is the third largest city in Madagascar
and the capital of the Vakinankaratra
region. The city has population of over 180,000. In Madagascar, Antsirabe is known for its relatively cool climate, its industry and the high concentration of pulled rickshaws or "pousse-pousses", amongst other things. This info coming from wikitravel, so now to get there we have to come back to Tana from Andasibe, as the road only goes that way, along the way we have to pick up Misa, our back up guide(in training). She is still in training and Gary, the owner of Remote River Expeditions asked me if it's ok is she joins us, I said no big deal, we picked her up in the outskirts of Tana before heading west.
The scenery is filled with ricefields, and zebu, similar to cows, but with a hump, this is the beast of burden here, does everything from tilling the land to providing meat on the table. We passed by an area famous for it's strawberries, Misa asked if we want to buy some, and when we did all the vendors ran towards the car and pitched their prices, it was total chaos, we bought one plastic bag
full for a meager price of 4,000 ariary($2 roughly), so cheap!
Antisirabe is famous for thermal springs and during the heyday of French colonisation the rich and famous would come out here to bathe in the medicinal waters, it's about 1,500m high and so a relatively cool climate. If we arrive early enough we might pay the thermal springs a visit. The drive was long, about 5 hours and we arrived at night, tired, we checked in to our hotel , we tried the strawberries then and it was so sweet and delicious, natural organic,as we were told. We also tried the local booze, rhum with lychee it's ok but not as good as the ones we tried in Andasibe at the Feony Ala hotel.
Dinner was at some restaurant in town, Misa and Tahina the driver would not join us on the table no matter what persuasion, maybe they are shy or not supposed to mingle with their clients or it could be taboo in their culture, I don't know, I bought them a round of drinks though. Food was great and there was a band playing local music, then back to hotel for some needed sleep,
it's cold and no heater but the comforter is warm, mozzies are present so we used the nets provided for each bed.
The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel, then headed to some artisan shops, 1st was to a jewellery store, showcasing the precious stones found in this island, boring and we did not buy a thing, they keep 3 land tortoises in their yard which were cute, so we spend most time watching it feed. Then they took us to some handicraft shops, I know it's a tourist trap but I went with it, our guides are probably just trying to make a little bit of commission, I don't mind, it was interesting and we actually bought some hand embroidered table runners before watching a demo of how to make things out of zebu horns, they showed how the horn is separated from the bone etc... it smelled but the craftmanship was good, we did not buy a thing. Lunch before leaving town, and we tried the rum with mangosteen flavor as an appertif, we did not like it. Misa took us for a walk to visit the main road with old houses, an old train
station, the post office and the thermal bath hotel, they showed us some rooms, it's like 70's luxury with old tvs and phones! No one was there, very quiet, the staff were bored and happy to entertain us with a tour.
Leaving town the landscape slowly changed to rolling hills and grassy plains, we are headed to Miandrivazo, Misa told me ages ago these were lush forests but people cut the trees to plant rice and veggies, the government is trying the reforestation process but will take time, it is arid and dry, and the grass is brown, this time of the year is winter and not much rain. Along the road are small settlements/villages, houses made of mud bricks plastered with mud it seems,under their roofs are corn drying, rice spread on the road pavement for drying as well, the women wear some paste on their faces to protect from the sun, the country side is poor, there are no powerlines and their water is from a well, living simply, it seems a world away from the modernity of the capital, Tana.
Occasionally zebu herds cross the road and we have to wait, it went on and
on for ages sometimes, the beasts just would not budge for us. A few bridges we crossed, and some are scary, a hole here or there, On our last pee stop, Tahina told me Miandrivazo is 15 minutes away, but we have to navigate horrendous potholes! Misa was complaining that of all the money the town gets from tourists that do the river trip they should have fixed this by now but the town has other priorities I guess. The town looks small, we checked in at Baobab hotel, Reza seems petrified that we have to share a double bed, it's my snoring, I know, nothing personal, I told him to deal with it! Our shower and toilet is in the room but with merely a thin curtain to separate it from the bed, we both agreed one has to get out of the room for the other to use the toilet for some privacy.
We met the main guide Filemon,a balding guy with a deep voice,he looks Indonesian, just like Misa, nice fella, he explained what will happen the next few days, he asked for our passports as we need to register at the town hall for the
river trip, we went with him. Nice to walk in town at dusk,we checked out stores for booze, we bought a couple bottles of rhum, then to the town hall, we waited for the lady police as she is having her snack, it took a long time before registration is done. Dinner was not good, tough grilled chicken, Filemon joined us on the table and I was eyeing the fried tilapia he bought from a vendor for his meal, it looks more appealing.
The next day we are set to go, but long wait at the lobby as we watch Misa and Filemon gets all our supplies brought to the boat, later we realized the delay was due to the fact the boatmen were late, but it all ended well, the pirogue is made of wood carved/hollowed out from a single timber, when you are sat, you are only a few inches above the water line, I got a bit worried as they have Nile crocodiles here!Some guys whispered to me asking for tip for bringing our bags down the river, I told them all my money were locked up already on the sealed bags, I wish they told
embroidered table runners
me earlier. So now we are on our way for a 3 day river cruising on a pirogue...
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