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The Ile Ste Marie known locally as Nosy Boraha, is roughly here, just off the coast >

Apparently it was known as something of a pirate port in its time, but has since become something of a colonial favourite under the French and is now something of an undiscovered (to an extent) gem.

 

On the Ile Ste Marie, after two days in various taxi brousses we sat at a little place in the harbour drying out after our boat ride of death, and Kate said to me: 'We've done things your way, we've stayed in crappy places with no hot water, we've spent days on the road crammed into the back of little vans and now we've nearly been drowned. So it's my turn to pick the hotel and I want to stay at the most expensive one on the island.' I did my best to pout and sulk about the shocking lack of authentic travel kudos in this plan but after my soaking I was deep down rather relieved to hear her say it. Of course I'd never have admitted as much at the time...

It proved to be an absolutely inspired decision. The next few days were a little overcast and prone to rain, but we lounged about and did nothing under the watchful eye of the brilliantly deranged Fifou. Yes, honestly. Fifou. He is the owner of the Princesse Bora Lodge after his family, who used to own the entire rice concession for Madagascar under the colonial French government, were eventually stripped of all but their coastal lands as various industries were re-nationalised. Fifou has reacted to this with the design (by his then-girlfriend, a French architect) and construction of the Princesse Bora, with plans afoot for somewhere even more luxurious just up the coast in the near future. One swimming pool per cabin in the new place, apparently.

Staying somewhere posh isn't at all necessary to enjoying the Ile Ste Marie however, although Princesse Bora was ace, and Fifou's stereotypical colonial eccentricity a bit of a sight to behold. One thing you really should try and do if at all possible is go whale watching.

Princesse Bora & the Whales:

We were sitting enjoying an overcast lunch on our second or third day when up went a shout of 'Les Balenes' and we saw a whale quite a way out to sea, cavorting about. Fifou promptly rushed up and told us that he was taking the boat out and asked if we'd like to go along. He is the local 'Megaptera' whale conservation contact and this was the first whale of the season. So out we went, and it was quite frankly amazing. I am not going to describe what seeing live whales in the flesh is like as I honestly don't think I could. It was breathtaking though, and if you can possibly do it you should. We went out again the next day, and even got to go up in Fifou's plane at one point, to spot them from the air. And at the end of the last day, just as we thought we'd get to see everything but a breach we turned for home and suddenly, directly in front of us, a massive whale leapt wholly out of the water. It was a spectacular sight, and one she (we think) repeated over 25 times for us over the ensuing half hour or so. In the words of George Thomason from A Fish Called Wanda: 'Unbe-fucking-lievable'.

Needless to say, there are lots of whale pics in the Ile Ste Marie gallery.

It won't take much imagination to work out that our stay at the Princesse Bora was pretty much dominated by the whales, but nonetheless we departed after a few days to spend some time on the Ile Aux Nattes, just off the Southern tip of the island...