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Alternate Routes · Africa · madagascar · Madagascar · Renārs Bīrmanis

Surfer Destination

Author: Renārs Bīrmanis1 COMMENT

Surfer Destination

Six pairs of eyes peep out of a small hut, 3 x 3 meters, made of branches. Another building, dating back to French colonial times, proudly carries a name "Hospital". Sponsored by Baptist's congregation, a hospital with 2 doctors is a rare luxury in southern Madagascar. But somewhere else a crackling sound of burning sea-urchin shells reaches travelers ears.
With a population over 14 million and growing, the island of Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. It reminds of some harsh stories on the Discovery channel. Yet, the reality is even more shocking when you are out of your cozy comfort zone with a glass of wine in one hand and a remote in the other. The poverty - much deeper than one could have ever imagined. The ocean waves - so superb that they fill with thrill even the most seasoned surfers.
Getting to baobab land is pretty easy. No visas required for the EU citizens and all the formalities can be settled in the Antananarivo airport. Air Madagascar flies direct from Paris to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, in 11hours crossing the incredible Sahara desert.

Fort Dauphin

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Fort Dauphin, in south-east of Madagascar, is one of the surfers favorite destinations. Lokaro peninsula, a nature reserve, featuring wonderful white beaches, is regarded as one of the poorest corners of the whole African continent. Getting to Fort Dauphin is quite exotic from any point of view. It may take 4 days in a rented car, with an asphalt road being just one fourth of the whole distance. While another choice - going by plane - amazes with just 10 passengers being on board of a huge Boing!
Three native chaps push a swaying ramp that has to be hold tight to the plane. A whole airport comprises some small houses, resembling concrete boxes, and just one runway. Local fellows, about ten altogether, holding cardboard signs, wait at arrivals - getting clients for hotels, brings small commission in exchange. The only way to select the best offer is to cross-examining each guy, fitted out with hotel brochures and promises to take you to waterfalls and other amazing places. Young girls, too, nicely dressed flock together, waiting the arrivals or - to be more precise - representatives of the sterner sex.
Bumping and jolting in an old banger finally brings us to the hotel. We pass a crude concrete wall of a French colonial time stadium and some sense of a ghetto oozes all around. The locale white people have encircled their newly built properties with solid fences, and one may just wonder if they ever dare to step outside. Even a small club is set up nearby. No proper attire - no entrance. The first impression is quite unfriendly, even depressing. A city center, with a single main street and shabby shops and shanties along its sides does not encourage staying a little longer.

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A Lavasoa hotel bungalow, too, does not stand out with an excessive luxury. A bed, a curtain, a shower and a potty - that's all. What more, however, a surfer might need? Water in a black barrel on the roof is heated by the sun. And, obviously, a price of 10 euro includes neither a constant electricity supply nor chewable chicken for your meal. Also a small bay does not fit for surfing, being too shallow and stony.
The lucky ones manage to reach the nearby Baie des Galion or Galion bay exactly during international surfing championships. Yet, afterwards a life there resumes its usual pattern again. A Frenchman, having married into a village, has bought a fairly good inventory and opened a small kiting and surfing club at the beach, named Ankoba watersports. Four La Dauphin guesthouses are settled nearby, on top of the hill, providing just the most essential conveniences. But what a superb view opens up! The ocean shore and the rest of the town are right at your feet!
A garden within the club's territory features a restaurant with comfortable loungers. A meal here does not exceed 5 euro a day, including a dessert. Ropes, stretching all around, separate it from the rest of the beach. A waitress, working every day, earns just 25 euro per month and a tip of 10 euro makes her incredibly happy! Hundreds of small black kids, romping at the beach, keep reminding that you are in Africa. A bit older lads dare to cast some shameless glances at foreign beauties. Children, staring at leisurely holidaymakers, surround a surf club, too. And, whether you like it or not, a painful feeling of pity wrings your heart - there now I am, sitting and enjoying myself, while they do not have anything... Dark eyes keep following also at a crooked fence a few meters from hotel bungalows.
It gets dark early in Madagascar - at around 6 in the evening. Suddenly, while groping for a switch, two obscure figures come into your sight just about 10 meters away in the dark and a suspicious scratching sound reaches your ears. Later on scared travelers find out that it had been village security or local men, clad in rags with spears in their hands, guarding the neighborhood for 5 dollars a month. At night, putting on slippers, a surprise again! Someone has already moved in there - a Madagascar cockroach...


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Getting to the village Lavanono, to the south of Fort Dauphin, proves not to be easy at all. Setting out for a two day drive to the chosen destination is a problem itself. The only available 4x4 vehicles a local tourism agency (sharing its premises with a gas station) prefers to utilize for taking guests to National parks and other places of interest. Bumping in a wobbly buss along dirt roads does not seem very appealing either. Two days of searching and bargaining finally results in a deal - a local Frenchman agrees to give us a jeep and a driver, altogether for almost 100 euro. There are no road signs and almost no roads, and travelling on your own would be just insane. 200 kilometers long way winds through the jungle, which during rainy season becomes impassable.
Native kids like flies besiege the car as soon as it stops at some tiny village - the smallest ones probably have never ever seen fair-skin person before. And mind stubbornly keeps you inside the vehicle. Somewhere else speeding at 60 km/h, a driver steps on gas just before potholes, at the same time keeping eye on a rear-view mirror. Locals have a nasty habit of jumping into back of a car, unnoticed, and throwing out all your belongings.
Beating strangers or stealing their things - a criminal offence according to European standards - is almost a custom at some southern Madagascar villages. And only thus a guy can prove his manhood before his own marriage.
On our way we manage to cast a short glimpse at African rites related to afterlife. Instead of graveyards, dead in Antandroy, Mahafaly and other regions are buried under mass of stones, encircled by high, brightly painted concrete walls. Paintings reveal a course of life and dreams of a deceased one. When time comes, relatives take off stone after stone, wash the bones and perform their traditional rituals, with home-brew consumption being a part of them, too...
We have to stay overnight at the Ambovombe village. A guy, attired in a turquoise color robe, a straw hat and armed with a spear opens a gate of some obscure establishment. A cabin built of wooden planks turns out to be a bar. A local family kindly offers a lodging - a bare mattress for 4 euro - and sweet dreams! Night passes by tossing and turning on a mattress, on a bar bench, or in the car - next to heavily snoring driver, guarded by a dark-skin fellow with a spear, like the ones at the small guesthouses of Dauphin.
Someplace else in the jungle a huge tortoises slowly trots across the dreadful road. The car stops and the sluggish animal is carefully brought aside. Then a fellow, living in some distant spot, invites himself to join our group. Most of the villagers spend their lives trapped between a cliff plateau on one side and the ocean on the other. Rare is the opportunity to see anything more...

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When we arrive in Lavanono, an already familiar main street with its weather-worn houses once again comes into sight. Soap and nail-varnish, hats and buckets - anything you may need is on the shelves of a little shop, named camping JANIS. Moreover, it is set up in a pretty exotic spot, too - a bedroom of a local African lady.
A peculiar aroma reaches nostrils in Lavanono as elsewhere in Madagascar. No gas is available and people use charcoal instead, and women with big bundles on their heads are a usual sight here. A mysterious nowhere land - no communications, no electricity. Back to basics, so to say...
Little Malagasy kids are so much alike that it is difficult to tell their age - it may be 3, 6, 15 or even 30, who knows... Norbert, a local girls' favorite, in his age of 23 has managed to marry and divorce already five times.
You will not find any national souvenirs here - poverty has brought to a stop development of the national culture in this part of the island almost entirely. The only village water pump is set to wok only once a day and people have to carry water to their houses a kilometer or even more.
Choice of lodgings is not very vast either - "European standard" branch cabins with shared amenities and electricity - 40 euro per night. Less demanding surfers can chose a cabin without above extras. Yet, even then you can find a place with a lovely terrace and the ocean just 15 meters off your threshold and live like a king for just 4 euro a day! Rise with the sun, enjoy 3 meals a day - pancakes with honey and tea for breakfast, Captain fish with rice for lunch and a langouste or chicken for dinner; meditate and catch some amazing waves four times a day. They are truly perfect, although such thing as perfect waves hardly exists. Smooth like a highway or a tunnel with light, gleaming in the other end! A Lonely Planet author met up in Madagascar promises to mark this place as a surfer's paradise. You may as well forget about crammed Indonesian and Australian beaches. No need to give way to tens of other surfers as none is around - a wave belongs just to you!

A wild local party kicks off soon after arrival and a short familiarization with a neighborhood. Three musicians play on self-made guitars, resembling bird cages, guests are treated to local home-brew and young girls dance at the fire, shaking and bouncing their hips in a real rutting dance. On the next day the same beauties stand on the beach, where the male guests can see them, striving to catch their attention.
Finally it is a total chill-out! Days pass by, wandering along the beach and lounging on white-sandy spots among reefs, dreaming of ice-cream...Amazing as it may seem - beer, water and coca cola at camping JANIS are available all for same price and equally warm.
Children on broken self-made surf boards try to slide in the shallow water on some smaller waves. At the same place where locals used to wash and to relieve themselves... A bare-breasted woman walks nearby, keeping eye on kids. Someplace else villagers try their best to sell guests some shark jaws...
Men, returning from fishing, mark the main event of the day. About ten boats leave for several kilometers off fishing places every morning around 4 o'clock and return back at sunset. Red-tinted sails in the distance are a sign for the villagers to gather on the shore. Soon the boats are tied up and the party may start! Fish are cut open and the catch is shared, and kids are tossing fish guts like snowballs. Some slimy piece lands on my foot, too...yuck!!!
Our next stop is Tulear. 15 hours jolting in a jeep results in bruised arms, yet, in comparison with already seen places Tulear is almost a metropolis. Even sex tourism has not passed it by. Lustful beauties encircle pale-skin newcomers as soon as they step out into the street. At first sight a hotel Le Sax'Aphone, located in the outskirts, with its concrete wall and barbed wires does not seem very inviting at all. Inside, however, tables clad in white, local handicrafts and a guy, strumming piano, crate a quite a different atmosphere. The main person here is an elderly French lady. In a bohemian manner, with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other she persuades guests to stay a while longer. No problem, she says, a taxi will take you back to the centre! Wandering alone is not a good idea at all, especially at night...


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The capital of Madagascar, with its million and a half population, greatly differs from the easygoing southern part of the island. Thirty years old vehicles produce pitchy smoke and a 20 euro calling card gives just 3 minutes of conversation with your folks at home, in Riga. City boundaries are scattered with numerous mud holes, where sand for building has been taken. People faces, marked by despair and children, sleeping in the streets are a usual sight. Poverty has taken deeply roots in this city.
A restaurant Sakamanga is situated in one of the chicest city hotels and a table there should be booked in advance. Trips to natural preserves can be booked here, too. La Varangue, with its smallish but kitschy bungalows, featuring "antique style" furniture, may even qualify for being a designer hotel. Quite deservedly, it is much favored by tourists and reservations should be done in advance, too.
Unique inhabitants of Madagascar Island are lemurs. They can be met about 18 km to the east form the capital, going along the way to Toamasina. Visiting state natural preserves most probably will not be very exciting, as none of the little wild monkeys would even come into sight there. Yet, entrance fee is 10 euro. At the same time a local Frenchmen has created his very own open-air zoo! There you can marvel at leaf-tailed geckos, snakes, resembling branches, chameleons and, of course, lemurs. And not just one or two but a whole bunch of them! A guide with a half-opened banana in his hand tries to attract attention of tabby-tail creatures, which sometimes, unfortunately, are hunted for food, too. Just a few moments and little fuzzy monkeys are already there! They jump on guide's shoulders or, having grasped a banana, dash away, making enormous jumps from tree to tree that seem more like flying. Entrance - 2 euro. At the Hotel Sakamanga you can get detailed information, how to get there.
A true kiting paradise is located 220 km from Antananarivo. 18 kilometers long lake with unruffled surface is situated at the village of Ambila-Lemaitso and, funny enough, it is not even marked on any map. It has white sandy beaches and maximum depth never goes beyond two meters. Precisely at 10.30 a.m. thermal winds start to blow and a smooth slide along the lake may start. And no one is in your way - just some crocodiles are lounging in shallow lagoons. Wooden cabins, due to dampness, are half-rotten and here and there a little lizard crosses a path leading to showers. Just be sure to choose the last one from the three nearby guesthouses - the one that belongs to the Frenchman and is situated in the end of the road.

Useful information

- Rainy season is from December to April. Roads and dried riverbeds overflow and become almost impassable but bridges, crossing rivers, are very rare.

- Prior to your trip to Madagascar, you should take anti-malaria vaccine (or to take preventive medicine). Nasty gnats, not so widespread in the dry and hot conditions of the Southern part, are literally swarming in the tropical jungle of the Eastern coast.

- Air France flies directly from Paris to Antananarivo for 600 euro, provided that a reservation is made 6 months in advance.

- In small village eateries visitors are cheated no less then anyplace else in the world - asking of some more cheese and couple of tomatoes makes a bill swell from 2 euro to 14 euro.

- You never know, how much time travelling may take. For example, a flat tire can be changed only at a repair shop, it takes time and no other vehicles are available. It you have to take another transport, no one can predict, when it will appear, as a driver might need to have a nap. Two-day travel, covering 200 km, may stretch out into several days as well.

- Car rental in Fort Dauphin costs 100 euro, including a jeep, a driver and diesel.

- Stomach trouble few days after arrival is a common thing. Be sure to have a package of active carbon with you and use it after each meal (one banana - two pills right after).

- Drinking water is of dubious quality even in coffeehouses. Only bottled water purchased at shops is safe for drinking.

- Wandering around after dark is not advisable; it is better to avoid unnecessary squabbles with some locals.

- In the southern part there are catholic churches, however, people practice traditional Madagascar religions, too, and worship their local shamans;
- Ocean dwellers at the southern shore of Madagascar include sharks, so, surf with caution.

- EUR 1 is about MGF 2 500 (Malagasy francs). The best of all is to exchange money at the Antananarivo airport. Prices in the country are constantly growing, due to inflation and tourism boom.

- Taxi price can be bargained down by at least half. Actual prices for some other services in villages are 3-5 times less then charged. Fruit prices at market may be even 10 times less! The same refers to dubious quality souvenirs.

- Precious stones better not to buy at all.

- The surf culture shop Aloha, starting from October, organizes kiting and surfing trips to Madagascar, too. For more information, please check out the websites and

Addresses of Hotels

Hotel Lavasoa
Price of a bungalow from 16 euro
Address: Anne et Eric Marmorat - B.P. 329
614 Fort-Dauphin - Madagascar
Phone / Fax: +261 20 92 211 75

Hotel La Dauphin
Price of a bungalow from 8 euro per person,
located in Fort Dauphin at Ankoba Watersports club.

Hotel Le Sax'Aphone
Address: Rue du Besakoe (between Bulevard Lyautely and Rue du Lieutenant Chanaron), Tulear

Hotel Sakamanga
Price of accommodation: 20 - 61 euro
Address: Lot IBK 7bis Rue Ratianarivo AMPASAMADINIKA
Phone: +261 22 358 09
Fax: +261 22 245 87

Hotel Miramar - a small but pretty good designer hotel, located on top of the hill, offering a lovely view of the surrounding neighborhood.
Double bungalow - starting from 40 euro
Address: Bd Ratsimilaho - Salazamay Toamasina
501 Madagascar, Tamatave
Phone: +261 20 53 332 15
Fax: +261 20 53 330 13

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Your comments


Visited: I live in Madagascar

Great presentation. Being a native Malagasy, I'm still discovering this wonderful island from within :-)And BTW, thank you for putting Madagascar on the spotlight.
With regard to Madagascar as a surf destination, you may want to help add more videos on a community-feeded Madagascar-travel videos about surfing located at:

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