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Published: December 19th 2019
So, we finally made the flight and arrived in Antananarivo (Tana for short), where our guide Nolavy was waiting for us once we left the ridiculously time-consuming immigration formalities. Nolavy recommended we change our money there, about $150 - $250 USD. So, I had $160 to change. We were taken out to a pretty nice red bus that was quite comfortable, much better than our transport in Zimbabwe. We loaded up on snacks at a nearby gas station, the nicest one by far we saw the entire trip.
Since we had missed a day due to our missed connection, we had had to condense our schedule, which meant a 9 hour drive to our destination. 9 hours. It started out well enough, we were chatting and getting to know each other, listening to music, enjoying the scenery, and having a nice cool local beer to enjoy the start of our trip. We stopped a couple of times to get some local goods, like a pineapple stand and a couple guys were obsessed with Foie Gras, which is apparently a thing here. We were also told that "Hotely" means that it is kind of like a fast food restaurant. They lined
the road where we had stopped for foie gras. We made our last stop around sunset to enjoy a view of the hills of rice paddies along the road (also a pee break where I climbed up into the hills and found a small waterfall). Nolavy gave us maps of Madagascar and told us it would take about 2 months to cover the entire country due to the accessibility, such as the roads. He also said that the country had previously been split into 18 tribes, so there were 18 distinct dialects, but one common language they all learned in order to communicate.
Soon after, the roads, which had been relatively nice, became what I had read about - semi-gravel paths with lots of pot holes that our van had to steer around. It was also night time, make the ride extra long and difficult. Though it was interesting to see the villages after it got very dark- they were practically empty and our guide said they pretty much all went to bed soon after sundown and dinner - not much else to do. There was a noticeable lack of lights - occasionally I got a glimpse in a
room in a home, but not often.
After a few more hours we made it to our hotel for the evening at a town called Miandrivazo. They kind of insisted that we eat dinner before going to our rooms, even though it was midnight and I honestly was not really that hungry for the Zebu steak kebabs I had ordered ahead of time. I think they were worried (rightfully) that if we went to our rooms, we would not return. So, we sat at the bug-covered table, ordered a beer and waited for our food - my kebabs were actually quite delicious! But, I quickly finished and headed to my room. I got a solo room because I was the only girl (though this was not planned - my friend R was supposed to come with me, in fact, she had talked me into going! but she was in a motorbike accident a couple of weeks before and got a bad road rash which the doctors worried would become infected, especially in Africa
). The room itself was fine - very very basic, no a/c, a mosquito net, a small fan - it was sweltering.
The next morning we
had a quick breakfast before heading to the nearby river to launch our river cruise along the Tsiribihinia River. Along the way, the driver stopped as he had seen a chameleon hanging out in the middle of the road, so we got to see our first taste of Madagascar wildlife - it was so cool. After a drive of about 45 minutes, we got to a village where the locals came running to greet us. Honestly, I had never experienced this before, so I was a bit overwhelmed. I was still sitting in the van when a father with his young son came up to my window and waved and smiled at me. It was sweet. Speaking of, the guys had brought some sweets, or "bon-bons", for the kids, though many of the adults scrambled for them too. I met two adorable girls, Rosem and Mimi, and their friend Jerafin who followed me almost the entire way along the river. We walked with the villagers along the river, with our luggage in a cart pulled by zebu, crossing the river and walking along where we saw another chameleon. We finally reached our destination, getting on our boat and taking off.
The waters were brown and murky due to recent rainfall, causing runoff and mixing of the rivers. It is only the beginning of the rainy season, which goes through April, and the water typically gets about 2 meters higher than where we were. As it was, we got stuck on sandbars a couple of times and had to carefully navigate the water. We hung out on the upper deck and enjoyed my jack and coke. The sun was brutal and there was no relief since we could not swim in the water due to possible crocodiles. It was interesting to see the villages as we passed, they would wave and yell out to us every time.
After lunch, we reached the area of the waterfall which was shown in the trip promotional material and it did not disappoint. Being set back in the hills, it was clear and cool, and we stayed for a good hour enjoying the clean refreshing waters. Then we got back to the boat and continued our cruise but feeling better, especially as the sun was going down. Soon we reached a camping area for the night - a nice flat sand bank where
our crew set up our tents and a campfire. Local kids soon joined us after seeing the campfire - they were good. I gave them a flashing ball game and they just hung out initially. We had a delicious dinner, which included fried eggplant hearts. Our cook was so amazing. And she did not stop there - the crew put on a show for us around the campfire, playing the guitar and using a jerry can as a drum. The cook, Zaida, had just an amazing voice. She could dance. She could drum. Just incredible. The locals dance around the campfire to music they play, and who ever is first in the train is the leader so everyone has to do the moves the first person does; the girls who joined us at the campfire got up to dance every single time, and I even joined in at one point. So, after about two hours, we finally went to bed and I got some pictures of the stars. It was another warm night with mosquitos, so I slept fully clothed, but not in a sleeping bag. I never wound up using my sleeping bag...
The next morning, we had
a nice breakfast and continued down the river, stopping at a couple more villages. The sun was still brutal. The crew gave us an amazing lunch of the ducks that we had seen caged on the top of the boat throughout the trip and included fresh caught river prawns that we bought off a local fishing crew in a canoe that pulled up along our boat. The prawns were nothing short of amazing - Zaida stuffed them with a lemon grass mixture and it was so delicious. They gave us a send off song with our grilled pineapple and soon it was time to go onto the next part of the adventure.
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