In 2015, I took advantage of my glorious, yet slightly confused 6 months off University to travel to Madagascar. As described in my previous post, I filled the beginning of this adventure with some forest and marine conversation on an island called Nosy Komba, North-West of the mainland. Together with this, I chose to end the trip by treating myself to a roadtrip of a lifetime with some friends.
Counter to a famous film representation of the island, Madagascar is in fact an absolutely huge place….and not habituating to a lion, giraffe, hippo, zebra or anything larger than THE FOSSA (they are sort of a cross between a cat, dog and mongoose). The island is home to all different types of climates and landscapes, and for this reason it is ideal for a road trip. From tropical rainforests, beaches, deserts, to limestone pinnacles…there really is something for everyone. This is not a road trip one lone traveller can really take however. Most of the roads are rough and unpredictable, the routes are rather confusing and it simply involves a lot, lot, lot of driving that should be enjoyed on the back-seat so you can take it all in…and believe me there is a lot to be taken in. Throughout the journey I witnessed magnificent diverse landscapes including rolling green and red hills and flat valleys. Plus, having a private driver meant my friends and me also had a guide and translator to help us along the way.
So yes, one requires a driver with a sturdy vehicle, which does take a bit out of the basic budget, but it is a necessity. For this reason, it’s a chance for the nomad to venture out with like-minded fellows to embrace the experience and save some casheesh.
There are lots of various routes you can embark on. North-South, East-West, vice-versa, in fact all of it if you get the chance, but we went for East and West.
So, we began in the capital city of Antananarivo or Tana.
Madagascar is an extremely poor place. This is most clear, like with many other countries, in its capital city. Tana is a destination where one has to be more weary of themselves and their surroundings, unlike the other parts of the country (particularly the collection of the Nosy islands where I was working) that are slightly safer because tourism is a valued source of income. Despite this, I was always careful wherever we went.
A word of warning:
When we first arrived in the capital before the conservation project, we went for a walk in the centre of Tana around the vibrant markets as our flight to Nosy Be was delayed. I took for granted that I stood out like a sore thumb and my bumbag was ripped from me in no time. Luckily, I wasn’t completely clueless so didn’t have much in my bag, but it could of been a lot worse. Since then I have used a bumbag that is similar to skin colour and fits under my top like this:
This way the bag is completely out of site. I fully recommend this to anyone travelling, it could save you a whole lotta stress!!
So, when we returned to this city to begin the road trip, I was a lot more careful. Plus, we stayed in the outskirts because we were off the next morning on the first leg of the trip.
Even though we began in the east, the journey of the trip was organised in a west to east fashion in order to finish up close to the starting point. So, the first leg of the journey was rather long as we made our way toward the final destination in the east, stopping off at various sweet stops along the way.
That evening we arrived south of Tana in a city named Ansirabe. We stayed for one night in a wacky basic backpacker joint called Chez Billy. Our room was pretty much in the bar, but there were more rooms upstairs that were already filled! It definitely was a popular budget place for people visiting the city.
Our driver, Christian, had a very keen eye for spotting (and thankfully avoiding) these beauties on the road!
The next day it was onto the west coast, arriving that evening in the seaside town of Morondava. We stayed in a basic hut on the beach, and spent most of the night at Jean Le Rasta bar playing drums with the locals after listening to some funky live music. I would absolutely recommend this bar to anyone visiting Morondava, it was a great vibe and the perfect way to spend one night in the town.
AVENUE OF BAOBABS
The next morning it was onto the Kirindy Forest national park. Before arriving however, we stopped off at the famous avenue of baobabs, which was surrounded by picturesque padi fields, to witness the beautiful sunset.
We stayed in the forest’s Kirindy Lodge for two nights. During this stay we did both day and night walks to see different species of lemur, and also saw the fossa! There is some great wildlife here, but sadly lots of the lemurs and fossa are conditioned and used to being fed by locals during tours.
TSINGY OF BEMARAHA
After two nights in the forest, the trip continued toward the Tisingy of Bemaraha. During our stay here, we did a sweet trek wearing some questionable ‘safety’ harnesses in the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. I learnt Tsingy is the Malagasy word for ‘walking on tiptoes’, and the almost impenetrable labyrinth of limestone pinnacles here definitely validates this name! This trek lasted about 4-5 hours, stopping off at a couple of view points over these impressive pinnacles.
The next day we were also able to float down the Manombolo River onboard a pirogue (wooden dugout canoe). We paddled throigh the calm waters along the deep gorge, meandering around the edge of the tsingy forest. We also stopped off at some rather cool caves that were hidden under the towering cliffs above. We finished off this trip with another trek into the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.
Yet another area in Madagascar that is well worth the visit…
ANDASIBE – EAST
The most significant stop off during the road trip back towards the East of Madagascar was a town named Andasibe. Andasibe is a small town that is surrounded by several reserves. Some of these boast rich jungles to trek through, hidden cascading waterfalls or even long treks across the mountains. The unique wildlife found in this region made this experience truly special. The accommodation too was magical as we could sleep in a hut pretty much in the jungle itself.
Trekking through the thick jungle was particularly special for me, but it did mean I had to get a routine check up each evening to pick out the yummy leeches innocently caught in my hair throughout the day (a result of me walking into various greens). So…
Note to self for next time: wear a hat maybe….and also remember those waterproofs that were oh so useful for the jungles proneness to sudden heavy downpours.
Something not so magical:
Because of the abundance of wildlife here, and the towns close proximity to the capital city, it is rather heavily concentrated for tourists. So, beware…particularly on the night walks…
I had to wage through huge flashing lens’ and various other body parts before I could maybe see the poor sod in his tree who was just trying to have a good ol sleep…
BY THE BEACH ON THE EAST COAST
The last couple of days of the trip was a chance to have some downtime on the beach by a beautiful lake (after a particularly rough ride to get there). We also took a boat trip to a near-by village and through its nearby mystical mangroves. The village was slap bang adjacent to the hugely rough Indian Ocean sea. The height of the waves rocking up on the shore was immense! These last few days were probably the least special of the trip, but it was nice to relax and think back to all the beautiful experiences my friends and me had in that short time.
And finally…something special to share
Here is the very special teaser trailer for the documentary my friend Christian Marot has produced. This beautifully illustrates the amazing sights we saw during our trip to Madagascar, which he shot along the way. It involved us hiking through jungles with heavy equipment, much waiting around for the sites to appear and lots of extra baggage, but it was worth it! The full length will be coming out later this year once the voiceover is recorded and I will be sure to share this on my blog for anyone interested.
PLEASE share your experiences & thoughts with me ….