Published: December 21st 2009September 30th 2009
Fortunately 2.5 days of increasingly uncomfortable seating in the pirogues has prepared us for what comes next - a ride on a zebu cart. Zebu are the cattle with lyre-shaped horns that originated in south Asia - they're ubiquitous in Madagascar and on Madagascan menus. We need to cover several kilometres to a village and initially we walk behind the carts on which the zebu are pulling our luggage. However at a muddy part of the track we're encouraged to jump on. Needless to say, sitting on lumpy rucksacks while being jolted over rough terrain loses its appeal quite quickly, even more so when you get spattered by the mud/shit mixture that the zebus' hooves are constantly flicking up.
We pass through a small settlement where, depressingly, the adults want money in order for pictures to be taken. The kids are just asking for money or gifts. Seems like the dependence culture I've seen in parts of mainland Africa has also crossed the Mozambique Channel.
For the latter stage of the journey, the "driver" wants more speed so he enlists the help of a young boy to run alongside the zebu whacking it with a bamboo cane. I'm not
sure I can count high enough to tally the number of objectionable things I've seen on this trip already.
The village is purely a rendezvous point for us to meet our 4WD, or "quatre-quatre" in French. It's more like a people carrier and clearly wasn't designed for hot climates, as three of the six windows won't open (one by curious design, two because the driver says not to), and one of the remaining ones is a slider hence can only be at most half open. It also strictly speaking only has eight seats, so I'm immediately suspicious as to how, tomorrow, we're going to fit in the five of us, the two new guys we're meeting this evening, plus the guide and the driver.
We drive to a ferry that's essentially three boats connected by a wooden platform laid on top. As we wait for the departure, several locals see the girls spraying themselves with mossie repellent and ask for a squirt too. The thirty minute ferry ride sees us heading into the sunset and a blissful breeze, one of the more comfortable legs of the whole trip.
It's then a short drive to reach Belo-sur-Tsiribihina, the
largest town in the region and home to our digs for the night. The hotel is luxurious ($10 per night) and the fan/mossie net/hot water is a treat after the camping.
There's concern as to how good our guide is. One of the girls knows someone who'd done a similar budget trip but the guide had been highly talkative and informative. Though I don't understand ours anyway, the others confirm that he imparts very little useful knowledge. In fact his time is generally spent with his girlfriend draped over him, or chatting with the other staff. This is hardly out of kilter with other guides I've had in Africa, but I'd read several glowing reviews of him and can only assume the people that wrote them had different criteria for what constitutes a good guide.
The new additions to our group are a couple of thirtysomething French guys who are nearing the end of a three week blitz around Madagascar. Their English is almost as basic as my French, but they both put in an enormous effort to engage me in conversation - what starts as a struggle improves as we all gain in confidence, and by the
end of the trip I feel I know more about them than I do about the others.
I should add that the whole group do a sterling job of translating things when necessary, an onerous task that I still owe them a debt for.
Belo is simply an overnight stop and then we head further north. Dull but possibly useful info
i. After finishing the pirogue section of the trip, it took about 1.25 hours by zebu cart to get to the village where we were to meet our 4WD. We then had an hour's drive, a 30 minute ferry ride, then a 20 minute drive to reach Belo.
ii. Stayed at Hotel Karibo (maybe Ar20K normally, but it was included in our safari price) in a decent room with mossie net, fan, ensuite, hot water (in fact several people reported that getting cold water was a bigger issue), towel, and a 1-channel TV. The restaurant is good.
There are more photos below