Where we are

Monday, September 21, 2015

Madagascar, First Impressions: Music Festival of Nosy Be (and a little about sex)

Madagascar is a country that makes a big first impression. Just east of Mozambique, it's the fourth largest island in the world, and a convergence of Europe, Africa and the Middle East -- as evidenced by the gourmet French meals and baked goods, the combination of French and local Malagasy language, the melange of rum drinks and vibrant materials for both traditional and modern dress, and the fleet of sailing dhows that are scattered every day up and down the coastline, with their triangular sails set against the rising and setting sun, reminiscent of traditional Arab sailing vessels.

This is the land of lemurs and ylang ylang, distilled rum and vanilla, dancing and late-night revelry (the party starts at midnight, as far as we can tell), lazy mornings and lavish lunches.

We arrived in late August, just as a music festival was starting up in Nosy Be, the administrative check-in center for vessels arriving on the northwest side of Madagascar.

Below are some photos from our first days here in Hell-Ville and the music festival that filled the streets and even our cockpit day and night. We can't photograph the underlying cultural rhythms and tones -- poverty that begets petty crime and sometimes more dramatic instances of violence, or the clash of cultures that inevitably comes from the intersection of a thriving local culture and a strong expat community (which seem to exist, for the most part, in relative peace).

Nor can we capture the pervasive sensuality of Nosy Be, but we have the unavoidable sense that sex is neither a nasty three-letter word in the traditional Victorian Values sense, nor merely a means to procreate. We haven't been here long enough to understand the relationship between sex as pleasure and sex as business -- but they are both a deep part of this culture. Clearly, solicitation is a pervasive issue here and is at least at the official level discouraged (see t-shirt photo, below). Others have written on the topic of prostitution and the meaning of sex/life -- and how it differs from the well documented sex trade in Thailand and the dangerous and frightening child sex industry in places like Mombasa. Clearly, from our peripheral vantage point, we have little way of understanding exactly what's going on here. Even as it makes an impression.

But so do the forests and sailing dhows, the chameleons and lemurs, the embroidery and carvings, and the music and outwardly colorful culture -- and we can photograph that. Once we stay longer in this mysterious and welcoming country, we may be able to say more about complex cultural undercurrents and countercurrents. For now, we'll stick with some first impressions, beginning with the music festival that raged for four days when we first arrived in Hell-Ville.

The Parade / Music Festival of Nosy Be

Thursday, September 3, 2015

3000 miles of waves and sky

Just before leaving Malaysia, I was put in touch with an artist working on a painting project in which he was trying to capture a sense of the ocean's waves. He was looking for offshore photos of the deep blue. I told him our own attempts at photographing the ocean -- many years of it -- are never very successful, as it's nearly impossible to capture the depth and breadth in a camera lens. We have no perspective other than our sea-level view, and there is no comparative element. We also can never capture the movement of the waves: how they come at you with great speed at times, lift you, push and pull you. The movement of the boat is what defines our existence at sea -- up and over waves, one moment after another. Patterns of holding on and letting go, of balancing on one foot or the other, become second nature to an offshore sailor. But those can't be captured either. The kinetic energy of life afloat is wholly elusive when it comes to a digital capture. I'm sure professional photographers do a much better job of it, with better equipment and a better sense of the how to of it.

But I liked thinking of this artist with his white and blue and grey canvas. Indeed, I thought of him all the way across the Indian Ocean, wishing I could contribute something of the variety of the ocean for his 'research'. So we tried with our own modest Nikon to capture the sea state, taking hundreds of photos of blue and more blue. We experienced real variety, too: at first a very calm sea, then building with increasing wind and then very steep seas as we made our way further south and got into the heavy tradewinds. But we don't venture outside with the camera when the seas are especially nasty; you'll not find any photos of those days when waves the size of two-storey houses were breaking over Momo.

Below are some samples from our 25 days between Sumatra and Madagascar -- some 3000+ miles (you can see our track here). Even if you can't get a sense of the height or depth or frequency of the waves from these views, you can at least see the infinite blue.

Departure day, August 1

Sailing into the sunset, first days out

August 8, wind increasing and waves building 

August 8 -- the day the first wave swamped Bernie and me in our cockpit. No capture of that wave.

More from August 8. Wind was 25 knots the night prior, but lessened at dawn. The seas were still quite boisterous, however. 

More from August  8

View along the starboard side -- we were on a port tack most of the way to Madagascar.

August 10-11 we had waves breaking over us fairly regularly. They don't have to be monstrous to be dangerous. 

August 11 -- wave coming up the stern

More from August 11

Frothy seas, August 11

Hard to capture the constancy of the breaking seas -- and the size.

My birthday, August 16, and a rainbow ever so briefly  

August 18 -- rollicking seas, still under grey skies

August 17 -- and then, it was suddenly sunny

...and warm enough to try to dry some of our sopping sarongs and towels that we used to mop up saltwater that found its way through our ports and hatches during the preceding week of wet

August 23 -- approaching Madagascar and the day we spotted land for the first time. But this is looking aft at the frothy seas behind us. 

August 23, 25 miles from Cape D'Ambre, and the seas are still kicking up under bright skies

August 23, view over the port side

More of the same bright blue

August 23, frothy seas all around Momo

August 23 -- the foam of a crashing wave just to port

August 23 -- sometimes even the smaller seas race right at you with force

August 23 -- view out over the water

August 23 -- seas up our stern

Riding a wave, then another wave

Welcome committee just off Madagascar

Frothy greetings from the seas as they get shallower, approaching the coast

More froth and foam

And more, with Momo racing down some of the waves

Dancing waves to port

Yeah, we have hundreds of photos like this

Riding a wave, view to starboard

August 23, late afternoon view of Cape D'Ambre -- we did not capture the whales who breached on our bow and wandered on down our port side. But what an amazing thing to see just off the coast! 

August 23, late afternoon, coming into more protected waters

August 23, Choppy seas off of Cape D'Ambre, with the lighthouse now to the south of us

August 23, Cape D'Ambre rounding: swells are down but chop is up

August 23, one more view of the lighthouse at Cape D'Ambre, Madagascar. You can't hear us dancing, but we are. 

Looking back at the lighthouse. View from astern is pretty nice!
August 23, sailing into the sunset at the top of Madagascar. Protected waters and smooth sailing all the way to midnight -- when we lost our breeze and drifted till dawn; we then picked up the breeze at daybreak and landed three fish on Aug 24, Jana's 11th birthday. A grand arrival.