Arriving late into Antananarivo International Airport, it feels more like a livestock auction than the International Airports you’re used to encountering anywhere else in the world. It Kaotic.
Antananarivo aka “Tana” is the capital city. We see nothing but darkness. The bustle of Madagascar city life, it’s city lights, headlights and tails lights illuminating the street stalls and masses of people going about their daily routine.
We jet off in the am, again in darkness. Another flight, destination Toliara. The southernmost major city of Madagascar.
We are Three boys from Sydney travelling together for the 1st time, years apart 21, 39 and 41 years apart yet so much in common. We disembark our final plane ride and are tucked into a 1970’s vintage french passat hatchback, our boards piled high, barely strapped to the roof, bags and camera gear spilling out the back.
The very First thing that hits me is how laid back Toliara is. A coastal town with sandy roads and the remnants of the old colonial french days everywhere. My mind plays games as I begin to imagine what it must have been like in days gone by.
Immediately we’re at ease, time has slowed instantly. Signs are everywhere “Tonga Soa”, being “Welcome” in Malagasy. It sure feels that way.
The local mode of transport for our coastal adventure, the boat, a pirogue, a dugout made from a baobab tree, fitted with a small 15cc outboard and the sail, a patchwork of rice bags. The perfect example of repurposed waste. This is our transport as we traverse long empty beaches, reefs and amazing landscapes in search of empty waves to enjoy for hours on end. The next 10 days are solely set aside for surfing.
With approximately 3500 km of coastline we explore just 130 km, from Mangily to Anakao. We hear stories, we make notes, evenings spent enjoying the local “3 horses beer” and pondering where to go tomorrow and what we’d could do with next time with a bigger boat…
That very first surf will stay with you forever. Putting along the deserted coastline and marvelling at this beautiful island you dreamt of as a kid. At every turn a new headland appears a glimmer of whitewash in the distance, you ask the captain is that it? No no just 10 minutes more. We arrive it’s a perfect 4ft left hander reeling down for a good 200m. It’s glassy the wind has backed off. Not a sole out. The only time we see each other is as the other come screaming down the line drawing big turns and throwing massive buckets. That stoke for mates equally rewarding. The water temperature is absolutely perfect over here, not hot nor cold, fatigue set in at the 4hr mark, we called it and return to the boat as the sun began to reach the horizon. The elated grin on each of our faces as we our exhausted bodies clambered aboard the boat, confirming the months of planning, countless nights investigating, long travel and patience had all paid off.
We surf countless breaks to ourselves and on occasion we meet other keen travellers surfing, we make new friends and exchange information on where we are going or where they have been, that knowledge passed from traveler to traveler is priceless.
At every place we stay, another part of Madagascar unfolds, the people, the stories, the changing landscape and wildlife. It’s mind blowing. A constant though is the Malagasy hospitality, their friendliness, genuine smiles and welcoming embrace. Unforgettable.
We spend a few days in each place, In Mangily the winds are predictable so between surfs we take a tour of the local Baobab forest. We hear the faint tinkering of cow bells as the Zebu cart approaches for our pickup. Our guide is young, incredibly knowledgeable and happens to speak 4 languages so we’re in good hands. As we putted along Jethro’s long blonde hair caught the attention of every kid, along the way. Jethro always happen to entertain, is like the pied piper here. Almost instantly a procession of a dozen or so kids all laughing, singing and dancing is chasing us along the orange dirt roads until we reach the forest entrance. Our tour was amazing and our guide was able to educate us on all the local flora and fauna. The drone went up and the kids went crazy, the Zebu on the other hand were not so sure. Our land adventures equally as rewarding as the surf.
The amazing Baobab Forest in Mangily, The river banks of Anakao blanketed with Flamingo or the endless sand dunes travelling inland from the coast for as far as the eye can see.
We are speechless in our travels between surf destinations with take in all these breath taking views and encounters.
We arrive by our boat in the town Anakao, there’s countless breaks, it’s mostly reef but it has varying appeal to all levels of surfer, from beginners through to chargers. There’s plenty for everyone when the swells on. Anakao is too Madagascar as Bali is too Indonesia. With world class waves right at your doorstep like flameballs and kamazies it would be hard to leave when it’s firing. We managed to get plenty of fun waves, everyday was suitable for all levels of surfing, with bigger swells the more experienced would shine.
Getting here from Toliara is 5hrs by car or your can take the 40 min speed boat. The southern parts of Madagascar are very arid, almost desert like in parts. The coast line undulates, we encounter rivers, towering cliff faces 100m high that quickly tapers to nothing and back again. It’s surreal.
Many places are without the modern conveniences we take for granted, electricity, hot water and refrigeration can vary place to place.
The locals live a very basic lifestyle, their crops and zebu hold status in the village. A rich man here has 100 zebu, the monetary value of things doesn’t factor into their day to day.
We eat local produce daily, our diet doesn’t change much throughout our entire trip. Freshly caught fish when on the coast, potatoes, carrots and Zebu (beef) are the staples foods when away the bigger cities. The water we drink is all single use bottles, not ideal. Though the Malagasy are resourceful and don’t throw these away. Being a Westerner, plastics are an unfortunate byproduct of our travel adventures across the planet.
Within a few days we switch off from our western lives and find time to reflect on just how amazing the planet is and how important it is to protect it. We’re reminded everyday here of how fortunate we are in first world countries, the basics, food, water, electricity, education, the list goes on. These are just a few of the struggles they encounter everyday. No almond milk cappuccinos here. The Government appears to be corrupt according to every conversation had with the locals and regular visitors that have been visiting these shores for 20yrs or more.
After a long day of surfing empty crystal clear waves, we eat, drink and chill under the clear night skies illuminated by the milky way.
Germans, Swiss, French, American and Australians, we’re a mixed bunch of surfers at all levels exploring this part of the world and enjoying each others company.
Our last night on our surf adventure saw us back in Toliara embracing the local nightlife. The club of choice was a lean to shed in town with an alfresco indoor outdoor feel. The dance floor was out under the stars. Rum was $4, served by the bottle. We sat for hours chatting amongst our newly found friends, drank our rum whilst always under the watchful eyes of the inquisitive locals dancing around us.
Our surf safari comes to an end and our 4wd road journey across the country begins. We embark on a 12 day adventure across the country to the far north east, visiting 5 national parks, with our final destination the island of St Marie, home of the world’s only pirate cemetery.
Having watched Sir David Attenborough deliver documentaries to our screens our entire lives still didn’t prepare us for such amazing scenery and wildlife.
Isalo national park was the first park we visited, we spent a full day hiking through it and didn’t scratch the surface. The park is the size of our Australian Capital Territory (ACT) you could spend months here exploring parts rarely never seen by tourists.
At every park we provided a guide, they lead you through the parks, find things with their trained eye and educate us along the way.
With every park we encounter a different species of Lemur. From the very small and curious ring tail to the very large Indri species.
The landscape changes drastically as we travel 1200km across the island. We find ourselves leaving behind the dusty orange sands of the Baobab forest and find ourselves in incredible dense lush tropical rainforests unable to see the sun. We move lightly and quietly at all times, listening ever so carefully for our next surprise encounter big or small.
Unlike Australia there’s very few things that can kill you, so you feel very comfortable as you trek through the parks.
Scale is hard to measure here, It’s mesmerising. Huge rock formations looming in the distance while driving, then all of a sudden your dwarfed, you crane your neck as they tower beside you and disappears into the clouds.
We leave the mainland from the sleepy town of Mahambo, board the ferry and 2hr later arrive on St Marie, home to the world’s only pirate cemetery. We then take ourselves across a tiny channel to ile aux nattes. The locals paddle you across a 50m channel in their tiny dug out canoes. ile aux nattes is one endless beach.
A couple days here see’s us out whale watching, snorkeling and just relaxing after weeks non-stop incredible experiences.
Madagascar is definitely a place worth visiting a few times as to explore the north, south and the many amazing places in between.
Madagascar, July 2016
Approx. reading time: 6:40 minutes