Andoany, Nosy Be, Madagascar (Day 1) 2022
On November 15 we were anchored near Andoany, the largest town on the island of Nosy Be near the northern tip of Madagascar. The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean some 250 miles from the east coast of Africa and Nosy Be is about 5 miles from the coast of Madagascar. Madagascar seems to have been first settled between 1500 and 2500 years ago by people from present day Indonesia and the heritage of the modern Malagasi populace is largely a combination of African and Southeast Asian. Madagascar was ruled by the French from 1897 until independence was achieved in 1960.
Nosy Be, which means “Big Island” in Malagasy, is about 123 square miles and its population is in excess of 109,000. The French took control of Nosy Be in 1840 and founded an outpost named “Hell-Ville,” now Andoany. With a name like that we thought at first this might not be a pleasant visit but it turns out the town was originally named after a French admiral named Anne Chretien Louis de Hell. It is the capital of the island with a population, at last count a decade ago, of about 40,000.
We were scheduled to visit here during the world cruise in 2018. In fact, in anticipation one of the entertainment officers had obtained a lemur suit he wore on occasion on the ship (lemurs are famously endemic to Madagascar and we will get to them in more depth tomorrow). But we were unable to stop in this port in 2018 because of an outbreak of plague(!) in parts of Madagascar. So today was our first visit here. This was a tender port, so in the morning we boarded a tender boat to the port to meet the excursion we had booked. On the way in we passed a number of small boats.
We piled into vans at the dock to begin the excursion, which included a number of lengthy drives over often unpaved roads littered with rocks. As you can imagine, it was a very bumpy ride. But these roads did take us into back country with a passing view of how people live here. We saw quite a lot of poverty and we have read since that they were in the midst of a two year famine. Not pretty, but real life. When we reached the village that was our first stop there was a fairly long walk past what looked like a farm on very uneven ground. They had geese (or ducks?) and what looked like red peppers drying in the sun on a table.
We stopped here to visit the sacred tree of Nosy Be (yes, that rhymes). Located near the coast by the small village of Mahatsinjo, this huge Banyan tree is said to have been planted in 1800 and was declared sacred by the Queen of the island in 1836. Even today the Queen of Nosy Be makes a sacrifice at this tree every year and several hundred pilgrims pray and leave offerings every month. Banyans are in the Ficus family (like the one you may have in your living room) and as you can see in the pictures they spread by sending new shoots down from branches to the ground, where they root and turn into additional trunks. We have read that lemurs live high in the branches of this tree but we didn’t see any. We think the cloths hung around some of the tree trunks may have been offerings. The tree’s root system is vast with many large and thick roots spreading over each other like a giant web that covers, we are told, some 5,000 square feet (or maybe it was meters).
During the long drive on unpaved roads to our lunch spot we passed several ylang-ylang plantations. The aromatic oil from ylang-ylang flowers is widely used in perfumes and is an important export for Madagascar, where it is produced in great quantities. Because of this, Nosy Be has sometimes been known as Nosy Manitra (the scented island). Ylang-Ylang is a Spanish mispronunciation of a Tagalog term for “wilderness,” where these trees originally grew in the Philippines. This tree grows very fast, sometimes in excess of 20 feet per year, to an average height of about 40 feet. But in Madagascar the trees are heavily pruned, which keeps all the flowers within reach of harvesters on the ground and also stimulates the tree to produce more flowers. As a result the trees are very strange looking, close to the ground and wide spreading. Our guide picked a flower for us to see, but we did not get out of the van to examine the trees more closely.
We stopped for lunch at a small fishing village reached by a long drive over dirt (and rock) roads. There was a small beach with houses along its edge and a number of small boats on land and in the water. It was low tide so the water’s edge was pretty far from the beach.
A fish lunch was set out on a buffet on the porch of the building where it was cooked (a restaurant? probably not in such a small place). We weren’t particularly hungry and the lunch was not included in the excursion so we sat on the porch and had a local Three Horses beer. There was a beautiful view of the beach and the bay from the thatch covered porch.
We walked around the village, past a colorful monument in the center of town, and viewed some of the agricultural fields and houses. Some young women with engagingly painted faces were operating a souvenir stand.
It was another long drive to our next stopping point. As before, we passed rural buildings with fields and animals. In many parts of Africa, including Madagascar, the traditional method of carrying things on top of the head is still practiced.
Mount Passot is one of the tallest mountains on Nosy Be (it is usually called the tallest, but we have seen maps showing Mount Lokobe being taller, so who knows). We drove there and walked to the top of the mountain to see the magnificent panoramic view of the ocean and the crater lakes below, left there by volcanoes. The hike up the hill was pretty steep but accompanied by many colorful flowers. We believe that the island in the distance is Nosy Sakatia. Coming down we walked through a craft shop and passed more flowers, plus mango and papaya trees.
We drove down the mountain and along some roads to an ocean front town called Dzamandzar, the second largest city on Nosy Be with a population of about 19,000. We passed a number of rural scenes glowing in the setting sun. This city has somewhat famous balloon houses, which we stopped briefly to visit. It was rush hour and the traffic was slow and crowded. We had seen Dzamandzar in the distance from Mt Passot.
From here we started what seemed like a very long and bumpy ride back to the port. By the time we arrived it was dark, so not many pictures in the town. We will leave you here with some of the scenes on the drive to the port, and if you are wondering about all those nasty looking clouds, no it didn’t rain.