Sunday, February 4, 2018

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge • Nosy Komba • Madagascar

Island Elegance at Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge

January 10, 2018 - By Gillian McLaren

The spectacular beauty of Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge - situated on the slopes of a dormant volcano, amongst tropical trees on the island of Nosy Komba in Madagascar, with its panoramic view of the Indian Ocean – leaves Gillian McLaren spellbound.

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge is a handpicked member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World and with good reason. Approaching the island in a speedboat from the port of Hellville on Nosy Be, the six Ocean View and two Suite Ocean View Lodges are visible only as woven palm-branch roofs, amidst lush greenery. Despite minimum interference with the indigenous nature, an appealing Garden of Eden has been fashioned, where totally non-venomous weird and wonderful creatures like butterflies, skinks and lizards abound. I stroll across golden sands to be greeted warmly by casually elegant staff that carries my dive bag and suitcase to my private suite.

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge

Totally secluded, with a Zen garden next to the suite, I have a bedroom, indoor lounge – which has two daybeds, so suitable for two extra guests or family – bathroom with shower and two basins, plus a spacious verandah. To my delight, I discover an outdoor shower, made of hollow bamboo. Left alone I simply sit, sip my welcome drink of fresh juices while gazing at the view, mesmerized by the view of azure water with fisherman in bobbing traditional pirogues, a Catamaran berthing and village women with baskets on their head walking lazily on the beach below, where the tide is low. I can see the tiny island of Tanikely, where I will be scuba diving in the marine nature reserve.

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge

My reverie is interrupted by the arrival of a dayglo-green Madagascar Day Gecko, with pink markings - a Phelsuma species - so I rush to get my camera. On the wooden wall of the verandah, I spot another species of gecko, strategically situated near to the outside light, where it surely hopes to catch insects in the evening. Up some stairs of stone, towards the dining area of Tsara Komba, I find a nursery garden where endemic baobab and Pachypodium species are being nurtured. Reaching the wide deck of the communal lounge and dining spaces, I am freshly overawed by the spectacle of the open ocean. Fellow guests excitedly point out a turtle nearby, which is gliding over sea grass. When a pair of Humpback whales appears, we abandon our lunch to rush down to the shore, hop into a motorboat, and follow the breeding whales. They oblige us by breaching and tail slapping, to our roar of approval.

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge

After our spontaneous excursion we settle again at neatly set tables, to savor the prettily presented gourmet fare, created from locally sourced ingredients, using slow-food inspired techniques. Expect a variety of three course meals, with an abundance of fresh seafood, delectable duck or local Zebu beef, in creative sauces and reductions. Desserts include a choice of French-style tortes, cakes or homemade exotic fruit sorbets, served graciously by staff recruited from local villages. They share with me that Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge has helped to provide local communities with shelter in restored traditional wooden houses, clean water, a maternity clinic and classrooms for schooling.

Ready for some action, I use one of the lodge kayaks to paddle to a nearby snorkeling area. Resting the kayak on a deserted beach, I don my mask and fins, to discover a parallel universe under the waves, where a diversity of hard and soft corals are in surprisingly good condition, sustaining a healthy population of vivid tropical fish. On a still, cerulean ocean, I kayak back to the beach just below my suite, as the sun sets in a gentle haze of pastel pinks, casting a lambent glow on the water.

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge

After a pleasant sleep, beneath draped mosquito nets, in a fan-induced gentle breeze, I get up early to trek up through the forest. I hear a Madagascar Coucal’s emptying-bottle-of-water call and the high-pitched chee-chee of Suimanga, then – to my delight - I manage to spot these birds. After my hike and a leisurely breakfast, I join Nosy Komba divers, to head for the protected waters around Nosy Tanikely. Snorkeling and diving in the sites here have the reputation of being absolutely fantastic, so I have high expectations. It is a shallow, easy dive and we see many kinds of wrasse, parrotfish, lionfish, grouper and Giant moray eel, a Blue-spotted ray, turtles and my favourite: colourful nudibranch. Corals are beautiful and varied, including Yellow Gorgonian fan and Table coral. As the sea is calm, we chat on the dive boat for our surface interval - sipping hot Malagasy tea and enjoying the extra-sweet small bananas - then we dive again. Exhilarated by the wonder of Tube and Vase sponge, Titan triggerfish and vast shoals of Yellowback fusilier, I return to my suite to read a book that I find in the bookshelf assembled from an old pirogue, placed upright.

Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge

Treading lightly on the island, working to conserve the tropical vegetation, serving local communities and providing excellent hospitality to guests, Tsara Komba Luxury Beach and Forest Lodge is an outstanding lodge in Madagascar. Intimate and exclusive, it sports an unforgettable view that will ‘flash upon that inward eye’ in future moments of solitude.

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Mesmerising Myanmar and why you should visit now • Getaway Magazine

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Posted  by  & filed under Beyond AfricaTravel BlogTravel ideas.   Print this post ›
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is still mostly untouched by globalisation. Slowly, but steadily – since the country has opened up to tourism, after years of being closed – people are visiting this land.
Words and photographs by Gillian McLaren.
Myanmar is the 54th country I’ve had the privilege of exploring, but I would call it my best trip so far! The isolation from other nations means that the ethnic groups and tribal cultures are still thriving. Buddhism and temple life permeates the culture and is the centre of community life.

The busy, bustling harbour on the Ayeyarwady River, opposite The Strand Yangon. Photo by Gillian McLaren.
Yes, I saw cell phones in the hands of young people in Yangon, which was Rangoon. I observed teenage boys sporting coloured hair with short sides, as is the current fashion. However, all the men still wear the longhi, or sarong-like fabric, with a casual shirt or a smart cotton jacket. My hotel, The Strand Yangon, is set in the vibrant old city, surrounded by grand colonial period buildings steeped in tradition from the colonial era, with delicious high teas and fine-dining, whirring ceiling fans, a smoking bar and butler to unpack your clothes.
Yet, just over the road from the hotel, at the Yangon harbour, is a market selling dried fish, plucked chickens with yellow feet, various kinds of fried food, slip-slops (the shoes worn by almost everyone) and handmade cotton bags.
In the rural areas, the longhi is used in many different styles, from wearing it right to the ground for going to the village market, through to medium length when working, to short when in water to bathe, plant crops or make water gardens.

A young Burmese lad wearing thanaka paste; Part of the colonial legacy of Myanmar, this beautiful building near to The Strand Yangon now houses many families. Photo by Gillian McLaren.
Women and children, plus some men, slather their faces with thanaka, a paste made daily from ground bark with added water, which acts as a sunscreen, moisturiser and creative outlet.
In one of the million temples purported to exist in Myanmar, I saw ladies with pretty leaf-shaped thanaka on their lovely round faces. This paste is used all over the country, whether in the city or a small water village.
Each morning thanaka paste is made on a flat stone, then placed on the cheeks to decorate each face and offer protection from the sun. Photo by Gillian McLaren.
Women also wear the longhi, but in different colours and patterns from the men. They use it to hold shopping, to sling babies, to protect their faces from wind or sun, as well as to shield their modesty when they bathe in the Ayeyarwady River or Inle Lake.
Historically, the country had its origins in Bagan, a village on the Ayeyarwady River, which reputedly offers 350000 temples, with more being constructed all the time. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is astounding to see, especially from the vantage point of a hot air balloon, above the plains that twinkle from the gold of the pagodas.

A few of the 350000 temples of Bagan, seen at sunrise on a misty morning. Taking a balloon ride over Bagan is an unforgettable experience. Photo by Gillian McLaren.
I stayed in Blue Bird Hotel Bagan in a verdant garden, with swimming pool and al fresco restaurant on a dust road in a village, walking distance from some of the extraordinary temples. From here, I walked in the village taking photos of wooden ox-carts, fascinating street food, people in front of their homes and – of course – the fabulous temples. I was invited into one of these homes for lunch, which was one of the highlights of my trip for its spontaneity and the generosity of my hosts.
Local people employed in my hotel taught me about aspects of Myanmar culture, but were circumspect about their political views. In Blue Bird Hotel’s open-air restaurant, I tried Mohinga – the national breakfast dish – a delectable seafood broth with rice noodles and fresh herbs. Variations of this dish occur in the different people groups. Food is available in teashops, or the wet-market, food stalls or from individual salespeople that carry food in a basket on their head and shout out their speciality, like sticky rice.
Women worshipping Buddha and bringing offerings to him; In a temple in Bagan, the hand of a huge gilded image of Buddha, as he picks up his cloak to travel, to journey. Photo by Gillian McLaren.
The time to go to Myanmar is now, before MacDonald’s does. Local people are still interested in tourists and open to us, not jaded or materialistic. Except for a few young women who admired my lipstick colour and shyly asked if they may have some, I did not feel harangued or pressurised to buy. Everything that is for sale, is what Myanmar people themselves use.
Step back in time and observe hand ploughed land, hand-sewn seeds blown on the wind and authentic ethnic life.

How to get to Myanmar

Longhi can be folded and used to carry a baby or for shopping. As this is usually used by women, the man is amused to be showing us how to do it! Photo by Gillian McLaren.
Well worth the extra cost, Cathay Pacific Premium Economy seats – in a quiet, roomy separate cabin – are bigger, wider and have a pitch of 15cm more than economy class. I appreciated the large meal table, cocktail table, 27cm personal television and added space to stow my cameras. Of course the welcome champagne did not go amiss, nor did the personal water bottle and extra snacks! 5kg extra luggage and priority check-in and boarding are a boon. I highly recommend this choice.
If you’ve got the bucks, the Business Class cabin is spacious, open and decorated in soothing tones. Having an ergonomically designed flat bed, the longest and widest of any commercial airline, I slept soundly. Generous storage space, intuitive seat and entertainment system controls, fabulous food and wine served by efficient staff made this an exceptionally comfortable and enjoyable long-haul option.
Economy return flights from Johannesburg cost from R10500.

Stay here

In New Bagan, a dusty road in front of The Bluebird Bagan. Photo by Gillian McLaren.
Blue Bird Hotel, Bagan is set in a verdant garden, with swimming pool and al fresco restaurant, which is an oasis, on a dust road in a village walking distance from some of the extraordinary temples. Costs from R1800 per person.
The Strand Cruise is the perfect way to get from Bagan to Mandalay – in pure luxury, enjoying excellent food – exploring fabulous temples and local life along the Ayeyarwady river, with musical and puppet shows by local artists, plus demonstrations on how to wear a longhi and facial tanakha paste. Rates vary depending on the number of days, time of year and the cabin chosen.
Hotel by the Red Canal , Mandalay is a boutique hotel in a welcoming space enclosing a lush garden with water features. It has a striking Pagoda-style roof, red teak furniture, floors and staircases and provides lavish amenities. From R4000 per person.
Sanctum Inle Resort is tranquil and elegant, with high ceilings and selected teak furniture. Set in a large garden including Tamarind trees, it boasts views over an infinity swimming pool to paddy fields and Inle Lake, with the Shan mountains in the distance. Well sited for day boat trips to water villages. Costs from R2360 per room.

Should we visit a country where there are terrible things happening?

The situation with the Rohingya people on the western border of Myanmar is ethnic cleansing. This is a tragic and complex state of affairs that began in 1982, with the Rohingya people losing their status as a tribe of Myanmar.
As travellers, we are faced with the decision to travel to places where there are human rights infringements, or not to. Do we visit China when they imprison political dissidents, eat our abalones and seahorses and plunder our ivory? Do we visit India where there is child labour? Do we visit Thailand, Cambodia or Philippines where there is a rampant child sex trade? Should we visit Saudi Arabia and Yemen where women are severely oppressed? There does not seem to be a simple answer, so it remains a personal choice.
If we stay away will that change the situation? Could there be merit in engaging with the people in these countries, rather than simply judging? Certainly in Myanmar, the people are poor and a drop in the emerging tourist trade would remove work from many people. As the conflict area is on the western border, far from any tourist spots, there is no physical danger to travellers.

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Gillian Mclaren Travel and Science Writer