Yesterday we did an all day jeep tour of Ile St Marie. It was a wild ride the first half of the day because the east side of the island is mostly all dirt roads that are a little insane. Our guide, Augustino, with Rando St Marie, was a vivacious Italian man who has been in Madagascar for 12 years. He runs an AirBNB and this company, which takes people on excursions all over Madagascar and Ile St Marie. He spoke limited English but between his English and our French, we were able to communicate most of the day, with only an occasional mishap along the way. Here are some pics I took in the morning, as we were getting ready to go out.
Around 10:30 am we ended up at a restaurant, Chez Samson, where we ordered lunch and then took a dugout canoe across a small bay to the Foret de D’Ampanihy, where we walked to a beautiful beach with white sands and took a swim in the Indian Ocean. There was an older gentleman waiting for us there who, we were told, was hired by one of the resort owners to clean this beach from all the plastics that wash ashore here in Madagascar. He had another service he provided where he dropped a bucket in a well, bringing up fresh water, and rinsing us off after our swim in the ocean. He also had some woven mats he loaned us to lay out in the sun with. We gave him a few thousand Ariary as a tip and he was very grateful. As we left the beach, he grabbed some anise leaves, and broke them up, and handed them to us as a warm gesture of appreciation for stopping by. We felt pampered by him and the anise leaves were such a nice touch.
We left the beach, walked back through the Ampanihy Forest (a mangrove forest, mainly) and took the dugout canoe back to Chez Samson, where lunch was ready. I had grilled chicken in a coconut sauce with natural rice grown on the premises, and some delicious grilled zucchini. Bananas flambe was our desert, which was also fantastic, followed by a strong Arabica coffee. It was a great lunch for a great price, definitely one I would recommend to anybody coming to this area.
As we drove around the island, Augustin pointed out several plants that grow everywhere, that were used for many purposes. There was wild ginger which is used in a paste to bring down fevers, Quinine plants, used to treat malaria, Clove trees, and another Australian-based plant that grows everywhere and acts as a natural laxative. He also pointed out a large palm tree, called the Voyageur Palm which many of the small huts on the island are built from. It also has water you can drink inside of it, so it is truly a palm tree that provides everything needed for a traveler or voyageur when they arrive on the island.
Yesterday was also a special celebration day for the inhabitants of the island called Famadihana or Turning of the Bones. It’s a time when they exhume the bones of their dead, put them in silk clothes, and dance around with them above their heads after drinking massive amounts of alcohol. I’m not joking. The celebration is written about in detail on this blog, MyWanderList.com. All day we saw people walking towards the event, which was happening in village centers, all over the island. At one town we drove through a massive gathering of people all gathered in the middle of the town which was on the main road. At another point, further down the road, we came across a bunch of people gathered and they were dancing in crowds, presumably carrying their dead, although I don’t have any pictures of actual bodies or any of people carrying bodies. It was quite the event and we didn’t really understand the details of it until we got back to the boad and did some research on it. Another tradition is the killing and eating of a cow, thus one of my pics of the cow also traveling towards a town.
In the north east part of the island is something they call a natural piscene or natural pools of water near the beach. We went there and had to hire a guide (mostly for locals to make some money) and had to remove our shoes as we walked along the beach. It was nice, although there were spots where our bare feet were a problem as the rocks were super sharp, but we made it through to the 3 pools of water from the ocean and got some great shots.
It was a great day, exploring the island and getting a better understanding of their culture and practices. We’ll be here a few more days as we wait for a weather window and then it’s on to Northern Madagascar! As always, don’t forget to follow the adventure by subscribing, or you can follow on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Path!