Mbola tsara! Ino vaovao?*
If you don’t understand what I’m saying so far, that’s fine. Neither did I understand these words before coming to Madagasikara, or Madagascar, the land of the lemurs. We were lucky enough to spend some spectacular time in Maroantsetra, a town in the Antongil Bay, in Northeastern Madagascar.
Picture: The town of Maroantsetra in the middle of the Antongil Bay. Right in front of it, the reserve of Nosy Mangabe. On the East side of the bay, Masoala National Park (source: Google Maps).
While the hard access and scarce infrastructure might seem to make this trip a little too adventurous to the average tourist, Maroantsetra really is an amazing place that will marvel those to take the effort to go there. While Madagascar has already lost over 85% of its forest area, there have been enormous efforts made by various organizations to preserve the habitats around the Antongil Bay. For instance, in the east bay lies Masoala, the largest National Park of Madagascar, home to a large array of biodiversity. The reserve of Nosy Mangabe (which means Nice Big Island), 2 kilometers away from the shore, also serves as a refuge for various endangered species, including the nocturnal lemur known as aye-aye. Also worth noting, between July and August, the bay is visited by humpback whales!
Picture: Maroantsetra’s beach, with a beautiful view of Nosy Mangabe and a fisherman’s pirogue.
As a foreigner, it’s hard to go unnoticed in Maroantsetra. You will be greeted by kids everywhere with a special salutation: “Salut vazaha!” (Hello vazaha!). “Vazaha” is a word that can be translated in many ways. Its broadest definition is “foreigner”. However, it is almost exclusively used to mean “white people”. People will approach you on the street everyday trying to find out who you are and what you’re doing there, as well as looking for an opportunity to practice their English. You will definitely enjoy the chats, as it is some of the nicest people there is. After being offered advice, remember to always thank your interlocutor by saying “misaotra betsaka” (thank you very much).
If you are looking for a place to get the feel of the real Madagascar, don’t forget to visit Maroantsetra! Veluma! (Goodbye!)
* The translation is “Hello! What’s up?”
—Juan Manuel de los Ríos