Continuing the story of our arrival to Madagascar on the 11th of August, at Sainte Marie island off the northeast coast. We had a quick lunch after we dropped anchor at the port town of Ambodifototra. Three dutch boats arrived just before us: s/v Delwhinnie, s/v Luna, and s/v Inish. They went directly in to start clearances. We first stopped and talked to our friends on s/v Solace, who had been here for over a week and had already gone through the process. They gave us information on what to expect in the process.
In Madagascar, as with many third-world countries, their entry processes and fees vary from port to port and official to official. Actually, the fees are usually set by the government, but the “extra” fees are the part you have to pay attention to. We had already encountered this in Indonesia. We were told what we should negotiate the extra fees by other sailors. The first two officials are on the little island connected to the mainland by a causeway next to the anchorage. According to local history the island was used by pirates back in the days of the East India trade ships.
The customs guy took our negotiated price in stride, and we promise to come back to pay him after we went to town to get local currency. The fee was about 30,000 Ariary (local money – about US$12). The coast guard/port captain was a little more tricky. He told us his fee was 60,000 Ar, but again we said we felt 30,000 would be better for a boat our size. He pulled out documents showing several documents showing how other boats had “all” paid 60,000 Ar. After more discussion, I agreed to pay 40,000 (about $16). He accepted this and again we told him we would come back later.
Next we went to town, and we had been told to stop at the ATM first – so we got plenty of money to cover the fees and a little extra. The immigration is the more expensive one because we had not yet arranged for our Madagascar visas. The “secretary” had to call in the official who wasn’t at the office. He came in, but realized the key to the Commisaire’s office was locked, so he had to go to the head official’s house (since he also wasn’t at the office). So, after 30 minutes, we finally started the process. We had to pay 140,000 Ar (about $45) each for a 3 month visa. This is the correct amount. In addition, we had to make a “donation” – so sorry, but it is not-negotiable – of $60,000 Ar ($24) to the Commisairy. After that was understood, he started stamping our passports with 6 or so stamps on each, plus his paperwork. Then we paid the fees. He had to get the Commisaire to sign the paperwork and passports, so we went to run errands while that was done – but, we held off paying the fee until we got our passports back.
The town was quite thriving with mostly local traffic on dirt roads. But, there were a few foreign tourists walking through the town, shopping, or eating. There were many little souvenir shops along the main street – so clearly they have a tourist-based element to their economy. There were several kinds of taxis and tuk-tuks for transportation if you wanted them. We also heard one of the yachties was looking to rent ATVs to tour the island.
We found the local phone company, Telma, had a store nearby. They told us they could sell us SIM cards starting at 4 PM (an hour or so later). Then we walked back and got our passports and paid the fee. Then I took Karen back to the boat and went back to the customs and coast guard to pay their fees. The customs guy said thanks and welcome to Madagascar in his very limited English. The other official said he wasn’t sure “what to do” since we didn’t pay the “real” fee – so, he just made out the receipt for the “full” amount.
We were now officially cleared into Madagascar. On the bright side, we paid less than some of the ports in this country charge. And, we didn’t have to travel far or wait excessive amounts of time before the paperwork was complete. And there was no boarding of our boat required. So, we were overall pleased with the process.
After that, I went back to the phone store and got a SIM card with 3G data service. We were then able to get back on the Internet and check E-mails after our two+ day trip.
Meanwhile, back in present day, Tahina is still in remote areas in another part of Madagascar without Internet. So photos of Sainte Marie and video of the whales will have to wait until we get Internet, hopefully starting tomorrow.