Madagascar has long been on my
wish list. This giant island is 1580 kilometres long and 570
kilometres wide, and has been isolated for 165 million years. It has
created an amazingly unique flora and fauna: 80% of plants, 100% of
mammals and 90% of reptiles are endemic. There are 12,000 different
plant species, many of which many belong to my great interest:
caudiciforms. There are deserts, primeval forests, monkeys,
chameleons, baobab trees, 1000 kilometres of coral reefs and many
other exciting things. Map
I managed to lure Jesper along- it wasn't really hard. We find out that you can only fly with Air France, and somewhat reluctantly it brings us once again to Charles de Gaulle airport, which is probably the world's dirtiest and most disgusting. The season is important: In the hot season, it rains a lot, in the dry scar everything sweat off. We have planned it right after the rainy season, when everything is still green.
09.04.2006. After a very short night, I
fall out of bed a quarter of four. It's dark and cold, but it's over! Jesper
meets me at the station, where the train fortunately already is. We are
definitely not dressed for Danish weather!
Was aware, it didn't become a long stop-over,
but it turns out to be ultra-short. There are four minutes from we land, until
boarding on the next flight - in another terminal - starts. We skip the first
security check and the queue for the next one. There should be oxygen dispensers
in the check-in! We manage the shift in 15 minutes clean. It's lucky we only
have cabin luggage!
I found some highlights and found the shortest route between them on the flight. Unfortunately, it turns out that 500 kilometres does not take the expected five hours, but between 30 and 60 hours of "unbelievably hard" ride on a truck. And only during the light hours of the day.
Plan B: On page 260, there is a complete plan for domestic flights. With just four or five flights for the 500-1,000 kroner each (€70-150), we can get around to five of the 25 places I've found. Just have to rent a car a couple of places, and a boat somewhere else. If only they fly, when we arrive (as in Paris) it should be able to stitch it together. Beginning to understand my Madagascan friend Olaf Pronk, who didn't think my first rough plan was realistic.
My last trip went to
South Africa. On the plane, I saw the cartoon
Madagascar. On this flight, I see The Trail, which takes place in
Namibia. A country I have also long thought to
Find a short queue - for locals. A slightly longer queue ends with a guy who also wants to see a visa. He refers to a queue that ends with a guy referring to the airport's longest queue. Well, the weather is delicious: 28 degrees, humid and black night. $15 for visa. We finally get through, and come to the otherwise very thorough customs. They stand grinning and shaking their heads at our little luggage; mine has sneaked up on two kilos with iPAQ computer, diving mask and log as well as two cameras with various chargers.
We are now in the capital; Antananarivo or Tana between friends. We are taken care of by a couple of extremely friendly and charming taxi drivers, who will have 200,000 slices of wood (about 120 kroner) for the twelve kilometres to the capital. Very expensive, but we are allowed to find something cheaper, while they wait for us. We cannot, so we take the walk through the narrow streets, between dilapidated houses. Passing the somewhat murky downtown and the wide but also slightly dilapidated inside the Plaza, saw a few narrow streets with lightly dressed girls and end at the entrance to the US Embassy. It turns out, our hotel shares entrance with it.
There is a single available room, which we can get for 35,000 local or €15 (112 kroner). We are not exactly in control of the courses, but it makes sense. Outside it looks somewhat suspicious, but inside it is neat. Sends the porter in town for water, and then falls asleep. It's been 20 hours on the road.
10. Way too short a night, where I slept
perfectly, unlike Jesper. French breakfast with excellent coffee for 10,000
Ariary or 30 kroner. We leave our fleece jackets at the hotel; hoping we will
only use them on the flight home.
Next stop is the Mad Air office, where we book a trip down south. Monkey class is sold out today, but we can get on about an hour and a half, on 1st Class. Instead of 575 it will be 625 kroner. At the same time, we buy the trip back to Tana and continues up to Nosy Be. We then have flights from mid-south to north. I have to drop $ 426, which equals DKK 2650. We will book the next flights later.
Taxi to the airport, half price of yesterday.
Again, we have to think, it's from "hand to mouth" economy. The gasoline costs
2400 and it must be FMg's? Seven or one and a half krone. It's a half time more
than in Denmark!
Have observed the people; very sweet and smiling. Mainly of African or Asian descent, all dark. Life has come along the narrow and sometimes paved road to the airport. A myriad of butcher shops with the meat hanging freely in the small wooden stalls. There are only two tracks and a lot of pedestrians, trolleys and goods, but traffic is constantly filtering. Most French cars, but also other European and Japanese.
We are only 15 minutes late at the airport, and
have half an hour after check in, before we fly. It takes an hour and 40 minutes
in a 76 person machine. We board the rear and this is also where the first class
Further south, the clouds open up, and some low green and brownish mountains appear. As far as the eye can see, and it is far, there are no buildings or roads. The mountains are covered with very low vegetation, and it is only in the bottom of the ravines that there are dark green shrubs. Then it flattens out, and a little more scrub emerges.
Finds Hotel Maharaja, which rents out a car. We are negotiating (without price changes) to a Pajero 4WD with free driver for five days, with fuel. The landlord helps with the trip planning and there is quickly added a few days. We hope we end up with just over 3,000 kroner. Burning money is working very good! DKK 6,000 a day, so far.
We buy supplies from the local street vendors and have lunch while the car and its jerrycans are filled. There are no gas stations where we will be for the next five days. At half past two we are ready for adventure, but the landlord cannot find a driver, so he is late.
He also has a minor problem with a previous
customer. He is a local, and spends all his money on the zebu. When pressed, he
would pay with a cow.
We buy water and luxury toilet paper - the best way to describe the local is thin baking paper. The landlord decides he wants to drive himself as a driver, and it is certainly not so crazy at all. There are no road signs and the maps are from the times of the French. We let him drive, so we can enjoy and photograph nature. He is a sympathetic Indian, who knows quite some English. His lineage has lived in Madagascar for 300 years, but he is Indian! For these 300 years, Madagascar have refused to give them citizenship.
A little over three, we trundle northeast towards Andranovory. There are "pencil Euphorbias" and some Fabaceae's, possibly Delonix. I reckon, we see many more, and unfortunately do not ask for a photo break. The landscape changes to a little more lush, and there is a dense scrub with some baobab trees. Nirmal says here has been forest, it has been turned into charcoal for cooking - like 90% of Madagascar.
The bush grows denser, and a few two to three meters high Aloes emerge. Could be A. ferrox, but do they live here? Small blue-backed pigeons avoid the car, time and time again, otherwise we can only see kites attracted by a fire. Some white crows attend the party. The road is only gravel after we turned off, and it has not been repaired after the rainy season, and probably after the previous one. Nirmal drives wery well, does not play music, speaks comfortably and does not fall asleep. He will probably be allowed to drive some more, even though he has agreed to let us.
We spend ten minutes in a small village,
watching the market. Only green and fruit.
The sun sets at six o'clock, and we get a
fantastic sunset. We should have reached Betioky, but there is a three hour
drive of really bad national road. We turn in to Bezaha, which has hot
baths, a nice hotel and a restaurant. The road is a soft one-lane sandy road,
but you can drive fast, so we reach the 18 kilometres before it gets quite dark.
Drive a kilometre to the "centre" and gets zebu with ferrets. A little bare, but seasoned just fine. Jesper gets a Three Horses Beer. Appointments to meet for breakfast at six o'clock, and go home to arrange photos and diary. There are masses of people in the black street, and a zebu herd is coming.
At the hotel, we get a key from the guard. He
does not know a word of English and our French does not exist. I automatically
switch to the few words Spanish I can, but it is no help.
11. Sleep well, until my fan overturns
and hits the bed with an infamous noice. It's dark black and I can't remember
where I am and why.
We drive off at half past seven, in the first rays of the sun. South on to Ambatry, where we swing out towards Beheloka and the sea. Again south, along the sea, but a bit inside the wooded sand dunes. We pass some primitive villages. They grow a little maniac, and there are some cobs of corn to dry on the roofs. They have fatty tail sheep, chickens and zebras.
The houses are tiny, two to three times two to
three meters, square and made of twigs. Most are very crooked.
We leave the tropics - crossing the Capricorn
turnaround, and the first thick, gray Didiraceae appears. Then there are
smaller baobab trees, quirky Xerosicyos danguyi that have thick round
leaves and some other more powerful Euphorbias. They are also up to seven
meters high, with stems of 30 centimetres.
We make a short stop in Ambatry, to stretch our legs, give Nirmal a cup of coffee and I photograph some huge Fabaceae trees with flowers. Outside the village, we turn off at a sign: 109 km to Réserva National int. the Tsimanampetsosa.
There are forests first, then more open plains with very large baobab trees, seven meters high Euphorbias of various species and quite a few Fabaceae. It is amazing to look down over this valley that is totally dominated by the huge baobab trees. I could fill a hard disk! If I had time ...
We see many beautiful butterflies, both large and small, as well as large grasshoppers. Many times, a gray road runner slides into the bush. Birds of prey, and various small birds and pigeons flee at the last minute. There are some that look like cardinal weavers.
The forest opens to a large flat plain with grass, termite nests and zebras. We meet only three trucks and two passenger cars as well as a couple of "buses" in the villages, on this whole trip. One is a Heigh-Ace that looks like it has been set on high, to be filled that much with humans. The road is just a single trail in soft sand. In some places, the road is more like a dry river. Well, it really is.
Low forest is coming again. Here are small
flocks of guinea fowl, many hoopoe and some large pigeons.
A snake crosses the road ahead of us, and more
powerful Euphorbias begin to dominate the landscape.
Suddenly, after the small collection of huts called Ankazoaoo, there come three fat baobab trees and some equally delicious Delonix trees. I get out of the car a couple of times and hopefully get some good photos. Gets four large seed capsules for the Botanical Garden.
A tortoise the size of a crash helmet tries in
vain to get undetected during the Opuntia, but it must be photographed
We are offered lunch, and end up with cus-cus and squid with fries. We get a hut right up in the dunes. There is a nose for two hours, until it gets dark, so we go for a walk. Out through the low scrub. There are not so many exciting, but some beautiful flowers and large snail encasings that hang in spider under the bushes.
We find some lizards, a skink and a few small snakes, maybe cat snakes? They are reasonably photogenic, but the sun is almost down. We're head back along to the beach. Nice clean sand with very few conchs and nothing else.
Jesper grabs a shower and I entertain a local boy with a diary. There is light, but no electrical outlet so we walk up to the restaurant. It's just a half-mile out to sea, but they have cold beer and hot coffee. I get lured into a local bright rum. About 30% and gentle without much taste.
Gets cleaned up a bit in my photos, and is down
to just under 300. Backed up on Jesper's PC, and has memory card for another
4,500 photos. Lots of space, it's probably more patience to sort them out, when
I get home, that pinch!
12. The last land hermit crabs find
shelter as we gently stick our heads out of the hut. Far out on the
sea lies a myriad of tiny boats, with and without sails. These are
hollowed-out tree trunks with short outriggers.
A fantastic breakfast of white bread, jam, syrup, fresh fruit and Milo in the coffee. The whole thing has cost 330 kroner. It is eight o'clock, before we roll through the village. At first, we drive a little inland, but close to the sea. There are many small villages and everywhere, people are dressed in brightly coloured robes, smiling and waving. Maybe with the exception of the one standing naked in the middle of a field with a bucket of water.
We turn into the countryside at Saodona
and the road becomes miserable. There are no more villages, but we
still see a shepherd with his zebus or a zebu wagon.
There are many turtles that have come out to sunbathe on the road. They are protected by taboo and they should be happy about that. In the areas they are not taboo, they are no longer. Madagascar is truly a country where taboo plays a big role. It's just very different, what and where. It can be to mention the dead, bring pork, wave with the left hand, and they take it very seriously.
We cross a huge river that is fortunately
completely dried out. It must be Menarandra or one of its
The road gets worse, with many upright rocks. Can't decide on sandstone or limestone, and forget and check when in between throwing myself out of the car to shoot a photo of a "new" plant. There is, among other things, something that looks like an bulb - the only thing I've seen - and some lame-ears plants.
Many times we drive slower, once, so there is enough time to scan the roadside. Here are longer between the Mahafaly tombs. They are local religious, but there are also some with crosses on. They consist of a one meter high wall that encloses a square of nine to 25 square meters. The wall can be motif painted, and there may be carved poles on it, and all the horns of the zebras sacrificed on the deathdays.
Some naked plants emerge, which at first I think
are Euphorbias, but they do not bleed white. Then it can be
Pachypodiums or related. Learn learner, it's Didieraceae.
On a stretch where we reach over 20 kilometres per hour, I spot a chameleon a little off the road. It doesn't quite seem like they believe me, but it's there! Unfortunately, it is on a tree inside a boma: a enclosure for the cattle at night, made of thorny branches and reinforced with cacti. I can't find the entrance and risk my life by crawling over. Cute little guy, but something scary.
A fun version of Opuntia pops up. It has very long leaves in a special shape. A local variant: Opuntia madageensis? Except cacti are not supposed to be found here...
There are people starting along the road. We are approaching the market in Etrobeke. Nirmal says we can bring the camera safely. People are almost happy to be immortalized here. Here are food stalls, hardware stalls, flashlights and massages of coloured clothing. We see a girl making coffee with a fabric bag and a dirty blue plastic bucket.
We hit the stands and greet the smiling people. We get a tail of curious kids and adults after us. It's not every month - or year for that matter, that they meet white people. We stand and chat a little by the car, with a croud around us. I have made more photos of more people in this market, than the last 40-50 trips all together.
A little outside the city, I spotted some five to
six feet tall Pachypodium. I fight through a wall of sisal,
and get some great photos. Finds a single little Uncarina,
and then no more.
We meet no cars on the six hours drive, only zebu carts. Of course, the road is not so good either, and we have only travelled 90 kilometres. Arrives at Ampanihy just passed two. Starting with a Coke and booking hotel. There are only two hotels and the other is lonely and has small animals in the beds.
While we sit in the shade and share a litre of Cola, a street vendor comes along and offers the area's specialty: mohair carpets. She quickly accepts we will not buy them or the silver bracelets or the carved zebu. But then she would like to trade with a T-shirt or similar. Now, the only thing I think of, which I can do without is a memory card or two, and she's hardly interested.
Well refreshed, we drive an hour - 20 kilometres north-west by less and less road. It starts with being a rough dirt road and quickly becomes either a river bed, a meadow or a one foot wide path in dense bushes. We have been given a local guide, as the trail branches many times. We meet several cattle herds, mixed zebu and fat-tailed sheep. Then black rain clouds appear, and belts of massive rain gleam on the horizon.
Suddenly, a huge treetop appears above the
others. We have come to Madagascar's second largest baobab tree. We
jump over a fence of natural branches, and with the thunder rumbling
close, we walk across a meadow. The tree towered over us, and I
could use a wide angle lens - and much more time.
On one of the branches sit 25 flying dogs. In a half-meter-wide opening at ground level lies a snake ham, and the noise - and smell - of a larger amount of bats strikes one. In one of the few crevices in the trunk, part of a sheep is wedged; an offering. I could have a really long time walking in the company of this huge tree, but a tropical rainstorm is reaching us. Jesper seems relieved?
Bumps home to the hotel, where a larger group of people are building a fence of fresh branches. A skeleton has been erected for a pagoda - here is a wedding on Sunday. The well-dressed and almost English-speaking guide receives 3.34 kroner, and is satisfied. It was also close to three hours of easy work!
Harvest the big pods I found yesterday, and start
on the diary. At six, we head into the centre and our restaurant,
where our pre-ordered spaghetti pops up.
Will return to the hotel a little at ten. Power
has come, but I light a candle for safety. When I finish washing
clothes, first the water goes, then the power. There was a reason
for the candle and the two big buckets of water in the shower stall!