Today we took an outrigger canoe across the river delta to the nearby Betania Village. It is a fishing village across the river from Morondava. Miffy is pictured in the blue shirt behind Kris. He’s been a great source of information and is clearly proud of his city.
We were only two in our canoe but it will hold 20 locals – granted we only had one boatsman and the local canoe has three. The channel is very shallow, as the tide is out. We had to look out for sandbars on the way back, and the boatsman used his oar to push off of the sand a few times.
We saw various sized boats docked and being made ready to go fishing. The largest boats will go out to sea for larger fish such as tuna. The smaller ones are coastal and fish for smaller fish as well as lobster.
The fisherman go out early in the morning and then the wives take the fish into Morondava to be sold at street-side stalls. There are lots of fish, but they are very small. They are mostly cooked whole on spits over a fire – it would be hard to gut and fillet such a little fish.
They are master boat builders here. We saw how one 16 meter boat was being built and the start of a 10 meter. Hull forms are hand cut and put together with wood stakes.
They are then set up into a loose formation and then the hull boards are nailed into place.
The planks are sealed with a paste made from old tires. It used to be pitch but tires are better. Another example of how things are never really thrown out here, just used in different ways. It takes six months to build the largest boat and costs about the same as a SUV. The one pictured above will hold 35 tons of cargo. We talked with the builder and he seemed very proud of his skills. We are impressed. He is teaching the younger kids about boat building by having them build small ‘toys’ with the same construction techniques.
As we toured the village we saw other smaller boats being built and carefully painted.
This one is being painted with a sealing of old tires and pitch. This smaller canoe would cost 500 MGA or about $0.40 CAD. They are made from Balsa wood sourced about 5-10km up river. Balsa is now being protected and it’s getting harder and harder to source the wood.
This medium sized boat is just receiving it’s final prep before launch. It was about 10 meters (33′).
We passed a school with six classrooms.
It costs 20 000 MGA to send a child to school for a year. That’s $8 and a lot of people in the smaller villages can’t afford it. In contrast our public system at home receives just under $10 000 per student per year. I imagine the level of education quality is very different but it does highlight the vast differences in our two societies. On that note, we do feel both very privileged and guilty for being here. Where we stay vs where the locals live is so vastly different.
Our hotel bungalow.
A very nice high standard house in the village with a tin roof.
And a mud and bamboo hut with palm frond roofs we’ve seen so many of on our travels. These two are in Bekopaka and are very representative of what is common.
Having said all that, most of the people we’ve talked to seem very happy and there are smiles everywhere. Perhaps our society could learn something from theirs on how to make do with what you have vs always needing more.
Anyway back to the tour. There are about 1000 people living in Betania and there are three churches, two older ones and the new one being built. Why are the churches always the nicest buildings in town? Doesn’t matter if it’s Notre Dame, St Peter’s Basilica or the local village church. They are always nicer than the homes around them. It’s not just the Christians that do that either. No matter the religion, we’ve seen it in all the countries we’ve traveled to.
There is a lighthouse to guide the fishermen back to shore. It’s powered by a bonfire when needed.
There were over 100 boats out today. This is a busy place.
We’ve noticed that many Malagasy women will use what our guides have called “sun cream” on their faces. We got a chance to actually photograph it today. One guide claimed it to be simple mud, while another said it was ground bark from a tamarind tree. Either way, I’m not sure how much sun protection it actually provides. When we were looking up information on the Malagasy word ‘Vazaha’ another theory was that women smear their faces with mud to try to look more white. We’re not sure what the true purpose is, but we imagine when it dries, it is very uncomfortable.
It is human nature to want to be what you are not. Straight haired folk want curly etc etc. We are all the same that way.
After our tour of the village we were returned across the river and walked back to our hotel. The difference was noticeable and perhaps why today’s blog is a little preachy. Having said all that we have really enjoyed our time in Madagascar and recommend it to anyone who can do a more adventure level of travel. It’s inexpensive once you are here, people are nice and we’ve felt totally safe the whole time. Even when alone out wherever we’ve been.
We relaxed in the afternoon and will fly back to Tana tomorrow. This ends Part Two of our trip. The last part is heading up to the northern end to experience tropical coastal life. We will hopefully snorkel a few times and see a couple small islands. But once again it’s a two day process to get there. Tomorrow night will be spent in Tana again, and then a really early flight to Nosy Be on Saturday.
When we got back to our room we found a friend on the fridge. It must be warm there, and he looks very content to hang out and have a nap. As long as he stays there and doesn’t try to cuddle up with us, we will get along fine!
This place is so beautiful.