By Nash Wills, Co-Editor
In our fast-paced, modern, 21st-century world, it’s easy to forget that proverbial paradises still exist. Places that have seemingly remained untouched by technology, and where life moves along at a pace so slow that you might just find yourself believing that time really is just an illusion after all. Madagascar’s southwestern coast, which gazes out over the Mozambique Channel, is one such place, and this past summer, two of my classmates and I decided to explore it.
Planning a trip to paradise is easy; actually getting there is an entirely different story. Setting out from Toliara in late June, our end destination was a relatively unknown boutique hotel just north of Salary Bay called Mikéa Lodge. You can forget about ever making it to Mikéa if you don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a guide. After leaving Toliara, the unpaved National Route 9 splits off towards the coast and narrows into what can only be described as a pathway. There are no signs, and GPS systems are of absolutely no use–the only way to get there is to go with someone who’s already been.
The entire trek takes about 4 hours–not because of distance, but because of the road conditions, which seem to have evolved out of a foot path from long ago. Dirt, mud, potholes, craters, busses, push carts, zebu herds, people…these are all obstacles along the journey. The views and scenes, while simple, are both breathtaking and enlightening, and everyone is curious and friendly, so you can’t help but stop to have a look in one of the many fishing villages that you pass through. They are primitive, and, for a kid from Augusta, GA, fascinating.
When we arrive at Mikéa it’s already starting to get dark. We are immediately greeted by the staff, who offer us a freshly squeezed fruit drink and lead us to our accommodations, which just so happen to be mini tent-cabins that look directly out onto the crystal-clear, calm water of the Mozambique. Falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean, our minds slowly drift off as they digest the sensory overload from the drive while simultaneously imagining what the next day has in store for us.
Morning time receives us with a small French-style breakfast by the beach, and within minutes we are all climbing aboard a small schooner that takes us out past the breakers to the site of a 17th-century Portuguese shipwreck. We dive into the transparent water and explore the ancient vessel’s coral-coated cannons and debris as our guide ever more seriously searches for scattered treasure. Although we return to Mikéa empty handed, our memories are all gold.
Back at the lodge the catch of the day is already cooked and waiting for us along with a cold THB (Three Horse Beer). We cap off the day with a meditative walk down the beach before making our way back to the tents, where we rediscover the comfort of our beds for a second time.
The last day is spent exploring the coastline and its numerous dunes and fishing villages atop a couple of quads. Our driver has never been on one before, so we rent one for him, too, and revel in his ecstasy. He is like a kid on Christmas morning. Cruising along the empty beach, which is only inhabited by people who are just as much a part of the natural environment as the fish in the water or the baobab trees, all of our worries slowly dissipate and the lives we left behind become fuzzy memories…