Ambodifotatra sounds a bit like hakuna matata, no worries. This small town was our first introduction to Madagascar. It sits on the island of Sainte Marie just off the east coast of mainland Madagascar. Over and over we were warned to set our expectations low for this port because of the poor conditions of the country but we found this place delightful.
We had not opted for an excursion. Most of them took you to a resort hotel and beach so we were going it on our own. Gulp. Upon our arrival which was announced by the noise of the anchor dropping and the much louder noise of the tenders being lowered from the deck just below our room. So much for sleeping in and waiting for the crowds to clear before going ashore.
Actually what we needed to do was wait for the clouds and the rain to clear. Not every morning in “paradise” is sunny and warm. Breakfast was at a window table where we watched as the rain alternated between a shower and a downpour and thought about those who were already out in it on their excursion. Yes, we were feeling a bit smug.
By the time breakfast was over, we had a plan. Grab our Kindles, go to the Palm Court and read while our room was cleaned and then if the rain stopped, venture out. Bob was not feeling well so if we didn’t get in to shore it was okay. We’d just take a day of rest.
About 10 AM the rains cleared and some blue skies were peeking between the dark clouds. Wanderlust struck and we went to our room and gathered our things and set off. It wasn’t clear if they ever got cruise ships to visit. This was the maiden call of the Crystal Cruise Line. They seemed fairly well prepared though. When we stepped off the tenders we were approached by vendors and “tour guides” who vied for our attention. They were a lot more polite than some ports we’ve been in though.
An older gentleman approached us and offered a map. I’m still not sure if the computer printed maps were for sale or free. He was difficult to understand. We turned down the offer and showed him our ship’s map. Then he pointed to a young man and asked if we wanted to ride in a tuk tuk. We told him we wanted to see the pirate cemetery and the offer was $50 USD and he would wait for us. Bob shook his head and said we’d walk (it was about 3 miles round trip). Immediately the price dropped to $20 USD and we were off.
This was our first ride in a tuk tuk and it was a hoot. The tuk tuk was a cross between a motorcycle and a go cart. We weren’t sure it was going to make it up a hill but he finally found the right gear and we topped the ridge. I’m glad he took us because I’m not sure we would have found it and when we got there and paid our $9/person, the tuk tuk was allowed to drive down the dirt road for quite a ways until it became a foot path.
A guide met us and we followed him on foot until we got to the cemetery. The tombstones were interesting and not all were from pirates. The smiling Jolly Roger looked a little suspicious but we’ve seen worse attempts at tourist attractions.
The cemetery however was not the best part of our trip. As we walked down the path we passed huts where people were living and a group of boys who were proud of their catch of small fish from their spot on a small dike we walked across. On our way back, they must have decided that the fishing would be better if they dropped in their line from an overhanging branch and four of them were halfway out a tree limb with a monofilament line dangling from one of their hands. Kids are kids no matter where in the world you go. Lots of smiles.
Thankfully our tuk tuk was still waiting for us. We hadn’t paid him yet so we were pretty sure he’d be there. Rule of travel—don’t pay up front. We tipped our guide who offered to stay with us and show the island for $20. We passed on the offer and rode back into town.
We had barely stopped and got the money into his hands when our driver was hustling some others to get another fare. Quite a businessman.
We walked through town on the main muddy dirt street and paused to watch some lawn bowling that was being played in a parking lot full of puddles. Lots of shops were displaying their wares and we walked past a hardware store, a kitchen supplier, and a shop for children’s clothing. They were small but quite busy, especially the local grocery where many must have been stocking up with large bags of rice and other products in the back of small pickup trucks.
Everywhere you went you could feel eyes on you. We’ve encountered that before and it’s okay. We were as curious about them as they were about us.
Finally, the heat was getting to us and the skies were darkening again so after about two hours we returned to the tender for a ride back to the ship. Kids lined the pier to watch the tender take off. I wish I could have gotten a better picture. They were all precious.
At lunch we were asked how we liked our visit and I said it was great. Great? No one else the waiter had spoken with said it was great. No shopping places, muddy, poor. Well, I said, I’m not a Gucci or Louis Vuitton type so it suited me just fine and I loved the architecture, the colorful displays, the smiles of the people, and the kids, the precious kids. It was a great visit.