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.