Sailing / Western Madagascar

Coming into Madagascar, we knew that travel here would be tough. Doing our research, we read about one common method of transportation here, the camion-brousse, described in the backpacker’s bible that is Lonely Planet as follows: “All things considered, we have never seen a rougher form of public transport.”

But we were prepared. We’d been on the road for ~5 months now and had grown accustomed to arduous trips. After all, half the fun is the journey.

So we toughed out a taxi-brousse (a less vicious relative to the camion-brousse) from Antananarivo to the coast, and felt pretty good. We had plans to get further South, somehow, when we learned of another way down the coast (that would avoid the camion-brousse) by pirogue, a traditional Malagasy sailboat which is little more than a canoe, with a sail. As ocean lovers, that sounded way better than 30-60 hours in a former army transport truck with a good chance of breakdowns and ill passengers. We found a couple Vezo — from Wikipedia, “Vezo” literally means the people who fish, but also has been known to mean ‘to struggle with the sea.” — with a boat (and a motor because we actually checked the weather forecast, specifically the wind, and knew we’d need it), negotiated a deal, and we were set.

Our plan was to sail from Morondava, to Belo Sur Mer, to Andranopasy, to Morombe, to Avandoaka, stopping at each spot for the night and sailing on by day. The whole journey is ~160 miles. Our goal was to get to Andavadoaka where we could do some scuba diving, then down to Toliara where we could surf.

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We thought we’d made a big upgrade, however, and in short, the four days and hundred plus miles we spent “sailing” down the Southwest coast of Madagascar were the most challenging days of all of our travels thus far.

Without giving too much away, we ended up stuck in Andavadoaka and had to take a 4×4 from there to Toliara.

Because pictures are worth thousands of words, and videos are ever more verbose, I cut this together and am posting here in lieu of a full blog post. It’s much longer than your average internet cat video, but if you’re reading this via our travel blog or my newsletter, you probably give enough ****s to watch the whole thing. Without further ado…

Madagascar // By Sea from reece pacheco on Vimeo.

Should you still choose to pursue this method of transportation, here are a few tips…

  • Don’t… be too scared by all of this. I mean, yeah, it was kind of a hot mess out there, but maybe we just got unlucky. After all, other travelers have made this trip before.
  • Do… BYO snacks, water, sunblock, supplies etc. Assume the Vezo will not have much for you, or for themselves, so bring plenty and remember, sharing is caring. You can usually find 1.5L bottles of water in most of the villages along the way, and some basic snacks, but Morondava and Morombe are better places to stock up.
  • Do… negotiate your price ahead of time and get as many details down as possible. Ex: if you’re booking a pirogue with a motor, make sure fuel is included in the cost. Some even suggest having a contract. Ours was written on a scrap of paper, but had prices and signatures on it.
  • Don’t… expect to get any wifi or connectivity along the way. This section of coastline is the definition of “off the grid.” Update friends/family before you depart and set expectations for communication accordingly.
  • Do… bring a dry bag and put your valuable/precious stuff in it. The Vezo may have a garbage bag for your backpack, but it’s still going to get wet.
  • Do… bring a book and/or know some fun games to play to pass the time.
  • Do… try to learn French or find a Vezo who speaks some English. Miscommunication is killer out there.
  • Don’t… fall in the water. This is the Mozambique Channel, loaded with sharks. Not joking.
  • Don’t… freak out when all of the villagers stare at you, the only visitors in town, and try to hustle you and whatnot. You’re a foreigner on their turf, they’re generally just trying to make a living, and it’s part of the game. Take it with a smile and be friendly (while being cautious) and you’ll be fine.
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