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Published: January 12th 2011
From our terrace
Diego Suarez, or 'Dago' to the locals, is the major town in the far North of Madagascar and the base for our travels for the next few weeks. Though its not particularly attractive in itself its handy to lots of beautiful beaches and some interesting National Parks.
To get there from the capital you can spend two days in a taxi-brousse (bush taxi) on the bumpy roads, but an hour on the plane sounds like a pretty good option at this stage. From the plane it appears that there's far less natural forest in this country than we expected, so we hope the national parks and reserves are providing sufficient refuge for the vast array of interesting and unusual species that we'd like to see.
Diego is perched on the edge of the sea and our hotel has a beautiful view across the bay to the white sandy beaches of Ramena and the nearby Emerald Sea. From street level this view disappears and we're into a scruffy hot town which siestas for three hours in the middle of the day.
We can eat very well and cheaply here from at the street stalls. During the day women and
Filled with minced zebu and pickled veggies
children sell baguettes filled with minced zebu (cattle) and pickled vegetables and in the evenings we can get soup or a good plate of tasty carbohydrate hits all for under NZ$1.
There are a few other tourists around, mostly older French men, often accompanied by beautiful young Malagasy women. And we spot Papa Noel (Father Christmas) here too. He looks unusual to us on his vacation in this part of the world and in this heat he seems to have a very white and quite plastic-like face, with quite dark eyes. Mothers and children line up to have their photo taken with him for 1000Ar.
Its almost impossible to describe the bustle in the Diego market. Amongst the stalls of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, rice, pots, shoes, clothes, jewellery and rafia bags, men wander serving espressos from watering can-like urns, women in bright wraps casually carry goods on their heads and men pulling rickshaws piled high with produce compete for space with overloaded taxi-brousses and cute yellow Renault taxis. Attempting to buy produce here is a complex exercise. Prices are often still stated in Francs, the pre-2003 currency, but the money used is the new Ariary. With one
Ariary to five Francs this results in much head scratching by both parties.
We need a beach fix, so we get a taxi-brousse 11km to the fishing village of Ramena across the bay. On the way we see coastal Baobab trees and our driver has to swerve to avoid a large chameleon creeping purposefully across the road.
We spend the afternoon swimming, snorkelling, walking along the beach and helping some locals retrieve their net. Its a long process, the net is huge and at the end of it the catch is meagre, which doesn't bode well for the future.
It would be nice to stick around, but the day's last taxi-brousse to Diego is about to leave, in the back plastic bins of fresh sardines and squid and in the front, us, next to the driver in the "vazaha" (white people) seats, taking in the aroma of fresh fish.
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