Lost and found 1 1200x800 - Lost and Found

Lost and Found

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Joshua Emanuel made the most of a recent trip to Madagascar, where he helped judge at the country’s first kite festival, Festikite. He kited his heart out, explored beautiful beaches and forests with photographer Sacha,  enjoyed the generous hospitality of the locals, and ran into a few of Madagascar’s unique animals… Busy times then.

THEKITEMAG ISSUE #48
WORDS: Sacha Gallet

Madagascar is definitely not one of the easiest places to travel to; you will need at least a day or two of travel time. But once you get to your location you can take in the beauty and appreciate that it is well worth the time to get to the spots. Sacha and I flew from Mauritius to Madagascar, landing in Antananarivo, then took another flight to Diego where our search began for that special location needed for the Brunotti photoshoot. We took a short drive to Sakalava Bay and spent a few nights in the small fishing village of Ramena, at La Cas Wen Falafy, an incredible lodge with the most welcoming staff ready to serve delicious food throughout the day, hosted by Lala. There are a few restaurants on the beach, and at high tide the water will be lapping at your feet. On a Sunday there is always a party and the locals finish off the weekend on a high note! 

Our first day there was spent with the Mada Kite Bros. The wind was looking good and conditions just right as the tide was low and the sandbar was out, which gave us an incredible flat-water spot to get those nice clean takeoffs. Moving gear on the beach was pretty epic as we got a zebu and cart, a zebu being the local name for a cow! It made it so much easier to move location while we missioned to find spots to get some creative shots. On our second day, we managed to arrange a car in the afternoon, so with much excitement we packed our gear and proceeded to a beach we thought looked promising for shots. Getting around to unique locations can be super interesting as roads that start off as roads often end up getting narrower and becoming footpaths that come to an end in the middle of nowhere! On this day we finally arrived at the beach only to find it was in the wind shadow. We saw a point about 2km away so decided to try and navigate our way there… We got pretty close but there was a fence in the way, so we parked up and walked with our gear to the top of the dune, to see a bay filled with wind and the point we’d set out for… Time was limited so we had to move fast before we missed that golden moment of kiting in the sunset. 

The Crunch

The next day started with a sumptuous breakfast and fresh juice at La Cas Wen Falafy, followed by packing the car with camera and kiting gear. While packing the car, with my twintip on the floor next to me, I heard a sound no one wants to hear – a crunching sound followed by a very loud crack… I swung round only to find a car had parked on top of my twintip… I gesticulated wildly and the driver reversed off the board to reveal a nicely cracked board! The fin box that cracked and broke was on my heel edge, making it almost impossible to jump going to the right. My head started spinning as it was the only twintip I had with me. I had to hunt around for a fin to try and screw it in, to at least have some form of grip to ride. 

We headed to another spot known as the three white sand beaches, the third being pretty long. We thought with the tide out we would drive to the end of the beach, as on the map we could see a point that had some cool structure on it. We had the perfect car for this adventure – a very old Toyota that ran like a beast – and getting to the point was fairly easy as we cruised up the white sand beach. The point provided us with stronger winds making it easy to do some loops, but we packed up as we could see the conditions start to change with clouds rolling in and then rain. We had a two-hour journey back through the jungle to our next accommodation at Sakalava Lodge, an eco-lodge in a five-hectare park facing a lagoon, and protected from the wind. An awesome perk of the Lodge are the lemurs – they turn up most evenings to see what food is up for grabs! Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar and there are around 100 existing species. Most are small, have a pointed snout, large eyes and a long tail, live chiefly in trees and are active at night. Though wild, most of the lemurs we encountered were friendly and inquisitive.  

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The NoPro

The next morning we headed to a mangrove spot that I had visited on a previous trip. The tide was high and we needed to get on it before the water drained and exposed the mangrove roots that stick up out the sand like needles! The wind wasn’t super strong but enough to go out and play around. Coming back in was a bit tricky thanks to a massive wind shadow, and as I got to the beach my kite fell out the sky. Kite in one hand, GoPro in the other, I needed to get my kite under control, so I lobbed the GoPro onto the beach to prevent my kite getting punctured by the mangrove roots. I landed the kite safely and we packed up to move on to another location, an hour and a half’s drive away. While we were driving we decided to set up the GoPro to film the drive… I then realized I hadn’t picked it up off the beach. I was furious with myself for leaving it behind as I had some good content on it, but we had already gone too far to turn back. The wind was building and when we arrived at the next beach, I kited upwind to a sandbar, while Sacha hitched a lift with a local fisherman as the water was too deep to walk across. We got some shots and then it was time to head back to camp. On the way we passed the beach where I’d left my GoPro. I ran down hoping to find it lying in the sand but it was gone. We went to the nearest houses and showed them our other GoPro, hoping they would understand we lost one, but all we got were puzzled looks! We gave up and headed back to our accommodation for a consolatory beer.

Our next adventure took us aboard a wooden boat locally known as pirogues, to the Emerald sea, a lagoon located at the entrance of the bay of Diego Suarez, where the water is the most incredible turquoise color due to the sandy bottom and shallow waters. You can kite downwind from Sakalava Bay, but having the boat allowed us to scout different spots to shoot. The wind was solid, gusting around 35 knots. Sacha jumped into the water with the water housing to photograph the crazy looking rock formations. Then it was time for lunch on one of the small islands, out of the wind, giving us a breather and time to take in the incredible view. Just off to the right of us was another turquoise bay where I decided to do some strapless freestyle, another discipline I really enjoy. It takes a lot of hard work and training but the crashes are usually not as bad as Big Air. We had to make our way back to the little port earlier than expected, due to the tide change being so dramatic – there was a channel we had to get through before it dried up leaving us in the Emerald sea until the tide turned again. As we approached the channel we knew we were cutting it fine, as you could hear the rocks starting to scrape across the bottom of the boat… The boat finally came to a stop… A few of us jumped out to lighten the load just enough to make it through. Coming into Ramena bay you see all the locals collecting fish from the fish traps they lay out, to catch fish in order to feed their families. I am opposed to these traps as they target the young fish that still need to grow, but the options for food are very limited on this island.

We decided to take a drive inland, two hours away, to hike Amber Mountain. Arriving at the national park, Sacha and I realized we were not appropriately dressed, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, to walk in a mosquito-infested forest… The first thing that comes to mind is malaria. On the coast we hadn’t been bothered by mosquitos. I asked our guide which areas have malaria. He looked at me and said, “In the forest,” then seeing the shocked look on my face, smiled and said, “But not in this forest…” I was not convinced and was not enjoying that every time we stopped to take a picture, you would literally dance around, whilst trying to keep the camera still, just to evade being attacked by the mosquitos. But moving on, this place was magical; we walked to a dam that supplies nearby towns with water, a big hole completely surrounded by the forest. From there we went to a beautiful waterfall, and on our way back to the car our guide had one last thing to show us: a Brookesia micra, also known as the Nosy Hara leaf chameleon, which is the smallest chameleon in the world. A fully-grown male reaches a length of 2cm and a fully-grown female a length of 1cm. They are found at the bottom of the trees in leaf stacks. How our guide managed to find them I have no idea! I feel so privileged to have seen them, what an experience.

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The Main event

It was soon time for the Festikite competition. There was a massive opening ceremony with Madagascan ministers, the head of the military and head of tourism present. It was amazing to see the turnout of local supporters coming from towns all around, many walking for hours to get to the beach. Throughout the day I was asked several times to have a picture taken, but then one guy came along and he wasn’t all about a picture with me. We had a bit of a language problem, but he was trying to tell us something about a camera and then we realized he was talking about the GoPro I’d lost. He said he had it at his home in a village about 20km away, and that he’d take us back to his town after the event. Sacha and I arranged quadbikes to use as it’s much faster to get around with them than a car, and we headed to his village in the late afternoon. His village was about 5km away from the beach where I’d lost the GoPro. I was so overwhelmed by the kindness they showed and the fact he figured out it belonged to me. 

The second day of the contest was a windless day, something you don’t often see in Madagascar. So with nothing happening we decided to head to Diego and explore the local markets, where there were displays of a variety of fruits, vegetables and fresh meats available. It’s quite an eyeopener to see the way they trade. We then headed to Sakalava Lodge to relax on the beach and enjoy a mojito or two. The local lemurs decided to pay us a little visit and kept us entertained. The final day of the event presented good winds for the competitors, giving them the opportunity to compete at their best. I did a demonstration for the crowd and the energy coming off the beach was wild, it kind of felt like I was at KOTA with the noise coming from the beach. The wind wasn’t super strong so it wasn’t my normal type of show but I just had fun with it. I then helped to judge the Big Air comp, then even the ministers and military personal got involved with the final prize giving. The Big Air winner was Felix – he stood out from the rest and you could see he puts the time in on the water and the result paid off for him. After a long day at the beach, Ralph from KiteParadise Lodge in Sakalava Bay invited us to spend the evening at his lodge – again the most incredible place and location as you wake up looking over the kite spot, and can hop straight in the water. Nothing but good vibes at these lodges with friendly staff, good food and ice-cold beers…

Time went by way too quickly and our final day in Sakalava arrived. The forecast a few days previously looked like it was going to be our best day yet, but then it changed and showed lots of rain coming. That morning we were up early as we didn’t know what to expect but there was no rain and the wind was blowing about 20 knots. We got stuck into a good breakfast while the wind built. Our objective for the day was to try and get some short line shots with the drone, but as the wind tipped over 30 knots you could see a big rain cloud, and a massive rainstorm moved in faster than we anticipated. I stayed out for a bit with a GoPro but returned to shore as the winds got super gusty. After about an hour or so the skies opened, allowing us another opportunity to get the shot. With the light fading we managed to get a decent hour session in, before we needed to pack for our journey back to Antananarivo the following morning.

We had a day and a half to kill in the capital before heading back to Mauritius to join the CORE team for a week. But not being a fan of city life, we instead went to Vakona Forest Lodge, about three hours away, near the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, one of the best places to see lemurs in their natural habitat. This includes the endangered Indri, also called Babakoto, one of the largest living lemurs. We were told about a night walk where we could see the nocturnal lemurs, one of which was the smallest lemur found, a crazy size of 20cm when fully grown. We headed out after dark with torches, searching for the red eyes, and it’s amazing to hear all the noises going on around you from all the animals. Luckily this forest wasn’t loaded with mosquitos. Finally we found a lemur and by chance it was the smallest of them all. I wish I could share a picture of the little guy but we weren’t equipped with the right camera gear to be able to capture the perfect shot. But it’s a memory I won’t be forgetting any time soon, and was a great way to end an awesome trip…

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