Saturday 10 March – Ankarana Park, Sunday 11 March – Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) on the northern tip of Madagascar

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March 11th 2018
Published: March 17th 2018
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Saturday 10 March – Ankarana Park

This day was a day for the grey tsingy. We were going to the Tsingy de Ankarana. After only 30 minutes of driving we came to the entrance to the Park. As it was low season, the local people weren’t as geared up for tourists. We organised our lunch for when we returned but we knew we were the only ones to be eating as the locals don’t seem to have lunch and we were the only tourists around.

Tsingy de Ankarana is a small version of the Tsingy de Bemaraha. This park in the north is on the national road to Antisirana and is easily accessible. The park also is home to three types of lemurs, and chameleons.

The Ankarana Massif consists of a limestone shelf which imposes a picturesque land-form on the few adventurers who find this remote forest. As the limestone has weathered over geologic time, this karst formation often exhibits spiry pinnacles, called "tsingy" locally. Some of the spines are incredibly sharp. The name derives from the Malagasy word which means "walk on tiptoe", used by the earliest settlers from around 1500 years ago to describe the sharpness of the rugged limestone shelves. There are an abundance of limestone caves and virgin forests that shelter the diverse wildlife of the Ankarana region. In places the cave roofs have collapsed to form isolated forests and the vegetation of the gorges is also protected by the topography. Subterranean rivers provide a natural perennial irrigation system.

We walked from the Ankarana Park ‘office’ for several kilometres through thick forest. Our guide said it was remnant vegetation, but we only saw a sprinkling of mature redwood trees. During the walk to the tsingy we saw crowned lemurs and the northern sportive lemur. Numerous geckos inhabit the park also. We saw several frogs, a night bird (??name) and 3 golden snakes.

Some of the vegetation were unusual, the most unusual being the elephant plant which has a bulbous base from which a single curved ‘trunk’ grows and at the end is the crown of the plant. It grows between crevices of the tsingy and on the forest floor.

We then starting our ascent to the “Boucle Tsingy Meva” and caves. It was tricky walking, sometimes balancing on top of the sharp spines and dodging very deep crevasses. Several view pints provided for spectacular overall viewing of this unusual geology.

We were reasonably lucky with the weather although when we were just about to climb down from the tsingy it started to rain. We had to be very careful climbing over the spiky, slippery tsingy.

Walking between the towering tsingy was weird, knowing that they were formed millions of years ago, mainly from a volcanic eruption.

After a good look around (and between) the tsingy and seeing one of the caves, we descended onto the remnant forest floor, looking for more chameleons, insects, lizards, frogs, snakes and more lemurs. It was certainly a lively forest.

Our 9km walk ended back at the Park entrance where a small village was and where we had our lunch. Again, we were the only tourists in this wet season period. We had very tasty Madagascar chicken, rice and vegies, a menu that we often saw in simple, small village ‘restaurants’. A THB beer rounded lunch off nicely. We even had 2 pesky cats who wanted to be a part of our meal. It was then back to the hotel to dry out!

A Belgium couple arrived at the hotel in the afternoon so that made 4 guests plus a single guy from Germany. We had a beer with them and wondered if they would be OK to walk the dangerous tsingy as they didn’t look the fittest.

Before dinner it pelted down with rain. They receive 3 metres of rain each year and most of that is in the wet season between December and March.

Sunday 11 March – Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) on the northern tip of Madagascar

It was a beautiful day with sun shining and hardly a cloud in the sky. This was very different from the day before. We packed up after breakfast and as always there were locals poised to grab our bags to put them in the car – for a tip of course. We were pleased to oblige!

The next 108kms back to Diego Suarez, it took us 5 hours, to give you an idea in the quality of roads. Ahmed our drive rarely got into 4th gear let along 3rd.

On arrival into the city of round 120,000 we drove to see the French and Commonwealth War Cemeteries which were either side of the main road and maintained by a joint consulate. There were many soldiers from east Africa and Rhodesia as well as Lancashire.

Next was a view point over the deep harbour. We also saw the ship repair dock which the French set up in the early 1900s.

Antsiranana, named Diego-Suarez prior to 1975, is the capital of Diana Region. Antsiranana is situated on Antsiranana Bay, one of the largest deep-water harbors in the Indian Ocean, but the remote location, and a bad road to the south, rendered it unimportant for freight traffic.

The bay and city originally used the name Diego Suarez, named after Diogo Soares, a Portuguese navigator who visited the bay in 1543.

In the 1880s, the bay was coveted by France, which developed it as a coaling station for steamships. After the first Franco-Hova War, Queen Ranavalona lll signed a treaty on December 17, 1885 granting France a protectorate over the bay and surrounding territory, as well as the islands of Nosy-Be and St Marie de Madagascar.

The colony's administration was subsumed into that of Madagascar in 1896. The Second Pacific Squadron of Imperial Russia anchored and was resupplied at Diego-Suarez on its way to the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.

In 1942, Diego Suárez was the primary objective of Operation Ironclad, the starting point of the Allied invasion and capture of Madagascar. The Allies were concerned that Japan would pressure France into granting use of Madagascar, as they had with French Indo-China during the previous year and determined that the island should not be made a base for the interdiction of Allied shipping. Diego Suarez, with its superlative harbor and a concentration of government officials, was selected as the initial invasion point. The Japanese responded with an attack by midget submarines on the British naval forces in the harbor, damaging the battleship HMS Ramillies and sinking an oil tanker.

France continued to use the
Ankarana Park northern MadagascarAnkarana Park northern MadagascarAnkarana Park northern Madagascar

One of the many caves in the area
city as a military base after Malagasy independence in 1960 and until the socialist revolution of 1973.

We stayed in the la Grand Hotel which was in the main street of Antsiranana. We went for a long afternoon walk on this Sunday which was very quiet with most of the shops and other retail outlets closed. There were many families and other young people wandering around or milling through the several parks in the city.

We enjoyed the palatial pool of the resort and cocktails from the bar. The only downside was the ineffective wifi but we were ‘getting used to’ that!! We also had dinner in the restaurant by the pool.

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