our sail. The lady who had been working on it all day hadn't quite finished so we were offered chairs to relax and watched her running, working the sail to finish.
We weren't in a hurry so it was nice to be able to see the repairs – they'd found more stitching that was failing, some small holes where the fabric rubbed going in and out of the mast, repaired the tear, restitched the seam and replaced and restitiched the leech line. We were very happy with the work.

4 September Nosy Be island tour part 1

Today was a short tour because we started late and discovered hiring a motorbike for a day is for The Day and not for 24 hours as we'd wrongly assumed.
The bike was the economy version with a 50cc engine and a seat of the ample dimensions for two 10 year olds. For two adult British people it was uncomfortable; David barely perched on the front, me barely perched on the back. Nevertheless we set off on the road from Dar Es Salam to Hell-Ville. The road had once been tarmac all the way, but heavy use, rain and no maintenance has left ruts, wheel grabbing potholes and areas of dusty sand.

police station

We called in to a sail repair loft to make enquiries about re-stitching our main sail. It's far larger than we expected, professionally run and ready to do the job. We'll drop the sail off in a couple of days.
Our first tourist stop was Lemurialand north of Hell-Ville to see different species of lemur and wildlife of Madagascar. There is also a distillery which processes ylang-ylang leaves for perfumes to visit at the same place. The distillery tour was short and informative. Seeing the lemurs (including ring tailed) and sifikas (white, dancing lemurs) in small cages didn't make for comfortable viewing. Our guide told us these animals had been brought from the forest and in six months they would think of this as home and be free to run around the trees.
In the park they had three giant tortoises from Seychelles, five freshwater crocodiles from Nosy Be, a small glass cage with a boa constrictor, two chameleons in a large run and sad looking red lemurs on an island surrounded by water. The free roaming lemurs were snoozing in the tree tops. It's a personal thing, but I felt guilty for paying to see wild animals held captive in cages that were too small. They'd been caught for people like me to pay to see and I had perpetuated it. I am not against zoos and wildlife parks per se. I've visited many where the animals comfort and sympathetic environment have been paramount. My reflections on Lemurialand are how I felt on the day.
Lemurs at sacred banyan
colonial architecture in Hell-Ville
Time to get off my high moral horse and back on the motorbike for the rest of our day trip.
We went back in to Hell-Ville to see the old colonial buildings, stop for coffee and cake at Oasis restaurant, before setting off to find the sacred banyan tree. Off the main road and a couple of miles bumping down to the sea we came to the largest, oldest (?) banyan tree in the world. We were told it was planted in the mid nineteenth century and has grown to cover 5 hectares. We paid our money, took off our shoes and were dressed in sarongs ready to enter the paths under the great tree. Our guide explained it was fady, or taboo, to enter leading with your left foot. It was right foot first. Under the spreading branches and arterial roots is a small shrine for offerings and red and white cloths. As our guide spoke only French I didn't understand why the sheets of colour. I did understand that the Queen of the Sakalava people comes here each year to make sacrifice of a zebu. Fortunately the lemurs are free to roam here.
The afternoon was late by now so we made our way back to Dar Es Salam and returned our small, but sure, motorbike, found a convivial cafe with cushioned seats and ordered a cold beer to wash away the dust of the day and rest our sore bums.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

2 September Crater Bay, Nosy Be

Our next stop after Mitsio was an over night on the north east end of Nosy Sakatia. We dropped the dinghy to explore ashore hoping to find a restaurant but I think we are too early in the season and no-one was open for business. It was another delightfully quiet night and in the morning we watched the pirogues sailing up the channel between Sakatia and Nosy Be.
sailing dhows - no motors
sugar cane train at marina
I read that Nosy Be is the premier holiday destination in Madagascar with many hotels and tourist related industries. It also has a small marina / yacht club (only mooring balls) facility in Crater Bay which serves the yacht charter business. This is where we anchored outside the mooring field in about 10m. It was coming up to spring tides when there is a 3.5m tidal range.
Ashore the yacht club, Quay 13 48, serves cool, not cold beers, and food. The zebu steak with creamy green pepper sauce was tasty. And if you turn right out of the gates you are in Africa, a dusty, rocky, rutted lane leads through a builders yard, past houses where the ladies sell tomatoes, eggs, onions and fast food for half a mile until you reach a tarmacced road and the town of Dar Es Salem. Same name, different country.
Quay 13 48 restuarant

cargo carrying dhows

geese in the road

hand stitiching a dhow sail

The single road town is bustling; zebus pulling carts, bicycles, motorbikes, battered cars and smart four wheel drives from the smart hotels, clothes stores, expat restaurants, more clothes stores, shacks that sell everything, one relatively well stocked supermarket and ladies of the night (and day). There is also a small yacht chandlery run by an Austrian man called Roland.

28 August Nosy Mitsio

From our first stop on the west coast, Nosy Hao, we continued the short distance to Nosy Hara seeking better protection from the strong south easterlies to be able to drop the main sail and put up the old (spare) we carry. This was easy to do and I went for a snorkel with the Red Herrings – this is probably the healthiest coral I've seen since Raja Ampat! Mostly hard corals, some soft, and not as many fish as the Maldives, but not bleached. The water temperature is 27c.
What we didn't realise is that Nosy Hara and all the coast and islands to the north and south to Ponte Marulexa headland is national park and there is a fee of 55,000Ar (£14) per person per day, with a day running from midnight to midnight, to be within the park boundaries. The park rangers visited all the yachts to explain this. It was a short visit.
Further down the coast is Nosy Mitsio which has complimentary anchoring in a wide and sheltered bay. We had looked at the possibility of spending a night at Nosy Lava to snorkel or dive the next day. However, there was a strong swell seeping in from the west so we continued on
With Alba and Red Herring we spent four very quiet nights in Maribe bay. Inspiration Lady arrived from Mauritius on the second day and we had ourselves a party.
Polly meets a lobster

You can visit the new resort being built by a Frenchman, visit the small village and walk across the island or along the beach to the washing troughs which catch fresh water. The village ladies come here to do laundry and their zebu for a thirsty drink before sleeping it off on the beach.
Nosy Ankarea
One day we motored out to Nosy Ankarea, three miles west of the anchorage, for the day to snorkel. It was quite nice on the east side with lots of healthy corals. We anchored on a sand spit and returned to the safety of Maribe Bay for the night.
While we were in Maribe villagers visited in their pirogues to trade. We had two good size lobsters in exchange for t-shirt, shorts, fishing line and hooks, plantains for fishing line and paracetamol, coconuts for peaked caps and a pretty shell for two books. Our last visitor spoke English and asked for a dictionary. Unfortunately ours are electronic so I couldn't help out. However, he was happy with the guide books which had words add photos. For his young brother we had crayons and paper.