Hot and humid. Rustle and bustle. Stepping off the plane and into the small airport of Nosy Be, we were greeted by the thick warm air and everyday life on the island of Madagascar. Our intention was to experience first-hand, our exciting dhow camping trip and thereafter gain insight!
We wanted to find out more about the standard and levels of what accommodation is provided within the Northern travel areas of Madagascar- Ankarana, Ambilobe, Montagne D’Ambre, Joffer-Ville Diego-Suarez, Ile St Marie, Ile aux Nattes as well as the various mystical properties scattered around Nosy Be.
So, let me share my experience upon a dhow sailing;
We were met by our head of Dhow operations, Mohamed who proved to have an exceptionally warm and welcoming manner. As skipper of our Dhow, he picked us up from Sakatia Island and introduced us to his 3 other crew. Our bags were loaded and we set off from Sakatia Island (island of orchids) chugging our way to an area known as Russian Bay for our first-night camping. Excitement filled the air as we spoke about Scuba diving in the morning (for those of us qualified) which proved to be an exhilarating experience trying to absorb it all in and explain it all out. All kinds of hard and soft corals, parrotfish, pipefish, Moray eels, turtles, lionfish, nudibranchs to name just a few. We had met the others after a 63-minute dive in 28 degrees of water, bobbing to the surface, doffing our kit and jumping aboard the “Salama Njema”
A delicious malagasche lunch was prepared for use on the boat which varied in selection from day to day. All meals were prepared by our wonderful cook Eliane who certainly added her personal touch to each and every meal. Every day was a pleasant surprise- tasty food from the freshest fish to the tastiest Zebu (Local beef) Our two other crew were exceptionally courteous, however a little quiet due to the language barrier, albeit somehow they seemed to understand our every word without Mohamed always interpreting. They ferried us from the boat to shore and back to the boat again. They pitched our tents and pitched in wherever they could. They took care of all our needs consistently and were always keen for a laugh or a smile.
The first afternoon was spent snorkelling in shallow gin-clear water admiring the shallow reef and array of colourful fish. The temperature of bathwater with a deep-turquoise tinge. We couldn’t help being more in the water than out, and after our splashing around in the afternoon, oblivious to what our crew was up to, we were amazed to see our camp fully erected with tents up, chairs out over-looking a secluded bay perched from a desolate beach. My biggest hurdle that evening was sitting in the soft light of sunset trying my utmost to explain in words to my diary where exactly I was. Nothing to distract our attention, par for the lemurs swinging from the trees behind us.
After coffee, tea and a wholesome breakfast aboard our vessel the next morning, we proceeded to Nosy Tanikeli- the small island. Phenomenal snorkelling with amazing visibility in this marine reserve. Probably some of the best I’ve ever seen.We headed the following day to Nosy Komba, where we had to break out and discover for ourselves local cuisine available on the island at the local restaurant. Almost as good as Eliane, but just not the same touch. The night was spent in basic but clean comfortable bungalows.
The following day we afforded a quick stop at Lokobe reserve on the South of Nosy Be. Untouched beach and impenetrable rainforest. Breath-taking!! With a rod in the water, we managed to pull in a 7kilo Barracuda that morning. Who would ever have thought that by lunchtime we had a combination of tasty sushi and braaied Barracuda according to our choice? Our catering needs were duly noted and provided accordingly. Our shortened 4-day version of our dhow safari came to an end in the port of Hell-Ville, Nosy Be.
From start to finish we were always taken care of, and never once felt the least bit threatened. This was an excursion memorable for many years to come. This is not a luxury-padded holiday, but rather a grass-roots travelling experience. Madagascar is still in its infancy in terms of tourism and the infrastructure reminds the traveller of that. If you enjoy travelling to and from, as much as the end destination. If you enjoy the ruggedness of basic travel. If you like more than a glimpse into the local culture. If you enjoy interaction with local people without the luxuries of the first world.
If your answer is yes, then enjoy a relaxing trip around the great Indian Ocean islands upon a dhow built by hand and skippered by a legendary seaman. Welcome to Madagascar!