Madagascar: The Third Half
If Peter Jackson can stretch out a 300 page children’s book to three full length feature movies, I can write three blog posts for a two week trip to an exotic and amazing place. I can also call each of the three parts a half, so deal with it.
After we witnessed the sunset at the Avenue of the Baobab, we drove to Morondava, which is about 40 minutes or so away. We were to spend the next two nights here, a rest day of sorts. Our lodging was a cabin on the beach, even though it wasn’t. The cabin was on sand, but it was separated from the actual beach by a wall, to keep the riff raff out, I assume. Tourists, for whatever reason, don’t feel like mingling with locals. Either way, we got there late at night, had dinner at the cafe there and went to sleep. The next day, Manda was going to see family and we had the day to do whatever we wanted. Carmen did some reading, I did some sleeping, then we both walked around town and on the actual beach. We watched, from our porch, all the fishermen paddle out to the horizon to do their fishing for the day.
Morondava was not that amazing, but it wasn’t that bad, either. It was dirty and busy. The beach was not something I would suggest anyone actually try to go swimming from or lounging on, as people used the bathroom right on the beach. Quite gross, actually. After our walk, I understood why our lodging had its own private beach area. It was a nice rest day, regardless. We had to get up at 4 am the following morning to get in our passenger van for a 14 hour trek back to Antananarivo; the mini-bus ride was the one thing I was looking forward to the least.
The bus ride ended up only taking 12 hours, our driver must have had a hot tinder date or left his oven on or something. Never have I seen someone drive a bus full of people with bald tires with such reckless abandon, nor have I ever appreciated it quite as much. We stopped for lunch at the same place as before, as well as some random place for everyone to pee in the bushes. It was a wild ride.
We only had the rest of the night after our arrival in Antananarivo, the night was spent it in the hotel and also eating pizza. Our stop here was only a rest before we headed east to Antsirabe where we would finally see a large amount of animals Madagascar is well known for. No, not the stupid ones from the movie.
Our driver for the leg of the trip used to be the personal driver for the president, he drove a 4x4 Hyundai van with ample amounts of chrome. I don’t recall his name, I really should write more things down, though my handwriting is so bad that I don’t know if I could read it even if I did write it down.
Our first stop was at a zoo of sorts, more of a reptile house, that is still a zoo, right? What makes a zoo different, more furry animals? Who knows. Here we saw a trove of chameleons, snakes, crocodiles, other lizards, bats, as well as a lot of other animals we had only seen very small amounts of. One chameleon, slow as molasses, climbed up my foot, then my leg, then my body, to my arm. I think I stood there, still, like a performance artist when a tour bus shows up; the chameleon took about 10 minutes to amble all the way up. Poor Sisyphus, once he made it up my body, I put him right back on the ground (I put him in a tree, I’m not a monster). We also handled snakes, chameleons as small as my thumb, looked right at an alligator, looked at huge bats. Then, it was back on the road, headed to Antsirabe.
Where we stayed here was the most touristy place in the entire country that we stayed. Even when we stayed in the hotel in the capital, the vastness of the city and constant foot traffic of locals made me feel like I was the only tourist around. At Hotel Feon' ny Ala, it was cottages filled with tourists from all reaches of the world. There was nothing wrong with this, of course we are tourists after all.
This is where we would be the jumping off point for the rain forest, crocodile park, lemur island, a well as our night walks to see tiny animals. The first day we visited lemur island and the crocodile park. I was unsure of what exactly our plan was, even though I was told many times. Lemur island was amazing, so many lemurs. We loaded up in a canoe and started paddling around the small island. When we arrived, I thought we were the only people here, WRONG. A flotilla appeared out of the mist (there wasn’t mist) as we were taking photos of a few lemurs on the land. We paddled across the water, walked around, ran into some people who lived about an hour from us back home, that was pretty cool. We were the climbing post for a few lemurs at one point, too! From here, we went about a mile to see a plethora of nile crocodiles. Their enclosure had a loop around it, we looked right at them; I do not think they looked at us very much.
We loaded up in the van early in the morning the second day to drive the distance to go on our hike in Antsirabe. The drive took two or three hours, plugging along at the breakneck speed of near double digits. The ride was awful, the slow speed meant that all the bouncing was exaggerated, the driver’s constant evasive maneuvers to avoid every hole and ditch seemed to put us in even bigger and deeper ditches. Nauseating would be the word I would use for this ride.
When we did finally arrive at the trailhead, our guide Fanu took the lead and we followed. We hiked up and down, through thick vegetation, over little creeks, up hills and down hills. The guide was awesome, he knew everything we could have asked. We saw bright red centipedes, lemurs, and the coupe de grace, two Nightjar. The nightjar are birds, they were nestled on the ground asleep, camouflaged so perfectly that we would have never seen them had he not pointed them out. We were told these birds are so rare that people will spend entire trips looking for them and never see them.
We hiked back to the van, our moon-bounce on wheels, to drive the two hours back to our hotel. Carmen, who is much more susceptible motion sickness, told the driver to stop and we would just walk. Manda got out and walked with us. I found a path that split off from the main road, took it, and caused much worry among my wife and guide. The path didn’t meet back up with the road as I had anticipated, instead it kept going up and away. I had to track through some pretty thick bush to get back on the road, only to find that they had started back to look for me. I figured they would just keep walking, I was not going to get murdered on the one road in the area we were. Oh well, eventually, we all got back together and walked into the little town before out hotel. There was an old train station here as well as a tiny shop playing some local music, perfect for jamming to; the shop also sold Fanta, perfect for drinking, which I did.
That evening, we had a walk with Fanu to find tiny lemurs, which we did end up seeing. It was a walk from the small town, Fanta-Town as I’m calling it, about a mile back to our hotel, flashlights blazing into the wilderness. The other 8500 people on the road were doing the same thing. It wasn’t overly exciting, but we did get to see what we were looking for, so it was well worth it.
The following morning, we were headed back to a smaller part of Antsirabe to see lemurs, which we did get to see. We saw wild bamboo lemurs up close, as well as Sifaka lemur. The sifaka, we were able to experience their loud call, which can be heard for miles and miles around. A small group of tourists, us included, we’re at the base of the trees they were in, as a guide was playing their call on his phone. I’m not sure if this is ethical or not, but it happened and I had no control over it.
We broke from the group as we headed back to the car and our hotel, only to run across a pair of ibis, which Fanu was wildly excited about. We chased them through the forest like that crazy old man in the movie Up! chasing that bird he chased. Shooting action with a Hasselblad is not the easiest thing in the world to do, so I was unable to capture a good photo of them. Carmen did, though, hopefully she will post it on her online internet website.
Our drive back to Antananarivo the following day was uneventful, it was our second to last day in Madagascar. We stayed at the same hotel we had on the previous night in town. This time, we decided to walk around, get some Indian food at a mall, look at people selling phone chargers on blankets in the street, shoot some photos, then head back to our hotel.
Madagascar was a lot of things I wasn’t ready for, terrible infrastructure, a canoe ride that was amazing, wild van trips, sporadic electricity. It was also a country that exceeded expectations, nice people, natural wonders, and exotic wildlife. It was a lifelong dream of my wife’s to get here, it was the most exotic location we have visited yet, and our time here was short but worthwhile. We had an amazing time and would suggest a visit to anyone who has even considered it.