Oct 20 2007

The final chapter… finally!

Sarah Marttunen

I just realized that we never finished blogging on our Africa trip. For those of you who don’t know, yes, we didn’t actually make it out of Africa.

In the morning after our flight to Jo-burg, we woke up early to get back to the airport as we were heading for Nairobi. At this point we realized that we were going to have to change our tickets leaving Dar es Salaam. We had emailed Jeff’s mom and were hoping that she could arrange with the airline to push our tickets back by 5 days so that we could still do all the things we had planned in Tanzania – the Safari and diving in Zanzibar. When we got to the airport in Jo-burg we went to check our email. The first email was one from Bev saying “DO NOT change anything, the tickets cannot be moved back, you will have to come home as scheduled”. We were instantly deflated. I guess the story was, our flight agent in Canada could not change the tickets as there were no available seats leaving Dar. This meant that we would have to spend the rest of our trip trying to get back to Dar instead of doing anything fun. Remember, it was Sunday morning and our flights left for London on Thursday morning. We didn’t know what we would do. There was no time for the safari, and there was no time to go to Zanzibar as we couldn’t get plane tickets going there at the right times in order to still make our flight in Dar. We got on the plane feeling utterly low. Interestingly, we sat beside a South Africa business man on the plane. He and Jeff got talking and he told us not to be upset about the change of plans as there was lots of neat thing to do in Nairobi and there is even the possibility of doing one day safaris. We were a little bit cheered by that but still determined to figure out a better plan. When we got off the plane we went straight to the Air Emerites office and asked if we could change our tickets. The woman at the desk said she thought it was possible but that we had to go to the office in the city in the morning. So we went and checked in to a hotel and had a delicious Kenyan dinner. The following morning we went to the ticket office and asked to change our flights. The person helping us seemed to think it would work and found us tickets going all the way back to Canada on the following Sunday – which would get us back to Canada by Monday and allow us to go on the Safari. The problem was he had to check with the office in Canada and they were still sleeping! The worst part was the Canadian office opened after the Kenyan office closed. We would be able to know until the next morning. We tried to work around it and had our great friend Steve make some phone calls for us (we couldn’t call from Nairobi and Steve was lovely enough to help us). Unfortunately we didn’t get any concrete answers, but it looked like it was a go. So we called our Safari officer and told him that we would be ready to leave the next day (Tuesday) by noon. Luckily when we went to the ticket office the following morning our tickets had been changed and we were free to go on the safari!

We hurriedly packed up our things and made our way to the bus station where we would catch a coach to Arusha. The coach was pretty miserable, but surprisingly much nicer than the tax-brousse in Madagascar! We were so excited to see some lions. The scenery on the way to Arusha was breath taking. We crossed the boarder with just minor hiccups, they handwrite each visa and there were quite a few foreigners on the bus so it took about 45min for them to issue us all visas. We finally made it to Arusha and spent the night at a nice hotel that served fabulous Tanzanian food. In the morning we met our fellow safariers – Kate from America and Georgie from England. The safari was great. We saw loads of animals, several lions, lots of elephant, millions of zebra and wildebeest, even a leopard! A cirval, jackals, hyenas, and buffalo. We camped each night right in the game parks. It was pretty surreal because we could hear the animals making noise around us, which made getting up to pee in the middle of the probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was absolutely freezing at night. That one part was miserable, but the rest was great. We were so happy that we got to include that in our Africa adventure. We are most definitely heading back to Tanzania so that we can scuba in Zanzibar though!

Well thanks for tuning in. If you haven’t heard, the latest adventures of Sarah and Jeff is currently taking place in Nottingham, England. Yes, it’s a blast. Stay tuned for more updates!


Aug 6 2007

Back to Mainland Africa

Jeffrey Larson

When we finally got back to Antananarivo, we went straight to the Air Madagascar desk to see when we could get to Nairobi; we would try to get there as soon as possible.

When we explained what had happened to the woman at the Air Mad desk in the airport she was shocked and had no idea that these planes, which we were to fly on, had not come. She directed us to the check in counter and said that there was a flight that would get us to Nairobi today! It turned out that the earliest flight that worked was not the next Wednesday, but we could get fly the next day (Saturday) to Johannesburg and then on to Nairobi on Sunday. We jumped at this chance, and were glad to get some cooperation and hospitality from the people working for Air Mad back in Tana, back in civilization.

We demanded they pay for our hotel for Friday night and they put us in a hotel in Talatamaty, which is a village 10 minutes from the airport. The room we got was really nice, I had no idea they had such places in Madagascar until now! After we got checked into the hotel in the afternoon, we got a ride with the hotel lady in to the village so we could go to the bank, since we still had to send Rakoto the money that we owed him. And it was so lucky that we did get a ride with her and not a taxi, because without her help in the bank we wouldn’t have gotten anything done.
The bank was packed with probably a hundred people, there was loud music playing and our helper got us in to the right “queue” and somehow got us the correct form to fill out in order to send Rakoto the telegraphique cash transfer. We still had to wait over 2 hours to get it done but we were happy that we were finally out of foreign debt! We made a phone call to Rakoto to make sure he would get the transfer on Monday and gave him the transfer number, all done!

The next morning (Saturday), we went and used the internet at the post office, and tried to see if we could get some help with rearranging our safari and international flights since we were running out of time. If we could not go on our planned 4-day safari until Monday, we would not be able to make our original flights from Dar es Salaam Tanzania, so something still had to change.

We caught the plane in the afternoon and said goodbye to Madagascar. Although we had some uncomfortable experiences here, we still were so grateful to be able to come, and didn’t regret going to any place we did, including Maroantsetra… that’s how much we loved Masoala Peninsula.

We arrived in Joburg early enough in the evening, and our first stop before even leaving the airport was the Air Madagascar ticket office to get some vouchers for our forced stay over/reroute to Nairobi. After walking around and asking around, it was clear that Air Madagascar did not even have a ticket desk anywhere in the airport, so we headed for the South African Airlines desk since that is the Airline who we were flying with to Nairobi.

The SAA desk people agreed that a voucher was in order after looking at our tickets since it clearly showed that it was an involuntary reroute but they refused to issue any vouchers for another airline! Anyway, we got them to call someone in from the plane that we had just landed on, who was able to make a phone call to the right person at Air Madagascar, and they finally gave us hotel/meal vouchers. So we went and called our parents to let them know we were back safe in mainland Africa.

After our phone call we headed for the shuttle to our hotel, only to find out that we had just missed it, and another one was not coming for an hour! Argh, so tired of this crap, we considered catching a cab but angrily waited for the next shuttle instead. We ate dinner in our hotel room while watching TV for the first time in ages. Early tomorrow morning we will finally get to Nairobi… only 5 days later than our original plans.


Aug 6 2007

Maroantsetra

Sarah Marttunen

We finally have a few moments to tell you of our interesting adventure in Maroantsetra. On Tuesday morning we awoke to moderately cloudy skies, but plenty of blue popping through. We went to the airport early in the morning as planned to catch our flight back to Antananarivo. We checked in with no issues and were given boarding passes. At this time we met a really nice German couple, Bernd and Andrea. We sat waiting for the plane to arrive, chatting about our mutual experiences in the jungle. About 2hours after scheduled departure we watched the baggage handlers bring all of the luggage from outside back to the collection area. We were quite confused. Our tour operator, Rakoto from Le Coco Beach, told us that the plane would not be landing today. We were extremely concerned as we needed to be in Tana to catch our flight to Nairobi the following morning. As Jeff mentioned in the last blog, we had completely exhausted all of our cash funds and had no way of getting any more – how were we to pay for food let alone another night at the hotel. Rakoto spoke to some people and arranged for us to get a ride in the “air mad car” to the air mad office to talk to the “chief” of the office in Maroantsetra. The official car turned out to be a little truck with a tarp canopy filled with baggage handlers and our luggage. We all squeezed into the pick up bed and rode over the potholed road to the office. When we arrived we tried to ask the chief what the problem was with the flight. Instead of speaking back to us in English (like he had the day before when we had confirmed out flights with him) he answered our question in Malagasy, speaking to Rakoto. They argued in Malagasy for several minutes. Apparently the plane had not landed due to bad weather. At this point I (Sarah) sort of lost it and said (well, sort of yelled) to him, “The weather is beautiful!! Tell us the real reason”, to which he took great offense and left the office. We sat for a few minutes wondering what we were to do, we had no money and no way to get any. Thankfully the German’s overhead us talking and offered to lend us money as they had quite a stash of euro’s with them. As we walked out of the office to go back to le Coco Beach the chief came back and told us that the plane would likely land tomorrow. We asked him what we could do about our flights to Nairobi which were booked fit the following morning and he claimed there was only one flight a week to Nairobi, we would have to wait until next Wednesday to get to the mainland. Quite deflated, we made our way back to le Coco Beach. Once we got there we sat down to order some lunch when not 15min later Rakoto came running to the patio yelling “the plane will land today!”. So, we all packed back into the taxi and made for the airport. When we arrived we were issued another boarding pass (which we were asked to fill out ourselves). We sat and waited for about 1hour when sure enough, the baggage handlers were ordered to bring our luggage back in from the tarmac. Frustrated and hungry (by this point it’s about 4pm and we haven’t eaten all day due to our travels to and from the airport) we headed back for le Coco Beach. When we arrived Bernd and Andrea bought us some much needed beer and we began thinking about how to call Canada to get some help. Rokoto said that we could use his cell phone if we “bought some time for it” – strange how mobiles work there, ask us some time. So Jeff ran through the rain to a cell phone vendor and bought the most he could – 5000 Airy Airy worth, which is only about $2.80Can… which bought us a few minutes to Canada. We called Jeff’s mom and had her help us get in contact with our travel agent in South Africa (you can’t book African plane tickets from overseas… of course). After dinner and some complicated phone calls with Megan from SA, we discovered that it would cost us a mere $3000Can to get new tickets out of Tana to Nairobi. But we didn’t want to book them because we were unsure of when we would be leaving Maroantsetra. Megan also tried calling the air mad office in Tana but after several attempts ending with “oh sorry, no English” ‘click’, she gave up. That night we went to bed quite unsettled.

The following morning we woke up to some more cloud cover. After breakfast we walked to the air mad office to inquire about the said plane that should be landing. Unfortunately no plane today! “But”, the chief encouraged us “For sure tomorrow, actually, tomorrow there will be 2 planes!” (This of course he spoke in fluent English). This was Wednesday – we were supposed to be on our way to the Serengeti. We spent the day wandering around Maroantsetra, trying not to spend too much of Bernd and Andrea’s money. We had another dinner with our German friends and then headed to bed. I had a really terrible sleep, bothered with a stomach ache. We woke up early on Thursday morning as the plane was to come before lunch. We ate breakfast and then waited for our taxi. It was then that I started throwing up. We went to the airport yet again, were issued boarding passes and watched our luggage as it was wheeled out to the tarmac to await the plane. I was puking the whole time. I spent the entire day in the “bathroom” (no seat, no running water and no toilet paper) – it was not a happy experience. These hours are a bit hazy for me, but I do know that late that afternoon we some how ended up back at le Coco Beach. I was so violently ill I was puking even if I just sipped some water. It was a nightmare! Later that night we were fortunate to receive some phone calls on Rakotos phone from Ruth, Julene, Jeff’s parents and my parents. It was so encouraging to hear voices from home! At this point in our journey we felt like we may never actually make it home. It was good to know that there were people praying for us. Oh by the way – it had been stormy all day, lots of wind and rain. We went to sleep feeling slightly better after our phone calls with family and friends. I of course was back and forth to the bathroom all night (we didn’t have our own toilet), the rain didn’t let up once.

On Friday morning we woke early once again – this time to find even harsher wind and pelting rain. Quite apathetically we made our way to the airport. Bernd was taking bets on how many planes would land this day. There were now several North Americans and Europeans who were stuck – we had been there the longest, but hey, misery loves company! About 45min after planned departure of the plane I looked into the rainy stormy skies only to see a plane making it’s way. “THE PLANE!” I yelled… quite loud I’m embarrassed to admit. Everyone in the airport (about 75 people including the taxi drivers and guests) ran to the windows to watch as the plane soared down through the clouds and rain and land on the runway. We were getting on that plane. Jeff went out with Rakoto onto the tarmac to be certain that our luggage was in the pile that was destined to be loaded on to the plane. Meanwhile I pushed my way to the front of the line where I stood firmly regardless of how much I had to puke! There were only a few seats available – we anxiously watched as the head guy started shuffling through boarding cards. He called Bernd, then Andrea… pause, MR. SARAH MARTTUNEN!… longer pause, LARSON!. Hooray!! We almost ran to the stairs to board. They allowed an American couple to get on as well. And that was it! After 4 days, only 6 people were allowed out. Unfortunately our dutch friends had put their luggage onto the pile to be put in the plane… and it was put in the baggage hold – but their names were not called to board! The plane was delayed about 45min as they rooted around with the baggage handlers trying to find their bags. We were sad for them, but, SO glad to finally be on a plane out of Maroantsetra. Andrea was sitting in front of me and she kept saying “Don’t get excited, we’re not there yet!”. We made two stops on the way back to Tana – with each stop our spirits lifted higher and higher. Finally we landed in Tana – and Jeff continues the rest of the story in the next blog.


Jul 10 2007

Antananarivo

Sarah Marttunen

We had a very fun day in Tana. In the morning we confirmed our flights with Air Mad and then took a taxi (they are all Renualt 4s) to the top of Tana where the 200yr old palace, Rova, is located. Unfortunately the palace is under renovations due to a fire in 1995 (yes 1995 was 12yrs ago, and yes they are STILL doing reno’s). But the museum housed in the old prime ministers house was open. We had an excellent guide (Benji) take us through the museum. He was fantastic. He told us many stories of Madagascar history and taught us quite a bit about the current culture. We really enjoyed our time with him. We had a good lunch at the top of the hill and then began the walk down to the city centre. Due to the fact that there are no street names and the streets are windy and small we got pretty lost about half way down. But it was fun to see all the buildings and people. We eventually got back on path and went to the Lac Anosy – which is a memorial from the world war II. After this we strolled through the large covered market in Tana and bought a few souvenirs (despite insulting one store keeper with our low asking price!). We went to this awesome French restaurant for supper where Jeff finally tried Malagasy beer (Three Horses Beer) and of course I had coco punch. We also finally had a chance to check emails! We made it to bed early as we had an early morning flight the following day to Maroantsetra (which Jeff has already blogged on partially).

To keep you updated with where we are now. We are in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite some set backs with ticket changes, etc, we are headed out in about 20min for our Tanzanian safari! We will be safari’ing until Saturday. We begin our journey back to Canada on Sunday July 15th. It’s hard to believe that our journey is near it’s end. Hopefully when we get to Tanzania we will have some more time to tell you about our “adventure” in Maroantsetra!


Jul 9 2007

Masoala Peninsula

Jeffrey Larson

On Friday June 27, Sarah and I had a flight to Maroantsetra, which is in the northeast part of your map of Madagascar. For once our flight was uneventful. Actually the smaller twin prop airplane was nicer than most of the Air Canada planes I have been on.We arrived in to the small airport (one small building) just before lunch and grabbed a taxi into the village after the usual haggle for price. This local guy helped us get a right price and actually came in the same cab as us too… didn’t know who he was, his name was Rakoto. Turned out he worked for the hotel we were staying at “Le Coco Beach”. We came to the river, where the hotel was supposed to be and the bridge crossing had collapsed, apparently last September. So they dropped us off next to the river and took a Pirogue across to the hotel on the other side. We had a choice of rooms, the bungalow with it’s own toilet was 50,000 Ariary ($29 CDN), or the bungalow with only a shower and sink, shared outside toilet, was 16,000 Ariary (less than $10). We took the cheaper one and settled.

Rakoto the hotel worker and tour organizer met with us later in the afternoon, and we discussed our options for visiting Masoala National Park. This is the only National Park in Madagascar where the rainforest comes right down to the beach. There are marine reserve parks here too. Our plan was to go by motorboat to the peninsula, staying in a bungalow with a guide, boat driver, and private cook. It wasn’t going to be the cheapest but it was definitely something we wanted to do.

Then we asked how we could pay. Cash only. No credit card? No, but the bank in the village takes MasterCard. No visa card? No, not here, not anywhere near here. Argh. So we’re stuck here on the footsteps of a truly beautiful place, but no way to pay for it? Crap!

We spent the whole afternoon trying to figure out ways we could get money to pay for it, or at least a way to pay back Rakoto if he agreed to lend us the money. Painfully, we spent almost 2 hours at the Bank of Africa, exchanging our only extra cash, Euros and American we had brought for later on in the trip. The total we had was only enough to pay for half of our trip to the peninsula, but after many what if’s what if’s we got Rakoto to agree to let us pay half now and arrange to pay him the other half after.

Cool, so we left the next morning on a motorboat with our guide, Armand. We had met Armand the day before. Trouble, Sarah had spent all night up and down to the toilet and back, terrible stomach pain and diarrhea. The boat ride was no fun for her, but some tablets seemed to allow her not to have to need to toilet for the ride. I was trying to keep positive and no worry too much.

We arrive at the peninsula at this beautiful beach (Tampolo) and walked up to our bungalow in the camp. We were the only 2 people in this place, surrounded by jungle and beach. I was stoked, and also wished Sarah was feeling better than she was.

Oh I forgot to mention that it was the rainy season now, and that is almost always rained. We awoke to bright sun and blue sky.

Sarah and I went with Armand for a walk in the Park, we walked along the beach a bit, and then into the jungle, in search for the Red Ruffed Lemur. Walking through the jungle is such a cool thing. This was primary forest we were trudging through, checking out the seemingly hundreds of plants you can see at any one moment, looking for chameleons and lemurs. We spotted the second species of lemur we had seen in about an hour, the Red Ruffed Lemur, which is endemic to Masoala.

We got back to the “lodge” (small clearing in the jungle where the bungalows were) and Sarah needed to lie down. She couldn’t eat the awesome 3-course lunch that we got served: vegetable salad and bread, big roasted prawns and rice, and yogurt for desert.

After a couple hours break, Sarah felt up to doing something so Armand and the boat driver took us up the coast a bit to find some place to snorkel. The snorkeling was fun for us, saw some fish, some cool coral, an eel, and other see life. We were happy, thought it was decent, but Armand insisted there were no fish, comparatively.

We took another break in the bungalow before going for a night walk in the jungle with our torches (flash lights). Never having done this before it was spectacular! The sounds of the tree frogs, birds, insects, amazing. We spotted one of these loud frogs, tonnes of giant spiders and also a chameleon. The first chameleon we’ve seen, it was about the size of a finger or thumb and its colour was white changing to brown.

Dinner was yummy again, zebu was the main course, which is the endemic cattle here in Madagascar. We slept pretty well and got up easily as it just happened to be another truly rare sunny and blue-sky day.

We hiked for about 4 hours that morning seeing more Red Ruffed Lemurs and also some White Faces Brown Lemurs. The Brown Lemurs were quite a bit closer to us than the other as they weren’t as high in the canopy. After lunch we breaked for a bit, and then walked through the small autonomous village of 70 people there, and then along the beach and trail south. We watched the sun set and swam in the Indian Ocean before setting back for another beach/forest walk in the dark.

On this night walk we spotted 2 types of nocturnal lemur, the white fronted and a striped brown I think. We also spotted a striped civet, which is a cat like carnivore. Walking along the beach by star/moonlight was pretty spectacular.

That night while we were sleeping, it rained for about 1 hour, and we awoke to beautiful blue skies and sun again! We took the boat back to Nosy Mangabe (Big Mango Island) in the morning and took a hike with Armand. We saw more brown lemurs, a new black and white lemur, and more cool creatures. The leaf-tailed gecko was especially sweet, which we couldn’t spot with Armand pointing right at it.

We ate another great lunch on Mangabe and were joined by a pack of brown lemurs interested in our food… meant good close up views of these primates which was cool. The sky clouded over as we boated back to Le Coco Beach Hotel that afternoon.

So it was Monday evening at Le Coco Beach and we were getting a flight back to Tana on Tuesday. To Be Continued.


Jul 9 2007

Taxi-Brousse

Sarah Marttunen

We have finally found another opportunity to use the internet. Internet access was far more difficult to find in Madagascar than we had anticipated. We are no longer in Madagascar, we arrived this afternoon to Nairobi, Kenya! Some of you know of our kaffufles with Air Madagascar in Maroantsetra – but we will write more of that later and start where we left off at the last blog.

The day after returning to Toliara from Ifaty we went to the Taxi-Brousse station and began one of the craziest taxi rides of our lives! We got to the station at 8am and watched as they loaded our baggage onto the top of the 15passanger van we were to travel in. The baggage was piled about as high as the van itself! And of course the live turkey was put on the very top. We waited for about an hour and half as they tied everything on the van. We carefully guarded our front seats next to the driver. Finally about 9:45am (only 1hr 45min late) we left on the road for Fianarantsoa (Fianar) – only about 500kms away. It was crazy! The 15passenger fan had at least 20people in it as they add extra fold down seats that only work with the door closed and if there are extra people they sit on the floor (“No Problem!”). We drove through the village spotted country of Madagascar. The highway also acts as the main street for many of these villages, so as we drove through at 80kms an hour chickens, dogs, ducks and people ran for their lives. The breaks are used as a last resort if and only if beings do not move to the sound of the horn. We were surprised at the decency of the road given our previous experience driving to Ifaty. During the whole trip we only had to stop 5 times to go over what would be considered in Canada impassable potholed road. We stopped at about 1:30pm in a small village. It took us a few minutes but we finally figured out we were stopping for lunch (no one in the van spoke English or French). It was a pretty sketch little restaurant/decrepid building… but I just closed my eyes and ate what was in front of me. We stopped a few hours later in a larger town to drop off about 7 or 8 of the passengers. Slowly their luggage was unstrapped from the roof – we watched carefully to ensure our bags stayed up there! Interestingly when we all piled back into the van it was still full. After this our drivers spent about an hour going about town trying to recruit new passengers. Jeff and I played with some little kids at the bus stop, giving them candy and empty pop bottles. Finally we were on the road again. At this time it was starting to get dark (remember Madagascar is in Winter season now so starts getting dark at about 4pm). We watched anxiously as the sun set and the speed of the van got much slower. Once it was dark we saw many fires in the hills. Turns out this was the eve of Madagascar Day and people were celebrating with hand made sparklers and lanterns. In the villages it was complete chaos. Children were running around with burning torches throwing them onto the road in front of the van. It was quite frightening to watch the kids standing so close to the road. Suddenly, we were in Fianar. As we drove into the taxi-brousse station, taxi drivers were sticking their heads in the windows and opening the doors begging us to chose their services. When we finally got our bags of the roof of the van and found a taxi to take us to our hotel it was about 9pm. Next time I think about complainibg about how long it takes to drive to Kamloops – I will just remember this trip.

We checked into the Tsara Guest House. We were thrilled to hear it had hot water showers! We scheduled a trek to Ranomafana National park the next day and then hit the hay, completely exhausted. We woke up early the next morning and headed to Ranomafana (means “Hot Water” in Malagasy for the natural hot springs nearby). The park is about 45min outside of Fianar and is staffed primarily by people from the nearby village of the same name. We were fortunate to have a guide who spoke English. He guided us on a 4hr hike through the mountainous park. It was pooring rain at the time so we got completely soaked, but it was awesome. Ranomafana is a secondary forest that was made into a park in 1991. It is home to several Indigenous species of bamboo, hundreds of different palms, and 12 different species of lemur. We saw many very cool plants and some birds. After lunch and about 3.5hrs of trekking we finally spotted our first lemur! We were lucky to see the Golden Bamboo Lemur. He was very high in the tree, but we took pictures regardless (:

When we returned to our hotel we exhausted the hot water tank with a very long hot shower. We were so cold after our rainy hike. After this we ventured out into the city to try and find an internet cafe. Unfortunately due to the holiday, nothing was open. We had a really fun walk through the town seeing the different way that people live in this rainy cool area. We played with some children – who were more excited about the candy that we gave them than the money! Thank you Brentview baptist for the candy you sent with me – we’ve so enjoyed seeing the excitment on the kids’ faces when they recieve it. Once again we had an early dinner (with our new favourite drink: coco punch) and early to bed as we had the second leg of our taxi-brousse trip the following day.

We arrived at the taxi station at 7am (which is like a big muddy parking lot filled with hundreds of vans in various states of disrepair). We went to the booth we had booked with only to find it empty. Which was quite disconcerting. An older man grabbed my ticket and said “oh yes come come”. And I angrily replied “No! We already have booking”. So he left us and we wandered around trying to find our van. The man came back again and said “Oh, you are Sarah, you come over here”. I thought he was just trying to get us to use his company instead and he knew my name because he already saw my ticket, but we followed him anyway. Apparently we were going with a different company… we struggled with our broken French to explain we had already paid for the front seats. Once again we went through the same ordeal of loading on the bags as high as they would go. About 2hrs late we all piled into the van and started the trek. I noticed a sign that said Antananarivo 390km. I was happy because I figured since it was closer we would get there sooner. Ha! Our driver was the most cautious third world taximan I have ever met. We went about 40-60km/hour the whole trip. I was thankful for his slow driving however when we were held up due to an accident between two taxi-brousses. We finally arrived in Tana at about 10pm. We arrived at an empty station with no taxi in site. It was scary as a drunk man bothered us and no one else seemed to come to our aid. Luckily we found someone who knew someone who had a taxi. Finally we made it to our hotel where they cooked us a fantastic Malagasy stew and rice.

Well, I think this blog is long enough. We will tell more tales of Tana in the days to come.


Jun 28 2007

South Africa to Madagascar

Jeffrey Larson

We’re now in Madagascar, and this posting is coming straight from Antananarivo, the capital of this interesting country.
Since we last posted… Internet has been hard to come by. Between lack of availability and it being the national holidays this last couple (many things are closed), just haven’t made it. We have so many photos to share with you guys, but the connection isn’t great so you’ll have to wait.

Hmm, now where to start. We had a day of diving in Cape Town before we left South Africa. It was great, pretty much a full day, with 2 dives in False Bay, 2 different locations. There was lots of active coral, anenomes, sea urchins and even a seal. We swam through kelp and a couple caves (with light at the end), took some cool under water photos too! We finished the day with a delicious seafood platter at the waterfront in Cape Town, sitting outside at the Hildebrand restaurant while the sunset sipping local cabernet sauvignon. We called that our anniversary and birthday dinner… it was awesome.

The next day, don’t worry you divers, it was a full 18 hour interval after our multiple dives, we had 3 flights. Cape Town to Joburg (SA), Joburg to Fort Dauphin (Mad), and Fort Dauphin to Antananarivo. We weren’t expecting to have to fly through Fort Dauphin to get to Antananarivo (Tana), but that’s the way it went. We had to clear Madagascar Customs there and get our Tourist Visa’s. It was all fine, we were glad we didn’t have 3 surf boards to carry through customs as some of the South Africans on the same flight did. We stayed in Ivato that night, which is the small town where the Tana Airport is. We paid way too much for a taxi that was falling apart, to get to our hotel which was only a few meters away, well, you have to learn somehow. Another thing we learn that day too, was to either try and buy Malagasy currency in SA, the ariary, or bring a lot more smaller euros when arriving here.

The next day we were to fly to Toliara at 11:45am so we made it to the airport an hour before. Well the flight had been changed now, to 2:25pm, argh! Anyway, we hung out in the airport as we couldn’t find anywhere to store our luggage in lockers, and we weren’t allowed to check in earlier. At 1:25pm we checked in no problem, passed through security. We waited a little bit extra to get on the plane but not too bad. We had read that Air Madagascar (aka Air Mad) was infamous for being late, slow, problems, cancellations, etc. Anyway, after taxiing around the tarmac and actually accelerating for take off we stopped and were told that there was “technical problem” and we needed to deboard. While we were sitting back at the gate, Sarah looked out the window, saw a bunch of people standing around our jet’s dismantled engine and laughing. Sarah and I were trying to figure out if we were ever going to get to go to Toliara, so we sketched out alternate potential plans. We re-boarded the plane a couple hours later and this time our fingers were crossed. We taxied, accelerated, and took off! Awesome, finally we get to go where we’re going, only 6+ hours after we had originally expected. That’s not the end of that story. About 5-10 minutes into the flight we circled back and we were told that due to more “technical problems” we were going back to land. This time we got off and they gave us indication that they were bringing in another plane. The next time we boarded, this is the 3rd try, we took off and actually arrived in Toliara! Yeah! Only 9 hours after we expected… alright Air Mad! Anyway, we stayed in the most expensive hotel we knew of in Toliara, which was about $60 CDN. We needed a comfort.

The next day (June 23) we took a taxi on a sand road North, to Ifaty, which is a string of 3 fishing villages on the coast. The road was very poor-giant potholes strung together by mounds of sand and who knows how old chunks of asphalt- to be precise, it took more than 1 hour to go the 25 or 30 kms. The hotel we checked into in Ifaty, well it was in the village of Mangily, was called Hotel Vovotelo. It was awesome, we had a little bamboo bungaloo (read shack, nice though) right on the white sand beach in front of the torquoise water of the Ifaty lagoon, Atlantic Ocean. Sarah woke up the next day with a terrible head cold/clogged nose so could not dive, with the shop next door, Le Grand Bleu. I (Jeff) went without his lovely wife, she was in bed resting. The dive was a sweet 26 metres with just the owner of this dive company, Richard, originally from South Africa. I saw some sweet line fish, a scorpion fish, some cool coral, and a giant potato bass which was huge (40 kg!). We hung out on the beautiful beach for the rest of the day, before taking another bumpy taxi ride back to Toliara. Oh, so this taxi ride was amazing. We got to see how most of the people in this province live… in tiny villages of huts made of grass and branches from bush. Fires, mostly naked children running around, chickens, mangy dogs, zebu (Madagascar’s Cow) pulled carts, many women carry more than I think I could lift up on top of their heads, like a different planet.

So much more to say, so watch for the next part posted here.


Jun 19 2007

Cape of Good Hope & Robben Island

Jeffrey Larson

Today is our third wedding anniversary and we had a great time.

This morning we got up and purchased tickets for the ferry/tour to Robben Island, which is the island near Cape Town where Nelson Mandela spent 17 years in a prison. We then drove out to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, there’s a cool park there.

The drive out was cool, through small beach towns the whole way, about an hour South of Cape Town. We walked up to the old lighthouse at Cape Point and had lunch on the rock at the Cape of Good Hope, which is the South-western most point of Africa. On our way there in the park, we saw an Ostrich, he crossed the road right in front of us, cool!

We hurried back to catch our ferry, and had to run from the parking lot to catch it. Made it just in time. The view of Cape Town from out on the water towards Robben Island is nice.

The tour guide on the bus that drove around the island told us about the island, it’s landmarks and also about some of the political prisoners that were treated so poorly there. He made an appeal to all of us to stop racism, and it was very touching as he shared his experience having been a black man affected by the apartheide system here in South Africa.

Tomorrow we are doing a couple scuba reef dives from the shore of False Bay. Should be pretty fun, I’m excited to try out our new skills and test out my new diving camera case.

Cape Town has been really great to us, we’re having a fantastic time. At the same time, we’re stoked at the change it will be to check out Madagascar which should be quite a lot different.


Jun 17 2007

Cape Town

Jeffrey Larson

Hello from Cape Town.

We arrived last night at about 7pm. After a bit of a kafuffle (ie forgot which rental car company we went through…) we managed to find our car and our hostel in Cape Town. The car is a VW Polo – we both think it’s pretty sweet, wouldn’t mind trading it with our Jetta (:

Today was fantastic. Cape Town has certainly lived up to my high expectations thus far. It is a lovely city – maybe not the “prettiest in the world” as some have told us, but on the Top Five for sure. Today we took a cable car up to the top of Table Mountain which allowed us to see the whole of Cape Town from 1088meters. We took a hike down (Platteklip Gorge) which was quite nice (but we missed all of our hiking buddies from Canada!). About half way down this storm just flew in. The top of the mountain was covered in dark angry clouds, we’re glad that we made it down before the torrential downpour. After the hike we took a drive trying to get to the Cape – but the rain was coming down too hard, we’ll go another day. Now it is beautiful, clouds have rolled away.

We have quite the trip planned for Cape Town. Tomorrow we go wine touring in Stellenbosch. Tuesday we reef dive in False Bay. And Wednesday we will tour Robben Island (the prison that kept Nelson Mandela) and the jackass penguin colony near Simon’s town.

We’ve posted some pictures from Kruger National Park – more to come over the next several days.


Jun 16 2007

Kruger Park

Jeffrey Larson

We spent 2 days in Kruger National Park here in South Africa with Sarah’s parents Dave and Donna. It was very cool, saw lots of wild animals including: leopard, elephant, zebra, rhino, hippo, and hundreds of impala. We’re at the airport going to fly to Cape Town where we’ll base from, with a rental car for 5 days. No time to post photos right now, but watch for them soon.

Thanks for the comments, keep them coming! It’s always great to hear from you guys at home.

Cheers.