Madagascar 2020, part 3 (Nosy Be)

Before the early morning departure to the airport in order to take our flight to the island of Nosy Be, there was also the question of our lost luggage. I must admit that, in addition to the very fact that our luggage was lost, everything else functioned rather impressively. The representative of the airline in Madagascar first got a confirmation that our backpacks were on the plane that was already flying towards Antananarivo; then he called the hotel; then they told him that the two of us were already driving around the city and the surroundings, so they gave him the phone number of our driver; then he called Rija and then the latter passed his phone on to me, so I agreed everything with the airline representative. It was expected that the luggage would arrive and be ready for the delivery between 1 and 2 after midnight, and that representative said that they would organise the delivery to our B&B. And so they did. However, they first called the B&B, i.e., the night guard on duty who then came with the phone in his hand to knock on our door and passed me the phone. With a lot of apologies, the employee of the airline informed me that the luggage had arrived and that it would be delivered within half an hour, but she asked us to verify physically that this was indeed our luggage, which Sneža did a little later. Already at 4 am the two of us were up and were getting ready to continue with our journey, but it is clear from my account that we were both completely out on account of poor and insufficient sleep, but at least we were complete, i.e., with all of our belongings.

Our journey around Madagascar was just beginning and here is the map which shows where we went during our stay here. To start with, we flew from the capital, Antananarivo, to the island of Nosy Be, meaning the Big Island. My idea was that we first went to a nice and quiet place for five days in order to have a good rest and get ready for the subsequent more active sightseeing.

Regardless of the bad and insufficient sleep the night before, I enjoyed immensely on the plane with my face and photo-camera glued to the window. Although we occasionally flew through clouds and therefore nothing could be seen, I found it interesting, particularly in the beginning, to watch the landscapes of Madagascar over which we were flying.

Rice fields between hillocks near Antananarivo

Landscapes in the north part of Madagascar

Landscapes in the north part of Madagascar

As it may be seen in the photos above, and one should keep in mind that the day was cloudy and the windows were a little murky (who knows how beautiful and striking it all is when these elements are better), the scenery was dominated by the red colour of soil and Madagascar is often called the Red Island.

After some flying through clouds and reaching the very north of the country, the clouds dispersed, the Sun shone with all of its might, and I could see the beautiful blue ocean, the green of the vegetation and some white specks which suggested the existence of sand beaches. Still, what delighted me most in all of this and certainly surprised me a great deal was that particular detail concerning the Sun and the absence of clouds. Namely, as I have already mentioned we were here during the rainy season and thus the internet weather forecast showed clouds, storms, rain and thunder literally for EVERY DAY of our stay here. As it would turn out, after the rain of the previous day, we would practically spend the entire time over the course of 25 days in Madagascar without opening umbrellas. Admittedly, it did rain, but by the rule later in the afternoon and at night. Rija also told us once that the Malagasy say that if you want to do something, you should do it in the morning, since weather turns for the worse in the afternoon. Maybe yes, maybe not, but I kept saying the entire time until the completion of our journey that we were truly lucky and in the end we even joked with Rija saying that they should expect major rainfall as soon as the two of us left back for Europe.

Be as it may, we landed at the international airport on Nosy Be before 8 am and already that early the temperature was significantly higher than in Antananarivo, while the air humidity was also considerable. We did not arrange a transfer with our hotel, so it was up to us to haggle with local taxi drivers. We had already read that they charged foreigners 2 to 3 times more than what they would charge local people, but this is the price one needs to pay when travelling in a poor country. On the other hand, this does make some sense to me and in any case it was half the price of what the hotel owner who was an Italian offered. So, foreigners also like to charge other foreigners for any possible service well above the regular price.

At any rate, we drove for quite a while. On the basis of the map I thought the journey would take less, but the road was in places in a very bad shape and thus the vehicle went very slowly and carefully. Already at the very beginning, we were passing by some plantations with trees with a very unusual form. The driver told us that these were ylang-ylang trees and he even stopped at some point to get us a blossom from this tree, crushing it in its hand and letting us smell it. This was indeed a wonderful scent. On the other hand, the unusual shape of the trees is in fact a result of human intervention since the trees are pruned in such a way that new braches grow downwards, as it is easier in this way to harvest the blossoms.

A little later, when we were passing through a village, the driver stopped, whistled to a guy and then left us there saying he was very tired, while that other guy took over his place. In addition to this being somewhat unusual, it was obvious that the vehicle belonged to a cooperative of a kind.

When we got to the hotel I had booked, we quickly changed into our bathing suits and went into the water.

Beach in front of our terrace

Beach belonging to our hotel on Nosy Be

The water was not spectacular, a little too murky, but it was wet and very warm. Still, we did not stay there for too long. Later, during the low tide, we were to realise that we swam above the place in which mangroves had been cleared, but their roots were obviously still under the surface of the ground and new trees were starting or at least trying to start to grow. Although the peace of this beach of ours, the large terrace with a nice of the beach and the sea certainly had some appeal, we did not bathe there anymore.

Boardwalk beside a mangrove forest and a mangrove tree that has decided to grow in the part earmarked for the hotel’s guests

By the way, mangroves are tropical trees-shrubs that grow along the coast in saline or brackish water.

Mangroves in sea water

Low tide on our beach – it is clear now why the water was murky when we swam in it

When I was choosing the hotel in which I would book our accommodation, I opted for this one because it was certainly very near Andilana beach which is said to be the most beautiful one on the island and which was in reality only some 20 minutes of a leisurely walk away from our hotel. There are a couple of hotels closer to this beach, but I must say I did not regret not reserving a room there. Namely, both my friend Sneža and I enjoyed walking every day to that beach among other reasons because by going first along a dirt road and then by an asphalt road we passed beside fields and pastures, as well as by local houses, thus observing the world and the nature around us.

Ylang-ylang tree

A zebu

Bananas (on the right-hand side) grow almost as if they were weeds

Rice paddies

Already on the first day we walked to Andilana beach where we also went into the water, but since it was the time of the low tide, this swimming was not too impressive. So, we just walked along the beach enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Andilana beach

Andilana beach during the low tide

We left the beach while it was still day, since we wanted to have an early dinner at a restaurant that was located by the main road. Along the way we continued enjoying the beautiful green fields of Nosy Be island.

Greenery of Nosy Be island

When we got to the restaurant it turned out we were a little early, but that did not bother us. While joking with the owner of the restaurant we ordered some soft drinks to take until the cook was ready to start working. When this eventually happened, we ordered two different dishes, as we usually do when we travel, but such that we both like them. Then we share. Both dishes this time were made with sea food and we enjoyed eating something nice.

A part of the dinner

By the time we had finished with our meal, although it was not too late, it was getting dark outside. Regardless of the nap we treated ourselves to earlier that day, we were still tired and we decided to go back to the hotel in order to go to bed early, thus kicking off the direly needed and wanted rest. However, we then faced a problem. A very simple one – it was completely dark outside. It was clear to us that our hotel was not too far, but we did not know how far this exactly was, plus we had no lamps. Admittedly, the mobile phones could light the way, but we had been so scared about roads in Madagascar being totally unsafe at night that we did not know what to do. The restaurant owner had already gone home earlier, while a young waitress who worked the shift was not much of a help, since some other guests had arrived in the meantime and she was busy with them. She just told us to get out onto the road and wait there. Apparently some public transportation was to arrive sooner or later.

Sneža and I took our positions right across the road from that restaurant and started to wait. We were aware that we did not dare walk in the dark and there were absolutely no vehicles on the road, on either side, except for the car by which new guests of the restaurant arrived. We even did not know what we were waiting for, but thought that perhaps a mini-bus may pass there. This, again, would not really do it for us, since we would then have to walk in the dark along the dirt road section where there were occasionally lots of rocks. It was dark, we would be alone on some dirt road with no lights and there would be rocks meaning we could get hurt unless we saw them. So, our conclusion was that we did not plan the evening well and wisely, while the time was passing. After some 15 minutes, which seemed much longer, we saw something with lights heading our way. It was a local auto rickshaw (a tricycle type of a vehicle – the driver sits in the front and has the steering of a motorbike, while behind him there is an upholstered bench, plus there is a canopy above all of this, while the sides are open). The driver did realise that the two of us would like to go somewhere and although he was arriving from the direction we wanted to go in, he was obviously ready to go back to where he came from. When we told him the name of the hotel, he gave us a price and we realised right away that regardless of our concern about the return, this was the time to haggle. Just as the two of us started to wonder if we should pay him what he asked, because we had no options, suddenly another auto rickshaw appeared out of blue. This encouraged us, so we started to bargain more boldly, the first driver was hard to break and kept his price high, but we now thought that we had a choice. It turned out the other one was also not ready to drive us for less than he expected to get, but being seriously encouraged by this time we refused to “accept the blackmail”. So, he left, too, and we were again in the dark. Be as it may, a few minutes later, during which we wondered if we had made a mistake, a third auto rickshaw appeared and with this guy we finally agreed about the price, he took us all the way to the hotel and thus it all went well in the end. That evening, we could go to bed early and peacefully.

The following day I was the first one to wake up, so at some point I went to have breakfast. The tide had hidden again the unsightly mangrove roots and the beach seemed fine. From the shore I could see the end of the hotel’s boardwalk that went along the mangrove forest, as well as a hillock on a distant promontory over which there were parts of another hotel distributed. This hotel certainly seemed more upscale than ours, but I did not mind it in the least particularly because this other hotel seemed not to have any nice beach of its own and in places like this I don’t like to bathe in swimming pools.

View from the beach by our hotel

After the breakfast, I went back to the room and agreed with Sneža that I would go to Andilana beach, while she would join me there a little later, after her breakfast. When I got to Andilana I chose a couple of beds and a parasol that belonged to a beach restaurant. The high tide brought the ocean back to the bay and I enjoyed the swimming, lying down and simply watching the world around me.

Andilana beach

Andilana beach

Then I started to chat with an Italian who apparently liked Nosy Be very much; so much so that he had been there the previous summer and had returned again. Admittedly, this time around he was staying at some flat in a small town in the south of the island, while Andilana was all the way up in the north (with the distance of around 25 km), so he came here as a kind of a day’s excursion. It turned out, the man loved basketball and when he realised I was from Serbia, he was absolutely delighted and certainly knew better than me all the Serbian basketball players in the last 20 years or so.

After some nice chatting with him, I started to feel too hot, so I wanted to cool down in the waters of Andilana. Still, as the Sun was already up and I worried lest I got sunburns while in water, I took from my small backpack a special long-sleeve swimming shirt which I had bought in Brazil the year before. This was the first time I was wearing it. It turned out to be the right thing and I enjoyed the water quite carelessly and rather relaxed, without being in a hurry to move away from the scorching Sun. When I did get out, I took the shirt off and continued to lie down and enjoy the beauty of this beach.

Resting after swimming in the waters of Andilana beach

Verica Ristic

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