A STOPOVER

P107072435 coconuts.

That was what we added to our diminishing food supplies from Chagos.

We had coconut and rice for lunch, coconut and pasta for dinner (we did mix it up with coconut and lentils on occasion). Breakfast was boiled rice with coconut milk (sweetened with vanilla and sugar), beefed up with grated coconut. We baked coconut bread, coconut pizza (and on two occasions, coconut muffins). We made dessert with coconut milk and added sun-dried coconut to our breakfast cereal.

If coconut was heroin, we were the junkies.

The winds were not in our favour. Needing north-easterlies we were instead served with south-westerlies (and coconuts), the very direction we were sailing in (nothing like sailing into the wind to turn a week-long passage into two weeks).

Things were starting to look up when we caught our first fish since leaving Thailand 41 days ago. It was a blue tuna that fed us for lunch and dinner. The next day we caught a larger one, lasting for 3 days. As Manu cleaned the fish, Francois and I reeled in the fishing lines (we had a total of 3 trolling) as we didn’t P1070920need to catch any more.

As I pulled mine in, a tuna went for the lure and snagged itself on the hook.

When it rains it pours. But our fridge space was limited so we threw it back in.

With 12 days of sailing behind us, Francois decided we’ll stop in Agalelga, two islands – north and south – that are part of Mauritius.

With both Manu and Francois being of French origin and Mauritius being a former French colony, they enjoyed conversing with the French-speaking locals. Not one to be left out, English was also spoken (the native tongue is Creole).

 

The coast guard\police officers who were on rotation of 4 months (with the option to expand) were more than accommodating. These guys were the meaning of hospitality if you looked it up in a dictionary. With fears of encountering hurricane force-winds for the passage, our dinghy was deflated so we were provided with transportation from the sky-blue waters to the white sandy beach. Then they drove us the 7 K’s to the larger of the only two villages on the island that had the only supply store.

There are no banks or ATM facilities on either island so I was surprised that the one post office was able to convert 50 Euros to Mauritian Rupees so we could buy basic supplies of rice, pasta, flour, some canned goods and beer. We were surprised that fresh produce was not in abundance, besides the papaya and coconuts that the villagers simply gave us and eggs.

The village, Vingt Cinq, has been around since the days of slavery. The French name actually translates to the number 25, the amount of lashes the slaves would receive by their masters back in the 1800s. The name stuck and is served as a reminder of how sweet freedom is.

The population of the village, and indeed the entire south island, is 200. The north is another hundred (mosquito population is over a gazillion).

From the village store the coast guards took us to the meteorology station so we could get a weather report for our Madagascar passage. Back at their station house they cooked and fed us lunch, noodles with spam chicken in a tomato sauce and rice. Not one to pass up an opportunity to eat in abundance when supplies are consistent, Manu and I had two mountainous servings each.

I suggested to Manu that in return we should cook dinner for these guys. He gave me a French look that said, ‘Way ahead of ya’ (it could have also meant, ‘I will slap the stupid out of you’. My French isn’t fluent). At 18:00 we kicked off what was soon to become a feast fit for royalty.

I grated two coconuts, some fresh turmeric, added dry chilli flakes, crushed black pepper and a spoonful of garlic-ginger paste, mixing it together. Setting it aside to absorb the flavours I then grated three green papayas while Manu prepped a Parrot fish the size of San Miguel that the officers had caught.

“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t know Parrot fish could get that big.”

“That’s not big,” grinned the commanding officer.

I whistled through my teeth as I prepared the green papaya salad under Manu’s instructions. Throwing in crushed black pepper, fresh and dry chilli, sugar and adding vinegar and fresh, thinly diced garlic, I set it aside, the mixing to be done later.

Manu cooked up a soup of lentils while Patrick, the eldest of the guards (47 looking 37) steamed up some rice.

As is the norm while cooking (and should be standard practice in every kitchen) we drank ice-chilled Phoenix beer, munched on pan-fried Parrot fish (which had my taste buds in a hurricane of delight) and bread to settle our starvation.

Then some home-brewed beverages made an appearance. It was yellow due to the pineapple juice infused with sugar and rum. We went through four 1-litre bottles. Manu brought out the Royal Club whiskey we had bought at the store as a ‘thank you’ gift for the guards and a bottle of Mauritius rose wine topped it all off.

By midnight, with rain coming down as though someone had left a high-pressure shower on, we were drunk enough to dance to music videos being played on the plasma TV. It had me wondering why people of small island nations love the musical-styles (and I use the word ‘musical’ very, very loosely) of J-Lo, Pitbull, Lady Gaga and other factory-manufactured ‘things’ (I’m not up-to-date in the world of MTV).

“How long are we staying here for?” I turned to Francois, hoping the answer would be ‘Forever.’

“Tomorrow morning.”

Well, that’s disappointing.

We had returned to San Miguel on a skiff provided (and piloted by) the guards. Thanking them in English (Manu in French), I towel-dried and laid in bed, stomach full, smile stretched thinking about how the best things that happen are the unplanned ones.

Then I began to think of our next destination, Madagascar. It wasn’t the length of passage that had me concerned now that we were stocked up on supplies. It was what the resident manager (AKA governor) of Agalega had informed us about the African island nation when we were taken to the administrative building that afternoon.

He wanted to greet us and was delighted to meet, “Adventurers sailing around the world.”

He looked at us in surprise when we told him that our next destination is Madagascar.

“There is great unrest in Madagascar,” he informed us. “The political situation is unstable. They’ve just elected a new president, tourists have been robbed, some slaughtered. Even the French embassy has warned its citizens not to visit.”

I hadn’t seen any news on any topic for 28 days but you know the situation is bad when the word ‘slaughter’ is applied.

“But you are adventurers,” the governor smiled. “I’m sure you will manage.”

Sure we will. Manage to avoid Madagascar. The recent rumour that the Plague had broken out on the island didn’t add any favourable light.

“The country is full of pests,” said the governor when we asked him if he knew anything about it. “Rats everywhere.” The main cause of Plague, if I remembered my history classes (which I probably don’t).

“Is there somewhere we can access the internet to get the news?” I asked.

The governor smiled. “We don’t have Internet here.”

Nothing like sailing into a storm – political and natural.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Sailing, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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