Madagascar: The Second Half
Fresh off the boat and into the Zebu cart, a couple hours of walking in the mud and having what I would call an absolutely pleasant stroll through the mud (I took my shoes off) we arrived at yet another small village. We were getting into a 4x4 to head out to what I thought was a main road, it wasn’t.
We all loaded up, included the cunning and painful briars that I stepped on while getting in the car, ready to drive to Tsingy de Bemaraha, a national park comprised of Limestone and mangrove forests.
The road to Miandrivazo -pot holes like craters, people drying their rice in the sun, edges crumbling- was still a paved road. This led me to believe that once we exited the little town we were in, we would be getting back on asphalt; this was an incorrect and exciting assumption. The road we were on, if you could call it a road, was two tire tracks through hours and hours of mud. We drove through mud and stick hut villages, the kids running out yelling “VASA!” at us as we passed. At one point, we were behind a small pickup truck that was loaded with at least 25 people. Our driver, who was not a risk taker by any definition, decided it was prudent to stay behind the truck rather than pass the truck. The truck, loaded with its cargo of, what I can only assume, was people practicing for clown college based on how they were packed in, got stuck on one of the few pieces of concrete on the road.
People poured out, first three people on the back, the truck still couldn’t get over the hurdle. Then three more, then a couple more, then a few more. Eventually, I got out of the car and helped push the truck over the hurdle. After they got over the piece of insurmountable concrete, we were able to pass them. I can tell you, with full confidence, doubling your speed feels amazing, When you’re driving 7.5 miles per hour, 15 miles per hour is flying!
The next big part of the drive was the ferry across the river, the very same river we had just canoed down. The ferry, as seen above, was just planks of wood stretched across two long “boats”. On the back was a greasy, smoke emitting engine that I’m sure has the emissions standards of a pre-war farm tractor. Once all five 4x4s, a motorcyle or two, and all the occupants were loaded on the ferry, we started chugging our way up or down the river, I’m not sure which was up which was down; we went west.
It took 45 minutes to cross the river. A Japanese couple sat on top of their 4x4, so I went ahead and did the same. They, somehow, were dressed in the most clean clothes I saw the entirety of our trip. For a country with 8 miles of paved roads, I have no idea how they managed to not get muddy/dirty. Even when we saw them later in the Tsingy, they were clean. There was also someone on their way back from getting medical care, his head was bandaged and he couldn’t walk, it was unreal.
When we got to the other side of the river, a town called Belo Tsiribihina, we were the second group off the ferry. We went to get lunch, which is also where the other four cars of people got lunch. The food was not bad, I believe I just got a burger and Carmen got some fries. All things considered, the food on our trip was not that amazing, not that bad. The best food was on the canoe and at camp at night. I am also not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, so I don’t ever search out food.
We loaded back up to head to our hotel for the night, which was still some miles down the dirt and mud road. The only real snag, besides having to cross some rivers, was having to drive through a 100 meter or more overflow. Our 4x4 pulled up behind a line of 4x4s whose drivers were calculating the best way to cross the water. On the opposite side, and also in the water, were guys staking out the road so people would be able to tell where it was. Everyone who didn’t have a snorkel on their 4x4 (us, for example) took out their air filter, I assume to prevent it getting clogged.
Admittedly, I was starting to get really upset as our driver was really apprehensive about fording the river/puddle, even as every other driver had no issues driving through the water. From the other side, two massive box trucks had no issue. Meanwhile, we were just sitting there, waiting for who knows what. Coming from somewhere I can get a new car easily, I think I was being more frustrated that I had a right to be. We did, finally, ford the stream/puddle/whatever you want to call it, arriving at the ferry to cross the next river right as it filled up with the people who forded before us. Welcome to Frustrated 2.0. Luckily, we took another ferry across and got to the other side first, where we unloaded and drove to our hotel, the nicest of our whole trip. This place, with the exception of being in the middle of nowhere, was swanky. Pool, bar, full electricity, wifi, all the fixins.
We got up the next morning, ready to traipse through the jungle to get to the Tsingy; the distance was not that far but the roads were so rough that it took about two hours. At one point, the road was so muddy, a shortcut had been made and some resourceful local had barred passage with a long stick or downed tree, a gate if you will (it was still a gate even if you won’t). We paid and headed on to the entrance, where we suited up with our harnesses, got our safety information, ready to go into the park. Also, people sold big bottles of honey here, if you’re in need.
The Tsingy is made up of sharp, skin shredding limestone, it is unreal to see and climb through. We did have a tour guide here, in addition to Manda who was with us. There are plenty of places online that you can read more about this park, and while I did pay attention to our guide, I’ve forgotten a lot of what I was told about the place. My main takeaway, besides how much up and down, how dangerous it is walking around in here, this place was stunning. Also, my camera bag couldn’t fit my camera, my camera, and my lens,s o I carried around a camera like an idiot while climbing straight up and down. Yes, Hasselblads are hiking cameras.
On the way out of the park, we did get the first glimpse of lemurs, they were high up in the trees and I could not capture them very well, but I did get to gaze at them really good.
We drove back to town and went to the little Tsingy, which as the name implies, is smaller. As with most of our trip, I wasn’t sure what our next move was (I’m terrible, I do not pay attention, much to the chagrin of my wife.) There was not up and down hiking, just a lot of walking in deep channels, and then a walk through the village, some food, and back to the hotel.
Avenue of the Baobab
The next morning, it was back to the Belo Tsiribihina via the ferry, back to the same restaurant after the huge puddle which was smaller by now, I think I even got the same food. Then it was back across the main river on the 45-minute ferry, then we headed south. This would be a whole day of Baobab trees.
We spent a number of hours driving south after the ferry ride, our first stop was the Sacred Baobab. This was much less exciting than the Baobab right across the road, it was right on the edge of a small village. I walked into the village a little bit to capture a photo and snap some kids photos. It is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip, actually. The kids here also wanted pens, they just kept asking for pens, I only had one extra so some lucky kid in the middle of nowhereseville-Madagascar is writing crime dramas with a Parker Jotter, the best pen.
Our next stop was the Baobab in love, which is two Baobab trees twisting around each other in some sort of sinful position. DIRTY! These were pretty cool, as well. Quite frankly, all the Baobab trees were amazing, they blew my expectations away. There was a huge stand here for buying little hand carves trinkets and what not.
We arrived at the Avenue of the Baobab about an hour or so before sunset, which allowed us the time to walk around, buy some soder pops, drink said soder pops, then buy another (I was thirsty, don’t judge). I also made some guys playing cards uncomfortable. The Australian girls we saw a few times over the prior days were waiting for the sunset, too. Given the popularity of this location, I was pleasantly surprised to see only about 20 people here for the sunset.
The sunset here was as spectacular as I expected, just absolutely gorgeous. The entire trip was worth the few moments we watched the sun set past these massive, thousands of year old trees. I brought my 6x14 camera here specifically for photos of this location, and it broke as I finished a roll after getting the shot I brought this camera for. This meant I was carrying my largest camera around, broken, for the rest of the trip, but I was still glad I brought it.
I’ll leave this post here and hopefully get up the third half of the trip soon, though I’m sure Vese will just harangue me with “part three when?” which is fair. Yes, three halfs, like Peter Jackson.