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 From Diary 1 we find even more nature and chameleons
We talk a little about the conditions in Madagascar. The gasoline costs 1.50. A cleaning lady earns 30 kroner a month. A guard in a bank is at 130. The director is at 15,000.
It is Jesper's turn to pay, and we also had two bungalows this time. Disappointing; it will only be 145 kroner!
A truck fills up with local travellers ,while the music plays off merrily. We don't envy them!

It we head back north, first to Ejeda then up to Beahitse, Ambay and ends in Betioky. We start at half past nine, after a sensible breakfast. On the way out of town, we see one of the beautiful bright Moringa's. It seems like it's pure culture; there is no one in the wild around here.

We stop at some very large Operculicarya decaryi, which are more umbrella-shaped, up to 30 centimetres in diameter and some five meters high. Here are also some great Pachypodium. Even finds an Uncarina. They are also some different from Madagascar's Aloe, and a lot of other shrubs. As we drive, I glimpse some smaller baobab trees, but get promised more. I find some small Bursera with berries, possibly the ones I have seen much larger than before.

A few large and brightly coloured quales are sitting in the roadside by a watering hole. Even when we are back to them.
There are some new Pachypodiums: They are up to four meters high, 40 centimetres on the ground, and they have several branches and the outer shoots are thinner.
The landscape is reasonably flat, open bushland most of the time, and nicely green yet. In some places the yellow or red sand is broken by granite mountains. There are water holes on the road, and we cross a larger river with muddy water.

Have found the definition of a big road: When there are two big holes next to each other. We have only been running on sand and gravel since we started few days ago, with the exception of the first 70 kilometres out of Tana.
Here is incredibly sparsely populated. We meet very few people and there is a long way between zebu and goats herds. We have passed a single pair of manioc fields, but farming is not great here.

Ejeda is a bigger city; there are even concrete huts, but the road still looks like a dredged, partially dried-up river. We take a walk in the street while Nirmal disappears to get coffee. It is an extremely limited product range: Oranges and cacti fruits. The barbecue bar is a pair of cast iron pots with coloured sauce over charcoal on the ground. Next to it, also on the ground, are wooden sticks with goat meat bits on it, also over charcoal. I am a bit peckish, but dare not. When we come back, Nirmal sits with rice sauce with meat sauce. We order and it tastes perfect. It also costs there after: Almost a fiver per serving!

There are a few kiosks that have more well-known plastic goods. I grab a packet of salt biscuits: Tuk, which just belongs to travel. The road on the other hand, is slightly better, more soft sand and fewer stones. There are long stretches, with scrub and grass, that do not look exciting. Then suddenly there is baobab and Operculicarya with Aloe and other exciting in between.

There are a few big trucks approaching, and I try to imagine how they manage the mud holes that are almost lakes. They are not as flexible as our little car. Overhauling a truck with a smaller bus and two goats on the dock. They seem to be taking the trip nicely.

The promised baobab trees are coming. First some smaller ones with long in-between, then clusters of large ones. Stopping somewhere to try to find a ripe fruit. Here, they are not round, more egg-shaped with a small tuber on the stem. They just aren't mature, and won't come down to me. Have seen several holes at the top of the trunk in several places. Here is an improvised ladder and I climb up, and get confirmed, there is a "well".

We have been passing five to ten schools in recent days. They have all been well kept but closed. I ask if it's vacation. No, it's a shortage of teachers. They do not want to go out into the countryside, so here is only one for every 5-600 students.

The clock is a little at three, as we get to Betioky. we have driven 155 kilometres in six hours, but most of them have also gone well - by Madagascar standard. Finding the nicest hotel in the city, where we get the Mercedes and Honda rooms. Then we drive down to the "centre". This main street also looks like a dry river, but there are plenty of people and shops. These are just small shelves with a single board on which are coloured clothing, oranges and cacti, rotten meat, apple slices or wrought iron hardware.

A small covered market with onions, peanuts, a few potatoes, cassava, lettuce beans in many shades and several bits of dead animals. In front of one of the cabins is a girl making flour with a big wooden mortar. I take a photo and the flash fires off. It wasn't exactly the point, but the mother comes smiling and I show the photo. A split second later, I stand in a bunch of laughing kids who all want to see it.

It gives me confidence for more human photos, unfortunately it is cloudy. A bus arrives, the cages are filled with chickens, and since most people have squeezed out, you can see the bundles of chickens under the seats. We need to have a hen this evening. It's probably some lean, long-legged feather bundles, but when the locals eat them...

There are several butchers. Raw old wood, a wrought iron machete, and then the inventory is ready. It all takes place in a swarm of flies. A single merchant sits with a blanket full of the bottom plate of a tape recorder, a little gear tooth, the gaze of a car light and many other indefinable things.

Have returned to the hotel and after a few hiccups and the laugh I get a few towels. My legs look like a massacre, after struggling through a blackberry shrubbery to find Bombax fruits. In other parts of the country, they make a tasty brown juice of the round fruits. Have a bad conscience: Had promised to take exciting seeds home to the Botanical Garden, but have used only one of the 100 seed envelopes the gardener expectedly provided me with.

Here are some dogs of indeterminate origin. They, as in the rest of the world, behave like the people of the place. There has not been a single sniff to us, and no one has barked.
Jesper notes that we have not seen or heard a single television. Really liberating! We get the promised fried chicken with rice and an orange for dessert.

Nirmal tells a little more about the country. Every time foreigners come in with a big sack of money and start a good business, they suddenly get their visa withdrawn and have to leave the country, or get heavy taxed. France and now the EU are making major contributions to development. They end up in the pockets of the ministers.

The weather is developing; the distant clouds become lightning and thunder, and then comes a gentle summer rain.
Jesper has to push a giant hissing cockroach away to open his door. I get to take a portrait of it first. It is not one from the hotel, just a striker seeking shelter from the rain.

14. The rain has stopped, and there is only a thin cloud cover left. The breakfast consists of a huge flute that weighs nothing, and a dollop of white but tasty butter.
Today we are going back to Kilarivo, Andranovory and off to Toliara. I have to drop 140 kroner for our rooms and food. Crosses several large rivers that have swallowed up. Here are both the large pillar Pachypodium and the multi-stemmed. The road is in some places more large lakes than a road. In some places we have to go into the water that reaches over the wheel, but in other places there are alternative tracks. The big holes are the ones where there are only tracks leads down ...

Some men come running with green rice sacks on some wheelbarrows, that look something like a Flintstone movie. Branches and a wheel of a wooden board, but it works! See some tiny little pumpkins on the roadside, not over five centimetres. Stops, photographs and digs, but no tuber - bummer! Here are some kites, single and in pairs. There are a lot of tiny little pigeons, some Senegal pigeons, but they are impossible to photograph.

As we have crossed the next big river, where the locals are washing and bathing, we get to a very large valley, with lush grass. There is not much cattle and no cultivation. Must be too dry and scorched most of the year.
Stop in a village for Nirmal to get coffee. I find some quirky orange and crunchy fruits of the cucumber family, a grasshopper and also get the excited locals photographed.

We walk out of town and find a scarab and slightly coloured flowers, before we are picked up. Suddenly it goes up and we reach a highland. It seems that the "double-fruited" baobab trees grow in the lowlands, while the round-fruited ones grow on the high plains.

We get to the main road, leading the last 70 kilometres to Toleare. Stopping sometimes to buy root vegetables, they are probably cheaper out here in the countryside. There are some fields of corn and cassava. Many walk along the road, many greet smiling, but not one tries to get a lift.

The arboretum I would very much like to see, is located 17 kilometres east of Toliara, and we pass by around two, so we might as well stop. I can see it and Jesper gets limited time. We'll send Nirmal home until four o'clock, and we'll start with some food. It is a touristy place and a bus with Frenchmen leaves the place as we come. Sandwich and coffee and six postcards: 100 kroner. Discovering later, we also paid the ticket.

Then I'm ready for some serious photography. There are name tags on many, and it is a great help later, when I have to name the ones I find in the wild. The signs are old; there stands the Liliaceae, and that family has ceased and divided into many new ones. The Sansveries are assigned to Amaryliaceae, but they are Dracaenaceae now. Inexplicably, I get 350 photos of name tags and associated plants with details.

Nirmal arrives on time, and we drive into the Eden Hotel, which he recommends in Toliara. We get a room with a bed for 190 DKK, and go out and pay the last half of the last five days of adventure: 3150 kroner in total. With hotels and food, it has cost us close to 500 a day each. If you need a driver of your own, use Nirmal Jayant,, tel 03 20 45 36 64. Have a hard time imagining anyone being better!

We walk down to the centre in the last hours of daylight. Are constantly offered pousse, but they accept a no. So do the few others, of the countless merchants who offer us something. Make some photos of the merchants and their goods, and everyone smiles and laughs. Finds the post office and buys stamps. Sitting on a bench outside and writing postcards, so I can send them right away.

Finds some internet, but it is slow, and terribly frustrating, there is one that has swapped some of the keys and all menu and warnings are in French. Then the guy suddenly says; he wants to go home to the wife. I grumble in frustration while paying 3.30 kroner for twice a half hour.

Get past an ATM that won't give anything on Jesper's card. Only French denial of use, but they are known to run out. Has also been given an explanation of the two types of coin. FMg is the old currency. When they got a new president, he introduced a new one to counter inflation. The new one is worth a fifth, and they have coins worth a quarter of a øre. There would have been more idea to make it a hundred part.

Trade stalls are still running after dark. They all have a oil lamp standing on the table.
Home and turn, and looked over at the "white" restaurant opposite. Large menu card - about one square meter, and with ten dishes. Spaghetti with avocado, green pepper and shrimp, which is a disappointment. Comforter with pancakes with baked banana. Must drop 30 kroner, but it's also the city's finest restaurant. The beers are only called Three Horses Beer, I find a bit odd, in a country without horses. On the other hand, Denmark has Elephant, Bear and Giraffe bear...

We stay seated while the mosquitoes swarm. We suddenly have a full day before our flight to Tana and on to Nosy Be. Not much is happening in the city. The guidebook claims that you can still see many traces of the French, and there are many Indians doing business in the city. I didn't think it was eye-catching in this one; the largest city in the south.

There's actually not much to see: A dusty little museum whose biggest clue is snippets of an extinct elephant-birds's egg (the one from the Ice Age cartoon!), and a museum of fish in glass, that is only for real nerds. Mangroves on the outskirts of the city, and I will try to exchange dollars.

At home in the hotel, I try to harvest some pods. It requires a vice or an anvil and a sledgehammer! The worst thing is that I find out that I have already provided them to the Botanical Gardens, although with no collection data. Laundry, diary and photos finish the day again. Have a full set of changing clothes, and haven't used it yet. Otherwise I get to use most of my two kilos. Not the diving mask and the logbook, but it will be in a few days.
It will be midnight before I finish the photos and diary. Jesper only wakes up, as I turn off the big light.

15. There are blackout curtains, so at eight o'clock we get started. Sitting on the first floor to have breakfast while we watch the traffic. It glides nicely, without shouting and horns, although very mixed. The main part is pousse-pousse, there are small French old cars, big 4WDs, little mopeds, motorcycles and ordinary bikes, some zebu carts and a lot of pedestrians, some with carriages. Goes down to what is like mangroves on the map. It's just swamp, and partly a form of harbour. Zebu carriers fetch fish and goods from the boats, which are several hundred meters out.

We pass the nicer business, which may have been nice when the French were here. Now they are very dilapidated and sheds pop up between it. Most merchants have stalls that are no more sophisticated than those in the larger villages. I have yet to see fresh meat that has been refrigerated. It just hangs on old raw wood or hangs on rusty hooks. Their chickens must be fresh. We see a lot of people walking or cycling with one or two live chickens.

We get through a market with fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. There are not many foreign goods, in fact the selection is astonishingly small. The Danish discount stores has substantially more different fruits and vegetables.
I am getting a little toasted, and looking into an internet cafe. Five dollars an hour, and then there is only the French menu and keyboard. M, a and q and more have moved around, the numbers and period require shift, I can't get in touch with my memorystick. It takes about 15 minutes to open the mailbox at TDC, and five minutes from mail to mail.

Out to heat of noon, and walk a bit around. Find Restaurante Maharaghi where we found our driver. We grab a cup of coffee and check up on her offer to exchange. She thought I had been cheated at the bank, but her offer turned out to be five percent worse. However, she does not understand why I do not want to exchange with her anyway!

It can wait until Nosy Be - we hope. Into the heat, and into the first covered market we can find. Amazing set-ups of vegetables in copious quantities, but still only a few varieties. Outside, business is closing down. Given the size of the city, this is a rare occurrence. We first have to fly in a day, and have probably had enough sun for a day. Home to the hotel where they have coffee, reasonably priced cake and cold beer. It seems a bit grotesque, I can sit and get bored, on a vacation that is far too short.

Planning for the next few weeks, just sitting and chatting. Sitting and looking out onto the street in this "tourist area". On average, a white passes by every hour. The sun is barely so fierce and we head out to find an ATM. There is just no such thing in this city and we end up giving up. The market has come to life, and the whole city is buzzing with activity.

A couple of kids come and beg, but they are clean, well-nourished and well-dressed. In fact, we have not seen any really poor or dirty, as in many other countries. The pousse-pousse pulls (the pusher?) are clean and well-dressed, in contrast to, for example, India's richauwer. Here are a few dogs, but they are well-nourished and healthy, although they roam freely.

We start the hunt for dinner at dusk. Follow the signs to a Greek restaurant, but the last sign is missing. Ending up at an international, where I get zebu with champagne sauce a´la baobab and boiled potatoes. Fairly reasonable, but Jesper's barbecue skewers and crispy fries didn't look the worst either. The bill comes right away and the table is cleared. We are not offered dessert, so we grab the coffee at the hotel.

16. It's Easter and the locals have put on the party clothes. Little girls in princess dresses, the men in suits and the women in even more colourful robes. The majority, however, resemble themselves. Sitting on the hotel terrace, waiting for it to be time to take off at the airport. A large beer, 65 cl and a litre of Sprite costs 15 kroner.

Close to one, we find a taxi, and not surprisingly get past a gas station. After all, there are seven kilometres to the airport. Here's the biggest collection of whites we've seen, up to 15! That's as far as I can hear exclusively French, and a great deal is business. The plane eases five minutes ahead of schedule and it is filled up completely. An hour later we land in Tana. Is just up and turning in the international department to find an ATM, but it is pretty closed.
Back in the national and find coffee and snacks. Jesper notices there is quite empty, and then calls us over the speaker. That hour went fast!

We leave southern Madagascar, and fly via Tana to Nosy Be, to dive and walk in the primeval forest. We were actually going to drive up here, but it takes about 150 hours on the back of a truck, on miserable dirt roads, so plan B is a total of two hours in flight for 1700 kroner. Read about it in Diary 3


Diary 1 2 3 4 5    Map + Plan  Photos