13
May-2014

ille aux nattes arial 1Above: To the left Sainte-Marie and to the right Île aux Nattes – separated by the channel between. ‘The best beach’ is situated right on the point of Île aux Nattes, surrounded by the lighter turquoise water and white sands.

“In every out-thrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”
― Rachel Carson

We all have our favorite kinds of things. My favorite thing is a beach. I am forever searching for the ‘best beach’, the most remote setting with the whitest and softest sand, the clearest water…

A few months ago Louise and I discovered Île aux Nattes, a small island south of Île Sainte-Marie, off the east coast of Madagascar, and I can safely say that this little beach comfortably lies down in the sunshine of my ‘top ten beaches in the world’: white sand beach lined with palm trees along a turquoise sea.

Île aux Nattes can only be reached via boat or pirogue over the channel that separates this small island from the much larger Sainte- Marie. It is in exactly this seclusion that the charm of the island and this specific beach lies.

You arrive in your pirogue and walk the softest sand right on the point – depending on the time of day, seek the shelter of the overhanging palm trees or calming waters.

IMG_9261 Above and below: One can forever watch the pirogues arriving at the point – as the beach is just around the corner the friendly hustle and bustle would not disturb a peaceful afternoon beach nap.

IMG_0325While staring out into the unknown I could not help but wonder why do human beings like going to the beach so much? Why I like to go to the beach so much?

One theory, proposed by the zoologist Desmond Morris is that homo sapiens are descended from apes who lived on the shore. We spent a lot of time in the water. We dived for shellfish. As a result we started to adapt to life in the water and this explains a number of features that are unique to our species among the apes, such as our lack of body hair, our poor sense of smell, and our ability to swim underwater. Hence our visceral attraction to spending time on the beach and frolicking in the water. It’s what we were made for. It’s more than visceral. It’s in our genes.

The Institute for Hygiene and Public Health, based in Bonn, Germany, published a report that says a landscape containing water is rich with environmental-psychology benefits. The link between water — which the researchers dub “blue space,” a term I personally love — and mental health is huge. So if you’ve ever thought that contemplations along the water are good for the soul, you are exactly right.

I watched the pirogues coming in for hours and realized that this kind of luxury of ‘having more time’ and slowing down is exactly what I need both for rest, but also to connect me more and more with the living things around me, both people and the ecology.

IMG_9272Some of Madagascar’s best beaches (and snorkeling) are found at offshore islets such as Ile Aux Nattes and you have to keep your eyes seaward for migrating whales during the summer. Ile Aux Nattes is one of those “lost world” islands.

IMG_9281Below: View from ‘the best beach’ to further south. The mainland of Madagascar is in the distance. It is also in this channel that the pirates of days gone bay passed though and claimed their treasure.

IMG_9314You can literally open your eyes under the water and look up at the sky. Visibility is astounding.

IMG_9404IMG_9415The long-term benefits of vacationing near the beach are enormous. Now that I’m back in my office in California and overwhelmed by email, with deadlines intimidating me like a nightmare does a child, I think about my view from those sandy shores at the point on my ‘best beach’. I feel the water on my skin and the sand between my toes. Pictures I took help guide my thoughts back to that spot in case my mind is so distracted from the day’s nitty-gritty details that I can’t go there immediately. And I go to my beach daily. To ponder yet again or to remember as Rachel Carson so aptly said:

“In every out-thrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”

Until you go on that beach retreat, think about pinning pictures of stunning shorelines from travel magazines above your desk, on the refrigerator, or tucked into the corner of your mirror. That little island or isolated beach – and its blue waters – can be your oasis, a dedicated image to symbolize unleashing stress and remind you of the inter connectivity we have to water and all else this lives on this planet.

You may not get to the beach next week, or within the next year, but your imagination can take you there and even beyond to the vast shorelines of connectivity – if you let it.

If you are interested in visiting this beach you can contact Barefoot Breaks and visit La Petite Traversee.

Words and Pictures: Daréll Lourens

Arial Photographs courtesy of Kerry de Bruin

Below: Ille aux Nattes as viewed from the Southern point of the island. The larger island of Sainte Marie disappears into the north over the horizon. This picture of Kerry de Bruin clearly shows the sandbank and surrounding reef that makes it a memorable snorkeling experience.

ille aux nattes arial 2

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