Bye Cape Town, HELLO Madagascar
Bijgewerkt: 14 jul 2019
Madagascar covers an area of 592,000 km² (14 times the Netherlands), is the fourth largest island in the world and has 22.5 million people, half of whom are under the age of twenty. The country is one of the poorest countries in the world. But when it comes to food, they have enough here. It has a very good climate for agriculture and that is done extensively. You will find a lot of rice fields, rice fields, rice fields and mango trees.
The first inhabitants (these were the Indonesians who crossed the ocean 2000 years ago with their small boats) from Madagascar took rice from their homeland. They settled in the mountains to plant rice fields . Hundreds of years later came the Africans who brought the Zebu (this is a cow with a fat bump on his back). Because the mountains were already occupied, they stayed close to the coast. Nowadays it is still the case that the Africans are at the coast and the Indonesians in the mountains, but more and more of these groups blend into a Afrinasier or Indocan ;-).
Despite the abundancy of food, the locals have no money for clothing, good shelter, transport or health care. People wash themselves in the sewage, people drink from the river (which isn’t clean), a child from a puddle of water in the street (while the street is dirty with rubbish and mud) or people who have nothing but dirty broken clothing. This is the view you can see every day all over Madagascar.
But for transport they have found the ideal solution, the taxi-brousse, the cheapest way to travel in this country, because the majority can’t pay for a car. A trip of 4 hours costs locals about € 2.00 ... for tourists of course more ... but just barely € 3.50. As we really want to travel as real Malagasy, we also decided to take a taxi-brousse. From Gard du Sud in Tana (the capital) to Antsirabe.
From the hotel we had arranged for a taxi to the station. Don’t think that the station is actually a station like in Europe, because then you are completely wrong. The station here is one big chaos of people, animals walking across the street, rickety stalls and hundreds of vans that take you from A to B. And all this is somewhere on a big, dirty, muddy field with big puddles of water. Touts await you well in advance, stick to the taxi and run along to make sure you get in a van with which they earn money. And then we, the only 2 whites in an area of 50 km², have to get out of our taxi as we wanted to travel like real Malagasy. Our first thought was to have the taxi turn around and get the hell away, but before we knew it, we were half dragged out of the taxi, feet completely sank into the mud and directed to one of the minibuses towards Antsirabe.
Now there are 2 options for you to choose: You choose the van that is almost full or the van that is not full yet. If you choose the van that is almost full then you know that you leave quickly as the taxi brousses only leave when they are full. The disadvantage is that you get the least sitting areas and are folded somewhere in the back. If you choose the van that is not yet full, what we did, you can choose a better seat. However, it takes hours before you leave and you have to wait until the van is full. We had to wait 2.5 hours for our van to leave. Fully loaded with chickens, fertilizer and people, we arrived in a cold and rainy Antsirabe in 4 hours where we will meet Frank, our contact for Madagascar.
Now all places are connected with a taxi-brousse, even the places where the roads are very bad, but for us it was the first and last time. In addition to the unsafe feeling, being crammed in a van, verry hot, you take a long time, you can not just stop to take a picture and / or go to the bathroom, taxi-brousses have to go through every police check(who are out to make money) and you can not have a conversation as the people here speak either Malagasy or French. We are not master of both languages. So on the advice of Frank (MadaFocus) we decided to switch to a 4x4 with driver. Yes people, no kidding…...a private driver. You pay gold in Europe, here in Madagascar you get it almost for free as it comes with the car (€ 40.00 per day for car and driver). Although this is far above our budget, this is the best way to travel the country if you want to see everything.
Who is our private driver:
Driver: Jacquis .......... (surname is too difficult to write down)
Drives in: Nissan Patrol (4x4)
Age: 50 years (looks like someone from around 35)
Place of birth: Tulear
Address: Since 1.5 years in Antsirabe, where he is building a farm. Here he lives
with his wife until it is big enough to have his children (3 of them)
come over. They now live in his parental home in Tulear where the
sister of his wife takes care of the children.
Languages: Malagasy, French and poor English (with the English literature of his
daughter he wants to improve his English)
Type: Friendly, cheerful, helpful, grateful, gentle and trustworthy
Food: Rice, rice, rice and rice.
Accommodation: His car (this is sacred to him, because it is also his only source of income)
Woman: Only one (it seems to be customary here (especially in the villages) that
the man has several women and the woman has several men).
Other: - Has been sitting behind a laptop for the first time on 8 November
2015. He did not know what to do with it.
- On the 10th of November 2015, he ate bread with herb butter for
the first time.
- On the 10th of November 2015, he saw a Go Pro for the first time.
- Has eaten Snickers for the first time on November 14, 2015.
After planning our trip with the help of Frank, we left in the afternoon towards Miandrivazo. This town is located 4.5 hours west of Antsirabe. Now the place is not very common and we arrived here in the evening, but the road to it is worth describing. From Antsirabe (which is 1800 meters high in the mountains) you descend 800 meters to Miandrivazo and you drive over a beautiful green / red moon landscape. Along the way hundreds of mango trees and banana trees can be found where you can pick and / or buy these fruits in the many small villages on the street.
The men, in these villages, work mainly on the land or take care of the cattle. The women carry the raw materials of the land (mango, banana, rice, etc) on their heads and usually walk barefoot to the village for miles. They are also responsible for taking care of the family. In some villages they do not wear the raw materials on their heads, but they use carts as a means of transport. However, there is no horse here, but just a human being. How bizarre is that ?!
While we were enjoying the view while Jacky was driving, listening to music "We are going to Ibiza ... wow ... back to the island” (we were in a great mood), we saw a decent group of people way, a bit further down the road, walking our way. Because we had seen this more often, we unconsciously drove a bit slower to pass this group, until we suddenly saw that everyone in the group was male and armed to the tooth with guns and spears. Later on the map we saw that this was a 'zone Rouge', which simply means that there is a risk of robbery, theft of cattle, etc. Let me give you a piece of advice. When you see a group like this, try to act naturally, but speed up if the chance arises as you don’t want to know what this group is up to.
Kirindy is about 5 hours away from Miandrivazo. After 3 hours on a paved road to the seaside resort of Morondava you turn right onto the 'piste'. Here you will find no snow or ice, but a dirt road full of potholes, stones, thick sand, mud and puddles of water. But next to this terrible road you will find huge baobab trees alongside the road, as wide as the length of your car and about 10 stories high. This road is actually called Baobab Avenue.
After another 2 hours on this piste, where you pass rice fields as far as the eye can see and through thick jungle, you come across a sign, Kirindy 5 km. This is not a 5-minute drive, but a half hour on a new track that is way more worse than the previous track. And at the end don’t expect to end up in an oasis where you will find a super modern hotel or lodge ... .Nononono here you will find simple wooden bungalows with a saggy bed, without air conditioning or fan waiting for you. But you have to give up on something to see THE animal of Madagascar……the lemurs. Lemurs are primates (ape-like) and can only be found in Madagascar. There are about 90 different types of lemurs living in the country. Each type of lemur differs in size and in the food they eat. Some lemurs eat insects, others only leaves and fruit and some others are cannibals. In addition, you have lemurs that are active during the day and other lemurs are active at night.
Besides the lemurs you will also find the only predator of Madagascar, the Fossa. The Fossa or Fret cat looks like a feline. The animal is 60 to 90 centimetres long and 7 to 14 kilograms heavy. With a length of 55 to 90 centimetres, the tail is almost as long as the rest of the body. The Fossa only lives in the woods and hunts lemurs and birds. It is a shy animal and few people / Malagasy get to see this animal in their lives. In addition, they are rather aggressive, so you do not want to come near them, because they can attack.
While we walk towards the reception / restaurant (read: a wooden roof with tables below), I notice an animal. It’s probably just a dog or a cat, is what I am thinking and pay no attention to it as I walk towards the reception. While I look at the spot where I just saw the pet, I see several people with a camera at the ready. There must be something going on and I call Inge as soon as possible to come my way with camera. And a little later we are face to face with a Fossa. Not knowing, at that point, that they can be dangerous, we sneak with a team of photographers and approach the animal to about 3 meters. Apparently, the fossa is in his mating period which means he is a lot calmer and not shy at all. Lucky us :).
In the evening we went on a trip through the national park to see the different lemurs that live here. You walk here in the pitch dark, with only a flashlight, in the middle of the jungle. Jacky accompanied us as it was also his first time and we didn’t want to spoil his fun as well.
The lemurs are almost impossible to spot, but with a good guide, who knows where to look, we find one of the other. From the Mouse Lemur to the Sportive Lemur. Each with its own characteristics. What an amazing day.
TSINGY DE BEMARAHA
Means, walking on your toes over sharp points which is named by the Vazimba tribe who were driven to the south after an argument over land and eventually ended up here. They discovered this enormous rock work (mainly consisting of lime / coral), saw several caves here, large enough to live in and stayed here for several hundred years. The only drawback of this rock formation was that it was hardly to walk on with bare feet, because of the sharp points. But the Vazimba tribe saw little space between the sharp points and so forced themselves to walk on their toes. Hence the name Tsingy de Bemaraha.
Tsingy is not easy to reach. From Antsirabe it takes you 2 days to get there. A large part of the route runs over a ‘piste’. In addition, you have to cross two rivers on a not so luxurious ferry. Here, the 'ferries' are made of 2 narrow boats with a diesel engine. These boats are connected by their own braided rope and a wooden raft that lies on top of the 2 narrow boats. With 2 iron road plates the jeeps have to drive on the wooden raft, sometimes barely manageable. You ask yourself occasionally how this could go well, but it works. And after 40 minutes we are safely on the other side of the river.
In the area from the river to Tsingy (duration: 4 hours) we encounter many fireplaces. Farmers burn plants, shrubs, grass and sometimes trees to use the area for agriculture. This happens so much that more and more of the beautiful green landscape is lost. What we also see in this area is the high bling bling content here. The people have more gold in their mouths than all American rappers together ... 'you know what I am saying'. That people do not use that gold to buy clothes (they walk here in dirty broken rags) is anyone’s guess.
Finally, we arrive at our hotel at Tsingy de Bemaraha and what a relief is that. We see a lovely pool at the hotel, a bar and the house where we sleep is clean, big and has a big bed with a fan built in it. Is this HEAVEN? We thought so too.
The next day we are accompanied by a French lady and her driver (Yeah ... .right! If your driver is allowed to sleep in your bed!) to walk the Tsingy de Bemaraha together. Now we thought we were already done with the bad road surface, but it could be worse. As a result, we will do more than one hour, driving 10 km an hour over barely 15 km.
Packed with 4 liters of water, climbing equipment ("huh? I though we went for a walk?") and good mountain shoes (hahaha ... if Nike's fall under this category, then yes) we have made a beautiful hike. After walking through the jungle, climbing over the sharp points of the Tsingy and crawling through caves, we went back to the hotel at 5 o'clock where a refreshing dive awaited us.
After a long day of traveling, we pass a village and our driver points out that a festival is going on. Of course, we want to see that. As we walk into the huge crowd towards the festival, while people are still dancing to music, all heads are slowly turning around, because there are 2 'vazaha', as they express locally here. We feel like celebrities, as we walk further and further into the crowd. Shaking hands, high fives, boxing, short greetings .... the only thing that is missing is giving away autographs. Groups of children walk in curiously behind us and occasionally ask in French what are name is, how old we are and due to the fact that our French is limited many other questions are unanswered. After 15 minutes we leave, but probably many hours will be talked about us, as in many villages the Malagasy have never seen 'vazaha' (whites).
ISALO THE COLORADO OF MADAGASCAR
After some short stretching in our slightly warm bungalow, but looking at the National Park Isalo we were ready for our morning gymnastics. Today a hike of 11 km was on the program at Isalo National Park. Isalo NP is a park of 25 km wide and 100 km long and is the 2nd largest park in Madagascar. From the beautiful highlands with sandstone formations eroded by erosion in various forms, steep peaks, leached caves up to the deep valleys where a kind of tropical oasis develops of palm trees, flowers, plants and rivers.
Along the route you will find many stacked stones that can been seen in the rock wall. Sometimes in unlikely places. This turns out to be a grave of the Bara people and also the final resting place. Why the last resting place you may wonder? The Bara people (actually almost all Malagasy) believe in a strong connection between the dead and the living. The dead (the remaining bones) are removed from their grave after a few years to be cleaned which is done in the village in the house of the family. After the bones are cleaned there is a party for 3 to 7 days during which the whole village is invited. In the end the bones are been taking back in to the mountain and are buried in caves. Especially Isalo NP is used for this, because they believe that this is a sacred place.
Our trip takes you in 6 hours from the high mountains (where you have a fantastic view of the town and the rest of Isalo NP) to the gorges where the rivers flow into delicious, cold, natural water pools. And despite the fact that it is a difficult trip, partly because of the heat, the gorge is a very pleasant surprise. Not only because of the dive into one of the water pools, but also because of the lemurs that are at arm's length away from you. Here we have seen the Ringtail Maki (one of the best known in Madagascar) and the Brown Lemur.
After 2 nights of Isalo we are on the move again. Our next stop is about 5 hours to Ifaty (this is 40 km north of Tulear). Because Jacky wants us to show his family house, we decide to make a stop there. Not knowing whether this would be a small house made of corrugated iron, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was a large wood shed with the living room above it. After a treat of rice, meat, salad and beer, it is finally time for us to do nothing for a few days. Haha ... just kidding, because tomorrow we are back on the board to learn.
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