Madagascar is a wonderful country to discover, and what has fascinated me the most is its happy-faces, young and old. This long-due trip report will certainly pleased some of our friends who wish to visit the country or help others to do so.
Stay tuned as I will publish again... very soon about this country of great contrasts and challenges.
I came back with 6500 photos from which I selected 1700 which are published on the web. They can all be viewed on the Gondwana Image Bank where you can use the advanced search to find specific photos. The best ones can be seen on my website under the collection 'Madagascar'. As a registered user – that you become automatically after leaving a comment on this blog post – the slideshow will play full screen, otherwise it will stay miniature.
2010/10/30 Cape Town - Antananarivo
Good flight to Joburg with Kulula, they are so funny!
I meet Gronum at Joburg airport (I flew the day before).
Good start... Air Mada is already delayed by 2 hours...
It is an old plane but a direct flight which is less than 3 hours.
So we arrive late at Antananarivo international airport. It is a huge mess at custom. It almost takes us 2 hours to get through customs & baggage claim, as one of my bag is missing, the one with all the small useful things and the GPS!
Samy, the right arm of our host Jean-Denis (JD), waited 5 hours... He welcomes us as a true Malagasy and we drive to the center of town where we eat a pizza and have a local beer (Three Horses Beer = THB). Little did we know that we would develop a thirst for THB during our trip.
Then it is a quite long night drive to JD's house through the narrow curved roads of Tana which is spread out on 4 hills.
It is a big house with many bedrooms where we both take our quarters and a good night sleep.
We take a late breakfast at the house, after the girls, Eliane & Lucie arrive.
We also meet the guardian/gardener Jose.
Samy is late (children issue), he takes us to his cousin to exchange our euros; the rate is a bit better than the bank : 276900 Ariary for 100 Euros.
We also buy some pay-as-you-go airtime and sim cards (500 Ar) at the street-vendors.
We have lunch at the Buffet du Jardin situated on a hill with nice views on the town and nearby the 3 most popular night clubs; nice food with too many THB!
It is raining in the afternoon, which gives us some special photo opportunities.
Air Mada has found my bag but not in Madagascar yet... they say that there was no place in the plane!
We catch a late dinner at the house, tastely prepared by the girls.
We decide for a long walk to the city center, at least 10 km through the narrow & busy streets. Interesting! A lot of photos of people, houses and street activities.
We meet JD at the Buffet du Jardin. The local vendors seem to like him a lot as they agglomerate around him. He says it's his way to contribute. Indeed we will find later 2347 ammonite fossiles in his house!
He takes us for a short site seeing on the way back home.
I collect the little Suzuki 4x4... it's a quite wreck! But the price is lower than any of these big 4x4 with driver! And we have decided not to have a driver. This was an excellent decision by the way!
My lost luggage finally arrives in the evening with everything in the bag... a good relieve!
We have an excellent dinner at the house with our host. Gronum is a bit lost (as he does not speak French and JD's English is limited). We talk about a lot of things, and JD shares his view of the world and people. He says the problem is not money but vanity... we definitely agree!
JD takes us to a popular disco-bar with a lot of hot girls! We meet JD's friends and have some drinks... THB of course!
2010/11/01 Antananarivo - Antsirabe
We decide to do some shopping in the morning and leave just after lunch.
The road to Antsirabe is only about 2 hours (without stopping).
Finally we are out of the busy & polluted Tana.
After an hour of driving from JD's house, the traffic becomes very little on the RN7 going south. Now we start to appreciate the countryside landscape, the houses along the road and the paddy fields in the valleys. Everywhere people are busy, doing something. These people are definitely not lazy!
We are following a very sinuous road on the top of the hills. We now understand why the travel times are so long... so many curves where it is impossible to drive faster than 50-70 km/h.
We take several photos along the road near Ambohiphaonana & Antanifotsy, where there is a lot of human activity in the paddy fields. Everything we see is new for us! I even managed to chat with the farmers. They are smiling and laughing... at me?
The rain comes every afternoon at this time of the year; this gives us some difficult but interesting photo opportunities.
We arrive in the late afternoon in Antsirabe, nice little university town.
I buy an Orange 3G modem bundled with 200 Mb traffic for 115000 Ar to keep in touch. There is 3G in most of the big cities and the cellphone coverage is not bad at all... oblong the main axles of course.
We are advised to sleep at Green Park, and it is a wonderful choice. Green Park has a magnificent garden with 2 ponds and several cottages.
Their restaurant is absolutely fantastic! We eat zebu carpaccio, foie gras, zebu fillet and drink pinot noir... for very cheap!
Room with 2 beds @ 31000 Ar and dinner for 2 @ 60000 Ar with beer & local wine! The only 'good' local wine is the Grand Cru d'Antsirabe, don't even try the others... and it is difficult to find.
2010/11/03 Antsirabe - Morondova
From now on, we wake up at 5:30 at the latest!
We leave Antsirabe through a busy road full of people & pousse-pousses. We buy some French bread which price seems to be inversely proportional to its freshness!
We leave the R34 for a dirt road going lake Tritriva. The lake itself is not spectacular although it is a nice setting, but the most interesting part is driving on the dirt roads through the small villages and meeting all the happy faces, who don't talk much French except 'bonne annee'. Probably the words learnt from the previous tourists!
We decide to continue the dirt roads and drive the loop east then north to R34 for which a 4x4 is crucial as the road looks more like a very rocky abandoned farm road.
The road R34 is very good but also very sinuous until Miandrivazo (except the last 30 km with many big potholes).
From there until Malaimbandy, the wide brandnew road is excellent and allows faster travelling speed of up to 120 km/h on the long stretches.
Our first intention was to sleep midway, but now we decide after talking to a taxi-brousse driver, that we can make it today to Morondova.
It is already dark when we reach the town of Mahabo, which according to the chief of the previous town is quite unsafe.
Anyway, we drive through and hit the worst road of Madagascar... the last 20 km before Morondova where the asphalt is washed away irregularily on both sides, leaving an often too narrow strip to drive on; the potholes are huge and sometimes more than 50 cm deep... it is a nightmare.
We make it safe and arrive at our first choice of place to stay which looks wonderful in the evening. The Bougainvillers is located on the northern tip of Morondova and our bungalow is right on the beach!
The food is good and the price for the very nice beach bungalow is perfect for us, only 41000 Ar for 2 beds!
Morondova is famous for the grandidier baobabs along the dirt road and called 'avenue des baobabs'... so we hit the road before 5:30 but it is already a bit too late when we reach the famous place... due to the terrible piece of road that we have to drive through before turning north at Marofototra on the R8 dirt road which is quite good, even for a sedan car.
When we arrive, we meet our biggest disappointment. Road workers have dropped huge piles of reddish soil everywhere along the nice sandy dirt road passing through the huge baobabs... so any photo would be spoiled.
But we are genius and with the help of nice-looking children and happy-face people walking on the road, we manage to get some nice shots.
We adapt to the situation and focus on the people along the road. The pretty children, who have mastered the art of selling a baobab fruit, the happy-faced people passing by with their zebu-wagons, bicycles and on foot provides us with many unexpected photo opportunities.
We drive north to Andranomena and then east to the famous 'baobabs amoureux' near Bevoliengo, which botanists still debate about being 1 unique bi-truncked tree or 2 separate trees.
We go back to our paradise bungalow for a wonderful light lunch and a few dips in the ocean before a visit at sunset in the busy harbour where sailing boats are getting ready to transport goods to villages which are inaccessible by road.
The manager - Francois Vahiako, also head of Morondova Guide Association - is an incredible source of information; he also organizes incredible adventurous tours around the country.
Then by chance, we discover a tiny restaurant 'Chez Alain' where Alain's wife welcome us with a smile to die for... in fact this is the first reason why we decide to eat there. She advises us to take the 'sea food platter' which happens to be a master piece of culinary art where every ingredient is not only cooked to perfection but also presented in a way to compete with 'La Tour d'Argent'!
This is surely our highest recommendation!
As we missed the first rays of sunshine yesterday, we decide to go back to the big baobabs, but this time wake up at 4:30!
After some good time amongst the giants, we head to the zebu market of Analaiva.
After shooting for 2 hours the intense activities of the market where farmers come to sell their best cows to potential buyers, we take the side roads through the paddy fields back to our beach resort.
A good discussion with our host Francois makes us decide to drive through the bush to reach Toliara in 3 days, instead of going back to the dorsal road (RN7). So we prepare the expedition... only by relaxing on the beach and swimming in the ocean!
After lunch we are ready to embark to the unknown with our little Suzuki. So we follow the sandy track south that should lead us to Belo-sur-Mer in less than 2-3 hours. The first river crossing is quite impressive as we go as deep as below the bonnet... ok the Suzuki is small but not that low!
Then driving south in the sandy patches, I start feeling the clutch getting smoother and smoother... which makes the difficult passages more and more difficult. I start to worry... until the clutch completely gives up. We wisely decide that we have to go back, not knowing if it is the clutch or the cable... there is absolutely no tools in the f*@!king car! We are very upset when we turn the car around and drive the 50 km back to Morondova, almost without any clutch at all... which is quite a challenge on a sandy tracks and river crossing!
At the petrol station, we ask for a good mechanic. There they found that the cable had broken and of course there would be no clutch cable in Morondova!
Furious I call the renting agency and arrange for a swap of car in Ansirabe, which means we'll have to drive 500 km without a clutch tomorrow!
We decide to go back to The Bougaivilliers and hit the road early morning tomorrow.
After a visit to most of the eating & drinking places along the Nosy Kely peninsula, we make a unanimous decision to go back to our best friend Alain, once more and for another culinary experience, also to calm the excitement of the afternoon.
2010/11/06 Morondova - Antsirabe
The worst part of driving 500 km without a clutch is that it is difficult to stop, so we drive this booring route without taking photos..
I mostly drive the car as I like it but also because Gronum is very happy that way so he can focus his eyes on every potential photographic subject around him.
However today, the driving is very tiring so I ask him to relay me.
He is doing well but by coincidence, the road police stop him (they never stopped me... what does that mean?). When we slow down near the police, driving slowly past them I try to tell them that we cannot stop because of the clutch... but they insist... and the car comes to a halt and the engine stops... so we are stucked!
Now the car starter gives us a problem. Well they insisted that we stop and now ironically they insists that we get on our way by pushing the Suzuki until it starts and we leave without having our papers checked. We make it in the late afternoon and we decide to stay again at Green Park that we enjoyed so much the last time.
We meet Philippe – owner of the one man business of Madagascar Car Rental - who is there with the Daihatsu . This car is a 4-door which is much more convenient for us, to access our photographic equipment. However we discover that the 4-wheel drive is in fact a 2-wheel drive as the car does not move in 2-wheel drive position because the shaft is simply missing... so this is Madagascar.
2010/11/07 Antsirabe - Ranomafana
We are heading towards Ranomafana and our first encounter with the rain forest.
An early morning drive is always rewarding as the light is beautiful on the paddy fields. We started at 5 am today!
The road is good but turns a lot so it looks like we are not moving.
We stop at a colorful local market that looks as if we are in South America! A lot of photos here.
Along the R325, which is a short cut to reach the R45, we meet very nice people and picturesque countryside.
We finaly arrive at Ranomafana NP. At the entrance of the park, we meet a nice nature tour guide - Etienne - who speaks some decent English... good for Gronum!
We agree to meet the next morning for our first walk in the rain forest.
On his advice, we stay at Ihary Hotel (105000 Ar for 2 nights, including dinners).
The big mistake is to eat the fresh water crayfish - called 'ecrevisses' in French - when they are not 100 % fresh... which is probably the case tonight...
2010/11/08 Ranomafana NP
Sick sick sick I am...
Anyway I decide to go for the walk... but it's a challenge.
We start the day-walk with a nice snake encounter : the big Madagascar tree boa, who incredibly let us touch him! It is nice to have a good guide!
It's great to walk in the forest and meet the lemurs which the scouts, working with our guide, locate quite easily.
We sit and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the forest, watching these curious cute lemurs jumping from tree to tree with so much graciousness.
We also meet some tiny chameleons and ring-tailed mongooses.
Then we finish the day walk at the ponds where we find some of the rarest Madagascar frogs.
The whole day with the guide costs 120000 Ar including park entrance and trail.
Still sick sick sick!
2010/11/09 Ranomafana - Manakara
Early morning departure to the West coast.
We encounter some mist on the road and we miss a great picture of a group of gold prospectors carrying their long shovels walking along the road.
We travel along the R35 which offer good views of the rain forest and its deforestation. From the split Manajary/Manakara, we follow the R12 which cross quite boring open landscape with no more forest, but some palm trees. The road is very good and the traffic almost inexistent, so we travel quite fast.
The city of Manakara is a bit 'arabic', with a lot of pousse-pousses, and its famous train station from where in the evening tenths of tourists will come out to reach their hotels after 14 h of omnibus train travel through the mountains and the forest. We missed that experience.
We have lunch in a very small restaurant called "hotely” by the locals... excellent food for only 14000 Ar.
We rest a good part of the day in our luxury room at the Beach Club lodge where we pay 75000 Ar for the night.
It's now Gronum's turn to be sick while I am only feeling just a little bit better.
This area is famous for its vanilla and we manage to get a good deal at a local plantation : 5 kg for 110000 Ar.
We eat out in the city at the Restaurant La Gourmandise. It is a small meal due to our condition but very tasty and quite cheap, only 40000 Ar.
2010/11/10 Manakara - Andringitra
Now we are getting used to early start and it is not a problem to wake up at 4:30 anymore, so we can hit the road just before the sun rises.
We have to drive back the same way we came the day before.
Manakara was not great but at least we have seen it... it was also too short to enjoy its visit.
Along the road near Morafeno, we see men, woman and children prospecting the bottom of the river with their 4-5 m long shovel in the hope of finding some gold carets.
At 10 am, we cross Ranomafana NP, where I suffered a few days before.
Then we reach the sinuous RN7 again. The more we approach Fianarantsoa, the more the landscape becomes dramatic, but also the sun gets too high for good photos.
So we decide to stop for lunch in a chinese-owned restaurant just for a bowl of rice and some beers.
Gronum suggests that we pay a visit to Maurice Razafimahaleo who makes the Antaimoro rice paper, a family tradition for 5 generations. It is beautiful and incredibly cheap.
At around 4 pm, we leave Ambalavao and the national road for the 50 km dirt road towards Andringitra NP.
This road is hell. You definitely need a 4x4 unless you want to get rid of your car. Huge holes, potholes, bumps and even worst, part of the old cobble road which is totally disintegrated. Despite furious and determined driving these 50 kilometers takes us 3 hours and we arrive after sunset.
Then we realize that there is no electricity and no running water in the bungalows at Tranogasy.
This place is clearly over-priced for what they offer! 40000 Ar per night for a 2-bed bungalow and 61000 Ar for a good but average dinner for 2.
Anyway, here we are and ready to climb the mountain tomorrow.
We meet an old lady (she looks like 70 but appears to be my age 51) who will be our nature guide. She pretends to speak very little bit of English... Gronum is lost in translation.
2010/11/11 Andringitra NP
I feel better but Gronum has not recovered totally yet.
Anyway we start at 5 am and drive up to the gate with our little 4x4 where we dress up for the trekking. It is only supposed to be 4 hours but here we have to carry our bags!
The early morning light is beautiful on the paddy fields lying in the valley and on the slopes of the mountains.
This short walk of 4 h (Asaramanitra - 6 km) takes us through the King and Queen waterfalls at about mid-height of the mountain.
This is just to prepare us for the long walk of tomorrow.
Back at the camp we hear that the little restaurant is serving meals today. Great, at least we can eat warm food again!
2010/11/12 Andringitra NP - Ambalavao
Today we even start at 4:30! A long walk is ahead of us...
The first part of the walk is a very long climb on the ridge of the mountain to reach the plateau. Fortunately it is mostly in the shade of tall erica trees, which sometimes open to the valley for us to admire.
After 3 h we reach the first natural pool where we cannot resist the temptation and jump naked into its fresh crystal-clear water. Really invigorating! Our muscles are back to normal after such shock treatment.
This walk (Diavolana) is 12 km and suppose to be 10 h but can be done in 8 h, easily.
We walk along the plateau in the late morning and arrive at the moonlike rocky garden full of succulents at mid-day... the worst time for us and our cameras! At a height of about 2300m the air is fresh and the views spectacular.
Here we stop for lunch and a short rest, before we decide to carry on the descent as fast as we can so we can leave this not-so-nice camp and stay in Ambalavao. The camp itself in settled in a nice place, however the service is quite poor.
The 2 days in the park costs 83000 Ar including park entrance and guide fees.
We arrive early afternoon at the bungalow, so we have plenty of time to drive back on the hell road to the little town.
The drive is still terrible but just a bit faster... and we arrive at Aux Bougainvilliers where the price is very good : 86000 Ar for our room and an excellent meal with a lot of drinks.
We chat with Adrien Razafimandimby. He is a teacher, a nature guide and founder of the Anja park, that we want to visit the next morning.
2010/11/13 Ambalavao - Toliara
Adrien joins us before 5 am and we travel together the 13 km east to Anja park.
Undoubtedly it is here that we have our best lemur experience. Adrien knows them very well and he takes us on a big rock where they often come sunbathing in the first rays of the sun. We thank him and the ring-tailed lemurs, not only the excitement of some excellent photos, but especially for the magical time we spend sitting on the rock with wild animals all around us!
We give a good pay to Adrien : 60000 Ar for the morning walk including entrance to the park. I prefer to give to good local projects instead of large organizations (some are my clients).
It is hard to leave... but we have decided to reach Toliara today so there is a long way east to go!
The road here is good too and apart the first 100 km, it is pretty straight down to the coast.
At Ranohira, the little town close to Isalo NP, we meet Leonardo Randrianatoandro, a friend of Adrien who is highly recommended. With him we book our next nature expedition on our way back from the coast.
We cross the saphire rush region where houses and cities have appeared like mushrooms along the RN7, and where everyone is armed. We don't stop as we are in a hurry.
When we reach Toliara, there is a huge crowd waiving at us along the road... why? May-be it is not for us but for the young new President who i s organizing a political rally to promote the change of the constitution so he can be elected (otherwise he is too young). We are literally the last car entering the city before they close the roads, but then we are trapped in the crowd and obliged to wait for the Big Man to arrive and the roads to re-open.
We are a bit disappointed of our choice for the night as it is not on the beach as our paradisiac beach bungalow in Morondova. Anyway we stay at Chez Alain for this night where the price is fair : 35000 Ar for the room.
We however decide to go back to town for dinner where there is a Jimmy Hendrix jazz festival at one of the bar/restaurants. We enjoy the evening very much. Cost only 40000 Ar including live music.
2010/11/14 Toliara - Mangily
The wise decision is to drive north along the coast towards Ifaty and Mangily where we find the perfect dream bungalow on the beach at hotel Vovo Telo. For what it offers the price is fair : 82600 Ar; this is our most expensive night!
This is a typical Malagasy beach village with plenty of small places to stay for every budget. What I like the most is that it is perfectly integrated within the village life, not 'destroyed' by touristic activities.
There are a lot of vendors on the beach selling this or that but it is not too hard to get rid of them when necessary, otherwise they are nice to chat with to learn a bit about their life.
The girls are nice and many offer massage on the beach. We are both tempted and go for it. At 10000 Ar it is a real bargain for an hour of intensive care! I also learn that the 'full body' massage for man is call 'tak-tak' here!
I insist that Gronum takes a scuba-diving initiation. He hesitates but finally decides to go for it. We navigate to a coral reef where rose coral is abundant. The waves are a bit strong, so the water a bit too agitated for snorkelling. Anyway, I enjoy snorkeling and Gronum enjoys his first lesson a lot. Price : 105000 Ar for scuba-diving and R30000 for snorkelling, all equipment included.
This is easy holiday... not struggling at climbing a mountain... and we also enjoy this relaxing time a lot.
I decide to have my hair platted (13000 Ar including beads) : 3 girls work for almost 2 hours to make about 80 plates!
We have an excellent seafood lunch (24000 Ar) on the beach at Chez Alice restaurant, owned by one of the many French characters you encounter in Madagascar.
BTW this is a photo safari, so we feel obliged to shoot whatever is interesting on the beach, pirogues, nets, fishermen, vendors and of course nice girls!
We take our dinner (25000 Ar) in the center of the village at Chez Leon restaurant, another character!
Gronum does not feel all right so he stays in the bungalow while I am exploring the village and the disco bars where I have a good time!
2010/11/15 Mangily - Isalo
We go for an early walk in the little Reniala park managed by locals and which displays most of the plants and trees of the spiny forest. The walk is interesting in terms of learning the names and uses of the plants and trees but very disappointing for taking good photographs as most of the trees are surrounded by other invaders. Anyway this is nature!
At 9 am we are back at our bungalow to enjoy a few more hours of complete relaxation and our last fresh seafood (lobster) with our feet in the sand and a cold beer in our mouth!
Fools we are! We booked our next expedition with Leonardo who is expecting us around 4 pm in Ranohira. So we have to leave this paradise and hit the road again.
Apart the first 25 km to reach Toliara, where we manage to brake one of our wine bottles that jumps to the ceiling of the car when I try to pass a pick-up, the RN7 is very good and almost straight. So we arrive in time at the rendezvous where Leonardo and his wife Cathrine are waiting with all the food and equipment for 2 nights of camping in Isalo NP.
For our first night we camp near the cayon des Makis, but honestly this is not a great camp, as another bunch of noisy tourists are also there with a medium-size bus.
Leonardo was a bit afraid of safety as some incidents were reported a few days before in the region, so he prefers to stay near the villages.
The wind is blowing hard... and the only good thing about that is that it cools down our tonic bottle wrapped in a wet T-shirt, just enough to enjoy a fresh G&T.
This 2-day expedition costs us 200000 Ar all included (park entrance, camping equipment, food, nature guide and cook).
2010/11/16 Isalo NP
We wake-up before the sun rises against the rock faces of the cayon des Makis. Then we start our walk through the paddy fields and finally reach the entrance of the canyon. It is a deep gorge and often we have to jump over stones to cross the river. It is nice and cool, but nothing spectacular. We enjoy it nevertheless.
We find the ugly aphid bugs which, when they are larvae, look like cotton and when adults are cute orange butterflies.
In the afternoon, we walk up to the plateau and to the natural pool (piscine natural) which is too popular for us; anyway we enjoy its refreshing water before and after our picnic.
The rocks are very colourful and there are a lots of pachypodium along the path. On the way back, I even spot a group of ring-tailed lemurs that we can approach quite closely.
We end the day by driving around to find the best spots for the sunset.
Tonight's camp is at the base of our afternoon walk. As nobody stays there for the night, we have the place for ourselves, including a wooden school bench that we use for the dinner table.
Christine cooks the live chicken that has been travelling with us since yesterday. Poor chicken and happy us!
2010/11/17 Isalo NP - Antsirabe
We are used to it by now, wake-up at 4:30, then get ready is less than 20 min and hit the road or the trail like today in no time. The ascend is hard at this time of the day when it is still a bit dark. We arrive at the big rock well before sunrise. I love to sit and watch the sky changing its colour before sunrise (or after sunset)... it is so peaceful...
When we have enough of these early-morning-good-light shots, we decide to walk down the trail to our camp where a nice breakfast is awaiting us.
Then we pack, drop our GOs (Gentil Organisateur as in the Club Mad) in the city, say bye bye and then hit the high way north west back to Tana.
It already tastes kind of 'end-of-holiday' for Gronum, and he keeps insisting to drive further north.
We stop in Fianarantsoa, at our fiend Maurice Razafimahaleo to buy some of his nice Antaimoro decorated rice paper. This time he makes us a full demonstration of the making of his art, with all his family and staff who is around. We also meet his son who is studying law, and speaks fluent English.
Then we are on the road again and driving as far as we can, so far that we arrive at night in Antsirabe... and guess where we stay... at Green Park of course.
2010/11/18 Antsirabe - Antananarivo
This is a short drive to Tana, where we arrive before lunch to meet Petra, the kids and Granny. JD and Samy are also there.
The afternoon in town as Petra meets a few key people. The traffic is terrible, and it is hard to know which streets are only one way as the signage is missing most of the time. Fortunately, people quickly waive at me.
We celebrate my birthday at one of the best restaurant of Tana, chez Arnaud where the 'Canard sauce vanille' is an absolute must... in fact everything is divine... but pricey especially the wines!
We do some traditional shopping in the morning as well as some money exchange before going east on the RN1.
About 30 km from town, just after Ambatomirahavavy, there is a Lemur park where it is quite easy to observe these cute creatures. Unfortunately, the afternoon rains hit us in the middle of our guided walk by a very knowledgeable guide.
This is worth a visit, especially for photographers, as with a bit of patience, excellent results are almost guaranteed... except if it is raining!
2010/11/20 Antananarivo - Ankarafantsika
We now leave our friend Gronum to his unfair destiny, and early morning, to avoid Tana's traffic, we drive north on the RN4.
JD lets us drive his new station wagon Land Rover (only 3000 km), which is the perfect vehicle for our family trip.
The houses along the road are bigger and more developed than in the south. After a good 100 km we are again in the countryside.
After the village of Antsiatabositra, we stop for lunch along a small river where Enya & James enjoy playing in the water under the shade of big mango trees. We receive the visit of 2 pleasant girls from the village who come to bath at the river.
I save a giant malagasy chameleon crossing the road and E&J are very impressed by its size and its ferocious behaviour, when I explain to them that they can cut your skin like a razor blade when upset!
We then cross the long old steel bridge over the Betsiboka river that turns brown after heavy rains and carries a lot of water through its many waterfalls. A spectacle to enjoy. In another brown river, children playing in the water are happily waiving at us. There are plenty of little shops along the road selling mangos.
We arrive at Ankarafantsika NP where we manage to get a family bungalow (64000 Ar) for the first night.
We walk a bit in the forest but our nature guide is really too difficult to understand, so we decide to change for the next day.
We eat at the local restaurant where E&J get better and better to catch green geckos, lizards and iguanas.
2010/11/21 Ankarafantsika NP
Early morning, we walk the Coquereli trail through the forest with our new guide which E&J enjoy very much.
Then we have lunch at the nearest village of Andranofasika.
In the afternoon, we go for the baobab trail and then drive to the red tsingy canyon where the kids enjoy very much playing in the red sand.
This scenery is very dramatic and fascinating. In a way I am disappointed that the sun is hiding behind the clouds, but on the other side, the canyon looks so special with this soft light.
All park costs including guide & walks : 110000 Ar.
Our bungalow was already booked by a group of Canadians, so our guide helps us to find some decent accommodation in the village, where the female doctor is renting a cottage at the back of her garden. Very basic cottage for 30000 Ar.
2010/11/22 Ankarafantsika - Antsanitia
Petra insists to go to a beach resort north of Mahajanga, Antsanitia recommanded by a South African expat living in Tana.
I personaly do not like too much these kinds of places, but on the other side I can't complain... as the bungalow is outstanding and the food excellent... so we enjoy this luxury holiday.
Price unfortunately goes with luxury, we pay 900000 for 2 nights for 5 people all inclusive.
2010/11/23 Antsanitia beach resort
Walk on the beach early morning, swimming in the warm water of the ocean, aperitif near the pool, lunch on the beach with some locals... a nice day quickly pass through! Far niente...
2010/11/24 Antsanitia - Ankify
We finally agree to drive north to find the same kind of paradisiac villages along the coast. The cap is set to Ambaja. It is a long drive!
The scenery is sometimes interesting, sometimes boring. After Maromandia, we travel mostly through the forest and so it becomes much more scenic, especially that there are some big clouds and mist over the mountains. We also catch some rain on the road.
We arrive late and decide to spend the first night at Ankify, Dauphin Bleu. This is once again luxurious and pricey (family room @ 175000 Ar & food/dinks @ 125000 Ar). The place is nice but the service is very poor, and things are not working or missing.
I decide to go for an early morning walk through the village of Anfiky where I discover a nice hotel on the top of the hill.
After that, I go snorkelling with the kids and Petra is joining us later. There is some nice corals close to the shore and a few fishes.
We decide to move to Hotel Panorama which has a terrace with stunning views over the bay and is surrounded by big trees, including flamboyant trees in full flowers.
Our host Malefa is the perfect butler, and an excellent source of information.
We will stay 4 nights and pay 860000 Ar including breakfast, dinner and a lot of drinks (dawa for Petra & G&T for me)! This is a bargain for the quality and the care that we receive. A definite recommendation!
We visit the cacao plantation north of Ambaja which is a complete deception as the wife of the agronomist in charge, who organizes the tour is going too fast and not really caring about her guests. The visit is also expensive (170000 Ar) although it includes a lunch at the guest house.
At least I could see the cacao pods and taste the fermented beans!
We are happy to be back at our hotel for some good far niente!
We have a wonderful lunch at the Palma Nova restaurant in Ambaja (61000 Ar).
Another relaxing day, almost doing nothing... far niente again!
We go for a long snorkelling expedition in the bay and the kids as well as Petra enjoy the underwater world with many fishes and a large variety of corals.
This is the big day as I organize a day boat trip to Nosy Tanikely (sea nature reserve) where we meet with Pierre of Nosy Komba Plongee, who is going to initiate E&J to their first scuba-diving experience. Petra also joins them. They all enjoy it a lot.
After that I snorkel with James and we play with a big sea turtle.
We then visit the touristic village of Ampangorinana on Nosy Komba. It is very nice and the locals are welcoming too but the prices are higher than in Tana at the market of La Digue, which is by far the best place to buy souvenirs.
The boat trip costs 206000 Ar and the diving for 3, 400000 Ar.
2010/11/29 Ankify - Andriba
The return trip is a long journey as the excitement is now missing. We drive about 600 km and decide to stop in the town of Andriba where we had a drink when driving up north.
The only hotel/restaurant in town, where we stay, is not to be recommended as both Enya and myself get sick again, but also because the owner/manager does not make you feel welcome. For those who don't care, the price is good : 87000 Ar for food & drinks and 44000 Ar for 2 rooms.
2010/11/30 Andriba - Antananarivo
This is now only a couple of hours to drive back to Antananarivo.
Malefa suggested to visit the market La Digue to buy some fresh green pepper corn in sour water. We also discover that one can almost buy everything at this market and surely at the best price in all Madagascar.
We arrive in the afternoon at JD's house.
Once again I am sick sick sick so I go for a nap while Petra is organizing car rental with a local recommended by Samy.
The price is too high but we don't have the choice this time : 520000 Ar for 3 days for a tiny 2-door Hyundai Galloper. The good thing is that the car drives well and is very light on diesel.
2010/12/01 Antananarivo - Andasibe
Early morning as usual to avoid Tana's traffic, we leave the house, cross the whole town to find the RN2 going east. The scenery is nice, and the road very good.
On the way, we stop at Mandraka park in the forest near Ambatondrazaka, where we can observe a few chameleons and leaf-tailed gecko.
Then we drive to Andasibe NP where Petra organized to visit some interesting projects with the local community managing the park.
We drive through the narrow streets of Andasibe to the remarkable Hotel des Orchidees where we have a room under the roof in a strange stone building, that looks like someone has dropped in the garden. All the houses in the village are built from wood.
Petra, Granny and James go for the night walk in the park.
The restaurant is nice too but I pass. I am now very sick! ... again.
Cost is 142000 Ar for food, drinks and the family room and 36000 Ar for the night walk.
2010/12/02 Andasibe - Vohimana project
The Vohimana project teaches locals to extract oil from certain plants and replant trees in the forest.
We fetch our guide in the village and then leave the car near a hut along the river. We organize some porters, pack our bags and when ready we follow the railway tracks at first and then the path through the forest to the camp.
After lunch, we go for a long interesting walk through the forest, leaving Granny and Enya at the camp as they feel tired.
We also follow the girls harvesting some plants for oil extraction and discuss the whole process with the people in charge.
This is definitely worth to stay here, especially knowing that the money goes to a good cause. We pay 280000 Ar for all meals, our 2 wooden bungalows, our guides, porters and expensive parking fee!
One of the highlight for the kids is the water slide in the river nearby the camp... where the water was quite cold... but they don't care!
2010/12/03 Andasibe - Antananarivo
We spend the morning around the camp and leave before lunch time. Petra buys some oil extracts.
We are now driving back to Tana when in the pass after Ankazondriaka, the traffic is blocked by not 1, not even 2, but 3 trucks 'en panne' exactly at the same place. The first truck seems totally broken down and it seems as if it has not been attended to for a few days, the second truck which tried to pass the first one, broke an axle that the driver is busy removing (too long to fix) and the third truck which tried to pass to the right on the side of the road can not start. There is hope for this one as a new battery arrives... the crowd explodes with joy when the truck engine starts... in no time I run to Petra 200 m below to drive the car up and be the first car to follow the truck before the mess of hundreds of cars block the road again... We are safe!
Obviously we arrive late at the house.
We decide to go at our favourite 5-stars restaurant (Chez Arnaud) for our last meal in Tana, and this time with Granny and the kids. Granny and Petra eat the famous duck vanilla sauce while I am choosing for something very light as I am still quite sick! Cost is only 150000 Ar!
2010/12/04 Antananarivo - Joburg
We leave JD's house around 9 am and Samy is driving us to the airport.
Just after checking we hear that our plane is still in Toliara. At the best this is at least 2-3 hours delay. Petra talks to them and they suggest to move us to South African Airline which leaves in 2.5 hours. The joke is that when we embark on SAA, our AM flight is also boarding!
Anyway both flights arrive at the same time in Joburg, too late to catch the latest connecting flight to Cape Town. Fortunately, a kind lady representing AM put us in a hotel nearby for the night.
I am still sick, but the rest of the family also enjoy the restaurant of the hotel.
2010/12/04 Joburg - Cape Town
We only arrive at our house at 1 pm... so 29 hours after starting from JD's yesterday morning! Viva Air Madagascar!