In the 2 1/2 days between 14 day back to back trips I found myself deflated and exhausted. A common theme of these logs I know. Less than 60 hours to clean, provision, complete necessary maintenance, handle all the administrative tasks, take on fuel, propane- all the things that happen behind the scenes that are so necessary to keep Discovery on the move. Yet I hear again and again, from just about everyone who boards that I must have the best job in the world. Hmmm. My house has guests visiting 200+ days every year. It is small (as houses go), always on the move, in constant need of repair; and my office, bed, bathroom and only place to be “alone”, is the size of a large closet and shared with my partner Jody.
These things were running through my head as I returned from a day working on the boat to a hotel Jody was staying at in town. There I found a note in the room that said “at the hospital.” In the sink there was bloody clothing. I raced around using my crude French trying to find the hospital and found out that if she was in the local hospital she would only get worse- they don’t even provide bed sheets, let alone basic medicine. Thankfully she was taken to a clinic, and while basic and a bit scary it was certainly better than the hospital. I found Jody on an IV drip in considerable pain. The doctor said she had some kind of intestinal infection and would have to stay overnight. I huddled with her till morning, nursing her through bouts of fever and vomiting before returning to the boat the next morning as the trip would be starting at noon. No calling in sick for the skipper. In the last 8 months Jody has suffered through typhoid, E-coli, giardiara, and now two other unknown but wicked parasitic infections.
I took a push-push to a restaurant for breakfast. A “push-push” is a two seat buggy-like cart, pulled by a human being. If this sounds absurd and rather colonial I agree, but it is the main method of transportation in much of Madagascar. For 50 cents a man will pull you across town. Purchasing a cart costs $300 USD, or a driver can rent one for the day for 75 cents. I figure a very hard-working driver might clear $5 USD per day. They treat their carts as carefully as a mother treats a firstborn child, for it is the only thing they own. Most push-push drivers run the dirt and cement streets barefoot. Competition is fierce- push-push carts are everywhere and the drivers are desperate for business. At night lanterns dangle from the carriages, and many of the shops and restaurants are also lit by flame instead of incandescent. The lights make the dusty streets glow in a charming and even romantic way. Think about that- the second largest city in Madagascar is lit mostly with kerosene and human beings provide more transport than machinery.
On the way to the restaurant we roll through a shanty town known locally as “Cholera corner”, due to an outbreak a couple years ago. Human feces is everywhere. Food is cooked over charcoal (most of the endemic forests in Madagascar have been destroyed to grow Eucalyptus trees to make charcoal) and many of the children have puss in their eyes, a sure sign of either sickness or something lacking in their diet.
And I’m complaining about too little space, and not enough time off? By the time I reach the boat, a mansion by Madagascar standards I’m feeling a lot more thankful indeed for my job. I smile and wave like the Penguins in the animated film “Escape from Madagascar” as the guests (Oded and his friend…Oded from California and Israel; Rogier, aka “Kiteboy” from Thailand; Primoz from Slovenia; and Brian from California) arrive, but my smile and wave is genuine. The forecast is calling for a massive swell and with some luck we’ll have pro rider Reo Stevens, our new chef Julienne and hopefully a healed-up Jody on board in a couple days.
I figured a couple days in Ifaty, a small village to the north would be a perfect place to enjoy the first days of the forecasted swell, which was peaking on day 2 of the trip. Unfortunately the swell ended up being so big we couldn’t get in through the reef pass. The entire channel, one that is docile in swell under 10 feet was closing out and meant we had to spend most of the afternoon backtracking against the wind to the lighthouse near Tulear, where we had been just that morning. But the sailing was fast, if not a little lumpy and we arrived early enough to get a great sunset session in on some rather large waves.
A pattern then emerged that seemed to work for everyone. No wind and great surf in the mornings, then wind and great kiting in the afternoons. Tim even found a lone TV in a village we were anchored near 10 miles south of Tulear to stay up on the World Cup, where the US, Slovenia and the UK were battling it out in round one.
Reo, Julienne and Jody got on board in due course and we said goodbye to Honta, a local Malagasy woman who did a great job in the galley for us in the interim. We moved on to Anakao where we hoped another swell and wind would soon arrive, but the forecasted swell turned out to be a bit of a dud and the wind would prove frustratingly inconsistent. We scored some very fun surf and somehow Kiteboy milked every gust to keep his streak of kiting every day alive, but we were definitely wanting for wind. We got Brian up in the air for no doubt the first go at paragliding in these parts and otherwise enjoyed a string of leisurely days.
We motored back north to Ifaty on a nearly windless day for a change of venue and came across several lone Humpback whales en route. One male seemed asleep at the surface and we approached slowly, hoping to get close. Several of us dropped quietly into the water and got within a few feet before he moved on- a spectacular and rare encounter, one of the best I’ve had.
8 of us took a trip to a Baobab forest near Ifaty in two Zebu carts. I’m assuming two words in that last sentence are a bit unfamiliar? “Zebu” are Malagasy cattle- a cross between a cow and an ox. “Baobabs” are the most remarkable trees you can’t possibly imagine, unless you’ve seen a picture. Some have been around since before the time of Christ.
And then I broke my rib. I was Supping (stand up paddle boarding) on a beautiful wave the next morning and fell on the board. I was across the channel from Discovery and nobody knew there was anything wrong. At first it just hurt terribly and I couldn’t breath, but nothing seemed too bad. I spent a long time getting hammered by wave after wave before finally getting washed over the reef and into the channel, still hanging on to the board and paddle. It seemed like the left side of my body just wasn’t working, my breathing got more and more shallow and I started taking in gulps of water. I kept trying to relax but the pain got worse and the panic increased. I kept hoping the dinghy would appear, but nobody showed up.
Thankfully a fisherman was anchored nearby and saw that I was struggling. He and his son paddled their pirogue over to me, but I couldn’t get in. I couldn’t breath, movement seemed impossible. They built me a ramp and slid me up into the canoe, with me howling in pain. Some time later I found myself in the cockpit of Discovery and the world seemed very dark. What little I could see was fuzzy and distant. The anchor was pulled and we headed back towards the village to find a doctor. There was a lot of concern about my condition. One of my lungs just refused to work, and the lack of air was causing some serious problems, including some scary and painful bouts of coughing.
Then about 45 minutes after the injury I took a massive gulp of air and within seconds I felt alive once more. My lung must have re-inflated and the oxygen made it to my brain. The pain was manageable, I could breath, I could see again. A doctor appeared and confirmed that a rib or two was broken and rest was all that was required for a slow but full recovery. Just like that I had rejoined planet earth.
We sailed back south the next day in pursuit of more waves and wind and got them both in spades for the final days of the trip. We hadn’t gotten a single photo of Reo kiting waves and had really only one good shot the second to last night at Flameballs, a surf break that is simply radical, but the wind has always been too offshore to kite every time we’ve hit it. But for once it was side shore and nuking- well over 30 knots. This was our chance, we had one hour of light left and this one opportunity. Jody and I jumped (well, I gingerly stepped) into the dinghy and Tim jumped in the water with photo gear ready. Then we sat for nearly an hour waiting for Reo, who couldn’t get his 5 lines worked out. It’s a common problem on the boat with 5 line kites, which I’ve grown to despise. It goes without saying that a pro should have their gear ready at all times, and this was a lesson Reo will certainly take with him on future trips. We all felt his frustration- he’d spent a lot of money coming half way around the world to get video and photos and would now leave with only memories, albeit pretty good ones.
The final day Kiteboy kited for a couple hours at Flameballs, then sailed with us 10 miles to another village, then continued kiting till sunset. He must have been in the water for 10 hours that day. His enthusiasm for kiting is the same now as it was the first year of the expedition. It’s infectious and made me want to bathe my broken rib in valium so I could join in on the fun.
As we sailed downwind back to Tulear the next morning I had plenty of time to process all that had happened on this trip. Swimming with whales, visiting Baobab forests, surfing and kiting, eating wonderful food, wondering at the brightness of the Milky Way. Jody was healthy again, we had a wonderful chef, the weather is perfect every day…Again we had just 2 1/2 days to prep for the next trip, but this, along with my broken rib seemed a reasonable price to pay.
“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize.” – Leonard Koren