Wednesday 23 July 2014

Lost in Paradise

This is how I felt the last few days.

We cruised around the islands of Nossy Be, Nossy Komba, Tany Kely and a place called Russian Bay. We anchored off Hellville and went ashore for supplies and a look around.

The place resembles any town on the African continent, with friendly people all around wearing smiles and a colourful spread of garb.

The shops are clean and so are the streets. There is proper sanitation and the streets don't smell of excrement and rotting garbage. We visited a small village on the island of Nossy Komba, where a friend of Tony lives. Children in school and evrybody happy. They have the most magnificent views imaginable, with their houses pitched against the hillside.

And they have all the food that they want. Fish from the sea, bananas, papayas, cocnuts, chickens and the odd zebu. A zebu is a species of ox. The people also eat the fruit bats, so they have ample protein in their diets.

Fish makes up the most protein, while they grow cassava for starch. A convenient water taxi service connects the villages along the coast, so they have ample transport. They also have internet and cellphones, so things ae looking up. In the village we visited they have electicity from a small hydro-electric plant running from a 100 mm pipe with a 85 m head of water. This gives them about 8,5 KW, which is sufficient to drive the internet connection, charge their phones and to have a movie at their outdoor movie house twice a week.

They have no refrigeration.  There is a small ice plant to supply ice for their cool boxes. They also have no bicycles or cars. These are not required, as all transport happens by sea, which is very flat with hardly any swell.

The children are all happily in school, learning life skills as opposed to skills required by industry as in the western world.

We spent a few days cruising around and snorkelling wherever the water allowed. I saw the most wonderful unspoilt coral heads, much better than those in the Seychelles.

The sunsets and sunrises are unbelievably pretty and there are enough little bays and inlets to keep you busy on your voyage of discovery for several years.

We spent a night in a place called Russian Bay. This bay was named after a fleet of Russian ships got stuck there with no funds and had to make do for themselves after the USSR government just abandoned them in their plight. It appears that most of those vessels are now in service as fishing vessels.

We had the most wonderful food on board. Fish is plentiful and we had prawns and boiled potatoes for dinner one night. We fried the prawns in oil after drying them and dusting with flour. You need very dry prawns and hot oil. These prawns never saw a freezer. Think about that!

Fruit is also plentiful and we traded some for fish we caught.

Boat building appears to be a popular skill and the workmanship is exquisite. Especially considering the three or four pieces of tools that these men use in their art. A saw, a small hatchet and a heavy machete is what is used. Then there is a hammer for the nails to hold the boat together. Yes, nails. Big and thick, they are home made from 8 mm steel bar. The wood is planed with a wooden block plane, very old style tools. Watertight integrity is ensured by careful fitting of the planks, as well as some caulking. The ribs inside the boat are made from the fork formed by a branch from the tree trunk of a mangrove tree. Very strong wood and quite sustainable at the rate that these people use the wood.

An outrigger completes the stability requirements of these small vessels which are quite fast, if on the heavy side. All of them have sails.

Some have the standard dhow rig, which Prince Henry the Navigator copied for his caravel rigs. The smaller boats have a square sail suspended from two poles standing up from the deck like a wishbone. The bottom ends of the sail have sheets for trimming. This allows the boat to sail about twenty degrees upwind.

The people are past masters at sailing these little boats. It is a wonderful sight to see them tacking through the marina, dodging the mooring lines and working their way upwind to get back home.

I have seen a dhow docking under sail. In light airs, this is an art in these heavy boats.

This has been a wonderful experience of life in a simple form. Using appropriate technology and the resources at hand. And the people are all very happy and friendly. I have not really seen any grumpy faces at all. Hardly any illness.

One wonder how long this paradise will last before “civilisation” catches up.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-06-30

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