Rehana and I were super excited to have the opportunity to travel to Madagascar. It was an early departure from Cape Town with a 4 hour stopover in Johannesburg only to be advised that the flight to Madagascar is delayed. Even with a 1.5 hour delay we were ecstatic to arrive in Tana. It is pretty standard for Air Madagascar to be delayed or overbooked. As long as one is aware of this and takes it into consideration when planning the trip it is ok.
We stayed in a 2 star hotel in the Vatomandry area, the Shanghai Hotel – small, neat and friendly staff. On average 95% of the hotels in Madagascar do not have escalators. Staying on the 4th floor kept us in shape (at first I was swearing but then after the 10th time my muscles were accustomed to the strain).
As we had an extra day in Tana we chose to do a Lemurs Park Tour, which lies approximately an hour outside of Tana with sightseeing stops enroute. This is a rehabilitation centre for lemurs being reintroduced into nature and ideal as introduction to lemurs. Had lunch here – yummy’s.
Once again were woken by church bells and singing. Due to traffic congestion on a Monday morning we departed late. 8 km’s took us an hour but we saw many locals on their way to work or at work. Malagasy people are very hard working and will stop at little to make a living. 130 km’s took 3 – 4 hours to get to Andasibe. Enroute we visited the Pereika chameleon and reptile park – also a niche introduction. What a beautiful spot Vakona Forest Lodge is. Our guide Solofo was great – very informative, knowledgeable, funny and friendly.
When travelling to a country like Madagascar one must understand that this is a 3rd world country: that fish is not transported in cooled containers 400 km’s inland, that few hotels have lifts and that it just isn’t comparable to what we are used to. Milk is scarce, fish should not be eaten in certain areas, uncooked vegetables should not be cooked in certain areas. But the friendliness of the people, the vast and varying landscapes and the lemurs, chameleons, nature etc is what is on offer and what makes the destination so appealing. My suggestion is to travel to Madagascar with an open mind and put prejudices aside.
The next morning we visited a lemur park – another rehabilitation centre. This was amazing as the lemurs were very touchy feely, jumping from a tree onto our shoulder, hoping for bananas. Although a bit touristy we all really enjoyed interacting with these lemurs and being able to get really close. This lemur park consists of 3 islands of which only one is accessible to tourists. The other two are for pure rehabilitation. Off we went to the Perinet National Park to visit the Indri Indri’s – the largest lemur type. The lemurs in this reserve are wild and cannot be touched. It was wonderful walking through the forest, hearing and seeing the Indi Indri – they make the most god-awful screeching sound. We also saw a few other lemur types (7 types in total). On the same day we continued to Mandadia Park for a hike. This is not accessible throughout the year, as it depends on the rainfall and thus the conditions of the road. Smaller 4 x 4 vehicles should not have a problem but busses will. The 1.5 hour hike was great but I was itching to get back to the lodge for a swim. Before dinner we still went on a night walk. This I could have given a miss. Dinner was great – Zebu Veal Casserole and crepes for dessert, yummy – and everyone was having a good time.
The next visit was not part of the itinerary but a special request by Sean – to see a Fossa. Fossas are natural predators to lemurs and can climb trees. However one hardly sees them in the wild – they are nocturnal. The crocodile farm which is part of Vakona Forest Lodge houses a family of Fossa’s – a mother and two teenagers. The Fossas are kept in two cages, which none of as approved of, but this was the only opportunity to see them at all. We had a long day ahead of us. After stocking up on snacks in Tana we continued to Antisirabe. Enroute we visited an aluminium making “factory” – nothing like you have ever seen before; they melt parts from scrapped engines and then in a shed make aluminium pots with wooden crates, a combination of soil, ash and crushed zebu horn and seriously hot coals. The working conditions are appalling – but this is Madagascar after all. It took approximately 10 minutes per pot. Amazing! Next stop was Fiona’s who recycles Zebu Horn and creates jewellery, cutlery, and many more things. Using the motor of an old washing machine and various extra tools, the Zebu horn was cut, polished and finished off. Next was a visit to a gentleman next door who recycled metal and bits and pieces to make toy bicycles, poes poes and cars. Our Hotel, The Hotel du Voyager, has a lovely garden setting. That evening we went into to town to taste the local fare and mingle with locals. Food, company, music were all great – and much better priced than what we paid for meals in the hotels.
There are Moroccan, Chinese, Malay influences in evident bloodlines and in architecture. The previous government offered FOC primary school, giving scholars a school kit (1 x uniform, pen, papers, crayons). The current government does not seem as popular amongst the people as, for example: they do not offer FOC primary school, they have closed certain factories (owned by the prior president now in exile in South Africa) and were also the cause of international companies closing their branches in Madagascar. Being faced with this uncertainty, joblessness and possibly little education in the future, Malagasy remain positive and unrelentlessly driven; finding any type of work that will provide food for the family. Very admirable! Less admirable is the slash and burn of land. Land is sacred to rural Malagasy – not being happy with the current government; they chop trees, bushes etc down and then burn the land down. It might not make sense to us westerners but this is their way of crying out and showing their unhappiness not just to the current government but to the world.
Our next stop was the 3 star Zomatel Hotel in Fianarantsoa. Enroute we stopped at various craft markets – shopping, shopping, and shopping. Dinner was average but a brilliant pianist kept moods and the atmosphere buoyant. Right next door is the 4 star Zomatel Hotel and if you want a bit more comfort and luxury this is the place to be.
Living in Cape Town and seeing many tourist I have acquired a bad habit of playing “spot the tourist”. This time the cards were reversed. The locals played spot the tourist with us. A very humbling experience – everywhere we went it seemed as if we were the highlight. May I recommend not drinking Malagasy wine or home brewed rum – it is like nothing you have tasted before and like nothing you ever want to taste again.
The most awesome experience was visiting the Isalo National Park. We spent most the day hiking in the park. In the morning we hiked in the Maki and Rat canyons, finding lemurs and seeing beautiful scenery. In the afternoon after a basic picnic we hiked to the Piscine Naturell – a natural swimming pool. The hike there takes you through Blyde River Canyon / Grand Canyon like landscape to a natural pool. This was lovely. The return to the vehicle was totally exhilarating hiking through a thunder storm. We stayed at Hotel Du Renier which is a lovely place to be at – I just wish we had more time here.
Our next stop was Tulear. Nothing spectacular to see but seafood was great. We were bumped off our flight that pm but the guide ensured that we got on the next days’ flight. As explained this is to be expected.