Lemurs mark territory by ......

After a rough but fascinating ride around the Northern Area of Madagascar for a week we headed across to the Nosi Be Island on the West coast. Nono our driver and Raaisa had been with us for the tour, looking after our accommodation, transport and sightseeing requirements. This was our last day together. We were driven down to Katifi port, a four-hour drive on the N2, a reasonable tarred road. Our guide advised us to buy our vanilla from the plantations in this area to get the best quality and obviously, price.

Green chameleon

It was also interesting to see the cacao trees, with their large pods growing directly on the trunks. These large pods contain the cacao beans that become what we know as cocoa and chocolate. Each cacao bean is about the size of a large kidney bean and is surrounded by a white, slimy but pleasant tasting fruit. The beans are cleaned, fermented for 3 weeks and then sun-dried. Chewing a fresh cacao bean gives one the purest sensation of cacao and for me, there is no chocolate on earth that can match it. 

Our dedicated guide and driver

Down at the coast we took a boat across to Nosi Be Island, drove along the island to another port and boarded the hotel shuttle boat to Sakatia Island. Now we could have time out to chill, to stay at one place for a few days and be pampered. We were treated to some of the best underwater scenery the Indian Ocean has to offer. At last we could unpack our snorkels and fins. They had been a major part of the bulk of our baggage and it was time to use them. We need not have bothered, because the lodge provides the snorkeling equipment free of charge to their guests.but pleasant tasting fruit. The beans are cleaned, fermented for 3 weeks and then sun-dried. Chewing a fresh cacao bean gives one the purest sensation of cacao and for me, there is no chocolate on earth that can match it.

 On our first day we settled for a trip around the island in a pirogue. These boats are made by hand out of the local hardwood. They have a narrow deep hull with an outrigger and are usually sail or paddle powered. This one had an outboard motor, thank goodness. We took our time and were able to dive in and out of some of the best coral reefs, fully stocked with colourful fish. It was a wonderful, slow introduction to the island style of Madagascar. You are reminded not to hurry and because it was low tide, the coral and the fish were easy to reach.

Gone snorkelling

On the following day the Sakatia Lodge  manageress recommended a day out with a small tour party to explore some of the surrounding islands. Edith is a blessing to the guests at Sakatia lodge and attends to every detail from making sure the menu is to your liking to booking tours, confirming flights and making you feel at home. The lodge is the brain child of Isabella and her husband who have spent over ten years building and developing the resort. It is popular with South Africans especially, because they speak English here because other places seldom do.

Sakatia Lodge has a well equipped dive centre, run by Jacques  Vieira and his wife. Jacques has spent 17 years in this region and runs a successful marine conservation project. He specializes in underwater photography and we saw some unique footage of marine life including whale sharks and night shots using fluorescent lights. It gave us an arm-chair encounter with the eerie if not bizarre antics of sea creatures great and small.

The islands around Nose Be

One has to be ready to hop on and off of boats, ferries and motor vehicles to see the neighboring islands. From our comfortable and homely Sakatia lodge we were ferried across the bay to Nosy Be, the largest island. We joined a few groups of tourists and headed across the island in 4 x 4 vehicles to Hell-ville, the point of departure on the other side of the island. The roads were still rough, but not impossible. Evidently Chinese engineers maintain them, but allow enough damage to take place so they have guaranteed employment. The islanders are also guaranteed an income from selling gravel to them. They pound volcanic rocks into smaller pieces with hammers to make various grades of building materials.

Sakatia Lodge

At the Hell-ville beach we sidestepped all the locals who were trying to sell us Chinese hats, trinkets or fruit and boarded our boat. We headed for Nosi Komba, the island where we were shown original local crafts, including the folk embroidery. It sounds very touristy - it is, but we really enjoyed the company of visitors from other parts of the world, also gawking as we were at the exotic animals in the forest. We paid a lot of money for the paparazzi shots of lemurs on our shoulders and anaconda around our necks. We cuddled tortoises and tormented chameleons. We bought vanilla pods for a song to take back home.

Nosy Tanikely Marine reserve

The highlight of the outing is the afternoon spent at the pristine island marine reserve at Nosi Tanikely. We flopped out of the boat and into the water to escape the searing midday heat. The reef area is directly accessible from the beach. The conditions were perfect. Warm water, crystal clear at low tide with perfect visibility. This was to be a rare treat, especially when most of us had travelled half way across the world to see the fish and coral. Jim and I have a rule about not comparing dives or sites because we have seen most of what the world has to offer. But after a few minutes of swimming around the Tanikely reserve area we both popped up out of the water and said simultaneously: "This is the best ever!"

Pristine marine reserve

We found it hard to get out, after an hour of visual feasting on the varieties of colorful coral and fish. As snorkelers we seldom see large fish but here were some wonderful specimens, especially the huge cow fish that we followed around. Eventually we had to return to the shallow water and take off our gear only to find a swarm of brightly colored fish swimming around our legs and butting into us. I was wearing a green blouse and a shoal of little black fish thought is was seaweed and made themselves at home. We were reluctant to leave our little friends. Meanwhile lunch was being prepared on the beach for the tour party.

Beach banquet

We sat on logs that were placed around a square mound of sand, topped by a tablecloth (strip of ethnic print). The banqueting table and as promised, we were treated to a sumptuous feast of seafood. They were presented with freshly grilled prawns, fish, crabs and even a few chunks of zebu (beef) on skewers. The crowds went mad - a feeding frenzy under the shady palm trees on a white sandy beach on a tropical island. The reserve's local tame lemur dropped out of the branches above and came and sat next us on the makeshift benches. A family of hermit crabs danced across the table, scavenging for scraps and a large skink slithered past my foot. We were not alone in paradise, we were the intruders. After another swim around the reefs it was time to hop back on the boat and return to Sakatia. We spent our last day lazing around and snorkeling at low tide. But nothing could ever match the crystal clear waters of Tanikely. Soon it was time to pack away the memories and begin the homeward journey. We are told to take only pictures, leave only footprints. Here is what island style is all about - the Sakatia lodge.

Island style Northern Madagascar