Friday, September 25, 2009

September 23, 2009 - Tsara Banjina, Madagascar

The Lonely Planet very curiously describes the Hotel Tsara Banjina as the premier place in Madagascar "to drop your swanky anchor." We weren't sure if our anchor was swanky enough, but we really needed to mix up our routine. A night out at the best (if only) restaurant in the area sounded like a good idea to us. So we issued a moratorium on boat work for the day, hauled our swanky anchor with our newly repaired windlass, and set off from Nosy Mitsio for a delightful sail to Tsara Banjina. Along the way we stopped for a lunch of lobster sushi and a swim at a sand bar jutting off the southern tip of Nosy Toloho. There we were pleased to find the first clear water we'd seen in Madagascar.

When the wind switched around in the early afternoon we raised our swanky anchor again and motored the remaining two miles to Tsara Banjina, whose white sand beaches beckoned. Once there, we discovered that our charts were way off (making this not a spot to approach at night) and that at low tide we couldn't pass between the main island and the outlying rocks. So we headed back out again and around to an anchorage on the southwest side of the island.

Once our swanky anchor was nestled in the sand, Sten dropped me on the beach so that I could make a reservation for dinner. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the island. We were very surprised to discover a small fisherman's camp tucked into the southeast corner of an island that houses one of the top hotels in the country. The contrast between bungalows set amid manicured grounds and a campfire hidden behind a tattered windbreak was jarring. That evening we would learn that the hotel group leases the island from a Malagasy family and that the terms of the lease require the preservation of the ancestral fishing rights of the local villagers.

Back on board Mata'irea we cleaned up, located some clothing that wasn't tattered or stained, and dug out some cash. Then we headed ashore and found a seat at the deeply curved wooden bar, which is inlaid with brass plaques sporting the names of guests who have made three or more visits to the hotel. Sten ordered a big (650 ml) bottle of Three Horses Beer, Madagascar's local brew, while I chose a glass of rhum arrange, rum in which a variety of fruits and spices have been steeped. We were shortly joined by the charismatic hotel manager, a South African by the name of Hilton.

Five hours later, we were still sitting at the bar. We were so enthralled with Hilton's stories about Madagascar and South Africa that we plumb forgot to go upstairs to eat. At some point (probably when the kitchen was getting anxious to close) place settings appeared in front of us, and there we ate smoked fish, zebu (the local breed of cattle), roast duck, flan and chocolate cake while continuing to chat with Hilton and guests from as far away as Switzerland and Morocco. By the end of the evening, Sten had rounded up six horses, while I had done a complete circuit through the three varieties of rhum arrange on offer and returned again to my favorite, the coffee-vanilla.

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