St Kilda, Australia
January 16, 2005
There usually comes a time, even during the most exotic getaways, when dull practicalities need to be attended to. During my stay on Nosy Be, visiting the bank, sending postcards, and reconfirming flight tickets all became necessary, ensuring that a taxi ride from Ambotoloka to Hell-Ville was inevitable. Although to be honest, visiting such a deliciously named place would have likely been too much for me to resist anyway.
My visit started at the colonial cemetery, which marks the beginning of town, but is nevertheless still a forgotten place that nature seems determined to reclaim. Lush tropical vegetation sprouts wildly among the imposing mausoleums and humbler tombs of the administrators, missionaries, and sailors who had come from far away and ended up staying forever.
Moving on from the atmospherically forlorn spot into the modest neighbouring urban sprawl provided a sudden jolt back into the land of the living. Aging French cars rattled along potholed roads, and crowds made their way to and from shops housed in shacks. Elsewhere, the occasional group of young men loitered furtively, as if trying to make the town's name seem justified rather than just an unfortunate inheritance from a 19th-century admiral.
At the epicentre of it all was the main market, a frenetic feast for the senses housed in a cavernous hall. Elegant lamba-clad women filled the place with a wonderful joie de vivre as they browsed the numerous stalls, which were all pilled high with the abundant local produce, from fruit to the vanilla and spices that made the air heavy with intense aromas.
In the time that it took me to get from the mouth-watering display of African commerce to the older part of town, I started to think of Noël Coward's words. Midday had arrived and the streets were deserted, save for a few mad dogs and me, an Englishman. Meanwhile, crumbling reminders of a long gone heyday, once grand structures that had long suffered the depredations of economic woes and frequent cyclones, accentuated the feeling of being in a ghost town. Of course, the bank, post office, and Air Madagascar were not open, so finding somewhere to escape the now blistering sun seemed like a very good idea.
The nearby Hotel de la Mer, with its covered but otherwise open-air terrace bar, proved to be a decent option. The views over the natural harbour were quite magical, and as swallows darted back and forth in front of me, it felt more like heaven rather than hell. There was no need to clock-watch whilst enjoying the scenery and a cooling drink, and doing so would have probably been futile anyway, given the nature of Malagasy timekeeping. Instead, the age-old sight of a small armada of traditionally built fishing boats heading back out to sea indicated that siesta had ended and the business that had initially brought me to town could be taken care of.
From journal A spot of R&R on Nosy Be, a sweet smelling paradise isle.