Madagascar 2

Other than the gentle noise of surf on soft white sand, a good night’s sleep was aided by complete silence. Breakfast at 7.10 am saw us one of the first into the restaurant and the fayre was the best we have had so far, the only issue being the rectangular slabs of butter catching many out (including Sue) as assumed to be cheese.

Our bungalow.

Today was a rest day, many in the party preferred to remain by the pool with the occasional sorte to the beach, we opted for a walk along the beach towards the centre of the town. The sea was refreshingly cool and we chose shallow wading to the slog of heated sand. On route, I negotiated a river trip with a local fisherman for a little later in the day. Still, after a mile or so of walking under an increasingly fierce sun, Sue opted out of the escapade to remain in the shade of the hotel. Our tramp along the coast produced evidence of the two cyclones that hit the island last March, with many of the buildings flattened or damaged beyond repair, it was a wonder that our hotel of individual bungalows seemed untouched.

Leaving Sue to cool off in our bungalow, I met up with my new fisherman friend, Edgar. Cutting through a series of alleyways we made our way to the location of his dug-out canoe pulled up on the muddy bank of the river running into the sea further up the beach. With a friend, he launched his craft with me 0n board into a mangrove-encased, slow-moving watercourse. My guide proved to have very good English and as expected was very knowledgeable about the species of local fauna and flora we paddled through. Frustratingly, as the bird species were pointed out and I focussed my camera on them, they had flitted on. We chased a strikingly blue kingfisher for several hundred metres before I eventually snapped the little tease, however,  most of the other species pointed out escaped my slow-witted responses! The only creatures easy to photograph were the many blue, land crabs that scurried around the mangrove roots, but I didn’t bother with them.

Reaching the estuary we deviated slightly into another river to land on a small sand bank that enabled us to leave the canoe and wade across to a fishing village on the far bank. On the shore, there were many locals patiently waiting to catch ferry canoes to take them to a market just down from our hotel. Edgar led me on a gentle walk through this busy little settlement, first established by Norwegian missionaries back in the mists of time. In a part of the village set aside for the building of boats, we came across an old lady making mats from palm leaves and her husband sat in the shade of their hut. I sat awhile with him chatting aimlessly, he probably didn’t understand anything of what I was saying and I certainly did not of his replies, but we smiled and laughed a lot before I shook his hand and wished him well. We roamed the alleyways and spaces of this fishing village thoroughly, Edgar conversing with friends and explaining and answering my many questions. He is 34, married, and has a young daughter, and enticing tourists to the village is his main source of income.

Returning to our canoe we launched across the estuary to a beach on the far shore where we returned after a short amble to my hotel. Sue was reading on the verandah of the bungalow when I returned and together we made our way to the restaurant for a lunch of soup and fish.

The sun was now high in the sky and now too hot for Sue to venture far, keen to visit the market in the town I left her in the shade of the verandah and trekked into the furnace along the coast road to see a rather disappointing vegetable market, its vendors crouched in the shade while the produce cooked in the sun on the pavement. I opted to return to the hotel by rickshaw and was glad that I had from the evidence of sweat from the pedaller straining to get my fish and soup-laden stomach to its destination.

Our group met together at 3.30 pm for a 22 km drive to the Avenue of Baobabs, this was to be a highlight of our trip and the reason we had spent 12 hours in a minibus to see it. The last 11 km of the journey was on a very bumpy dirt track, shared with ox carts and lorries, the dust kicked up pretty bad, but we were air conned in our metal and glass cocoon and it was only the walking locals who choked.

We stopped a couple of times to photograph lone examples of this extraordinary tree before proceeding onto an avenue of the species. Here Sue and I took dozens of photos (many destined to be deleted) before positioning ourselves for the grand finale at sunset. This is when many photos of these trees appear in glossy magazines and travel brochures. As the sun began to dip towards the horizon I positioned myself so that it would die between two fine specimens and began taking shots in sunset mode. I was prepared to be disappointed and when the trees silhouetted against a yellowish sky, it was impressive but not what I had hoped for. Distracted for a time by a group photo with the trees as a background, the first signs of real colour began to spread across the heavens. All talk stopped as we marvelled at the reds, oranges, and pinks flooding into the sky. Even a few birds took to the air to track across the scene, no doubt equally absorbed as to the magic taking place.  Eventually, with SD cards sufficiently filled, our group reassembled as the darkness surrounding the moon and stars took precedence. Well worth those bone-rattling minibus hours!

On return to our accommodation, we again assembled with the group for an evening meal and plenty of refreshments, before retiring for another 6.30 am journey north.

(6th June)

Today was another very early start on our journey back to Antsirabe, leaving at 6 am we reversed our route of two days ago, instead of a steady descent into the darkness of the evening we wound our way ever upwards towards our accommodation at the Coloeur Cafe hotel. We had frequent bush stops for those in need and we meandered awhile through a street market in one of the mountain villages. Strangely, it is Easter in Madagascar and there are many Christians on the island, today was Easter Monday and there was no school, and the locals were dressed in their finery. To the north, it is predominantly Muslim.

We stopped again at the restaurant set high in the mountains and again had an excellent lunch. Our hawkeyed guide spotted a green chameleon climbing in one of the trees in the garden and though it seemed determined to hide from our cameras some of us managed a decent snap, albeit through twigs and leaves. Later on in our journey, the bus skittered quickly to a halt when our guide spotted another as we were passing through a small village. Quickly disembarking we were disappointed to discover that though very colourful, it had been squished in the road, hopefully, it wasn’t our vehicle. Respectfully, we put our cameras away, the locals seemed very bemused at our strange gathering around a bit of road kill and our looks of disappointment. C’mon, they would do the same if it had been a flattened hedgehog!

Again the latter part of our journey was in the dark, but the difference now was that we were twisting our way along a mountain road whose surface and signage was dangerous, we even had torrential rain for 20 minutes or so to add a bit of spice. The roads were full of locals, carts, and oxen, there is no electricity in these villages, street lighting does not exist and the little stalls hugging the side of the road were poorly illuminated with little handheld torches to display their ways. Oncoming motor vehicles rarely dip their headlights dazzling all other road users, so it was no surprise when our tired driver of 11 hours ran into a Madagascan bobsleigh. These are low-flat carts with small wheels that carry goods of all kinds and are propelled from behind, usually by two people. Thankfully little damage was done, but it is a testament to the danger of driving on these roads at night. I wouldn’t do it.

We arrived at our hotel around 7 pm and were thankful that we were given the same room. We got one of the staff to light the fire for us and settled down with some snacks we had brought and as the internet was fast we caught up with news on our phones for the rest of the evening.

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