Sunday, 4 October 2015

Tropical Ile St. Marie

There is no doubt now that we are in Africa .... though please don't tell the locals that !  They are proudly Madagascan, proud also of their cultural heritage, which is a mix of Borneo (Austronesian) peoples and Bantu immigrants from Africa.  Add a little blood from European slavers, pirates and Arab traders and you arrive at today's "Malagasy" people.  Here on Ile St. Marie the pirates contribution is perhaps more substantial....

Outside the towns people are mainly subsistence farmers, except where they find work in tourism.  A young restaurant waitress might earn $1.50 per day here - good money by national standards.  Most families have livestock and vegetable gardens, we saw chickens, ducks, geese, goats, sheep and many Zebu cattle.

Touring the island by motorcycle, we found a very young population - half of them seemed under 25 years.  Children are everywhere, rolling old bicycle wheels along the roads or doing the serious job of collecting water from community wells.

We met Sylvio, a local school teacher, who while still studying at University on the main island, spends his vacation time here in Ambidofotatra teaching English and sport.  Sylvio took us to his home - a spotless but basic shack not far out of town.  He (and his students) were very keen to practice their English language skills.  This proved challenging when mixing with the cruising sailors - Aussie accents were mixed in with Irish, American and German / French versions of the language.  

Visiting a local cemetery reveals another fact about local life - many children do not make it to adulthood.  Children's graves are everywhere.  While access to health care is improving, and the Government spends almost 15% of its budget on health, the standard of care and access for the wider community is still quite low.

Coiffure Anyone?
For tourists and travelers, if you need serious medical treatment the rule is to fly out to to South Africa.  One sailing friend received a very deep laceration on his lower leg, and was immediately repatriated to Johannesburg.  Of course repatriation can take time - flights and ferries are often cancelled, and the road system is (at best) dreadful - it can take days to cover just a few hundred kilometers.
Phone Doctor

Another boat crew member flew in from South Africa, but found the local connecting flights were cancelled - it took four days for them to connect with the yacht via rented taxis and small ferries.

In the towns and villages the standards of living and construction are on the improve, development is happening and we are optimistic about the future for this beautiful place.

The lifestyle is certainly relaxed - everything shuts down at noon and many stores and banks don't reopen until 3:00pm.  Curiously, even the ATM machines need a long three hour snooze at midday.

Tourism is making a positive contribution - the people are happy and well sustained.  More than half the population is Christian, with the balance following traditional animist or Islamic cultures.

We re-fueled Crystal Blues using our jerry cans and a hand trolley.  Standing in a crush of people at the gas station was a funny experience - people jostling for position, but in a good natured way, always with a smile.  Most were happy to recognise us as visitors and showed unusual courtesy.  I actually think they take pity on us as we don't speak French or Malagasy.  Of course you couldn't get diesel (or gasoline) every day - the pumps frequently ran dry, and the in-ground tanks were refilled manually from 44gallon drums barged across from the mainland.

From here we will move north up the coast of Madagascar and then around the northern cape to the sheltered west coast.  There are many other cruising boats on this same route, and we expect to meet with several friends when we arrive on the other side.

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