Several months ago, me and a good friend of mine decided, we want to go on an adventure once more, one like we, roommates at the time, had in 2009 in South America (one can read more about it here). At the time I got a great offer of going with some other friends in Nepal for three weeks on trekking in Himalaya (one can find more of that on my friends site Mountainattack.com. However I’ve got another great offer just that same day of going to Madagascar. With a friend of mine we had a really hard time deciding which adventure to take. Whole month we were weighting pros and cons of both offers and in the end Madagascar won by thickness of ones hair.
There was none. And it is not far from truth. We were very busy with our work, studies and other activities and we just couldn’t find much time for planning. “It will be a great adventure.” we decided, especially because of lack of plan. The day came when we bought our airplane tickets and still did not really know what are we getting into. Our best preparation was a BBC documentary series (more here). I also got a contact of my friends friend that was there some years ago, who gave me some crucial and important information about the country (thank you Luka). Few weeks before departure we actually found some time (several hours) to put together the list of things we want to see and things that we must take with us. We went for recommended vaccination. And that was it. No other preparations whatsoever.
Day 1 & 2 - Home, Venice, Dubai, Mauritius, Tana (25. & 26.4.2011)
We started our journey on 26th of May with or flight from Venice. It took us almost whole day, with all the stops, to get to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. On our way there we stopped at night in Dubai (with splendid night view at the city), and next stop at Mauritius, a small beautiful, but too touristic island in Indian ocean. In the afternoon we arrived to (An)Tana(narivo), a big city on swamp and hills. That afternoon was also the only day we had rain in the following month. We stayed in a small hotel near the center of the city for two nights before we started our adventuring. That day we also met our guide - Michel - for next three weeks that helped us get around and to organize our trips.
Day 3-5 - Tana, Fianarantsoa, Anja (27. - 29.4.2011)
On the third day we headed south. Where south one might ask … To the national parks Anja, Andringitra and Isalo. But we had to get there, and for that we used an old white Peugeot 405 break (aka. Tank). It took us almost everywhere, even where we could not imagine car like that might ever go (4x4 dedicated roads). Road to the south was long but quite good in comparison to the rest of the roads in Madagascar. It was dark when we reached Fianarantsoa after a whole day’s ride.
Next morning we went through Ambalavao to Anja, a lemur resort, home of many ring-tail lemurs, much more that we believed we’ll see anywhere. Next morning we went for lemur watching and after peaked a nearby mountain, from where, there’s a great view on the surrounding landscape. An awesome experience.
Day 6-8 - Andringitra (30.4. - 2.5.2011)
First touch with isolated Madagascar nature. Andringitra is a mountain national park that includes Madagascars second highest mountain Peak Boby. Two of us, local guide and porter started in our trekking in a small village where the road ends. We had a nice three day trekking with camps in almost complete isolation, apart from few other tourists that came to the same camp in the evening. Our guide was also our cook and quite a good one. The landscape there is amazing, colors like nowhere else. But the nicest part of it all are stars of the southern sky, especially at 2000 meters in the middle of nowhere in mountains totally different from those back home.
Day 9 & 10 - Isalo, Toliara (3. & 4.5.2011)
After Andringitra we had one night in a hotel again and the next day we went to wilderness again this time to Isalo national park. In two days there we visited several canyons in a sandstone mountain range. Completely different environment then those of past days and again amazingly beautiful. Especially two gorges, the Monkey and Rat canyon. Two very narrow canyons around 20 - 40 meters wide and 200 - 400 meters high, with the river right at the bottom of them. On the second afternoon we started our way to Toliara - a city at the west coast. It was a adrenaline boosting evening and night car ride with one of the nicest sunsets ever, crazy looking gradients.
Day 11 - Ifaty (5.5.2011)
Time for relaxation it was. And that is why we went a bit to the north of Toliara to a small village of Ifaty, where we took a day off, for swimming, snorkeling and a lame try of wave surfing. It was a nice sandy beach but not the best for swimming, since the water was shallow for three miles of the coast, where there was a coral reef, and beginning of deep waters. And we went there - to the coral reef - for snorkeling and surfing. This was a great time to test my new Tough camera under water. It survived and we got some nice clips. The rest of the day was relaxation time which was great after whole day of hot sun. Great dinner and sleeping and to Toliara next morning.
Day 12 - Toliara to Ambalavao (6.5.2011)
Whole day of ride (dot)
Day 13 & 14 - Fianarantsoa, Manakara (7. & 8.5.2011)
Supposedly the only operating passenger train in Madagascar takes passengers few times per week from Fianarantsoa to Manakara or the other way around. It takes more than 12 hours to reach less than 200km of tracks to get to coastal city of Manakara. The ride is very fascinating especially because of the great landscape one can admire from the train. Train also stops many times for at least half an hour each time. And that is when one can hear “bonjour vahaza” from every child’s mouth over and over again. It’s a neat experience to see so many happy children everywhere. At the end however, ride does get a bit tiring because of the time it takes. Bus it sure was worth it.
Next day we had a relaxation day in Manakara, where we went for a boat ride in Pantanal channel and swim in Indian ocean. Here we also met our traveling companion for next 10 days, Joe and Nana, a really nice couple that runs a resort in Thailand (Naga Hill).
Day 15 & 16 - Antsirabe, Miandrivazo (9. & 10.5.2011)
Two days of ride, with a half day pause in Antsirabe, where we made a morning bicycle trip to two nearby lakes, one a crater lake - Lake Tritriva - which is amazingly beautiful. Afternoon was full of car ride again.
Day 17-19 - Tsiribihina river, Belo (11. - 13.5.2011)
Start of a great river trip in the morning from Miandravazo. It took us quite some time to actually get on the boat and begin our river trip because of all the organization and preparations that were needed. Next three days we, four of us, spent most of our time in pirogue, a small boat that drifted down the big brown river quite fast. We’ve seen many chameleons, some sifakas, many birds, snakes during our lunch times and many many stars each night. One could just lay there and stare at the sky for a lifetime.
During the day it got quite hot on the boat and fortunately we stopped for lunch to spend the hottest time in shade. Once we even went to waterfall to chill ourselves out in a cool water. On the third day we left the river and spend the night in Belo.
Day 20 & 21 - Tsingys (14. & 15.5.2011)
Surely one of the highlights of our trip were Grand Tsingys aka. stone forest. Amazing terrain on formed on limestone. It is just impossible to describe its beauty and vastness. These very sharp stone formations reach up to 80 meter of height and underneath them there are many caves. Fortunately we were there at the beginning of season we were there almost alone and that was another bonus for us. It was just great.
To get there was very tiring though. Six hours of so called road that wasn’t road at all on the first day and two hours more next day. I can only say: “Hold on tight, its bound to be a bumpy ride”. But it was very much worth it.
Day 22-24 - Baobab avenue, Morondava (16.5. - 18.5.2011)
On our way back from Tsingys we passed a road where you can see many, Madagascar endemic, trees called baobabs. These huge trees with their unbelievably thick trunks are another breathtaking work of nature on Madagascar. These trees are besides lemurs surely the most recognizable thing one might think of when hearing of Madagascar.
After the Baobab avenue we had two more days at, by my humble opinion, nicest beach of our trip. A white sand beach, perfect for swimming and other low water activities. Not snorkeling though. It was too hot during the midday but perfect in the afternoon and evening.
Day 25 & 26 - Back to Tana (19. & 20.5.2011)
Story of flat tire, not to mention we already had flat tire once before and were driving with exploded spare. That’s why it took us two days to reach Tana.
Day 27-30 - To the North, Ankarafantsika, Mahajanga (21. - 24.5.2011)
Last part of our trip we wanted to get the feeling of how would it be if we would not met Michel and would have to get around on our own all the time. That meant getting ourselves anywhere, survive there and get back in time. Not that does not sound hard, but the thing is that majority of people, more then 95% only speaks Malagasy and French, while almost none speaks English. And that is why it was real adventure.
We decided to go north, to very recommended park Ankarafantsika and to the city of Mahajanga. We managed to buy taxi-brousse and reserved three seats, since our legs are just too long for regular seat. Next morning we started our trip, but before we had to pack all the stuff on our van. With almost as much stuff on roof of our van’s as van’s size was, we departed. This was an adrenalin rush all the way. Driving with full throttle all the time, through hard turns and settlements it was at times even harder experience that at some roller-coaster. After full day ride we reached the park and got ourselves the room for the night. Another thing was that we really did not have much money on us, just enough to get there and back.
Park itself was an out-of-this-world experience, especially the colorful canyon that took our breaths away. Not to mention sifakas, chameleons, night lemurs and lots and lots of birds. I can only say amazing.
Since park admissions went up we didn’t even have enough to see what we want if we wanted to get back to Tana. That is why we decided to get even further north to city of Mahajanga, where the nearest banks and ATMs were, hoping we will be able to get some money for our way back.
Mahajanga was a very hot (33ºC in the night) and quite beautiful coastal city but without nice beach for swimming. Our day there was about getting money (after many connection problems we finally got it), getting reservations for our ride back and relaxation. I had my best meal there (fish and crabs and vegetables). The way back was even more of adrenalin rush because our tires already had wires where there should be rubber. We got to Tana alive.
Day 31 - Tana (25.5.2011)
Last whole day in Tana was dedicated to shopping eating and packing. And that was pretty much it.
Day 32 & 33 - Way home (26. & 27.5.2011)
Since our flight was in the afternoon we also had whole morning for ourselves, getting last gifts, foods and arranging our transfer to the airport. Getting back home took us one whole day again stopping at same places we did on our way there.
It was very much worth it. A beautiful country with great people, especially outside the big cities. Beautiful women and lots and lots of kids. Jaw dropping landscape which changes a lot in very short distances. Colors are amazing. All of them, landscapes, sunsets, people, …
I will publish the link to photos ASAP.