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Published: January 11th 2020
After Baobab Avenue, we drove about an hour toward Morondava, a coastal town where we would stay the night. We made a stop at the local pharmacy in town - most of us had gotten sick at some point by the end of the trip. The town was bustling, and we turned on a beach front road where dozens of small hotels were located. We finally pulled into the Hotel Sun Beach and determined which rooms were which. I got the nice end room - and we had A/C!! For the first time all week! I almost did not want to leave my cool room, but I made my way to the hotel bar where I met up with Nolavy, ordered spaghetti Bolognese and a beer before heading off to bed.
The next morning, I woke up early and had a quick breakfast alone before walking towards the beach. The hotel is actually set pretty far back from the water and I saw one the guys in our group who had sat down on the beach and was already surrounded by locals, adults and kids alike. I was not feeling well and was not in a social mood, so I
headed back to my room for some much needed alone time. Most of the guys had an eventful morning by taking a fishing boat piloted by locals to a nearby island - they had some good photos. I was able to take a long shower and a good nap before it was time to head to the airport.
The ride was pretty easy and we said goodbye to Dada. The airport is small - I think they only have the one flight a day to the capital, so nothing was open when we walked in. We just lined our bags up near the check in area and went to the little café. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich, which was surprisingly good. While we sat and waited, we were checked in one at a time and allowed to return to our table, and in the meantime, the small gift shops started to open up, so I did some souvenir shopping. We quickly went through and soon it was time to board the small-fsh plane where I got a window seat so was able to see the beautiful beach in the distance.
After landing in Tana, our guides
decided to take us to see the sights immediately before everything started to close. Our first stop was the main market. It was crowded and pretty impressive. We were able to find parking spots across the road. Before we crossed the street, we had to wait for cars and teams of zebu pulling wagons. No joke. At one point, when I walked out of one of the stalls, I opened the curtain and a team came flying by. My first priority was vanilla beans. My dad has unique tastes and he always seems to know what a country specializes in as soon as I tell him where I am going; when I told him about this trip, that was his first request: Can you bring me vanilla beans? So, Nolavy took me to a stall where he knew the woman and she gave me a decent price on the beans. I also bought a few other souvenirs (including a handmade elephant made of like straw or something - my assistant collects elephants, and even though there are none in Madagascar, I had to get her one). I also bought some vanilla beans in Dubai from Madagascar so he can do
a comparison. He's an amateur chef, so I look forward to seeing how he will use them.... I also bought souvenirs and spent the rest of my money - I got some pictures, a local cylindrical string instrument (valiha), and some magnets. The guys seemed to relish in the haggling; I did some, but I don't really like it. However, I definitely could have gotten things much cheaper, but they were still relatively inexpensive (I think I spent the equivalent of about $25 for all of the above).
Our next stop was up in the hills at the Queen's Palace. It was getting to be late afternoon and traffic in the city was crazy. It was a lot of waiting around in the city center areas, but once we reached the old town area, it seemed to flow better. This area also appeared to be a bit more affluent - the buildings were old, made of brick or stone, and in good condition. I saw a lot of westerners here and fancy cars. Earlier in the trip, our guide said that not a lot of the wealth of the country trickled down to the regular people and you could
kind of see the juxtaposition with this part of the city versus the rest of the city and country. So we drove past the Queen's Palace, which was destroyed by a fire in 1995. The main structure was originally built by Queen Ranavalona I, a sovereign queen in the mid 19th century. It was first built with wood, then later encased with stone by Queen Ranavalona II. It has slowly been in the process of restoration, but has not been completed to date. However, near the palace is a lookout where you can see the whole of the city. It was an impressive view.
Then we went to our hotel for the night, which was near the airport. When we first arrived, it looked nice and modern, and I got "the nicest room" in the building - it was big and had a/c and a good size bathroom. However, soon the power went out and came back on after a half hour. Then we met in the restaurant for our last dinner together. I decided to try the local foods menu since it was a last night and our guide could make recommendations. I wound up getting cassava greens
with pork knuckle, as it it sounded a lot like collard greens - it tasted like it too! I went back to my room and fell asleep and at some point the power went out again for pretty much the rest of the night. Very weird. When we checked out the next morning, we all had to scrounge together some money to pay for our dinners - it was a pain and I was able to come up with most of my own and a guy in the group gave me the equivalent of about 30 dirhams. It was annoying because we had specifically asked if they took credit cards.
We dropped the guys off at the airport before Nolavy took me to my next hotel: Relais de Plateux Hotel and Spa. I was staying here for one night on my own as I was scheduled to fly to Mozambique for work the next day. I splurged a little on a nice hotel. What a difference! From the start. I got a very nice room, took a fantastic shower, had lunch, then went for a relaxing massage. Heaven. I came back, took another fantastic shower, a nap, then went
to dinner. The food was not the best, but the atmosphere was amazing. The next morning, I took another shower, had breakfast, took a nap, and went to the main office to check out and buy my final souvenirs (shirts for the kids) before taking a car to the airport. The airport was busy and some guy started to pester me about checking me at the South African Airways counter so I let him, as he seemed to be an "official" worker, but of course he just wanted a tip. I told him I had nothing. I spent all my money, which was true. It was not my favorite way to finish the trip, but ultimately the hotel experience had left me still in a happy place.
Now, on to my next adventure: Working in Africa for a week!
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