“Mora mora.” Slowly, slowly.
Everywhere you go in Madagascar, you see and hear these words. But in Morondava, it takes on new meaning. Here, mora mora is a way of life – there’s no rush to get anywhere, nor stress to get things done. It’s where you go to kick back, relax and let the wind take you.
Traveling from the remote corners of the ‘wild west’ to Morondava, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t welcome the transition. From grinding on the bumpy mud roads and navigating the forests of Kirindy, we arrived to the breezy air and relaxing beats of Morondava. We threw off our backpacks, left our hiking boots behind and let the waves wash our fatigue away.
At our base in the cozy Chez Maggie, we were looking to unwind and rejuvenate before continuing down south, yet we were not ready to just lounge under the sun. A chat with owner Gary Lemmer later, we knew we had to get acquainted with Morondava. Turns out, there was more to Morondava than beaches and reggae bars. While it is not a major town, there is quite a bit to see and do if you dig a little deeper.
Life in the Bustling Central Market
Off the main street that cuts across Morondava, we found the Central Market spilling onto the walkway and roaring with activities. At 11am on a weekday morning, the market action was well underway. Bursting with energy and life, the market was lined with rows upon dizzying rows of food stalls, butchers, electronic stands and clothing booths.
In the midst of the chaos, there were hundreds of pairs of eyes on us – apparently not many tourists came here and we were the rare few that ventured into their world. But after the first few glances, locals swapped their stares for warm greetings, “Salama! Tonga Soa!” Hello, welcome! We returned their greetings with grateful smiles, feeling privileged to have gotten a peek into their world.
Exploring the Mangroves on a Dugout Canoe
In the evenings, the setting sun bathed the Mozambique Channel in a shade of gold. Taking Gary’s advice, we hired a local boatman to bring us out to the surrounding mangroves and cross over the the isle of Betania at southern end of the peninsula. Paddling out into the blue sea on the wooden pirogue, we chatted with our chirpy guide regaled us with stories of his childhood and shared with us his knowledge on mangroves and wildlife. With over five species of mangroves in the area, storks and spiders are natural inhabitants of the area.
On the island of Betania, we got off for a walk around the village, which was a patchwork of thatched-roof houses surrounded by swaying coconut trees – farm animals roamed freely, trash piled up by the shore and boats were abandoned on the sand bed. Although the islet was barely attractive, life here was definitely slow and peaceful. A boats arrived from a day of fishing, we watched locals bargain for the freshest catch of the day, picking out fresh mackerels and tuna.
Back in Chez Maggie, we were ready to sink our feet in the sand and lounge by the sea. Our vintage teak-wood bungalow, decked out in safari-style furnishing, stood on the beachfront, overlooking the splashes of the Mozambique Channel. The sea wasn’t turquoise blue, neither was the sand pearly white, but the wide beach stretched for miles into the horizon with not a single person in sight. It was a view that many would kill to have as their daily backdrop, and Gary was the lucky few to call this home.
Having lived and worked in several parts of Africa, Gary decided to settle in Madagascar and now runs the beach hotel with his Malagasy wife, Baholy. As a gregarious and friendly host, Gary often chats up guests and make them feel at home here in Chez Maggie.
When asked how the name of the hotel came about, he shared with us a story of serendipity, “I’d been leading river expeditions to Madagascar for many years and was familiar with this place. One day, the original owner, a Scottish lady named Maggie, asked if I was interested in buying the hotel. I laughed; where would I get the money? Funny enough, one of the travelers in my group heard our conversation and offered to invest. He would provide the capital while I ran the place. Things actually worked out and we’ve been for six years now, I’ve never been happier.”
Gary’s eyes sparkled with child-like enthusiasm as he told us about his love affair with Chez Maggie. Strange enough, it was another similar story that led him to buy over the tour operator, Remote River Expeditions. Originally owned by a good friend, Gary decided to take over after his friend passed away, to continue his legacy.
By night, we tucked into dinner: a plate full of freshly-caught lobsters, grilled to perfection and drenched in tangy lemon sauce – just about the best seafood I’ve had in Madagascar. We sat under the stars that night, listening to the lapping waves and feeling the sea breeze in our hair. It was easy to see how Gary fell in love with this place -who wouldn’t?
My stay was hosted by Chez Maggie, but all opinions expressed are my own.