Posted on Friday, March 18th, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I’ll see you if you get there – “tell it as it is” adventures in the 4th world

Choosing Madagascar was an easy decision. Its only 5 hours from Cape Town, known for empty line ups and the name alone resonates adventure. Friends reckon it’s the Bali of Africa. Going in December –  definitely a gamble as it is not known as the swell-blessed season … but hey… I went to Bali in rainy season and surfed until I could surf no more. So yes I was happy to take a chance.

My favourite travel companion and I arrive with an open mind in Antananarivo (also lovingly called Antanananananananarivo) in the middle of the night. Antananarivo or Tana is the capital of Madagascar and home to midrange Hotel Sakamanga. Looking out of the window of our rusty taxi and our tired eyes are greeted with a mixture of Soweto, French Belle Epoche and families sitting around log fires on pavements.  An hour later we are dining at upmarket Sakamanga Restaurant socializing with French expats eating duck, in a totally French environment.

After stocking up on souvenirs (like elephant bird eggs, T-shirts and wooden board games) we board for Tulear on the south west coast of Madagascar. Arriving at Tulear our journey is far from over. A little Renault with our surfboards tied to the top with a string brings us to a Rikshaw that delivers us to a hut from where the speed board trips to Anaka (our first surf spot) are booked. It turns out leaving the same day is “pas possible”, so we finally leave the next day when an amphibious oxcart heavily loaded with boards and fellow travelers takes us to our speedboat.

Arriving in Anakao, the epitome of empty line ups and end of the world charm, we are greeted with rustic huts in a sparse spinal forest, local children playing on the beach and the smell of sea food made on woodfires…and to complete the slightly bizarre setting a happy pet lemur walks past on a leash. Safari Vezo, our home, is not a resort in a Mauritian sense but is an oasis run by French, bordered by village huts. Our evening ends with a thick sun set, excited chatting about deserted line ups, excellent French cuisine and a refreshing bucket shower.

Waking up in the morning we note that the line ups look far and the swell is still due to arrive. But, there is an island out at sea and we hear that the snorkeling is good. We leave with a pirogue and an hour later we are floating amongst red starfishes in warm, crystal water and realize no need to be scared of sharks as the water is totally fished empty. Good thing we took our boards because in the meantime the swell had come up and on our way back we join a group of local kids on archaic sups made from logs with piroque paddles on a tiny forgiving inside reef break.

The next morning white froth shows in the far distance and we quickly organize a pricey speedboat to surf a crowdless lefthander to the left of the island (looking out to sea) which later turned out to be Flameballs. Slightly on the gnarly side, the wave is perfect and more forgiving on high tide. Jelly Babies is the easier wave that works on a low tide. Due to the complete absence of wind in the morning going out in a piroque to get to the surfspot is not an option.

Our next leg of our surf adventure is Fort Dauphin. Don’t let the lonely planet map fool you. Road-tripping is impossible due to lack of roads and pricey rented cars come with driver only (probably because of the state of the roads and the total lack of signage).

We stick to Air Madagascar to save time better spent in the water and reach Fort Dauphin in a happy mood eager to get wet. Finding accommodation turns out to be a challenge since Fort Dauphin reminds us of Mogadishu after the civil war with few beautiful pockets.

Accommodation is either extremely expensive, away from the surf sports or reminescent of business hotels in Lagos. Most low budget accommodations are neglected and lack mosquito nets. Our landlord is Eric, French expat who rents out part of his house, a modest but clean little room with a double bed and a net with a veranda facing the parking lot and beautiful Libanona beach, the most beautiful beach in Fort Dauphin. Luckily there is also Chez George where we use the toilets and showers. Chez George is a laid back beach bistro under shady trees serving fresh French cuisine (chickens are caught by order by the chef and guests present) and biere fresh (the local beer shandy).

Fort Dauphin offers great surf accessible comfortably by an easy paddle out from the beach. Dodging the packs of local dogs Le Signor awaits, a fun uncrowded right hander only 5 min walk away from beautiful Libanono beach.

Localism is non-existent. Local surfers, Maurice and Vladi paddle over and greet  and cheer when catching a wave. We also make friends with South Africans who are part of the Rio Tinto mining company in Fort Dauphin and as such have access to breaks within the mining area as well as medical facilities. This can be handy in case you step into a rusty nail and need a tetanus shot or you get bitten by one of the vicious braks (far more likely than being bitten by a shark).

More well known than Le Signor for mainstream surfing is the Main beach in Madagascar at the Beach Club where one can rent boards. The beach break is linebreakish but works in a different wind direction to Le Signor and could therefore be an option.

When flat there is always the nearby Lemur park. We took the hammocks and joined the Lemurs in the trees. Bring a picknick, the nature reserve has a kitchen but tents to run out of food and water.

Arriving at the airport on the 1. Jan we do feel excited about the thought of going home.  However Air Madagascar had other plans. We arrive at the airport for our flight at 8 am and find the airport thorouly locked. A post it note tells us: The plane wouldn’t go today and that one wasn’t sure when it would and that one should come back later. Jean almost starts crying having looked forward to a clean bed, a road, a shop and a braai. After the lunchtime heat Jean and me, our bags and boards take another taxi back to the airport to find out our flight is only due the next day. Needless to say we missed all our connecting flights but are rewarded with another awesome sunset, surf at Le Signor and dinner under stars at our favourite beach bar.

Madagascar is not a resort island, its an adventure and it will totally surprise you.
Follow our “Avoid the same mistakes” – check list.

“Avoid the same mistakes” – check list:

French is an advantage…travel insurance as well.
Travel in a pack to share cost for expensive speed boats
Talk to True Blue Travel, they really know the place and even have a pirate map with all the surf spots. There accommodation in Anakao is also super.
Bring your own doctor and medical equipement. No medical facilities.
No Malaria Tablets needed for Anakao due to the complete lack of water. Fort Dauphin is a malaria area.
If you’re a low budget traveler take your own mosquito net.
Speak French. People don’t speak English
Oh and we felt totally safe at all times.

About the author:
Michaela,33, is originally German, well traveled and started surfing in Muizenberg in 2001. She has traveled extensively and is happy to rough it for the sake of scoring glassy fun waves. This is possibly because she has never been to the Maldives or other resorts and therefore thinks home stays with cold water and gas lamps next to empty line ups are the ultimate.

Travel companion Jean is more refined. Loving Egyptian cotton and sipping cocktails around flower shaped hotel pools Madagascar was a truely challenging experience for this dear friend. Having been to Military however he knows how to cope with difficult situations, spot danger and to look out for fellow soldiers.

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