Konso to Jinka

Today we set out for what we hoped would be a shorter drive to our next stop, Jinka but before leaving town we made sure to visit the local market which is held on Mondays and Thursdays. The market is attended by four tribes from the area, the Hamer, Ari, Konso and Benna. Wild honey, fresh vegetables, shoes and of course the tourist souvenirs are the order of the day. About 500 metres from the market the men have a cattle and goat market where the real entertainment is watching the men trying to get their goats into slings and then hung on scales to determine the asking price. The goats, although fairly docile animals don’t particularly like to be strung up.

The drive to Jinka was scenic and chaotic as usual. The road is good for a short distance and then littered with potholes. If you aren’t negotiating the pot holes then you’re negotiating the constant herds of cattle and goats.

Before checking into our hotel in Jinka we paid a short visit to a local Ari village. The day had been very rainy so the walking paths were quite muddy and slippery. The village was quite spread out so we only spent a short time visiting.

 

Arba Minch to Konso

Today was a very interesting day. We were originally supposed do a two hour boat trip on lake Chamo to see crocodiles and hippos. After such a long day yesterday we had absolutely no desire to spend another 10 hours travelling so we ditched the boat ride (we’ve seen many hippos and crocs in our travels) and headed directly to Konso.

We arrived at 10:30 am and had three hours to relax before heading out to visit Gamule Konso Village, another UNESCO World Heritage site. The village is approximately 800 years old and is known for their wooden statues known as wakas which are erected in honor of dead heroes and respected members of the community. The village is circled and fortified by stone walls, some up to 5 metres tall. The Gamule village has three circular walls. As the community grew outside of the original wall, another wall was built to encircle the outside communities. It was an incredible site to see.

Before ending our day we visited Gesergio Rocks, also known as natural New York village. Erosion is an amazing artist.

Hawassa to Arba Minch

I forgot to mention in my previous post that the roads, so far, in Ethiopia are almost as bad as those in Madagascar and Zambia, sometimes just as bad so travelling relatively short distances takes time but the scenery is beautiful so it makes up for the bad roads.

After our hippo cruise we departed Hawassa and backtracked through Shashanane and made our way to Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary where we picked up a park ranger and went looking for the Swayne’s Hartebeest which is endemic to Ethiopia. The sanctuary is 58 sq.km and consists of wide open grasslands. The sanctuary, located in the Oromia region is dedicated to the protection of the Hartebeest which at one time numbered 3,000 animals but has dwindled to about 800 due to poaching.

After a total of about 10 hours of driving covering less than 300 km we reached Arda Minch just after sunset. Arba Minch is bordered by mountains and is home to two of Ethiopia’s largest Rift Valley lakes, Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya. Our lodge was perched high on a hillside and had amazing views of the lakes and the distant Nechisar National Park. We were disappointed we missed the view of the lakes with the sunset behind us but we did get sunrise views in the morning.

Our original plan was to take a two hour boat trip to view the abundant crocodile population in Lake Chamo but we have seen many crocs so decided to cut this portion out so we could hopefully arrive at our next destination before sunset and with some time to unwind from what we knew would be another long day of driving. It’s not just the condition of the roads that are a challenge. Some roads aren’t too bad but the roads are used as a walkway for herds of cattle and flocks goats and there are literally thousands of goats and cattle that block every step of the way along your journey.

 

Addis to Hawassa

We arrived into Addis Ababa on the 26th and had an early evening. The next day we prepped for the next 9 days of driving, relaxed a little and then headed out for some very excellent traditional food and entertainment at a restaurant nearby. The food and entertainment was superb!

Before departing in the morning we needed to get a SIM card. When we arrived in Addis we figured we had all day Sunday to look after this and save time on Monday when we were heading off to Hawassa. The only telecom provider in Ethiopia is Ethio Telecom (government owned) and they are not open on Sundays. Damn! We were picked up by our Driver, Sophie, at 8:45 Monday morning and off we went to the Ethio Telecom office to get our communications lifeline organized. It was your typical government run organization and after 45 minutes of discussing our needs, a photo of me for their records, passport info and only 4 days of data (data plans work from the 1st of the month to the last day of the month, not for one month from the day you start) I left the office with 1Gb of data and was assured their network was 4G. Traffic was horrendous and this city of 7 million is very spread out and suffering the same auto pollution and traffic issues (chaos) as most African cities. It was about 10:45 when we finally hit the outskirts of town.

We had three stops planned before our final stop for the night in Hawassa.

Tiya, an ancient stelae (grave marker) site and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Adadi Maryam, an ancient rock-hewn church and Melka Kunture, a prehistoric tool making site. Luck wasn’t on our side. Melka Kunture was closed for “renovations” and a large funeral was being held at Adadi Maryam so we couldn’t visit that site so we had a short 1/2 visit at Tiya.

We arrived at our hotel just before sunset. We had a very late lunch so after we checked in we had a beer and some nuts, skipped dinner and decided to crash early. Hawassa is located on the shores of Lake Hawassa and our hotel room balcony had a nice sunset and early morning views of the lake.

The next morning we drove a short distance to the local fish market to check out the catch of the day then proceeded to a boat launch for a one hour “hippo viewing” tour on lake Hawassa, saw a few hippo heads and then headed back to start our journey Arba Minch, our next stop.

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Next stop, Ethiopia

Wow, our seven weeks in Madagascar sure flew by but we are looking forward to our next and last three weeks exploring Ethiopia before heading home to Vancouver. We departed Antananarivo October 26th for a 4 1/2 hour flight to Addis Ababa. Tomorrow we head off for the southern Ethiopia part of our travels.

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.

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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.