Monday, July 13, 2015


Abandoned Resort is at the Beach

It was great to have the company of Mark and Rosie on their Fraser 41, Merkava,  as we sailed across the Indian Ocean.  We were never more than a half-dozen miles apart and always within VHF radio range.  Their arrival off the coast of Nosy Lakandava, a small island just a few miles off shore of the country of Madagascar, was worthy of a standing ovation, which we were happy to provide.  It was still well before noon when Mark and Rosie dropped their anchor in the calm waters near us and in just a few moments they had their dinghy in the water and came over to Rutea, saying, “It’s time for a cocktail!” as we abstain from drinking while we’re underway.  All of us were exhausted from the passage from Chagos and no one needed much convincing that the chores could wait a day.  It felt luxurious to be at anchor, the pressure of being on watch finally suspended and the ability to sleep the entire night through a tantalizing respite.

Our energy increased the next day as the four of us piled into Mark and Rosie’s dinghy for a little exploring.  The islands that dot the area are mostly uninhabited and the limestone has been carved so that from a distance it resembles a drip castle made by children at the beach.  One particularly fun place to explore was an abandoned resort for climbers which were made entirely from materials collected from the beaches, giving a whole new definition of ‘rustic’.  The ‘rooms’ were built inside of caves, the furniture all made from driftwood, there being no mattresses it would be a stretch to give it one star but you had to give someone credit for their effort.  Also nearby was a nature reserve which provided guides for the 1.5-kilometer walk.  Ruthie was foresightful enough to know that we’d need to pay for the guides but since we hadn’t yet been to ‘civilization’, we had no ariary, the currency of Madagascar, so she piled together some fruits, vegetables, rice and the guides where happy to waive the fee in exchange for what promised to be a square meal for them.

As we made our way south towards Nosy Be (Nosy means ‘Island’ in Malagasy, one of the official languages of Madagascar; the other being French), where we could clear in, we were stunned by the level of abject poverty.  Of the 187 countries in the world, Madagascar ranks as the 177th as far as wealth is concerned.  We made sure that we had containers of rice to give to those who approached us in their very crude dugout canoes.  Most of the people who approached us brought something with which to trade – a few eggs, a handful of limes, a bunch of bananas and we never tried to negotiate a ‘good deal’.  It broke our hearts to see these people in rags and their futures appear to us to be so bleak.

As we approached Nosy Be, we were in contact with friends who stopped at Nosy Sakatia and took a ferry to Nosy Be, avoiding the notoriously high crime city of Hellville.  We followed suit and anchored off a very nice resort whose owner used to be a cruiser himself so he was very helpful in getting us lined out on the procedures, places and people.  After a few days, though, we were feeling more brave about getting closer to Hellville and moved over to Crater Bay where there are more facilities, stores, restaurants, etc.  In fact, there is a ‘yacht club’ at Crater Bay and we stayed on one of their moorings, ate dinner at their restaurant and connected with other cruisers in the area.  The village of Dar-es-Salaam, near Crater Bay, was home to many of the work boats that ply the waters of Nosy Be.  They’re powered exclusively by sail, their fragile rig ideal for the very light winds of the area.  As the morning starts to heat the air on land, an offshore breeze fills in and the boats set sail.  In the late afternoon, as the land starts to cool, the breeze reverses direction and the boats return home, expertly sailing through the crowded mooring field of shiny, white yachts, the juxtaposition not being lost on us.

After a couple of days, we felt the urge to explore some more so we headed out to a highly spoke of anchorage called Russian Bay, about 20 miles away.  Once again, we found ourselves in an isolated and remote place that was beautiful.  However, I wasn’t feeling so well so I stayed on the boat while Ruthie, Rosie and Mark went ashore.  By the time they got back, Ruthie wasn’t feeling very well either.  I recovered quite quickly but Ruthie got worse.  Feeling very vulnerable and poorly prepared to deal with a serious illness, we motored back to Crater Bay, where Ruthie’s fever continued to climb.  The conventional wisdom is that you only go to a Madagascar hospital if you want to die but there is a private, Italian clinic and we were encouraged to go there.  The doctor spoke pretty good English and we left there with a long list of prescription medicines for the pharmacy to fill.  Ruthie started to get better but it was a slow healing process.  I was grateful that we have a son who is a medical professional and he made himself available for consultations continuously.

We knew that we wouldn’t be staying in Madagascar for long as we had long planned to spend part of the northern hemisphere’s summer at our home in San Diego.  With the 1,500-mile passage from Nosy Be to Richards Bay in South Africa looming, we decided to just make one more stop before we left the country.  The island of Nosy Kumba is famous for lemurs and we didn’t want to miss them.  It was a very short sail from Crater Bay and even though we were anchored in plenty of time to have dinner ashore, it was still a little early in Ruthie’s recovery process to venture to a restaurant.  The next morning, however, Mark and Rosie rowed over and pick us up for a trip into the hills of this almost perfectly round island.  We were required to have a guide and he was a pleasant gentleman who was able to coax the lemurs down from the trees.  They seemed shy but eager for the handout of a banana.  On our way down from the hills we were able to shop for local handicrafts with local perfumes being very popular.  Once back on the boat, we weighed anchor and made our way to Hellville, where we checked out of the country and got our port clearance papers.  The following morning we said goodbye to Mark and Rosie – even though we knew it would only be a few months before we’d see each other again, it wasn’t easy.

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