I THE SPIRIT OF DISCOVERY Shooting the breeze
All at sea in the north of Madagascar
PICTURES: DONAL CONLON He shouts greetings to the fishermen in the pirogues that pass us, their sails billowing.
He tells me he feels free here and I think he means the beauty all around us, islands big and small, near and far, ranges of mountains shadowed in the distance. I have the feeling of sitting on the edge of a continent.
‘‘Not like that,’’ Das says. ‘‘I mean no hands-up. No stop-stop.’’
We have drifted towards shore with the wind. The outgoing tide is clouding the waters but I see it clearly enough. Weare in about 3m of water; a magnificent turtle swims ponderously, near the bottom. I see it coming from under the boat as I lean over the side.
I imagine a romantic rendezvous and eggs on the beach covered gently with sand by the mother before abandoning them. I picture tiny turtles scuttling to the sea trying to escape the many wily, waiting predators: a brutal and early lesson in life. Unlike mother duck, mother turtle has a rather laissezfaire attitude to maternal duties.
We head back with enough fish for Das not to be teased by his work colleagues. Das refers to all the fish by their Malagasy names; the one I remember is kakwanga. The tide is out so we beach the pirogue 500m from where we launched it and I walk slowly, digging my toes into the soft sand. Das will wait for the tide to rise.
I feel he would have made a great teacher but would have regarded a classroom as a prison. Das is one of life’s truants, a great educator but somewhat irresponsible and roguish. I decide I like him.
Far out, standing on sandbanks, fishermen are still casting their nets, standing waist- high in water. They appear as two-dimensional, shadowy silhouettes under the fierce sun and look a little unreal, like an ancient sketch.
Locals push an outrigger into waters where a fishing trip with Das, below right, will produce a small but colourful catch