Entry 6: Mayotte to Madagascar, on to Mozambique then Johannesburg
A fantastic stay in the Mayotte Eco Lodge, Le Jardin Maore, included a moonlit search along the beautiful beach in search of the Green Turtle and the much rarer (and endangered) Hawksbill Turtle. We had been told that egg-laying was expected during the evening. We were also able to hear an informative presentation about the turtles, their habitat and life cycle. Due to the proliferation of predators, only one in 1,000 babies successfully make it to adulthood.
Our accommodation was sparse and old, made from 'natural’ building materials, but the location was absolutely spectacular! Only 350km north of our next destination, Madagascar, is Mayotte, known as "the island of perfumes". Our lodges are located in the heart of a tropical garden surrounded by fauna and lush vegetation. To the rear is a breath-taking golden sandscape and turquoise sea full of turtles. The giant Baobab Trees (7m diameter with heights of 25m) are home to dozens of very cheeky Maki monkeys. They stole our breakfast croissants and hung and swung off the back of my camera bag right behind me constantly - very amused and confident. The staff disperse them with drink cans containing shells but this proves to be less than effective.
Our breakfast weather report for the day was written in beautiful French/English and said.... "established at 16.00 for the next night and day....alternating sunny and cloudy responsible ....sea is beautiful in the lagoon...." We smiled at this sweet attempt and looked forward to seeing it all for ourselves.
We all thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon exploring the Maorese Lagoon scuba-diving (Franek’s first ever dive following his very recent birthday in Zanzibar AND his first few Rum Punches immediately afterwards.. yummy .. hope his mums not reading this !!!..). We viewed many different species of fish, rays and coral of all shapes and sizes - what a different world from the one we left in the Serengeti......
During the early evening we undertake a swimming exploration (about a hundred or so metres from shore with snorkel and fins) and find dozens of turtles grazing on the sea grass, algae and sponge. This is a spectacular nestling habitat for both species....and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of swimming with these beautiful creatures, most friendly and very happy to have video taken of themselves.
Leaving the Comores and the beautiful little island of Mayotte, we travelled back to the airport by vehicle/ferry and headed off to the even more welcoming (hard to believe but true) and warmer waters of Madagascar.
Upon landing in Mahajanga in the very north of the island, we experienced a very friendly but firm immigration situation. Every door to the outside was unlocked then relocked as we were all split up doing our own things, - fuel, toilets, passport-checking, paperwork handling. As we all went out and in, the locked doors were secured behind us. After over two hours, we were all together again, apart from Gaetano who was paying landing fees and filing our departure plan for the next leg in a few day’s time.
We decided 'just for fun'...and with a degree of cheek, to ask the Chief of Police (who had been quite stiff until this point) if he could organise a few beers…. It was in the high 30's and late afternoon with absolutely nothing in sight to purchase from the barren airport. Just 15 minutes later we were instructed to peer from the window bars (we were in a large waiting area with open windows but attractive bars preventing any escape). Two Police Officers were walking down a very long straight road a good 300 / 400m away, walking side by side and carrying a large box between them. As they approached, we were told that our cold beers were inside the box - and big beers they were too! They were cold and very welcome! There's a great shot included below that John took of his wife Clare showing her appreciation, beer in hand with Franek in the background. (Left to Right: Des, Bill, Franek and Clare).
We travelled for almost an hour up what can only be described as a rutted bumpy red sandstone 'track' out to the sea and to an Eco Lodge for a two night stay. We received a fantastic greeting from the villagers and staff before a swim in the sea. We marvelled at a spectacular burnt orange sunset - as bright as we've ever seen. Afterwards we had a lovely seafood meal, surrounded by a tiny fishing village.
We witnessed the very basic living standards, palm leaf topped wooden huts, with the 'luxury' of bore water provided by well and pump. We were 'guided' through and Dora enjoyed immensely giving away to all the little ones in the village Bill's 'big bag of sweets' which he brought all the way from Heraklion.
Two gorgeous fish caught that afternoon by the locals in their old timber sailing junkets were barbecued for us that evening. An early start to fly to the south of the island saw us landing in Morandova, our departure point out of a brief but most enjoyable stay on Madagascar. However again, not a thing to purchase to eat or drink in the 'airport' at all, so fairly quickly we had the Airport Manager whisking Greg and I out to the little township just outside the airport for sandwiches (which a lovely lady made for us whilst constantly laughing at us weird people from afar throughout her seemingly enjoyable but strange chore).
We had a quick stop on our return to the airport to buy more beers from a small wooden hut...this time warm. Greg assured us he would have them cold and ready to drink by the time we reached Mozambique in his -6* 'hold' as he would go as high as possible to aid refrigeration. We kept this a secret until landing.
As security guards checked over our crew cards and licences, Franek thought his father had said go and give the beers out. He dutifully did so, in front of the Security Guards, to his father’s great surprise (he had said "take the beers" not 'give the beers out'). We made a hasty exit laughing at the confusion and what it could have led to...... We certainly enjoyed those beers whilst waiting for the Casa Rex Lodge driver…..
The driver arrived to take us to probably the best accommodation to date. Beautiful manicured lawns and swimming pools leading your eye to a magnificent view of the long wide beach below and the very still turquoise Indian Ocean. In the background are the Bazaruto Archipelago Islands, with 700km of coastline, fishing, cashews, coconuts and fruit crops (the main income generators apart from tourism). The food was once again absolutely fantastic that evening.
Here in Vilankulos, Mozambique (the world’s 35th largest country) we once again had a wonderful time. The main language is Portuguese along with a little Swahili (of which we were all becoming expert in!).
The next day all 3 planes briefly split up. Dora, Greg and Franek stayed as they had planned an extra day in Mozambique. John, Clare and Gaetano set off for the Kruger as originally flight-planned, and we set off in the Cirrus for Johannesburg. We will have the plane serviced and the faults rectified (these were unfortunately growing by the journey as we get hotter and further south). They will all hopefully be fixed at the Cirrus centre in Lanseria - the Johannesburg aerodrome.
Our journey there took much longer than anticipated as we were constantly dodging storms, turning left and right and weaving through the lightening flashes in the clouds level with our wing tips. It was NOT THAT FAR AWAY - very exciting! More than an hour and twenty minutes later than planned, we arrived safely in South Africa and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
We then had quite an interesting security check in Johannesburg, as the Customs Guard disbelieved we were travelling for so long with only one bag between us (it was late and we were tired so we tried it on a bit, only to be sent back to the aircraft for another bag). On to the airport lodge we went hoping for a pleasant but short stay. We bought the kind guy that took us to the lodge, Mark from Cirrus, a few beers and listened to all the flying stories he passed on to us. He advised what we needed to be aware of in the region, who had done what and at what cost....we were learning heaps!
The staff at the lodge were great, and had very interesting ways of doing things. Obviously someone had said the butter must be put on each table of four or six places, and all 30 tables or so. As it is low season with only 6 - 8 guests staying, all 150 butter pats were placed before breakfast, and then 99% or more were collected afterwards - every day.......
I'm now sat here in the Cirrus writing this blog having been 'grounded' for three days....We are in a gorgeous part of South Africa, we have had the fuel topped up and now we are all ready to depart amongst the many jets of all shapes and sizes from Heads of State etc (which explained the very high security we encountered when entering and departing the airfield) whilst our little problems were sorted.
The flight down to Cape Town preceded the longest stop of the trip. We were to visit the Rugby 10's Tournament in Johannesburg and then land to join our team members in Stellenbosch! We flew over Kimberley where the massive hole can be easily seen from, it's where the World’s largest diamond was found. Just before the large mountain range we hit an air pocket which meant heads hit the ceiling with a big crunch!
Approaching the mountains beyond which the airport was situated, the cloud base continued to drop eventually to touch the peaks we were needing to cross. We tried and tried for more than an hour to find the breaks to enable us to cross the ranges safely, which meant literally turning all the way back at times whilst weaving in and out of beautiful valleys until one of the tops was low enough for us to skim over, and we were there at last !
Phew!!! What an experience! One for the scrapbook of life!
Now for some rugby / beer / and wearing our Breast Cancer Campaign T-shirts! More on that later....