Published: June 14th 2011June 14th 2011
Well the dinner was great! Zebu steak for me (type of big horned cow with a big hump on its back) and a traditional Malagasy (Madagascan) dish for Dario, both delicious. Of course we tried a local beer, Ambree, very nice! Then we went to bed exhausted.
Next morning we had brekky at 6.30am then grabbed our things and took a taxi to the taxi-brousse station (basically mini van which are public transport) to take one to Fianarantsoa, 10 hours south. We managed to just miss the morning one, we didn’t want to wait until 2pm for the next one so instead we got on one that was heading to Ambositra, 5 hours south. We had to wait in our seats (we had the best ones since we were one of the first people in the van… right up front next to the driver) for an hour and a half until all the seats were sold and off we went… we had to get 3 guys to push us to get a rolling start though! The ride wasnt so bad since we had good seats up front, although we got the occassional fright as the driver took turns really fast
(his speedo didnt work either) and the roads are very narrow. The view along the way was great! Lots of rolling hills and terraced farms with Zebu grazing and lots of ducks. It was quite sad though since all the land wesaw used to be forests, but subsistance farming and the population growth has forced people to slash and burn a lot of the forest.
We arrived in Ambositra almost exactly 5 hours later, hopped out, got our bags (which had been tied to the roof) and looked about for a taxi to take us to the other station at the other end of town, but there were none, so we took a pousse-pousse each, basically a rickshaw but without the pedals, the guy just runs in front of the bit we sit in. We arranged before we got in with the guys, 3000Ar each... equivalent to $1.50. We felt sorry for these poor guys, they were so fit though! A lot of the way was slightly up hill and sometimes a mate of the guy would help by pushing at the back... made us feel way too heavy :) But everyone we went past waved and said bonjour
and had a laugh with the driver in Malagasy about me, lots of them were military men, very jovial and without weapons which was a change. We got there and found a taxi-brousse (t-b) going to Fianarantsoa was leaving full! damn we missed one again! But there was one next to it ready to fill up, so we got our ticket. I was busting for the loo and since Dario had easily been able to use a tree on one of the many stops we´d had in the previous t-b I wanted an actual toilet since there were no trees! One of the lads led me down through the market to the back of the town where there was a lady in charge of 4 drop pit horribly dirty and smelly squat toilets, but hey, i needed to go! Luckily I always have toilet paper with me.
After an hour and a half and driving all over town picking up more people we set off in not very good seats. After an hour our legs hurt from being squished up against the seat in front of us, then our backs, then my butt went numb and ached, and it
didnt help that in the 3 seater row we were in we had 4 people. The row in front of us had a mother, her 2 kids and their grandmother and the music that the driver played was some kind of hymns mixed with folk songs all in Malagasy and the family were singing along beautifully almost the whole time. The sun set early into the trip and there were so many stars! There was no light except our own headlights. Every so often we saw a few fires in the distance, more slash and burn probably, but it looked really pretty in the evening. Eventually we arrived in Fianarantsoa at about 7pm, tired and fairly hungry since we hadnt eaten all day. We took a taxi straight to a hotel called Tsara guest house, one of the snazzier in town, since we had heard it well recommended. It was reallllly nice. We got the cheapest type of room then ate dinner... delicious french food!! Chicken in an amazing creamy sauce with rice etc and Dario had reallllly yummy zebu in a wine sauce and these dumpling things which might be more of a malagasy infulence than french. We went
to bed pretty early after that.
Next morning we got up at 7, had the buffet brekky downstairs and walked through the misty morning to the ATM down the road, past a school where kids were singing a song that sounded so nice. We got our massive wad of cash out of the atm and went and paid for the room and got some laundry done that we would pick up after heading south in a few days. We then went straight to the t-b station and it was packed!! Even just pulling into the driveway we were ´discovered´ by a few unscrupulous guys, one of which jumped in the front and told us it was best to go in his van to Ambalavao (once we told him we were going there). He took my bag and off we followed to his office, paid for our tickets (10,000, or $5 for both of us) and his friend made a big case for the reasons we should go with him on a tour to Parc I´salo which is a national park south of Ambalavao. We declined and said we´d think about it and got on the van to wait an
hour before we left.
Ambalavao is only 1.5hours from Fiana. so it didnt take long to get there. Once again we had bad seats, and 4 across, including a guy with a chicken under his seat that clucked the whole way there. We arrived and found the hotel we wanted to stay at was literally across the road from the station. We got our stuff and headed over and got a room. We then met Marcel, a tour guide who worked with groups in the hotel. We sat down and decided to go on a tour with him to Anja, a reserve 12km away where there are semi-tame ring-tailed lemurs. We had planned on going there anyway, and it was only going to cost 40,000 each, so $40 all up for a car, petrol, entrance fee to the park and 2 guides, him and a local village guide who lives next to the reserve... it is a condition of the entrance to have one of these young men. We organised to meet at 2. So we went and bought a very cheap lunch, bananas (a bunch for 20c!!!) and a yummy bagguete with happy cow cheese inside. We then
saw Jean-Baptiste, who runs JB trekking, the office is a tiny building in the t-b station. We went in to see what he had to offer for the following day. We went with his 2 day 1 night tour to a valley to the west of the local mountains. It is going to cost us $125 for the both of us with a guide and private car, to go there, camp in their safari tents which includes all bedding etc all meals and national park fees for 2 days hiking in the park, includng seeing more lemurs!! I love madagascar!
2pm came around and we met Marcel at the hotel, he had a driver and car ready, so off we went through the local countryside to the reserve. It is a pretty small reserve, backed by what they call the 3 sisters, 3 giant granite rock formations, with forest in between and running down the slopes to the car park where we arrived and paid the fees. We walked in and within a few metres spot a small snake, I said how wonderful it was and instantly Marcel picks it up so i can take some photos, apparently it
is a baby boa. Within a minute we also spot a chameleon hanging in a tree looking very cool. Then another snake, this time differen and slightly venomous, but tiny, so another cool piccie, the pic i got even has its tongue all the way out!! Then we come across the lemurs!! The whole group of them were low in the trees or on the ground just lazing about on the sun-warmed rocks. One ran straight in front of me and up a tree!! They are definately semi-tame though, we got to within about 1.5m of them and they didnt flinch at all. After lots of photos and a few videos of them jumping from tree to tree we continued on and up through the rocks to some vantage points which had great views. We even saw a whole other group of lemurs climbing on the rocks, jumping and playing and chasing the crows away that had landed nearby. Marcel said this was a rare special sighting, so we watched them for 10 or so minutes, there must have been about 40 of them!
We kept going and they showed us traditional tombs set into the rocks, where the
bodies are but inside caves and the caves sealed up with stones. In one of the big ones we saw apparently there are 91 people´s remains. We walked on through the rocks, down to the forest again and we were walking through a section of tall trees and suddenly realised we were surrounded by another troupe of lemurs!! Lots of them climbed down close to us to take a look and maybe see if there was any fruit to steal... apparently that happens on occassion, but we had none. Finally we walked back to the car park feeling very thrilled to see the lemurs so close up and piled into the car to drive back again. we saw lots of kids walking home from school which was good, since on the weekend we were not sure of the rate that they go. But apparently in the countryside many have to work instead of go to school and even then, public schools tend to finish at age 14. Marcel also told us about the marital traditions, the family of the husband to be needs to give the family of the wife a zebu, so he said he has expensive children since
he has 2 sons. He said a different tribe further south always have many many zebu and often have 3 to 5 wives!
Once arriving back we had an early dinner at a local restaurant next to the station, it took a while but we got the steak and brouchette that we had asked for, and the meal was delicious too. At one point a very drunk old man thought we were an odd couple since he found out I was from australia and Dario from uruguay and he was confused as to how we communicate if Dario speaks spanish and I english :) very funny!! After dinner we went back to the room to organise for the following day, just as there was a blackout... but only for 5 mins. The other thing was that there is no electricity in the town until after 4pm.
Next morning we met up with Jean-Baptiste and our guide Rivu and waited for half an hour till the taxi-brousse that was going to the village we needed to get to came along the main road, they pushed us into the front seat, which was good because on the way there the
driver stopped to cram more and more people in... eventually (we counted and everyone had a laugh) there were 25 people in a 12 seater minivan, luggage all stacked on top of the van almost as tall as itself! Eventually after 45 mins on the main road and another hour and a bit on a rocky, uneven dirt road we arrived in a tiny dusty village. We got out, Rivu got his bag off the roof (we had left our big bags back in Ambalavao and just taken essentials in our day packs) and off we went, we walked the 10km to the camp site in the middle of the day... needless to say it was hot! The terrain was pretty flat, but the main problem is that since all the land has been cleared there is hardly any shade anywhere!
Finally we arrived about 2.5hours later and dumped our stuff in our tent before having lunch, 3 large baguettes full of yummy vegie stuff. Then we headed out on a short walk with Rivu (another couple with their guide for part of the way) and saw the resident ring-tail lemurs clambering all over the rocks having fun. We
also saw a bunch of lizards but no chameleons. We then went and had a very cold and very short wash/shower.... there wasnt much water in the tanks to make the showers work so it was more like a bucket of water and a cup to wash with... then had a nap... or tried, unfortunately my cough was niggling the whole time, but Dario fell asleep almost straight away. at 5.30 we were called to the restaurant to have our tea before dinner at 6. The tea was really nice kind of lemon myrtle kind of flavour. Dinner was great, vegie soup to start, then lots of rice with a large bbq zebu skewer. Dessert was carmalised banana! We basically went straight to bed then and collapsed! The night was really cold though so we kept waking up.
Next morning we got up at 6.10am to have brekky at 6.30, just toast with local honey and mandarin (i actually dunno, but tasted like it) jam and tea for me, coffee for Dario. Then with Rivu off we went climbing one of the peaks that overlooks the vally we were in. The hike up was pretty hard, a solid 2
hours all the way to the top with a few rests on the way. The view from the peak was worth it though! we spent half an hour sitting on the rocks, watching 5 little lizards get the nerve to get close, one even bit my thumb to see if it was edible :) and they fought all the time over position on the rocks. We climbed down another way, also 2 hours, but down the other side of the mountain and back through the forest we had gone through the day before. We were very tired by the time we got back to camp, and lunch was ready. Yummy potato and tuna salad, which we thought was enough in itself, then they brought out these massive portions of pasta with vegies and sauce. We tried a new drink with lunch, Bon Bon Anglais, its pretty yummy, kind of tastes like Inca Cola Dario reckons, I think it tastes like Irn Bru. And they served us waffles in the shape of love hearts with honey for dessert, we hardly ate any pasta and couldnt finish the waffles! We packed our gear up and had to wait a few hours for
our car to arrive to take us back (we had organised it before hand since we knew we would be tired)... it was an hour late :( Which meant we missed seeing the Zebu market in Ambalavao. Dario did get some time to practice the guitar and play bowls with Rivu. Our driver was crazy!! I sat in front and I swear we almost ran over a lot of people! We had to yell at people because the car had no horn and the petrol tank was a 4L plastic bottle at my feet. This meant that I was breathing in petrol fumes for the entire drive back. There was another couple staying at the Mevu camp that asked to come back with us to Fianarantsoa and on the way we found out that we had the same travel plans, so we decided to travel together.
The guides helped us to get the next taxi brousse back to Fianarantsoa and we arrived at around 7pm. We stayed at a hotel next to the taxi brousse station which was pretty cheap, reasonably clean and not extremely noisy. The french couple stayed at another hotel and we agreed to meet up at
8am to go to Ranamafana. We had to go back to Tsara guesthouse to get our washing and we made a trip of it by first stopping by the bank then heading there to have dinner and get our laundry. We were back by 8 and in bed by 9.
There are more photos below