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  9/4-19/4 2006 DIARY 1 

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 Diary 1 2 3 4 5

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!
Change trains at the main train station and arrive after check-in has begun in the airport. Once in the morning, we fly to Paris.

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!

As every other expedition to undiscovered areas, our have the marks of a long time of careful planning, with even the smallest detail being carefully considered. Visits to National Geographic's huge map collection, meetings with former explorers in the adventurers' club, consultations with various embassies and the Foreign Ministry, and endless studies of all available book material. Or: We get ready for the plane, and fortunately it turns out that Jesper not only bought, but also brought one of the famous travel books: Lonely Planet.

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 visit.
  It's a relatively short flight, but it feels long when it's daytime and you can't sleep. After nine hours of uneventful flight, some food is finally served. When just get to swallow it before we begin the approach. The tables are up, and then they share entry cards around, but there aren't for everyone! When just completing a "satisfaction test" before we land!

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.
We'll find an ATM right away. Now it turns out, they have two currencies. An Ariary equals five FMg. That is, when a dollar goes to 7.46 DKK on a euro and a 0.81 euro goes on a dollar, that equates to 6200 FMg or 1240 Ariary - right? Meaning; we have no idea what these things cost! Turns out, a dollar costs 2079 Ars, so a penny equals 334 Ars or 1673 FMg. This is easy numbers to count on ... 1,000 Ar is three kroner and 10,000 FMg is six kroner. Or: 10,000 Ar is 30 kroner and 10000 FMg is 6 kroner.

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 is.
Despite a small million inhabitants, the capital is not that big. We are fast beyond low hills with green rice fields in between. Then we come up through the light cloud layer, and have to just shoot photography formations.

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.

Find a taxi and drive into Tuleara. The street scene is mainly characterized by zebu (small oxen) carts and pousse-pousse; " rickshaws with a man without a bicycle".
Everyone seems friendly and relaxed, even the street vendors. Silver (-like) bracelets, musical instruments in skins and horns and fruits are sold. They ask, if we are interested, but lose interest as quickly as us. The sun is shining and it is about 30 degrees. I already have the feeling that I'll be back to Madagascar one day.

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.
The bank opens and I exchange $ 300. The other Arayri have disappeared quickly and Mad Air would not have $ 100 banknotes.

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.
There are an incredible number of cacti introduced here. Very tall bluish columns and quantities of different Opuntia. A local will ferment them into alcohol for fuel for cars. The agaves are also introduced, and appear to be sisal grown for the fibres. There are lush meadows with long virgin grass, but astonishingly few zebus.

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.
The rooms cost 60 kroner, but there is only one bed. We just take two rooms. They are amazingly beautiful, with toilet and shower as well as electricity.

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.
There is a big kneeling mantay outside the room, and there are little yellow geckos everywhere. Here are some quiet dogs that ignore us. It is only at night, that you notice them!
It's about 30 degrees, and humid. End the evening with laundry, and set the clock to 5.30. I'm a little surprised it just eight o'clock. Studying the guidebook for the next days. We may pass some small things along the way.

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.
The city generator is off at night, so bathing and dressing takes place in the dark. We go into town and have morning coffee with fried eggs. Bread is an unknown phenomenon in this part of the world. Of course, they don't grow grain either.

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.
Here are some birds, some of the most eye-catching are two species of bee-eaters. The landscape is dominated by acacia-like shrubs, pencil euphorbias, various Fabaceae shrubs and grasses and herbs.

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 see some shepherds carrying or making fire with a stick. Most of what we see, is between the Stone Age and the Feudal periods.

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.
With the exception of the densest forests, there are incredible quantities of introduced Opuntias of various species and sisal agaves. We stop briefly at some succulent trees, and I discover how much more exciting there is when getting out of the car.

A snake crosses the road ahead of us, and more powerful Euphorbias begin to dominate the landscape.
We turn south into the village of Beheloka. Here we can glimpse the sea behind the sheds. The landscape becomes very monotonous. The same Euphorbias and small trees for many kilometres. I fight it, but fall asleep, time and time again.

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 first!
Just passed three, we arrive at Itampolo after 275 km. It is a small village at a perfect beach. Most feed on crawfish and squid catches, but there is a single resort. You sail here from Toliara, and here are a few former Frenchmen. The first whites since the airport.

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!
We manage to avoid whole crawfish for dinner. Lunch is not digested yet and we do not get much exercise. He seems to be burning up some, or even selling the menu's most expensive item: 45 kroner.

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.
Last night our terrace was covered with huge ants, today tiny little ants are removing the dead giants.

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.
The road is narrow and there are alternative tracks, sometimes around paved wads. There are also branches and I just say, "Here, we saved an hour by having a driver", and Jesper replies, "Yes, we would have driven straight" before we face the water, and then take the road straight. All other times, Nirmal hits right.

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 tributaries.
I thought the area along the red road looks incredibly exciting, and gets a ten minute photo break. It was more exciting than I dared to hope: From tiny little ones to enormously tall (that's four metres) Operculicarya decaryi. There are also many other exciting plants, and Jesper is photographing animals.

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.
Here are at least three different Didieraceae, one is finger thin and green, the other arm-thick and more blue. Some thin vine plants have distinctive horn-shaped fruits, similar to the pachyas, so they are members of the Apocynaceae family. Here are also thriving members of the Convolvulaceae family.

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.
There are some mud holes on the road, and a single green water hole. Nirmal says several times, we have been lucky with the season. It's not luck, but planning: Right after the rainy season, so everything's green, but it's dry weather and the roads are navigable and the temperature is down to 30 degrees.

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.
Goes under the surrounding trees and enters under the crown. The stem is huge! Step it off: 24 steps. It gives a diameter of - uh - eight meters?

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.
Writes more diary as the power comes and goes. Can hear a small overloaded generator on the other side of the road.

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!
Much water could be saved in Denmark in this way: a bucket of cold water and a mug in the "shower cabin". You can then wash clothes in the water afterwards, and then flush the toilet. Felt pretty clean until I wiped in the white towel ...
                 We reach out even further Dagbog 2




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