Monday’s expedition was a visit to the piece of empty property the Diocese of Toliara owns at Anakao, about 15 miles down the coast from Toliara. The vision is to develop a guest house / resort / religious community, based on Benedictine principles.
Sue stayed at The Gathering Place to nurse a stomach upset, while Matthew and I, with Dick and Ann, and Rev Hery went with Todd and Patsy to the piece of property.
Revd Hery serves as priest at Sakaraha, a village on the paved road that leads ever-on (well two days) from Toliara to the capital Antanarivo. He left Sakaraha at 3:30am to get a taxi-brousse to Toliara. A taxi-brousse is something between a bus and a truck. They are generally absolutely crammed with Malagasy, while luggage, boxes, oil-barrels, and heaven knows what else, is strapped to the roof. Revd Hery had intended to travel yesterday, but the taxi-brousse had no space.
We drove to meet Rev Hery by the edge of the “harbour”. The tide was less than half way in, and the “harbour” is essentially an extremely gently shelving beach. So passengers are ferried out to boats on tiny ancient carts pulled by two zebu, the ever-useful humped and long-horned African cattle. Talk about a picturesque and authentically African means of transport.
The boat was less comfortable than the whale-watching craft at Ifaty, and the sea was quite choppy. Several hours later, my rear end still recalls being bounced around on a cushionless seat on the 15-mile journey to Anakao. Why not go by road, do I hear you ask? Well ... the track that branches off from the Toliara-Antanarivo road is suitable for ox-carts, on which one can get to the church at Betioky by ox-cart in about 8 hours from Toliara, but whether/how one could get from there to Anakao seems more doubtful. 50 minutes by water is just so much shorter!
The Diocese of Toliara extends from a latitude of about 20 degrees South down the western coast of Madagascar to the country’s southernmost tip at about 26 degrees South, and then a little way around the eastern coast to Fort Dauphin. Patsy estimates that’s about 1,000 miles of coastline. The only paved road in the whole of the diocese is a few tens of miles of the Toliara-Antanarivo road mentioned above. If one has the money, one can fly from Toliara to Fort Dauphin in around 45 minutes. Overland, it’s a 3-day journey on unpaved tracks. After heavy summer rains, the route may be simply impassable.
It was only today that it hit me for the first time just how much the area covered by the diocese of Toliara is: (a) huge; and (b) overwhelmingly undeveloped. The combination of the two means that getting around is a major undertaking. (The tardiness of this realization may be in some way related to the fact that I am about to be a philosophy student, not a geography student.) At some point, the diocese of Toliara may consider getting a boat to help getting around. Madagascar and Mauritius are both parts of the Province of the Indian Ocean in the worldwide Anglican communion, and use of boats to get about is apparently commonplace in the church in Mauritius.
Developing the beachfront property at Anakao would present some daunting challenges. These must be superable, however, as there are a number of hotels scattered along this bit of coast serving some superb surfing, scuba-diving on the reefs, whale-watching, and sailing. Another piece of geography that is news to me is that there is 150 miles of reef off this part of the coast. Apparently it ranks third in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the reefs off Belize in Central America. Tourist development is not without its drawbacks. On the whole, however, increased economic development should help alleviate the extreme poverty of the area. Eco-tourism would likely be especially beneficial.