This trip took quite a lot of preparation, since the roads are in terrible condition if existent at all, and the few flights available need to be booked far in advance. Not sure if and when we could get somewhere, we just had to hope that we could reach the various airports on time. In addition, malaria was rampant and we had to get the right drug for malaria prophylaxis, the kind of drug we hate to take since it has many side-effects.
Our plane landed Anatananarivo, often called “Tana, but we just stayed a couple of nights, since we would be back a couple of times and wanted to have sufficient leeway in our travels around the country. The one good road at the time was from Tana to Fianarantosa with the pleasant city of Antsirabe on the way. We stopped there for a couple of days and visited the Asabotsy market, quite a colorful affair.
Bus station in Tana
Back on the road
to Fianarantosa, where we met Angelo, a guide who would take us to the Parc National de Ranomafana a couple of days later. But first he took us to a local disco where it seemed that all the locals could dance any style imaginable. When we wanted to just move to the music, someone would politely point out to us that our steps were wrong and show us the correct ones. We usually failed miserably to the general merriment of all.
Getting to Ranomafana was not easy, but fun in a crowded “taxi-brouse”. The scenery was fantastic, which made the ride more than worth it.
There is a train from Fianarantosa down to the coast to Manakara, but the tracks and train are in quite a poor condition, so it often does not run. The trip takes approx. 10 hours for the 163 kilometers, crossing 67 bridges and going through 48 tunnels with beautiful scenery the whole way, from an altitude of approx. 1,100 meters at Fianarantosa down so sea level. One day it goes down to the coast, and the next day it goes back up. There are no roads where the train goes, so locals depend on it.
We were very lucky in that it ran on the day we wanted to take it. It traveled very slowly, stopping in numerous villages where locals sold food. It even traveled so slow that it was possible for a few people at a time to stand outside in the front of the locomotive. Once, they noticed that a foreigner had gotten off to buy food and the train had left without him, so they stopped and went back a kilometer so he could get on.
Of course, there was accommodation along the way if someone care to stay in the area for a few days.
Arriving at Manakara, the only transport was a “pouse-pouse”, otherwise known as rickshaws. We had a beautiful bungalow at the beach, quite relaxing for a few days. There was not much else to do, although there were a couple of movie theaters in town and a nice market.
Then off to the airport and a flight to Taolagnaro, formerly called Fort Dauphin. It has a great beach, and we also took a boat trip through the inland waters. There is a fantastic view of the city from the 529 m high Pic Saint Louis.
Of course, our main reason for traveling there was a trip to the Réserve Privée de Berenty to see lemurs. You buy bananas at the entrance, and then they jump up on your shoulders and let you feed them. Their paws are incredibly soft!
The southern coast
Then a flight back to Tana, quite a different world.
We stayed in a lovely hotel that had a two-man jazz band playing in the restaurant in the evening. We were really surprised the two musicians switched instruments half-way through their set: one from piano to bass and the other from bass to piano.
Then a flight to Ile Satinte Marie, i.e., Nosy Baraha. Fantastic beaches and whale watching!
Taking our dinner order
In the backwaters
One time I even saw a whale just a few meters from the beach where our bungalow was. We also took a boat trip where we came within a few meters of large whales: quite impressive!
We went to a disco one night, and a young prostitute made repeated attempts to get me go outside with her, which Mechtild found very amusing and had me feeling very uncomfortable.
Back to Tana
Our last days in Tana of course included a visit to a market and the wish that we could have seen a lot more of the beautiful country.