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Published: October 21st 2023
Goodbye tarmac! After a short drive towards the coast from Miandrivazo we turned off on a sandy track to transfer to a 4x4 pickup truck. That is the last tarmac we will see for 10 days.
Our destination was a shallow draft river cruiser moored to a sand bank. They have the look of a faded royal barge with a top sun deck. The engine at the back is Chinese made (isn't everything) and is designed for milling rice. The petrol and cooling water are fed from plastic jerry cans. The accelerator is a piece of string. The noise when steering is deafening.
It is the end of the dry season so the river is at its lowest. The captain has to carefully steer to stay in the deepest part of the river and when he does run aground the two deckhands jump out into the knee deep water to push the boat free. Sometimes they use a punt pole. Their athleticism is impressive.
In front of the engine is the tiny kitchen from where Marietta produced the best food we have had to date: Zebu meat balls, massive shrimp with fresh vegetables and rice.
grows enormously in the wet season (November to April) and spreads out over the sandy banks. Bird life is abundant with many herons/egrets/storks. We see beauty where many locals see their next meal. Kingfishers flashed past on occasion.
Wherever the river is accessible there are people. They have planted rice, or tobacco or corn, on the sand banks. There may only be a few metres of space and it needs to be harvested before it floods later in the year. There are temporary homes made of dried grass and sticks on the floodplain to guard and tend the crops (this is bandit country after all) and catch a meagre supply of fish.
After sometime the river narrowed and the banks rose as we entered the gorge of the Tsiribihina river. There were many places for birds to perch and nest out of reach of locals and we had a happy time ticking off new species in our Madagascan Bird book (thanks Paul). The book has intrigued many guides and we will send some copies back when we get home.
The cliffs gave way to hills rimmed with the famous Baobab trees and when the sandbanks appeared again
we stopped for the night. The deckhands were sent to give us a tour of the nearby village. We ended up gatecrashing (for a small fee) a concert by the local church choir. The church hall was full with many villagers dress smartly appreciating the enthralling songs.
We were in bed soon after it was dark. Tents and a toilet had been set up on the sand. I opted to sleep under the stars on the top deck and was gratified when the crew produced a mosquito net. I awoke in the night to see Orion burning brightly to the North.
We started at day break to cruise for another 6 hours to Belo sur Tsiribihina. Once there the crew wanted a quick turnaround. They had to drive straight back through the night against the current to get the next group of tourists.
At Belo sur Tsiribihina we joined the other tourists who had come by road and were crossing the river with their 4x4's on local ferries. We linked up with our driver, Jacko, at the ferry stop and soon after started our trip on to Bekopaka on the dusty track. We were glad to have
Jane and the crew
JeanBe our guide is next to Marietta
done so much of our journey west by river.
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