Antananarivo to Nosy Be then a boat to Antoremba Lodge

Our flight to Nosy Be had a scheduled departure time of 6:00 am on Saturday, October 12th. We hate departures this early but we figured we would probably make it our lodge by 11:00 am max including the 45 minute boat trip from Hell-Ville. Yes, this really is the name of the main town on the island. The city is officially called Andoany but is more commonly known as Hell-Ville and was named after Anne Chretien de Hell, a French admiral who was governor of Reunion Island from 1838 to 1841.

Nosy Be means “big island” in Malagasy and Nosy means “the island”. So essentially Nosy means island in Malagasy as Koh means “island” in Thai.

Anyway, having to be at the airport 2 hours prior to departure we had to get up at 2:30 am in order to fit in our coffee, light breakfast and a ride to the airport to get us there by around 4:00 am. I checked flight checker and the flight was still on schedule. When we arrived at the airport our driver told us he would join us at the check in counter just to make sure everything was okay. Did he know something we didn’t? No, but the flight was delayed 3 1/2 hours with a new departure time of 9:25. Our driver told us he called the airline the evening before to confirm the time and all was good. A couple we met earlier from Holland and saw again at the airport confirmed on the airline web site that all was good but all was not good. We spent close to 6 1/2 hours hanging around the tiny little airport before we finally departed at around 10:30 am.

We had everything arranged for arrival in Nosy Be. A pick up at the airport, transfer to Hell-Ville and a boat back to the mainland and Antoremba Lodge. I looked around outside for someone holding a placard with our names on it and finally saw one with “Robbensson” on it. Was this us? Through much excitement we confirmed the ride was for us and it was in a small broken down jalopy surrounded by clean gleaming minivans and SUVs. This was a package deal and we really need to find out what we paid for this ride.

We made it to the boat launch and again, after some excitement, we found our boat to take us to the beach. The water was quite rough and we both got salted on the crossing and as we approached the mainland a beautiful beach and idyllic setting came into view. Our spot for the next 7 nights. We were greeted by the French owners son who immediately sat us down for a welcome cocktail and a delicious lunch of 4 large prawns each, lightly battered followed by coconut rice and an amazing minced fish formed around a lemongrass skewer and made to look like two little fish. Delectable. For desert, two skewers of fruit; mango, pear, banana and watermelon and a small dish filled with smooth warm chocolate sauce. A good sign of things to come.

Our bungalow, #1 of 7 is located at the end of the beach beside a small rock face and only 20 paces to the water’s edge. It is the only stand-alone bungalow, the others are two bungalows connected side by side.

Our days were a typical beach routine. Get up, wander over to the restaurant for coffee and breakfast, lather up the SPF, lie in the sun, have a great seafood lunch, take a nap or read, head over to the restaurant for some drinks, eat amazing seafood again, go back to the bungalow and go to bed early and repeat. The meals here have been fantastic and consist of fresh seafood with the exception of an excellent zebu stew one evening, skewered peppered zebu with fries for lunch and chicken once for dinner, otherwise fresh fish, prawns and squid all cooked perfectly and presented with artistic flair. To top it off, each meal ends with a delectable dessert, be it homemade mango sorbet, fresh fruit drizzled with chocolate sauce or a rum soaked cake with cream sauce.  It was such a treat and no meals have been a disappointment.

The beach is private and maybe 200 metres in length with nice white sand and  occasional coral. Quit typical and a little disappointing is the high tides. Like many areas along coastal Madagascar and Mozambique, the waters are quite shallow so when the tide goes out it is difficult to get into water much deeper than your ankles unless you walk quite far out. It makes for a beautiful picture but isn’t very good for swimming.

We did however take a boat one morning to Nosy Tanikely National Park and Marine reserve where the swimming was perfect and the snorkeling fantastic primarily for the huge variety of pristine corals in the area. There were no large fish but we did see turtles feeding and I spent about 15 minutes watching an octopus as he slowly moved along the sea floor stopping to arrange his tentacles and then changing colors to match his environment. I’ve seen octopus before but only in crevices while this one was right in the open. I could have spent all day watching it move to another spot and then try out a different camouflage. It was amazing to watch. There are lemurs on the island but they were introduced some time ago and were lazing in the tree top in the shade staying cool from the very hot weather so just a bunch of fur balls in the trees. There are a large number of hermit crabs and shield lizards as well as chameleons but all we saw were the fur balls and shield lizards.

We found seven nights to be a bit too long here. Unless you spend a fairly significant amount of money to go on excursions, there really isn’t much to do. Don’t get me wrong, having ‘really not much to do” is okay but after an action packed five weeks of exploring the mainland of Madagascar, it was a big change. One thing here stands out though. The lodge is owner operated and the owners, the mother, father, son and daughter-in-law live in the main building where the restaurant is located. They eat all of their meals when the guests do and hover around throughout the day. It feels like, and you are, sharing their home with them. It became a little uncomfortable. Joyce and I would be relaxing with a drink wanting to order another one. We would look around. The father was sitting behind us looking at his Mac, the mother in another area looking at her Mac. We had to ask for another drink and shouldn’t have had to ask. And, if you discuss the good and bad of the place you have to do a shoulder check to make sure one of the owners isn’t sitting nearby. It was a little unsettling. Don’t get me wrong, they were very nice people and asked us after every meal “did you like?” but after a while it felt like we were going over to the owners house for dinner or lunch or breakfast and we should be on our best behaviour.

I like my beer and the beer they sold here is in 330 ml bottles, hardly a medium sized glass full and at an outrageous price of €2 per bottle. This is more than twice the cost of a beer that is twice the volume found anywhere else in the country. It’s not like they are far from Nosy Be so supplies are easy to get so in my opinion, very over priced. If they didn’t charge so much for beer we might have had enough money for an excursion or two! Ha ha, but almost true.

We head off tomorrow to a little private Island to stay at a luxury all inclusive resort, Constance Tsarabanjina.

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