A Sailing Adventure...
       Last Updated: 2017-08-21
  

 

                         Vilanculos to Madagascar - Part 3
                                        
             Mahajanga
 

 Monday 13th -   Thursday 16th September 2010

 
Our two day stay at Baly Bay and then Nosy Makamby, were just perfectly timed. We were so exhausted. The crossing, the heat, the shifts, lack of solid sleep, all the new responsibilities we had and just the excitement and awe of everything, were catching up on us. These  4 days ‘on leave’ were just great and we were thoroughly rested and ready to get going again. Crossing the channel was a huge milestone and a huge relief for us. It was just starting to sink in.
We left at 6am, ready to tackle the rest of the journey toward Mahajanga for check in to Madagascar. The sea shone red in the early morning sun, the rivers sending down all the red ochre sand from the surrounding areas where deforestation has taken place. It was a beautiful sight yet so unnatural. We passed the red cliff faces as we wound our way up North along the coast towards Mahajanga.
We were still on the dhow highway, and passed many dhows who seem to be way overloaded but still able to sail seamlessly along. The amazing thing is that they are wooden boats and they have a small fire in a half drum on the boat, where they prepare meals for their crew and whoever is aboard. These fires burn all day as they continue on their way from stop to stop.
The wind was on our nose and the waves on our butt but we continued on, in a lumpy sea and then at around 10h00 the sea calmed and we had a smoother ride, although we were still beating. (When you sail directly into the wind, in a zig zag to get the wind to blow on your side).
We arrived in Mahajanga Bay at 11h30 and after careful investigation of the area with the binoculars, chose our anchor area and proceeded carefully to that section of bay. We had been given prior advice by Yachties in Benguerra,  that the first man made bay on the left was the most suitable anchor position in Mahajanga. This was Schneider Bay.  
The Maxsea software showed some foul ground (underwater rocks) against the inner curve of the wall and the Navnet charts showed the foul ground to be closer to the centre of the bay, so we weren’t  too sure  where it was. The fact that the whole of Madagascar is off by ¼ mile did not help either. We decided to be safe and dropped anchor just inside the bay. It was not a particularly good place as it gave little protection against southerly or westerly winds, which had been prevailing up to now.
Not quite happy with leaving Catatude in this anchorage whilst we went into town, we decided to up anchor and move to the main harbour and then return again later in the day at low tide to Schneider Bay, when we could possibly see the foul ground.
So we upped anchor and moved to the main harbour and settled in next to a monohull. The prospect of going to town and where to leave the tender was looking dismal. There were several big container boats along the harbour wall and the tugs were working full time loading and piloting medium sized flatbed ships. There didn’t seem to be any suitable place to leave the tender never mind the distance to the shore which was really far (well to row anyway!).  I imagined us rowing Lexy, whilst dodging the tugboats and surfing the waves every time a big ship came in or out. There had to be another alternative.
So, after a cleanup and lunch we headed back to Schneider Bay to see if the lower tide could improve our prospects of entering deeper into Schneider Bay.  Yes, it worked and we manoeuvred our way around the obstacles to a suitable place and dropped anchor. Third time lucky.
When we got to the shore we met a South African chap, Fred, an ex boat-builder, now charter boat owner that was busy refuelling his Cat and he gave us the 10 minute rundown on where, what, why and how things work in Mahajanga.  Shame, I really bombarded him with questions, but he was extremely nice and helpful.
We caught a lift with the petrol garages vehicle to the immigration offices in the harbour with Fred, as he was checking out of the country and on route there anyway.
As my French is limited to love words and get by words, I knew this was not going to be easy. (I really had all good intentions of learning conversational French before we left but there was just not enough time and the Alliance Francaise only had lessons in Pretoria at that time).
We entered the harbour and were greeted by a gentleman who promptly called a lady who spoke very limited English. She took us to the office where we were to check in and have our passports stamped. Every is very relaxed and casual (in fact there was a serious game of cards being played when we arrived). We were told to wait outside. We were given a bench in the shade and then she asked if we had any other chores to do in town as our passports would only be ready at 6pm.
We walked the 2 blocks to the ATM and the supermarket (Score) which was delightful. Fresh veg, fresh meat, tinned food, cell phones, spices, pots ‘n pans, in fact almost anything short of hardware!
We spent alot of time selecting choice spoil things that we had gone without like ice-cream, South African wines, fresh fruit, etc (they even had Simba chips). I was able to pay by credit card so it was just so easy. They even spoke English! This town was looking better and better by the minute.
We went back to immigration, at 5pm collected our neatly stamped passports and caught a taxi back to Schneider Bay, to find Lexy and her motor sitting exactly where we had left her. We paid the chap assigned to babysit her 5000 Ariary.
On route back to Catatude, I noticed how clean the city was. No rubbish on the streets, paved tar roads without potholes and very friendly people, who greet you in the streets. No hustlers, beggars or dodgy characters. I felt very comfortable in Mahajanga.
The winds were blowing quite strongly from the South in the evenings and the anchorage had really bad holding  in the mud. We dragged back and forth, all night, and decided that we would have to find an alternative anchorage in the morning.
We upped anchor (again) early in the morning, and moved  to a bay between the main harbour and Schneider Bay and anchored in 9 meters directly opposite the Baobab and the town boardwalk.  This anchorage was much better, closer to town, had a small baby patch of beach for the tender and it was a busy area.
Kev dropped me at the shore, so that I could go and do Customs, check in with Maritimo and get the cruising permit. Armed with all Catatudes papers, our passports and local cash I stepped onto the pavement. This couldn’t be too hard? I mean taxi, is taxi, in any language? Everyone knows that word. Finding the taxi rank was the main problem.
Then, a young man, screams at me in passing, “pousse, pousse”. I did a double take as I heard that word and though, oh my goodness this must be the rough part of town, probably the red light district ! Then another chap stops next to me and shouts “pousse, pousse”.  The shock on my face must have showed because he put his poles down and patted the seat and said pousse pousse in a softer gentler voice.  What should I do run or ignore, after all I wasn’t dressed seductively, shorts and a T shirt and I certainly wasn’t soliciting business on the street corner?
All these thoughts were racing through my mind. I walked briskly across the street and then watched in awe, as a local man, standing  on the sidewalk calmly put his arm up, called out  pousse pousse, and then hopped into the rickshaw and off they went.  
Oh, how embarrassing : its their word for rickshaw. Well by the end of the day, I was the one standing on street corners shouting these words, when I need to get from A to B!  It felt really weird but gave me the giggles every time.  I even had my own regular pousse pousse man which became my personal chauffeur for the week.
It actually worked out very well because his friend, Miss Clara, had a small food stall just outside the little beach and she used to watch the tender for us whilst we were in town.
I managed to get to the Maritimo office (they speak some English) and get the cruising permit which costs 44 Euro for 3 months.  The Maritime Captain is a very friendly jovial gentleman who speaks perfect English, and invites you into his office to hand you your neatly computer printed documents.
I went to customs and they stamped our documents and wished me a pleasant journey. There was no charge (not like Mozambique who charge every month). This just all seemed too easy, but yet it was true. Not one bribe requested and efficient (they could be a bit faster!) friendly assistance from all! 
Well formalities behind us we were able to explore and relax and enjoy the town. Mahajanga has many very nice restaurants, very reasonably priced meals and drinks, and is a clean, easy and comfortable city.
They have a boardwalk which all the locals frequent at 6pm every evening, where they have food stalls, ice-cream parlours, Bars, horse rides, a small children’s fun fare, and music.  There is a huge Baobab tree, said to be 800 years old, with a circumference of 14 meters, in the centre of the boardwalk, and it is believed that visitors should walk around it 7 times anti-clockwise to bring good fortune to themselves. The atmosphere is very lively but by 10pm everyone has retired and the streets are empty again. Unfortunately the mosquitos also frequent Mahajanga, usually coming out in the early evening, but nothing repellant can't cure.
Kev’s brother, Jules was due to join us for the sail up to Nosy Be. His plane landed on Wednesday evening, and we met him at the Baobab tree. He was very excited to join us, on the sail, as he had been reading the previous newsletters. Our plan was to depart on the Friday as Jules had already lost 2 days because of the poor air schedule of Air Madagascar, and had to sleep over in Tana to wait for the Mahajanga flight.
We walked the town, ate at various restaurants, popped in at several pubs/terrace lounges, did more provisioning, visited the Laundromat and local market and did our final fuel top-up.
The fuel-run was rather novel as Kev used two pousse pousse to get the fuel. These guys have incredible stamina and are super fit and thought nothing of running across town, with empty cans, to the petrol station and then back with 400 litres of fuel, 200 in each pousse pousse! Well, it certainly livened up a usually mundane task. We had used 400l on the 901 miles from Vilanculos to Mahajanga.
   
 
Mahajanga was very hot. The daily average was 32 degrees at 12pm and I guess that’s the reason the town shuts down from 12 to 15h00 for their daily siesta and then everything re-opens until 18h00, when its boardwalk time. Restaurants are however open at lunch time.
The market was very interesting. It is a lively colourful place where they sell raffia baskets, articles made from horns, turtle carapaces, dried snakes, jewellery, shark teeth, crystals etc.  Their fresh veg is of very good quality and we were able to get some ‘mafana’ which is a spinach type leaf with small yellow flowers. It has a green veg taste but also leaves a tingly sensation on your lips. It is usually served with beef which is called Zebu, in Madagascar.
Being  the water klutz that I am, the week was not without incident. On day three, when I was going back to town to do something (my pousse pousse man (Simeon) waiting for me in the road), I jumped out of the tender, as we got close to the shore and waded through the ankle deep water, so that Kev didn’t have to beach the tender and could turn around and go back to Catatude. I felt a small pain under my feet (yes, both) but continued walking, slip slops in hand, to the pavement as the sand was hot.  When I arrived at my pousse pousse man he smiled and said hello and then I looked down to see 2 pools of blood around each foot. I sat on the pavement trying to be as inconspicuous as possible while trying to wipe them with a wet wipe I had in my bag, but there were too many little coral cuts and they were all bleeding profusely. Two hands and twenty small wounds to press to stop the bleeding, this just wasn’t working.   Oh, how embarrassing – now, a crowd was gathering. Just my luck! No tissues, no nothing.  Simeon handed me his chamois cleaning cloth for his pousse pousse, and in record time I had torn it into strips, made 3 sets of bandages on each foot, put the slip slops on to keep the bandages in place and hopped on ready to go, pretending that it was no issue just a few little cuts. First stop was obviously Score supermarket so that I could buy plasters! I walked in looking like a foot hobo and left looking like a patchwork quilt. This was another one of those lessons, that I needed to learn. Coral shoes are very important and coral wounds take very long to heal!
On the equipment side, our TV is still not working (not even Free TV), and the company that sold it to us, now says that we should have purchased a bigger dish! They don't seem to realize that we are not on a super Yacht that can take a huge big dome. Anyway, I recommend that anyone interested in a boat TV system, should get a written upfront guaranteed of reception for each and every country you intend visiting, by the re-seller!  This way you will have some recourse should it fail as it has in our case. This chapter is not closed yet!
I also nearly had a heart attack when the satellite broadband account arrived! I promptly removed the "where are we page" and we now only use it for email and weather uploads when needed. A very expensive lesson at $11 per meg!
We are ready to move on from Mahajanga, via the Radama Islands to Nosy Be which is 256 miles away. Jules is here to do my sailing chores, bar navigation, so it looks like a lazy few days ahead for me.
I will miss Mahajanga, we really had a lot of fun here but there is still plenty to see and plenty more places to explore.
Lotsa luv
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