Exploring the marine life of Madagascar

madagascar While many people may think of DreamWorks’ animal cartoon movie when they hear about Madagascar, there are many reasons the destination warrants a visit in person. The country of Madagascar is actually a large island off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Because of it’s unique location and climate, the area is home to an array of interesting and colorful diving opportunities.

First of all there is Nosy Tanikely Nature Reserve and National Marine Reserve, located on the very small island of Tanikely that has three very different and distinct reefs, each ranging from 5-18 feet in depth. Here you will find marine life like sea turtles and Leopard Sharks. There is also Nosy Be island, which literally means “big island”. Dive sites here range from about 15 feet to 150 feet and feature myriad varieties of hard and soft corals as well as underwater animals.

The best time to visit is from the end of March up until the very end of December, as January-March is the rainy season, and February is their Hurricane season. In Madagascar, December is considered to be summer and is very hot, while June and July give the country a very warm (about 79 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry winter, making this the perfect time visibility-wise for scuba diving.

To get an idea of the scuba diving experience in Madagascar for yourself, check out the gallery below.

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10 breeds of pirate – Somalis to Vikings to Japanese Pirate Ninjas

pirate

A yacht carrying a quartet of Americans was recently seized by Somali pirates, the latest in a string of hijackings that reaches back millenia. According to MSNBC, the seized yacht, the “S/V Quest,” is owned by Jean and Scott Adam – a couple on a worldwide quest distributing bibles. While they no doubt expected to spread the word far and wide, they were certainly not expecting to be boarded by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman in the Arab sea. The waters along the horn of Africa are a hotbed of piracy, and travelling by boat in this region is about as reckless as booking a 2 week holiday in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates are the modern day face of an enterprise that has existed for centuries. Piracy has been part of seafaring culture since man first took to the open water. As early as 1400 BC, Lukka sea raiders from Asia Minor began committing acts of piracy throughout the Mediterranean. These early pirates were known simply as the “Sea Peoples.” Aside from these early innovators of seaward sabotage, many groups and clans have sailed under the banner of terror on the high seas. The Vikings innovated the craft, the Barbary corsairs elevated it to an art, and the pirates of the Caribbean made it famous. Many other groups, operating in the shadows of history, took to piracy on the high seas. From dark age plundering to modern day terrorism, some of these groups of pirates include:The Vikings
Hailing from Scandinavia, the Vikings pillaged much of western Europe and northern Africa. The Norsemen covered a range from Russia to Newfoundland in their graceful longships, and pioneered piracy in the middle ages. They were the original world explorers – helmeted plunderers with a thrist for adventure.

The Wokou
Around the same time Vikings were wreaking havoc in Europe, these Japanese pirates, known as Wokou, began terrorizing the Chinese and Korean coast. Most of these pirates were Ronin, merchants, and smugglers. Allegedly, some were even ninjas, throwing a paradoxical spin on the classic “pirate versus ninja” debate. Why choose when you can just be both?

Barbary Corsairs
In response to the moors being ran out of Europe, many took up residence in northern Africa. Some of these displaced seamen became pirates and raided towns and vessels in Spain, Italy, France, and beyond. The infamous Redbeard, Oruc Reis, was a notable Barbary Corsair, and sacked many coastal Italian towns.

Madagascar Pirates
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was a lawless place during the golden age of pirate pirateering. Since no European countries colonized Madagascar, the island was an ideal spot for pirates to lay low and plot the next heist. Allegedly, the pirate utopia of “Libertalia” was located on Madagascar. According to pirate lore, “Libertalia” was a communist colony governed by pirates for pirates, where all shared in the booty.

Orang Laut
Originally from the Spice Islands and settling in modern day Malaysia, these sea gypsies began raiding the strait of Malacca over 500 years ago. Eventually, they fell into a protective role, policing the waters for the Sultanates of Johor and Malacca. Unlike many pirates that called solid ground home, the Orang Laut lived exclusively on the water.

Classical Carribean Pirates
The pirate cliche is the Caribbean pirate, and the spokesperson is Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Caribbean pirate era began when Aztec gold bound for Spain was seized by pirates in the early 16th century. This escalated into the golden age of pirateering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most Caribbean pirates came from European origins.

Bugi Pirates of Sulawesi
The term boogeyman originated from the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The Bugi pirates of southern Sulawesi were so feared that Dutch and English sailors brought home tales of horror to scare misbehaving children. The Bugianese were among the first to explore Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Sea Dayak of Borneo
Notorious headhunters, the sea dayaks terrorized the waters of the South China Sea, targeting vessels passing from Hong Kong to Singapore. In the mid nineteenth century, James Brooke and an army of Malays wiped out many of these pirates. Today, these people are known as the Iban and live in the old rainforests of Borneo.

Chinese Pirates
The most powerful pirate ever was a Chinese woman. In the early 19th century, an ex-prostitute namedpirate Cheng I Sao commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships – larger than many navies. According to CNN, she was an adept business person and controlled her fleet via a proxy named Chang Pao. She developed spy networks, created economic agreements with mainland farmers for supplies, and generally revolutionized the piracy business model. Her crews stalked the waters of the South China Sea.

Somali Pirates
The modern pirate hails from Somalia – a crossroads of the derelict. With more warlords than laws, Somalia is a disaster state. The government has been more a fleeting idea than a real thing for the last 20 years, and it shows. Warlords control fleets that operate out of coastal towns, amassing ships, arms, and wealth. The pirates use small boats and assault rifles to board both passenger and cargo ships, taking hostages, booty, or both.

Piracy causes roughly $15 billion in losses worldwide per year. The most trafficked areas for modern day piracy include the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden (off the horn of Africa), the Niger Delta, and the infamous Strait of Malacca.

flickr image via cesargp

East of Africa: Departure

The boiling hot shower is streaked with trails of reddish-brown dirt that’s been bonded to my skin for the past several days. I take a series deep breaths in the therapeutic warmth of the water, thankful to be back at the cozy, quiet, and hospitable Radama hotel.

The day’s journey was a sudden reminder of just how dangerous a two-lane road winding through the hills of rural Madagascar can be. Outside of Fianarantsoa we passed an overturned semi truck belonging to the biggest brewery in Madagascar (Star Brasseries), quickly being picked apart by an excited crowd. Men, women, and even a few children stuffed liter-sized bottles of Three Horses Beer into their shirts and bicycle baskets while stray dogs sheepishly lapped at the containers that had shattered in the crash.

Further down the road, we arrived moments after a motorcycle was struck by an overcrowded taxi-be, or minivan taxi. Pieces of plastic and glass were strewn about the road; fuel from the motorcycle spilling everywhere. The rider was dazed, but lucky to come out of the accident with only one broken leg. The ToughStuff crew quickly taped the leg up and made space for the man in our overcrowded truck, so that we could take him to the nearest hospital in Fianarantsoa.

As the number of kilometers on the signs to Tana began to wind down, I realized just how close I had become to the rest of the ToughStuff team over the course of the trip, despite our language barriers and upbringings on opposite sides of the Earth. Some of them promised to start Facebook accounts to keep in touch, others wrote down Malagasy phrases in my notebook so that I could practice before my next trip to Madagascar.

The most meaningful gesture came from our genial driver, Ivan. He promised that as soon as we made it back to town that he would have me over to his house to meet his wife and week-old baby daughter…

I dry off from the shower and head out into the streets of Tana to find his house; Ivan is waiting for me on the cobblestone street with cell phone in hand. Before we walk through a small wooden gate that leads to a row of concrete buildings, he pauses and hesitates before saying “My house is not very big; but I hope you don’t mind – you’re very welcome here.” It’s a humble and sincere reception.

We work our way up a narrow spiral staircase to a third story apartment that has a kitchen, a bedroom, and a rooftop balcony. It’s nice by Malagasy standards – the furnishings are minimal, but there is a beautiful view over the city. Ivan’s wife emerges from the bedroom with their newborn daughter wrapped in thick cotton. She apologizes that there is no food to eat, but instead offers me a selection of Coke, Fanta, and Sprite that’s been tucked away for the arrival of a guest.

I sit and soak up Ivan’s surroundings over our conversation and drinks. He’s an extremely hard working and proud man; he left for a week of work only two days after his daughter was born (much to his wife’s disapproval). He acknowledges his fortune to have such a beautiful family and a good job that he loves – although his salary still requires his wife to run a cooking business out of their apartment for extra income.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of world his daughter is entering in to. Her country now stands at a political crossroads, with every move being monitored by the global community. A place once considered to be an isolated island that is now more connected than ever (digitally and through commerce). A place that will hopefully be advanced by the success of social enterprises like the company that her father works for.

I think of the children that weren’t as lucky to be born into good families; riding on their mother’s backs, in search of a vazaa that will hand out money for medicine. Was I wrong to keep walking? Would it have made a difference anyway?

We finish our soft drinks, say our goodbyes, and I leave Ivan and his family to enjoy the rest of their Sunday. As I walk out of the apartment, I consider myself one of the luckiest travelers in Antananarivo. An invitation into a new friend’s home is always special, but the afternoon spent in Ivan’s home was the perfect end to the warmth and hospitality I’ve felt from day one in Madagascar.

I came knowing nothing, with bags haphazardly packed – touching down in a foreign place… I’m leaving with a few friends and a distinct sense of a place that’s no longer very foreign after all.

If you missed any previous posts in the East of Africa series, be sure to check them out
here!