When we planned to come to Madagascar, we hoped to do some scuba diving and surfing. After all, it’s a remote place, and generally speaking, scuba diving and surfing get better the further you get away from it all.
So after getting our baobab fix in Morondava, we sailed down the coast toward Andavadoaka, where we’d read (in Lonely Planet) the best scuba diving is on the Western reef.
Of course, when we got there (finally), we had two major forces working against us. 1. The strong wind that kicked up out of the South meant poor visibility and even tougher boat conditions. No diving until it settled down. And 2. … until there’s actually a dive company in the area. We’d read about Blue Ventures, a local volunteer program that researches the reef in Lonely Planet. And from the reading, it seems like they’re the guys to dive with.
Except they’re not. They only take out their volunteers. Son of a…!
So we ended up chilling in Andavadoaka, enjoying being on land after a harrowing sail, walking around the beach exploring funky organisms at low tide, and catching up on reading (and this blog).
Our chances of diving in Madagascar gone, we looked ahead to surfing. Wind produces waves, I told myself. So we fixed our eyes on Toliara, hopped into a 4×4 running passengers for Blue Ventures, and made the bumpy, sandy, rocky seven hour drive.
That afternoon, we sniffed out some of our kind at a local cafe and things were looking up… until, Ben, the guide said all of the breaks are only reachable by boat… and his boat was already booked up with his own clients. Sigh. He did offer to ping a couple Vezo to see if they could take us out to a nearby break though.
We also got to meet his business partner, an ex-pat Kiwi named Blair who happily told stories of his barbarian life – Indonesia in the early 90’s, Reunion Island in the 00’s, and now, here in Madagascar. He’s been chasing uncrowded waves for years and had the weathered skin, literally and metaphorically, to prove it.
We were happy to listen… until he started on about the shark stories from Reunion Island. With each story gorier than the last, I was internally wishing he’d stop for fear that Annie would never get in the water away from Rockaway again. “The one shark had him by the leg and as his friends started his way to help, but then another tiger shark took his head clear off…” (Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor).
He kept on about how many sharks there are in the Mozambique Channel (the body of water we just sailed through, and were about to surf), but swore there are no sharks around here because the local Vezo have overfished the area. Ahhh the
stories lies we tell ourselves…
And yet, the next morning we negotiated a price for a half day ride by pirogue (with motor) to surf nearby. We rented boards from Ben and Blair – Mada Surf Tours – not their usual business, but they obliged us, and set out.
Our guide, Anselm, was purported to know where the wave broke. But miles offshore, with no real landmarks to go by, it was tough to make out exactly where we were supposed to surf. Still, we were keen, and hoped in, paddled toward the mushy wave Anselm directed us to and hunted for waves.
We soon realized how shallow the reef got, various colors visible below through the clear water, but were grateful for transparent water. At least then we could see any sharks coming our way (yeah, right).
I eventually paddle into an oncoming wave and was pleasantly surprised to grab a nice little ride out of it. Annie followed suit and then we traded waves for a while, enjoyed being the only people in the water, and when chills set in, hopped out, happy to have successfully surfed in another foreign country, and happy to have all of our limbs.
Other than that, we didn’t do much else in Toliara except appreciate an air conditioned room and toilets (with seats) that flushed without a bucket of water.
Do’s and Don’t’s…
- Don’t… be rattled by all the people, heckling you to offer pousse-pousse rides, sell you something, whistle at your girl, ask for money, or the shirt off your back. It’s a poor place. Don’t be too flashy and just take it all with a smile.
- Do… hit Le Blu (Used to be Bo Beach if you’re Lonely Planet is wrong. Ours was). Yes, it’s mostly for tourists, but the food and service are great, it’s a nice place to hang, and the wifi is good.
- Don’t… walk around at night. We were warned pretty sternly that we’d likely be robbed and that the police, if they happen to be around, wouldn’t do much about it anyway.