To Hellville and Back

the leg crusher

24 September 2011 | Nosy Be, Madagascar

Hey there Bubbles fans! It’s Christine from the nav desk (and formerly NYC). I’m on my second tour with good ol’ Bubbles, the first being a 2 month romp through SE Asia. My 5 day pit stop in Mauritius, I was told, does not count since I was aboard Bubbles for less than 10 minutes, though I maintain the argument that making multiple visits to the engine at the tractor repair shop counted as time spent with Her. Two weeks later I made the by now familiar journey back and am now galavanting around the coastal edges of Madagascar.

Once again, the blissed out rumors of tranquil blue beaches seemingly escaped Bubbles’ reach as we anchored in the brown water port of Hellville. As two men slowly approached the boat, we eyed them with a bit of suspicion after our recent rendezvous with similar looking greeters from Diego Suarez. Romeo, the more senior of the two port hustlers, smiled and began to ramble off his litany of available services. We soon deduced that the conveniences he was offering far outweighed the risk of another robbery. Besides, our outboard was all ready gone and once we had stashed away all of the electronic valuables, we felt confident that anyone attempting to rifle through Bubbles while we away would be sorely disappointed.

A quick evening walk through the town of Hellville proved to be an upbeat surprise. The people wore genuine smiles and the jaded eyed of the townsmen of Diego Suarez were replaced with curious and inviting ones. As night fell upon us and the last of the burning, yellow globe of African sunlight dipped from our eyes, candlelit tables laden with homemade cuisines were set up along the main drag of town. Fish and beef kabobs galore!! Small paddies of dough somewhere between a papaddaum and soft tortilla sat along side crisp, vinegary cabbage salad and the typical plate de jour of spaghetti. Even after gorging ourselves so many times on local gastronomic delights, we never cease to be amazed when presented with a bill that totals somewhere around 1 USD each.

The next morning the Bubbles crew tied on their business bonnets and got down to work. Alex and I shot off in a taxi in search of a sail maker to repair our torn staysail that suffered misfortune on the Cap d’Ambre crossing while Kirk made dingy run after dingy run with Romeo to re up our fresh water supply. After dropping the staysail off at a surprisingly comprehensive sail loft tucked behind a dusty pot holed street within a tin constructed neighborhood, we spotted an incredible amount of masts peeking out at us over some mangroves. We quickly popped out of our taxi, jumped on the world’s slowest rental scooter and followed our newest version of the North Star.

Our eyes were greeted with a scene that seemed to be taken directly from a sailor’s fantasy. Not only was the town of Dar es Salem the quaintly colorful, vibrant village we had been longing for, but it was also edged along the coast of the blue green waters identical to those in the photos that our Lonely Planet had been taunting us with. The anchorage, containing nearly 30 sailboats had our pulses racing. Boat after boat, bearing familiar names harkening all the way back to Thailand (and some beyond) was all the convincing we needed that the East Africa Pilot Guide was definitely out of date and Hellville was no longer the place to be. Within an hour we had picked up anchor and we headed to Crater Bay, our new home for the next week.

Our day continued with a much needed scrub down of Bubbles. Her organization and general hygienic demeanor had taken a rather severe blow during the Indian crossing. My meticulous work from Langkawi had been undone at every level. I’d left Malaysia full of pride in the diagrams I’d drawn, explaining the contents of each cubbard and a breakdown on how to approach the vast, overflowing belly of the V berth. Kirk and I attacked the salon while Alex battled what could politely be considered an uncooperative head. I dealt many with the fallen soldiers of the cockroach and various insect armies in the shelves and Kirk delivered a Chinese smack down to the thousands of weevils that had decided to set up shop in the majority of our grain supply. In the meantime, Alex was dressed like he was about to commit a bank robbery via chemical assault; with a shirt tied around his head like a gangsta face mask he concocted a potion that seared the inside of our nasal passages and watered our eyes from the opposite end of the boat. Seconds after flushing his recipe down the toilet, it began to sputter and fizz, a thick white smoke oozing out and filling the hull. He slammed the door shut and told us it was best not to breathe for a little bit. Given the endless flushing of recycled black, water (which gave off the most horrifying, hull filling stench) that our head had been producing the last couple of weeks, I felt the few years that inhaling this concoction would shave off my life was well worth it.

Our day concluded with a reunion of Bubbles, Pawnee and Luna aboard Norman’s beautiful boat. We joined a few hours early before the dinner bash that Norman had arranged with over 25 others from various boats joining throughout the evening. Familiar faces met during the myriad of adventures Bubbles embarks upon are as much as a comfort as correspondence from home. Our bellies full and livers’ bursting, the group prattled on about everything from one another’s most recent crossings, routes, jerry jugs and discoveries: it felt like one great, big family.

Playtime was long overdue and we set in on conquering a main attraction on our itinerary: a sail upon the local piroguier. These ancient looking sailboats haven’t changes a hint of their design from their original blueprints from hundreds of years ago. Aside from the nails that hold the wooden planks of the hull together, there isn’t a touch of metal or plastic to be found aboard. Wooden blocks and pegs form the basis of the rigging that help guide the massive triangle of the single Egyptian cotton sail. Sealing the hull must not have been thought to be of that much importance, as one crew member is always down in the hull, bailing water fast and furiously. The 3 Malagasy men crewing our sunset sail were pure muscle and all smile. We shared our beer and rum and their smiles only broadened. Though after a solid 2 hours of drinking, the boys along with Daniel from Luna perhaps put a little too much effort into hoisting the main and the mast gave off a horrific cracking noise as it splintered down its center. The show went on anyways and we continued to limp our way back to the anchorage, the smile wattage aboard only growing brighter despite the setback of the mast. It has thus far remained one of our top experiences here in Nosy Be.

In the days that followed we took our scooters along the coastline of Nosy Be, flying along holed pavement that carved its way through the dilapidated charm of crudely constructed tin shanties and bleached fields filled with roaming Zebu and small pockets of chickens. We hiked to a small peak that overlooked the scenic beaches of the Northern tip of the island. There we saw an example of class stratification at its best, the haves and the have nots. There was a small stretch of plastic tarps along the cliff. On one side sat a few local Malagasys, squatting in the dirt, playing cards near a charcoal heated cooking pot, its smoke plumes drifting across the tarps and into the manicured, chaise lined beachfront reserved for the Italian tourists, unaware of the boundaries that had been imposed. More times than I’d like to admit on this adventure I have felt ashamed by what the color of my skin evokes here. Prices of alcohol are driven up at the nicer places in hopes to keep the locals at bay. The sex tourism is so blantant and in your face, it’s a wonder if the little girls grow up thinking there is even another option possible. “Cadeau, cadeau,” yelp little children, and quite a few adults as well, that flank us everywhere we go. If we continue to equally exploit one another, tourist versus native, does that cancel out the harm of reinforcing all of the cultural stereotypes we have formed of each other? Sigh..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *