You’ll be reading this if you are interested in a little more detail about the amazing, crazy, Madagascar…
It took actually visiting the place to understand this, but Nosy Be and Hellville were not interchangeable terms- Nosy Be is the entire island off the Northwest coast of Madagascar, while Hellville is the main port on the island.
We anchored in Hellville, arriving around 10pm in the evening under the biggest moon imaginable, and quite honestly it was pretty tough to get a good bead on what awaited us in the morning… And so, on Saturday morning June 23rd the four crew members of Alyosha loaded onto the dinghy and headed into town. We had already been visited by a guy named “Kool,” who would presumably watch our dinghy while we went through clearing in procedures. This became a regular feature of our time in Hellville: always paying someone (or more often a few people) to watch over the dinghy or us, or help with diesel, or groceries, or whatever. The first few hours in Hellville that Saturday morning were just incredible. We quickly learned the main mode of transportation was the “Tuktuk” which I will describe as a tricycle type vehicle with a cover. We ended up taking these everywhere during our time on the island.
The other big lesson, delivered within hours of arrival, was how different the currency was and how difficult it was to assess the actual costs of things… My first foray into the ATM resulted in me withdrawing what I thought was between $300-$400 to pay for clearing in, etc… It turned out to be about $30!!! Several trips to the bank later and we had finally achieved permission to explore!
Our first day was spent in several internet cafes and bars, the crew using connectivity to catch up with family and friends. We had the World Cup matches on our minds, and later in that first evening we went to a local “Shabeen” (an African bar with really no westerners) to watch some soccer matches- an incredible experience. Quick side note: that first day in Hellville also featured the crew watching some cock fights in the streets and some other adventures, there was a very tired captain who used the afternoon to catch up on sleep!
The first impressions I had of Madagascar never really left me after the first day: it was colorful, happy, crazy and fantastically foreign. There were always small shops and homes right off the road selling food cooked in every way imaginable. There were shops of all varieties, and the center of town had a cool water fountain where everyone aggregated. We also quickly learned that there would be a big celebration (Madagascar Independence Day) on Tuesday and saw many parades of people, from soldiers to school kids, preparing for the big day during our time there.
We rented mopeds, traveled to the highest point on Nosy Be where you could see the entirety of the island in a 360 degree panaramic view and also visited a cool waterfall in the middle of the countryside. We found great bars, restaurants and beaches, and came to soon understand that the French tourists had their own sections of Nosy Be that were also interesting and compelling.
I am writing this now anchored across a sleepy little town called Katsephy, very likely the last place we will explore before heading down the coast to Baly Bay, where we wait to get the right weather to get to South Africa. We spent the past 36 hours provisioning and exploring Mahajanga, a port town on the West Coast. It was everything that Hellville was AND better, as it was even bigger and more populated.
So that is Madagascar, although I saved the very best detail for last… Every day, all day, these people SAIL. I mean, sailing is a real mode of transportation. The boats are called “Dhows” and they silently glide along the coast, reaching great speeds and being sailed so skillfully. I can only hope the pictures do these craft justice because watching the fleet of boats come in and out of the harbor each day was probably the best part of Madagascar stopover.