I THE SPIRIT OF DIS­COV­ERY Shoot­ing the breeze

All at sea in the north of Mada­gas­car

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat -

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

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