The Lemur’s island and the adventures with my adorable admirer Amigo was the moment where I said goodbye in my previous article “Madagascar – the luckiest trip ever”. Every day was a source of another surprise and when I thought I saw everything and am going to get bored, Madagascar managed to keep me on my toes and to stun me day by day. Now, I am convinced Madagascar is a land where the wonders never end.
As I promised, I am going to share even more of my insular adventures. In the second chapter, I’ll reveal some of the domestic peculiarities, the local habits, and fears, as well as the food profusion and of course, the national sport of Madagascar. Bear with me to find about it. Lets’ start with
The food abundance
For a devoted foodie like me, the local food of the countries I visit is a must to try. Having tasted so many and different culinary eccentrics, I believed nothing left to astonish me. Madagascar, though, proved me wrong. For the first time, I was able to track my meals from the delivery of the ingredients to the table service and it was such fun. God bless Fredine, a lovely Malagasy lady, for her outstanding cooking abilities. She was arranging the delivery, was negotiating with the suppliers, was taking care of the food safety, and was preparing the meals. Sophie, as I told you, she is a real gem 🙂
Almost daily, I was witnessing how the fishermen are bringing right to the doorstep a fresh catch of crabs, shrimps, prawns, lobsters so we can choose the meal of the day. Have you tasted a stuffed crab? It’s a spectacular dish and I felt so spoiled by such a high level of gastronomy.
When we visited the local restaurants, it wasn’t less impressive. In the menu, my eyes were captured by the palm tree hearts offer. I’ve never tasted a palm tree before. The palm hearts come from the center of the palm tree stem. They look like small white thin cylinders before being cut and cooked. The taste reminds me of artichoke but fresher and pleasantly crunchy. In my case, they were served in a salad surrounded with gently marinated shrimps.
And of course, all these above should be accompanied by the proper drink. Well…here I was a little displeased. My greedy eyes chose a good looking bluish can of Madagascar beer called Gold Blanche. It’s OKay to try it, but it’s not for me, and for a while, I was regretting not ordering the brands I am used to. Next time – different choice 🙂
The local market
I had the chance of visiting the local market of Hell-Ville, the biggest town on Nosy Be island, on the only rainy day, we got since my arrival. A very pleasant trip when I managed to see and compare the local market with the fancy modern supermarket nearby. The contrast is quite immense.
After being at the markets in Rwanda and South Africa I was expecting something similar – a tremendous variety of fruits and vegetables, plenty of merchants colorfully dressed, and bragging their stock, unfamiliar to me plants and ingredients. The Madagascar market was not even close. A bit poorer, somehow lonesome and tired, the variety and the quality were limited. Maybe we did not come at the right time, but it was an extremely intriguing place, and I was enjoying witnessing how Sophie and Fredine were negotiating in the Malagasy language with the vendors.
Many exotic fruits, though. Before I had no clue how my lovely host succeeds to provide papaya, pineapple, and mango daily for breakfast. I saw lots of papaya and jackfruit trees growing on the island, including the ones near the house. Our exotic fruits were always so fresh and tasty, but I do not assume someone to climb the tree and pick them 🙂
Speaking about trees, this is the time to mention the marvel of Madagascar:
No, I am not mistaken to duplicate the name, neither it’s a destination like Bora Bora or Baden Baden. Ylang Ylang is the true national pride of Madagascar. We have already commented on the luxurious perfumes industry and the supplies of the ingredients for it. If you remember, I already told you about the biggest producer and exporter of the famous and very expensive rose and lavender oil for the haute couture perfumery – Bulgaria. The same applies to Madagascar as the biggest world producer and exporter of the exotic Ylang Ylang oil for the same industry.
Large plantations of the Ylang Ylang tree could be found everywhere around Madagascar. If you see a short, crooked, and quite an ugly tree, it’s most probably Ylang Ylang. The branches of the tree are cut very low on purpose. The most valuable part of the tree are the flowers and to be harvested daily the tree should be easily approachable. When I heard the story about the way of harvesting the Ylang Ylang flowers it sounded to me like a strictly designed tactic and strategy, quite complicated and fragile.
Only the yellow flowers are eligible to be picked. The green ones should be left and postponed. The bloom aroma is the strongest early in the morning when is the exact time to be harvested – between 3 am and 6 am. The timing is crucial because only the collected early in the morning blossoms give the highest volume of oil and provide the right fragrance. Impossible to start this process after 10 am when all the action should be already completed long ago.
Ylang Ylang flowers have a very sweet exotic aroma and I can compare it with the Jasmine but not entirely. They said Ylang Ylang fragrance can uplift the mood and works as an aphrodisiac. It’s also believed to revitalize the hair and the skin and to reduce the signs of aging. To be precise, it was a bit too strong and too sweet for my fragrance taste but no doubt, it’s a unique tropical, expensive, and exotic essence oil.
Madagascar bizarre cosmetic
I heard about these magical herbs Felibatata that the women on the island pick fresh, smash it, and prepare a special facial mask. I was asking daily when we are going to have this procedure because there are plenty of legends that by the herbal medicine the local women can postpone, slow down, and even avoid skin aging.
I was so insistent, that made my host annoyed by my desire of getting younger and losing 10 years at once:) So here we are, preparing for the witchcraft. When I saw Fredine bringing just a bundle of green grass I became a bit suspicious because it did not look outstanding at all. I was curious to observe the alchemical process while the leaves of the sweet potatoes (Felibatata) are turning to dark green moist fir.
Ready for our home Spa with a jar of Karkade ice tea to piece out the ambiance, we started the wizardry with the healing moister on our faces. Not a really pleasant feeling but the curiosity and the thrill were stronger.
Sophie supported me in this adventure, and we found ourselves lounging beside the swimming pool, hidden from strangers’ eyes, looking awfully green and a bit ridiculous. I didn’t achieve the target of suddenly losing 10 years of my age but it was a funny memorable experience that I am going to recall often. 🙂
The chameleon curse
Do you remember the green reptiles that change their color under stress? These are the chameleons. 50% of the chameleons on Earth live in Madagascar. They look so cute, lovable, and unusually painted in different colors. But sometimes the chameleon could be dangerous and bites if its territory gets intruded and force handling applied.
Shortly said, they can bite but it’s not harmful. Sophie’s garden was full of them and I was watching the chameleons with curiosity and admiration. They look like a gorgeous decoration and exotic ornament wherever they are spotted.
Hmmm…but no one from the Malagasy people shares my chameleon’s fascination. The locals actually fear these reptiles and believe that it’s bad luck to encounter a chameleon. These creatures are eluded, and no one touches them for trusting such contact could curse for a lifetime. Stepping, even unintentionally, on a chameleon, is believed to bring great misfortune.
My excitement seems to be odd to the native locals and they were not able to understand what the hell attracts me and charms me in the chameleons, that should be ignored instead.
The turtles’ sanctuary
Going to another super memorable animal encounter in Madagascar – swimming with turtles. When Sophie asked me if I would be interested in it, I was enchanted. The next morning, we drove about 40 minutes to reach the assembly point where we should take a boat and sail to the nearby island Nosy Sakatia – the turtles’ sanctuary.
On the catamaran, we were the only guests with Sophie plus a lovely couple from France. On the way to Nosy Sakatia, I noticed that the husband is wearing a baseball cap with the Bulgarian flag and the state coat of arms. Because the couple was communicating in French, I was a bit confused and was unable to believe that in this remote spot, at the other edge of the world, is possible to be two Bulgarians at the same time in the same boat.
My country of origin Bulgaria is a small state in Southeast Europe with no more than 7 million citizens and having two of them in such an exotic place like Nosy Be, Madagascar, was highly unexpected and quite impossible. I gathered all my courage and told the guy in the Bulgarian language that I like his hat. He literally jumped over his seat and looked quite shocked, but was definitely a Bulgarian, working as a surgeon in Paris, France, married to a Portuguese wife.
As I said before, the wonders of Madagascar never end 🙂 The catamaran embarked somewhere in the coastal waters of Nosy Sakatia island, we got our sets of snorkel, gurgle, and fins and were advised to swim in the island’s direction to find the turtles. Our guides didn’t look quite certain we will see anything, but the instruction was: “Swim straight, snorkel along the coastline and you may find the turtles”.
Can you imagine me jumping and snorkeling in the Indian Ocean with my fear of sharks? Well, I did it. For two and a half hours I was snorkeling around Nosy Sakatia looking for the turtles.
OMG, it was mesmerizing. The crystal-clear warm ocean water and the sandy bottom drenched me in another world. The underwater life in Madagascar is picturesque. I have already snorkeled in Barbados, the Caribbean, and the Red Sea, Jordan, and Egypt, but the Madagascar experience had blown me away with its variety and purity.
In the beginning, I was looking at all possible sides not for seeing the turtles, but for making sure no sharks were following me 🙂 Suddenly, I saw something is swimming next to me and at the moment I saw the big light green turtle, I forgot all my fears. It was truly spectacular, and I was blaming myself for not having an underwater camera to capture this outstanding moment.
Flowingly moving, the turtle didn’t care about me at all. I was hypnotized by its smooth motion and composure. And then I saw right under me, on the bottom of the ocean another one, much bigger than my swimming partner. Crawling slowly the turtle was grazing the seaweeds over the sandy bottom. The size was huge, like a double couch. I stopped moving, captivated by the view. Then I saw one more, and one more and one again… Seven huge turtles in total during my two and a half hours snorkeling tour.
In the end, my backside was reddishly burnt, but despite that, I was unable to erase the stupid grin from my face. This experience left me totally happy, relaxed, humbled, and grateful. Thank you, Sophie 🙂
The national sport
After the turtles’ adventure, our hosts on the catamaran glided us to the other edge of Nosy Sakatia for lunch and relaxation. The scenery around the island was breathtaking. We embarked at a secluded beach with hammocks and gazebos. And here I had the chance to try and compete in the national sport of Madagascar – domino.
The locals play domino everywhere. It’s the same as the backgammon obsession in Turkey. The domino is played in the cafes, outside the houses, right in the streets, next to the market, over the beach. There are regional and national tournaments of domino. Simply said, it’s the Madagascar national sport.
I am still ashamed of how much I underestimated it in the beginning. Because I have played it as a child, I believed it’s a childish game and I’ll be just Okay. Not even close. You can’t imagine what the domino champions can accomplish. There is a strategy you can’t survive without. Need to trick the other competitors but without cheating, just being unpredictable and taking the risk. I learned blocking the next player, counting the rectangular tiles, measuring, and predicting the competitors’ steps.
It was a big surprise for the others when in my first attempts, after catching the idea and the tactic, I began winning. I love competing in general and being able to beat the Malagasy daily playing PROs, was a big thing. What a fantastic day, right?!
This is the only con of my Madagascar adventure – the roads. I have never seen asphalt in such a bad condition. I am not talking about some holes on the road. I mean huge deep craters everywhere along the road. I have no idea how it’s possible this unbelievably beautiful country to have such poor infrastructure.
In my eyes, the drivers in Madagascar are geniuses. To find a way to pass through a deep large gap on the road without breaking the vehicle is a mastery. But everyone drives very slowly, that’s why 15 km could be driven for 30 to 40 minutes. Nosy Be is not a big island but when you are planning to go to a remote part it will take time because of the roads’ poor quality.
The drivers seemed to be used to it, but I was terrified. Thank God there is no traffic on Nosy Be, otherwise, it can turn to a disaster. We were in a hurry to get home before the sunset because during the dark part of the day the distant driving is equal to suicide.
And here, a week later, my Madagascar trip is almost over. Heading with Sophie to the airport where I should take the flights to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then to Cairo, Egypt, and the final one to Amman. But God had other plans for me, and I was about to remain in Madagascar.
At the airport, the representative of Ethiopian Airlines stopped me at the check-in, doubtful that I’ll be able to land in Egypt. It seemed like the situation with the coronavirus got quite dynamic because Egypt on the very same day prohibited foreigners entering the country.
Going back and forth with plenty of phone calls and lots of waiting, eventually, I was allowed aboard and succeeded to receive the boarding passes for all my upcoming flights.
From nowadays perspective I feel flattered that Madagascar tried to keep me in and to not let me go 🙂 I totally and completely was smitten by this exotic remote piece of land at the other edge of Earth where the wonders never end and here I promiseMadagascar, I’ll be back!