Some final thoughts on Madagascar

Madagascar is the 2nd largest Island country and the 4th largest island in the world. It has a population of about 26 million, French and Malagasy are the official languages and it is one of the poorest countries on earth. Since the arrival of humans about 2,350 years ago, Madagascar has lost approximately 90% of its original forest cover with a conservative estimate of 40% since the 1950’s to 2000. Madagascar rates as one of the unhappiest places on earth with almost 70% living under the poverty line of $1.00 per day. The official minimum wage is 160,000 Ariary/month which works out to approximately $2.00 CAD/day.

The two largest cities are first, Antananarivo, the capital, and second, Antsirabe. We drove (inched our way) through both. As mentioned several times, when you drive through a town big or small, you drive through chaos. All towns generally have very narrow pot holed streets and markets line both sides. There are rarely any sidewalks and the roads are filled with pedestrians, tuk tuks, trucks of every imaginable size, motorcycles and bicycles loaded to the hilt with death defying bundles of everything under the sun. What we did observe the vast majority of the time was the lack of garbage. We think the Malagasy people take pride in cleanliness and this was very obvious in comparison to countries such as India, Jordon, Zambia, Tanzania etc. etc. We especially noticed the lack of plastic bag garbage. There was essentially none and it is probably due to fact that practically everyone uses reusable straw or cloth bags. There is a lesson to be learned here for the many countries choking on plastic bag waste.

Most, if not all of the lodges we stayed at were french run and/or owned and we found that if you didn’t speak french, then be prepared to be seriously frustrated. It seemed if you didn’t speak french, you were almost invisible. This experience harkens back to the late 70’s when I first visited France. If you don’t speak the language then you are shit out of luck, period. We found this to be very challenging and maddening. Even if I spoke the little french I know and explained I spoke very little french I would be met with blank stares and/or a rapid reply in french. This was especially true when trying to order lunch or dinner from a menu. To be fair there were a couple of places where, if the servers weren’t sure of what you wanted they would go and ask for help from someone who spoke a little english but this was rare. Interestingly I would say the language challenge was next to being on par with the challenges we faced driving. It really was that difficult. Maybe everyone else in the world who travels to Madagascar speaks some french but I seriously doubt it.

Although we know that most of the forests of Madagascar have disappeared, the scenery was still spectacular and one can only imagine how it was, like most places in the world one can assume, way back when. What was quite striking though was the amount of erosion happening throughout the country. The primary surface cover is a clay/sand mixture and vast gorges of every size dot the landscape. This has led to serious siltification in many of the seaside areas with the rain washing tonnes of clay and sand down the barren hillsides into swollen rivers and then on to the Indian Ocean.

Vast areas of hillside have been terraced to allow for the growing of rice and other foodstuffs. If you didn’t know you were in Madagascar you would be excused for thinking you were in Bali, China or some other eastern/southeastern country. Rice is a main staple here and they can’t grow enough. Madagascar leads by far the major rice growing countries in terms of volume. The average person consumes about 120kg/year compared to china at 77kg/year. Only Vietnam eats more rice at 144 kg per inhabitant. Some of the first people who came to Madagascar were from Indonesia and Malaysia more than 1,000 years ago with rice cultivation starting around 1540.

The facial features of the Malagasy people are distinctly different than mainland Africa and reflects the asian influence although the food didn’t tend to reflect the spices you would associate with this influence. Breakfast is heavily french influenced so be prepared to eat primarily bread, croissants, butter and jam and occasionally a half brown banana or over ripe mango and if you were really lucky, a few pieces of soft pineapple. Of course there are eggs but an omelette is essentially eggs beaten in a bowl and then fried. If you are lucky to have them “avec fromage” then you will have a small thin slice or two melted on top of the fried eggs. Don’t even bother asking for over easy and the eggs were usually fried in a heavy oil so they tended to be oily/greasy. We never saw any bacon. There was the odd time you could order sausage and it was okay but you couldn’t help wonder in the back of your mind how old they were. Lunches tended to be cheese or omelette sandwiches served on a foot long or longer loaf of french bread. No butter, no mayonnaise, just bread and cheese or bread and fried egg. Sometimes the bread was fresh. Of course we had the occasional decent lunch but not very often. Dinners weren’t too bad and the odd pizza or pasta dish were a nice change from the tough zebu meat served throughout the country. Through our travels and the many cases of the “cramps and trots” we’ve experienced we have become a little less daring in our food adventures so I am certain we missed out on some very delicious and local roadside stall food so I will not criticize what I don’t know. I’m only speaking of what was available at the average mid-priced accommodation that we stayed at most of the time with the exception of a few lodges mentioned in previous posts. We used to have stomachs of steel, me more so than Joyce so I guess our gut biome is a little less resistant to all of the stuff we’ve thrown at it over the years and sometimes it rebels.

The roads…What roads? My guess is probably 10% of the roads we drove were good enough to hit 70-80 km/hr without the risk of surprise potholes. Otherwise they are bad, very bad and you are lucky to average 40 km/hr. Most seem like the government has just given up on maintaining them and they are rapidly turning into treacherous, dangerous and next to un-drivable routes that the people have no choice but to use. The roads are also very narrow and in many areas very winding with tight steep curves where I found myself straining to look to either see what is coming up and over a hill or around a hairpin curve. Most vehicles travel in the middle of the road, large trucks especially so you are often gripping the wheel and trying not to go off of the side of the road while trying to avoid collisions and the gaping holes and cracks that line the roadside. The roads are full of pedestrians, bicycles, zebu carts, and flatbed carts loaded with whatever you can imagine being pushed and pulled by boys and men of all ages. The bottom line is they are very hazardous and require your complete attention and concentration.

The Malagasy people…The people are generally warm and smiling but often there seemed to be an undertone of sadness or the recognition of a life they have little or no opportunity to escape. This seemed to be somewhat regional however I can only guess why. Some areas seemed more prosperous and were generally developed farming areas or on the tourist routes and the people seemed happier although through many of the poorest rural villages we drove through we were met with smiles and waves. Maybe the poorest villages way off the beaten track with no cell phones and little outside influence are more content than those being influenced by social media. Thats my guess.

Madagascar’s tourism is developing and the forecast was for 500,000 visitors in 2019. We’re not sure if they’ll hit that number but without a doubt, tourism is helping the locals, their wellbeing and the economy however we think that without fairly substantial infrastructure investment, the current situation will definitely become more strained and could act as a deterrent to further growth.

Madagascar is a fascinating country with wide regional variations and we think the best way to see the country is by either a self drive 4×4 or with a hired driver and guide. We chose to self drive and loved every minute of it (almost). Yes it was challenging but we, at 61 and 63 years old are not quite ready to give up the freedom to self drive in countries where it is possible to so.

We had time on our hands to self drive where many didn’t so our hats are off to them for at least getting into a 4×4 and traversing whatever parts of the country they could. The rides they had were just as bumpy and thrilling as ours!

A boat back to Nosy Be, a drive to the north east and a boat to Constance Tsarabanjina, a private island in the Mitsio Archipelago

We departed Antoremba Lodge on the 19th and headed back by boat to Nosy Be, caught a ride at the wharf, proceeded north east and then caught another boat to Constance Tsarabanjina located on a tiny private island about 70 km from Nosy Be harbour. This is a luxury all-inclusive resort with 24 bungalow style villas spread out over two beaches of white powder sand and surrounded by the most amazingly clear aqua marine waters. As we approached the island we could see a large crowd gathered on the beach, all of them waving their arms to welcome us. They were some of the many staff who work at the resort and the welcome made us and the others with us seem special.

We had six nights in a beautiful beachfront villa surrounded by lush vegetation and a view of the incredible aqua marine water.

We read (through TripAdvisor) that if you didn’t speak Italian or French be prepared to be ignored. We have experienced this in other areas of Madagascar so this concerned us.  Now, you need to understand that TripAdvisor can sometimes be helpful, especially if you have hundreds of reviews and they mostly tend to agree with each other but where you have to be careful is when most are positive 4/5 or 5/5 ratings and then you come across the 1/5. Only once several years ago did the 1/5 accurately reflect the place we stayed. This was in Barefoot Quay in Honduras. Otherwise these 1/5 comments usually come from someone who was in a bad mood, stubbed their toe on a rock, had a mosquito bite, didn’t like the food or just had a fight with their wife and then blamed it all on the resort, the staff, etc. etc. etc.

This was the case at Tsarabanjina. One or two bad reviews and you start to worry before you arrive. How wrong they were. It was a mix nationalities and it didn’t matter what language you spoke. Most of the staff spoke english as well as french and italian. They were professional, courteous and friendly and the location was absolutely and undeniably in the top two of the many beaches we have visited around the world. Maybe the top because it’s impossible to rate these things sometimes.

There were a couple things that surprised us though. The first was the shower in our villa. It was indoors and very tiny. At places like these the showers are often outside but nicely connected to the unit and if not outside, generally quite large so this was a surprise. The second surprise was the food. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style with a limited choice for breakfast and a little larger choice for lunch and the lunches were good. Dinners were a la carte and offered three choices often two of them were fish which is okay but most times our meals arrived luke warm to cold and were really nothing special. This is not a cheap resort so this was a bit of a let down but aside from these two blips everything else was excellent. We did find ourselves getting bored after day four so five days maximum would be our suggestion unless you spend time on fairly expensive day excursions either visiting other islands and sights or diving some of the beautiful reefs in the area.

On the 25th we reluctantly departed with waves of goodbyes from the staff on the beachside and caught a flight back to Tana for a one night stay before heading off on our next adventure, Ethiopia.

Antananarivo to Nosy Be then a boat to Antoremba Lodge

Our flight to Nosy Be had a scheduled departure time of 6:00 am on Saturday, October 12th. We hate departures this early but we figured we would probably make it our lodge by 11:00 am max including the 45 minute boat trip from Hell-Ville. Yes, this really is the name of the main town on the island. The city is officially called Andoany but is more commonly known as Hell-Ville and was named after Anne Chretien de Hell, a French admiral who was governor of Reunion Island from 1838 to 1841.

Nosy Be means “big island” in Malagasy and Nosy means “the island”. So essentially Nosy means island in Malagasy as Koh means “island” in Thai.

Anyway, having to be at the airport 2 hours prior to departure we had to get up at 2:30 am in order to fit in our coffee, light breakfast and a ride to the airport to get us there by around 4:00 am. I checked flight checker and the flight was still on schedule. When we arrived at the airport our driver told us he would join us at the check in counter just to make sure everything was okay. Did he know something we didn’t? No, but the flight was delayed 3 1/2 hours with a new departure time of 9:25. Our driver told us he called the airline the evening before to confirm the time and all was good. A couple we met earlier from Holland and saw again at the airport confirmed on the airline web site that all was good but all was not good. We spent close to 6 1/2 hours hanging around the tiny little airport before we finally departed at around 10:30 am.

We had everything arranged for arrival in Nosy Be. A pick up at the airport, transfer to Hell-Ville and a boat back to the mainland and Antoremba Lodge. I looked around outside for someone holding a placard with our names on it and finally saw one with “Robbensson” on it. Was this us? Through much excitement we confirmed the ride was for us and it was in a small broken down jalopy surrounded by clean gleaming minivans and SUVs. This was a package deal and we really need to find out what we paid for this ride.

We made it to the boat launch and again, after some excitement, we found our boat to take us to the beach. The water was quite rough and we both got salted on the crossing and as we approached the mainland a beautiful beach and idyllic setting came into view. Our spot for the next 7 nights. We were greeted by the French owners son who immediately sat us down for a welcome cocktail and a delicious lunch of 4 large prawns each, lightly battered followed by coconut rice and an amazing minced fish formed around a lemongrass skewer and made to look like two little fish. Delectable. For desert, two skewers of fruit; mango, pear, banana and watermelon and a small dish filled with smooth warm chocolate sauce. A good sign of things to come.

Our bungalow, #1 of 7 is located at the end of the beach beside a small rock face and only 20 paces to the water’s edge. It is the only stand-alone bungalow, the others are two bungalows connected side by side.

 

Our days were a typical beach routine. Get up, wander over to the restaurant for coffee and breakfast, lather up the SPF, lie in the sun, have a great seafood lunch, take a nap or read, head over to the restaurant for some drinks, eat amazing seafood again, go back to the bungalow and go to bed early and repeat. The meals here have been fantastic and consist of fresh seafood with the exception of an excellent zebu stew one evening, skewered peppered zebu with fries for lunch and chicken once for dinner, otherwise fresh fish, prawns and squid all cooked perfectly and presented with artistic flair. To top it off, each meal ends with a delectable dessert, be it homemade mango sorbet, fresh fruit drizzled with chocolate sauce or a rum soaked cake with cream sauce.  It was such a treat and no meals have been a disappointment.

The beach is private and maybe 200 metres in length with nice white sand and  occasional coral. Quit typical and a little disappointing is the high tides. Like many areas along coastal Madagascar and Mozambique, the waters are quite shallow so when the tide goes out it is difficult to get into water much deeper than your ankles unless you walk quite far out. It makes for a beautiful picture but isn’t very good for swimming.

 

We did however take a boat one morning to Nosy Tanikely National Park and Marine reserve where the swimming was perfect and the snorkeling fantastic primarily for the huge variety of pristine corals in the area. There were no large fish but we did see turtles feeding and I spent about 15 minutes watching an octopus as he slowly moved along the sea floor stopping to arrange his tentacles and then changing colors to match his environment. I’ve seen octopus before but only in crevices while this one was right in the open. I could have spent all day watching it move to another spot and then try out a different camouflage. It was amazing to watch. There are lemurs on the island but they were introduced some time ago and were lazing in the tree top in the shade staying cool from the very hot weather so just a bunch of fur balls in the trees. There are a large number of hermit crabs and shield lizards as well as chameleons but all we saw were the fur balls and shield lizards.

 

We found seven nights to be a bit too long here. Unless you spend a fairly significant amount of money to go on excursions, there really isn’t much to do. Don’t get me wrong, having ‘really not much to do” is okay but after an action packed five weeks of exploring the mainland of Madagascar, it was a big change. One thing here stands out though. The lodge is owner operated and the owners, the mother, father, son and daughter-in-law live in the main building where the restaurant is located. They eat all of their meals when the guests do and hover around throughout the day. It feels like, and you are, sharing their home with them. It became a little uncomfortable. Joyce and I would be relaxing with a drink wanting to order another one. We would look around. The father was sitting behind us looking at his Mac, the mother in another area looking at her Mac. We had to ask for another drink and shouldn’t have had to ask. And, if you discuss the good and bad of the place you have to do a shoulder check to make sure one of the owners isn’t sitting nearby. It was a little unsettling. Don’t get me wrong, they were very nice people and asked us after every meal “did you like?” but after a while it felt like we were going over to the owners house for dinner or lunch or breakfast and we should be on our best behaviour.

I like my beer and the beer they sold here is in 330 ml bottles, hardly a medium sized glass full and at an outrageous price of €2 per bottle. This is more than twice the cost of a beer that is twice the volume found anywhere else in the country. It’s not like they are far from Nosy Be so supplies are easy to get so in my opinion, very over priced. If they didn’t charge so much for beer we might have had enough money for an excursion or two! Ha ha, but almost true.

We head off tomorrow to a little private Island to stay at a luxury all inclusive resort, Constance Tsarabanjina.

Final stop, Antananarivo then off for some beach time.

Before we departed back to Tana, we bid farewell to Remi, the owner operator of Residence Madalief just outside of Antsirabe. Her and her husband run a really nice lodge just outside of town. The staff are excellent and attentive and the diners they served were absolutely delicious. It’s essentially a pit stop place but I’m sure if you had an extra day in Antsirabe the Madalief would definitely be the place to stay.

She asked if the truck was repaired and we said we hope so then she threw in a comment that left us a little uneasy for the rest of our drive. She mentioned that at one point the mechanic came and asked her for some scotch tape. She had some and also had duct tape. He wanted the duct tape! For those Canadians out there they might remember the comedy show “The Red Green Show”. He repaired everything with duct tape. I’m not sure what the tape was for but I inspected the alternator and didn’t see any so we kept our fingers crossed and off we went.

The roads were winding and hilly but weren’t too bad but the traffic was very slow. Smoke billowing trucks barely doing 5 km/hr up hill, smoke billowing Taxi bousse, Zebu carts, bicycles, you name it, the highways are littered with hazards but the real delay hit when we entered the outskirts of Tana. I had once said that the only country I wouldn’t drive in was India. After our highway experiences and driving in Tana I now think India would be a snap. The congestion in Tana is incredible and essentially indescribable. Every mode of transportation you can imaging inhabits the roads, many/most pot holed and very narrow. Apocalyptic, chaotic, smog and dust filled madness mixed with extreme poverty and desperation. Absolutely mind boggling but we made it to our B&B unscathed. I didn’t hit any zebu carts, bicycles, pousse pousse, cars, trucks, skinny chicken, goats or babies! We survived our 5 week driving journey.

We clocked in 2,489 kms but seemed it like 10X as much because we probably averaged only 50 km/hr and much less much of the time. It was a huge but rewarding challenge for myself, the driver, and Joyce, the navigator. Would we recommend self driving in Madagascar? Yes and hopefully our tales provided you with information so you’re prepared. You couldn’t self drive In madagascar only a couple of years ago, it is very challenging but also very rewarding and we wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way.

Thank you Roadtrip Madagascar for all of your support. When we needed it most you were a phone call away and ready to assist.

IMG_1410

 

Miandrivazo to Antsirabe

As mentioned in the previous “bad luck gods” post, we departed Miandrivazo at about 9:00 am with our final pit stop in Antsirabe before ending our driving adventure in Tana. The road for the most part was pot holed and crappy but the scenery was beautiful.

Just when you think there can’t be more, the bad luck gods throw more at you!

I’m not sure if I mentioned it earlier but before we reached Manja, two warning lights on the dashboard came on indicating what we later found out was an alternator issue and a diesel fuel filter issue. I had a “mechanic” have a look and he had no idea about the diesel indicator but agreed, the alternator could be giving out. The battery was being charged to a higher level than it should have been. He suggested driving with the lights on, running the air con and using everything electrical to reduce the overcharging. Okay, sounds iffy and temporary to me. Anyway, things went smoothly, relatively speaking and once we arrived in Morondava to have our suspension repaired I asked the guys about the warning indicators. They agreed, alternator and fuel filter but not to worry, you should have no problems getting back to Tana. “Not to worry”. I hate those words, especially coming from an “expert”. Our next stop out of Morondava was Miandrivazo, a 298 km drive and we made it without a hitch. We departed the next  morning, October 9th and headed to Antsirabe, our last pit stop before heading back to Tana where we would drop off the truck and head north for some beach time. The truck started and off we went. We have two LED battery level indicators in the truck, one was low so I turned off the fridge thinking it was draining the fridge battery, the other looked okay. Anyway, I was never really sure which indicator was for the fridge and which was for the battery and as it turns out, the battery indicator was low,  indicating around 10.9 volts and the fridge was 12.0 volts. We drove along through barren hills and semi-mountainous landscapes and at one point decided to stop on the side of the road for a stretch. I intentionally parked on a downward slope, something in the back of my mind told me things may not be right. We hopped back in after a stretch and the truck wouldn’t start so I did the old glide down the road and pop the clutch thing and fortunately the truck started. I then noticed the battery level getting lower. We proceeded then noticed the air conditioning was no longer working and then noticed the speedometer was stuck at 60 and the RPM was stuck at 2,000 and the odometer wasn’t working. This was not looking good. In the back of my mind I tried to remember if a car will still run normally even if the battery was dead and somehow I didn’t think so. Then we seemed to be losing power on the hills, then, chug, chug, cough, cough, the truck died. We had just passed a very small village, the road was flat (thank the heavens) and there was a small patch of gravel on the side of the road to roll to a stop on. Well, well, well, now what? I forgot to mention we called our truck rental company just after the truck not starting incident, and we were advised to continue to Antsirabe where a mechanic will fix the problem. I called again to tell them we were dead in the water. They would send a rescue team and I would try to find some tools. Preferably a heavy wrench to smack the head of whoever would tell me “it won’t be a problem” again! I tried to ask some young men about tools but they spoke only french then after an hour of resigning ourselves to waiting for the rescue I showed the boys the battery and used sign language to describe to them that I needed a wrench. No wrenches in the nearby village they signed back and at his point every women and child in the area had congregated around us and our chairs we placed in the shade waiting for our rescue. Then another very jovial women showed up, shook our hands smiling and everything was wonderful except she didn’t have any wrenches but, she indicated the little household just right over there did. She then told the boys and the women and waved goodbye. Aha! they must have thought, they need some tools and within minutes we had a several wrenches and a giant adjustable wrench. I/We went to work. I removed the battery from under the hood, the boys removed the refrigerator battery from the tight confines of the back of the truck and we put the fridge battery in place. It was larger than the original and the positive post was just an inch or so too far out of place to secure the terminal. Jesus, what kind of luck is this? The boys had some copper wire so we figured we could connect the positive terminal with the wire. Nope, it melted as soon as I tried starting the truck, I kind of figured this would happen considering the amount of current that is drawn when starting an engine. We tilted the battery, we wiggled the wires we tried everything and then, we got the terminal connector within a hair’s width of the terminal. A little smack with the large adjustable wrench and we got it on. With much anticipation I went to the truck and voila!. It started. The battery level showed 12.0 volts, how long that would last we didn’t know but it would at least get us closer to the next stop and hopefully to our lodge sooner. We made it to the lodge about two hours later than planned. We gave three of the boys 10,000 Ariary each and the women who had the tools 20,000. Their smiles were as wide as the world and we felt good. This is a lot of money to them, less than $20.00 CSAD to us and worth every penny and more.

Not long after we arrived at our lodge, Residence Madalief, a local mechanic showed up and proceeded to repair our vehicle. Again, great service from Roadtrip Africa although our contact, Peter tends to be of the “don’t worry, be happy” type and to date he has been correct but sometimes just a little too nonchalant.

Morondava to Miandrivazo

We departed Morondava on the 8th of October for another relatively short distance drive but as always seems to be the case, about 5 hours to cover. We easily found our accommodation, Princess Tsiribhina which was located right off the side of the RN34. The drive was uneventful, the roads were good and the scenery as usual was spectacular.

We arrived at around 1:00 pm and it was stifling hot outside. We unloaded our bags and wandered over to the restaurant for a bite. There were no fans and the air was like a blow dryer and the beads of sweat started to form. We had a nice chicken sandwich slightly salted from the sweat that was dripping off of our brows and we hoped and prayed that the evening would cool off. It didn’t and we probably had the worst sleep so far since arriving in Madagascar. We had a small fan in the room that operated intermittently between the generator being turned off and the solar battery turned on. It was terrible.

Surprisingly I still had some fluid in my body and got up at some point to take a pee. As I lifted the seat (what a gentleman) I noticed something fairly large disappear up and under where the water would come out when you flush. As I wasn’t sitting down it wasn’t an issue but I did have to warn Joyce. She had sweated out all of her fluids that night so in the morning I took a bowl cleaner brush that was beside the toilet and ran it under the rim. Lo and behold, a small frog jumped out but that wasn’t the end of it. After some coffee I returned to the toilet quite comfortable in sitting down. I flushed and out of the  toilet edge popped out a much larger frog! He collected him/herself and proceeded back to his/her hiding place. We didn’t get a photo because, well he disappeared quickly and toilet bowls are not the best things to photograph. Nuff said.

We departed around 9:00 am the next morning looking forward to another scenic drive. As I started the truck I noticed the battery LED indicated a low battery. Hmm…

Morondava and L’allee Des Baobabs

Having to do something with our down time in Morondava we took a tuk tuk (I always love saying that) to L’allee des Baobab, the area that hosts baobab trees lining the dirt road that heads north to the Tsingy and is famous for the photos that probably everyone has seen when looking at or reading information about Madagascar. Us and about 100 other people had the same idea so you know you will not get the National Geographic photos that you expect. Something like the famous photo of an elephant on the road in Kruger National Park with a traffic jam of photo seekers. We expected this however the site was a bit anticlimactic. It was beautiful of course but the photos everyone sees are taken without people and just the right lighting but I must say, if you Google L’allee Des Baobabs I think Joyce’s photos are just as spectacular as the Google pics. So there!

We got our shots and decided to leave before the crowds. It was a dusty road and we didn’t feel like eating dust for dinner.

Belo sur mer to Morondava. Finally, some tarmac roads plus a broken suspension system.

The final leg of our 4×4 journey took about 4 hours to cover approximately 90 kms. There were a few good stretches of sand tracks and very few rocky stretches which was nice but we encountered some of the worst washboard stretches we have ever driven. Our truck has heavy duty suspension so washboard is the worst possible condition to drive. We encountered several deep mud crossings and a couple of fairly deep water crossings so the thought of getting stuck again was always in the back of our minds. Finally about 20 kms away from pavement and feeling a little more relaxed we encountered more mud, and it looked really deep. We decided on a path and went for it. As I accelerated through the quagmire we hit what sounded like a large rock submerged in the mud. Yikes! The truck kept a rollin and we escaped unscathed and continued on but wait, what’s that scraping sounding noise that emanates from the right front wheel-well whenever we hit a large bump? Must be mud stuck on the mud flap. Nope, must be worse because when I got out of the truck to investigate it was quite obvious. The right front wheel had zero clearance in the wheel well. We must have blown a shock absorber. Fortunately this happened when it did and not earlier in the day. We had mountains to climb and rivers to cross so a blown shock would have been a very serious situation indeed. We proceeded on and finally, just up ahead, tarmac! Civilization! We had accomplished what no man has accomplished before, we, oh never mind, you get the picture, we made it.

We limped into the town of Morondava, picked up some phone data from Orange, withdrew 1.2 million Ariary (really, it’s worth about $420.00 CAD) from Bank of Africa and then pulled in to a local automotive mechanics shop.

IMG_1343They identified the problem immediately, it wasn’t the shock absorber but I think a steel suspension link or something and they didn’t have the part on-hand but they could get one delivered quickly. About 1 1/2 hours later still no part so we caught a lift to our hotel and prayed the truck would be fixed the next day. To our surprise and relief the truck was delivered around 8:30 in the morning. Our Pisteur, Antonio showed up to tell us. What a guy! Excellent service! We don’t know the cost of the repair as it was picked up by our rental company, Roadtrip Africa/Madagascar. Their service and response to any issues we have faced along the way has been great. More on that later in my final Madagascar review.

We spent the first two nights at Chez Maggie, a nice lodge with bungalows near the ocean side.

We had booked two nights but needed two more due to what I will explain below but unfortunately they were booked up but the lodge next door, Laguna Beach had a room and it had air conditioning. This was going to be a treat. The room was large and cool with a big shower and lots of space.

The food in the restaurant  was very good, quite pricey relative to everywhere else we have been but good but this is lunch that I’m talking about. The breakfast was way overpriced and the serving staff didn’t seem to have a clue what they were doing. The first breakfast we did get our juice after asking and our coffee a little hotter after our first cup, and a napkin after asking but the second breakfast was a disaster and we walked out refusing to pay. We were first served lukewarm coffee after asking specifically for hot coffee and after having to wait 15 minutes. Then came the the first plate of food, 1/3 of a rotten banana, dried out banana bread and a whole unpeeled mango. What are we supposed to do with a whole unpeeled mango? We don’t have a sharp knife and we don’t have a napkin. Then, my so called omelette shows up.  Where is Joyce’s omelette? Where’s our bread, you brought the jam for crying out loud, where’s the bread? And the juice, where’s the juice??? We had enough, got up and left rather ticked off. We really are not that hard to get along with. Joyce and I are the nicest people in the world but at some point you have to draw a line. It sounds like we’re whining here but they really had no concept of service and not a clue of what their breakfast was supposed to consist of. It’s written on the menu, in french, english and malagasy so get with it management or you won’t understand why no one stays at your place.  Enough said. Now on to why our plans were altered.

I planned and booked our whole time in Madagascar. One evening about a week ago I was reviewing our itinerary and noticed a, shall I say, slight error. Our plan was to spend two nights in Morondava and then head north to the Tsingy de Bemaraha, a protected UNESCO world heritage site of  immense beauty but it was not to be. The drive would be approximately 8-10 hours, part of which would consist of military escort with a convoy of 4×4’s heading north to the Tsingy. We had three nights planned to allow for some time to explore the area. What I didn’t factor in was the drive back to Morondava thinking we could drive straight to Miandrivazo. That would have been a 14+ hour drive. Damn! We decided it just wasn’t worth the 16+ hour return drive to have one full day of exploration. We missed a beautiful site so we’ll save the Tsingy for next time.

Morondava is probably one of the nicest towns we have been to. The main street is wide and clean with sidewalks. One area is devoted to the food market. Fish, fresh veggies etc. Further along is a section devoted to cheap chinese footwear and other crap that will fall apart within days but hey, the price is right. It is a stop off or starting point for tourists wanting to head north to the Tsingy and those (us) who made their way from the south with intentions to continue north. It has an airport so it is a very convenient place to start your adventure whether it be north or south.

IMG_1355

Next, a short trip to L’allee des Baobabs.

 

Belo sur Mer

We spent two nights at this gorgeous location at Hotel Entremer. The hotel is owned by a very nice French (Canadian) women, Laurence. She was an excellent host and a french trained chef. The food on order was primarily fresh seafood and it was delicious and cooked to perfection. Aside from breakfast we had seafood for every meal. The beach was untouched by civilization other than the local fishing village community. The water was an aqua marine colour and the tide was an amazing 4.5 metres. We strolled the beach in the morning to visit the local fishermen and then stayed in the shade for most of the day. It was incredibly hot outside.

The below two pics are a solar water heating box. The water is used for a hot water bucket shower and works very well. The temperature of the water reaches close to 80 degrees celsius.

DSC08778

Next stop, Morondava.