Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The last leg of my Madagascar journey was to the northwest corner of Nosy Be, an island off the coast. Andilana beach had come highly recommended by every book I had read about the island, and was even ranked in the top 10 of some lists of Madagascar must-dos.
After a boat ride from Tsarabanjina to Nosy Be, my boyfriend and I were transported through lush rice fields and along beautiful coastline to Andilana, where we arrived at our hotel, Chez Eugenie. The hotel, which was more like a giant lodge with rooms coming off of either side, was located on one end of a small village. We had read rave reviews about the place (particularly the food), and figured that for 40 euro a night, we could give it a try.
When our room was ready, we filled it with our belongings and took a minute to lower the mosquito net that covered the large king size bed that took up most of the floor. I surveyed the small open-air shower with curiosity (I would later discover that there was no hot water, although it was so hot outside that I didn’t care), and was pretty pleased with the place.
After getting directions from the French expat who ran the hotel, we walked down the dirt road past the village to Andilana beach.
The beach was a wide stretch of yellow sand overlooking deep blue water. The sea was punctuated by islands and the tiny pink outlines of kayakers in the distance. To one side was a line of huts selling handicrafts, paintings, and the signature white lace sheets of Madagascar, and to the other was a batch of lobster nets and a clutch of mangroves growing up out of the tide. All around were forested mountains, and the only other tourists we saw were a few hippie types along the beach. It felt like Goa.
We took a walk on the sand, passing by the famous Chez Loulou restaurant and peering beyond a rocky outcrop to the huge Italian resort on the far end of the beach.
Back at Chez Eugenie, we spent the rest of the evening reading and relaxing before going to bed early. With no air conditioning and a fan that had little life left in it, the heat was sweltering. We finally managed to get some sleep, though, and woke up early the next morning to be greeted by a long black centipede and a cockroach the size of my flashlight. Shortly thereafter a curious gecko took a liking to me at the breakfast table and jumped from the wall onto my chair to get closer.
Eager to escape the wildlife, we decided to go on a hike. Our Frenchman pointed out the road that would take us up to the ridge above the beach, and we sweated our way up in the blazing heat of the morning. When we got to the top, we had spectacular views of the beaches below on either side, and were amazed to see how far the tide had receded overnight. It was so far out that we could see people walking in shin-deep water for an impossibly far distance.
We finished our survey of the hill, including several new property developments at the peak and on the opposite shore below, and had just enough time to get down again before the rain started.
It never finished. For the rest of the day, the rain came down in fits and starts, pouring for a time and fading to a drizzle, then starting anew. We spent most of the day between Chez Loulou and the small town center with its few shops, where we saw some huge green chameleons performing treetop acrobatics.
We wandered around the little village between wet spells, discovering ten adorable baby chickens and several beautiful birds, then retired to our hotel in time to watch the evening entertainment: under each of the six lights that lined the walls of the lodge, there was a gecko standing sentry. As soon as dusk gave way to night, a plethora of moths and other insects came for dinner. It was fascinating to watch the lizards catch one, two, even three moths in their mouths at once, chomping down as fast as they could and darting away for more.
Once the geckos had eaten their meals, we settled down for ours. It was the fourth and final of the great meals we were to have at Chez Eugenie, where the cuisine lived up to the high praise it received. Giant prawns, fresh fish, and delicious fruit were only a few of the highlights, not to mention the complimentary shot of local banana rum we were served after dinner each night.
We went to bed early on our last night in Madagascar, and woke up before dawn to get a taxi back to the Nosy Be airport for our long journey home.
All along the way from Andilana to the airport the narrow road was lined with children walking to school and adults walking to work in the rice fields. It was a nice picture of local life with which to end our time in Madagascar, and we flew back to cold London with warm hearts for the country that we left behind.