Wednesday 7 March – leaving Isola and driving back to Fianarantsoa; 8 March back to Tana

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March 8th 2018
Published: March 16th 2018
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Wednesday 7 March – leaving Isola and driving back to Fianarantsoa

Saying goodbye and thankyou to our fantastic hosts at the Isola Ranch, we drove back across the green plateau on a beautiful day with clear blue skies. It wasn’t too hot either. We stopped after an hour drive for Rivo to have the tyres checked in one of the villages (Ihosy I think). Just out of town we stopped to photograph a large chameleon slowly crossing the road. I guess it was like seeing frilled neck lizards crossing Australian roads, but they are quicker.

There was yet another market we stopped at, the Angoelego Markets. This is always an interesting cultural experience with each market a little different to the next. There was dried tobacco being sold by locals, which is something we hadn’t seen before. I came across a 20-something man who spoke very good English.

Next was an interesting experience. Rivo took us to a zebu market just outside of Ambalavao which is held 2 consecutive days per year. There were 100s of zebu all in varying groups being controlled by their owners. A good sized zebu is sold for over 1 million Ar. which is about $400 AUD. We mingled with the crowd and watched the individual deals being done. Prices were recorded on mobile phones in some cases and on hands and paper in other cases. Some animals were painted with blue paint as they were sold.

Several young girls between 7 and 9 befriended us. We took their photo and Tom ended up giving the younger girl his biro which she gave her brother. The 2 young girls also seemed to be asking us if we had soap (I gathered through their hand actions). I ended up taking them back to the car for Rio to interpret for me. I was right, they wanted soap. I actually had 2 small cakes of soap still in their wrappers from my Kilimanjaro trek. While I was getting the soap out of my bag from the back of the car, I looked around and there were about 15 children now surrounding me. I gave Rivo the soap, so he could give it out. The 1st little girl who approached me was one of the lucky ones. I gave them a handshake and hug and waved goodbye. Several days beforehand when I was approached by a young lady with a baby, she wanted lipstick. Rivo said the girls loved getting non-essential things from tourists that they didn’t usually get/buy.

We then drove into Ambalavao for lunch and coffee and found good wifi. I ended up calling my brother Daryl who I hadn’t actually spoken to for his birthday and as it was Kerry’s birthday I wished her a happy birthday.

We had a very lights lunch before driving the last 15kms. Rivo had arranged a young local boy, James to take us around the Old Town section of Fianarantsoa. This section was built on the top of a hill. All streets were steep and cobble-stoned. We visited the 6 churches which ranged from 150 to 200 years old. There was one Catholic church, one Lutheran and the remaining 4 Malagasian. We saw the school which had over 50 students in each classroom. James was knowledgeable on the history of the town, including the kings and queens that ruled in earlier times.

We visited the only artisan left in the Old Town. His art was mainly in pencil and of local scenes. As an 18-year old, he was keen to become a mechanic but as he was the oldest of 6 children, he may not afford to attend so was doing local guiding in the meantime.

After driving out of the city we took a right hand bend (windy and with potholes – back to ‘normal’) to Hotel Lac Anosy in Fianarantsoa. Rivo told us the road to the Luc Hotel was bad and that the 15 kms would take 45 minutes. He was right. The road was the worst we had experienced in Madagascar. I will say it again, if you have a bad back there are many roads you wouldn’t want to experience in Madagascar.

We arrived at our hotel around 5.00pm and was taken to a beautiful over-the-water large bungalow with separate ensuite. The outside balcony was a magnificent spot to view the sunset over the lake (lac is French for ‘lake’). It had lounge chairs, TV (not that we watched it) and a/c (not that we used it) and a king-sized bed. We soon went for a walk around the extensive resort which we saw as worth the very bad roads to reach. Half way to the resort we had wondered why our tour owner Benjamin had organised this particular hotel. When we arrived, we understood.

We discovered entertainment tables (table football and table tennis table), chickens, tortoises, rabbits (there was rabbit on the menu), turkeys and snails. There was also a large herb and vegetable garden where they got all their produce for their dining menu.

We went into the restaurant, had a couple of G&Ts and used the wifi. I popped out from time to time to photograph the beautiful sunset over the lake and around our bungalow.

We had a lovely grilled zebu meal, cooked to perfection. Tom prefaced his meal with tasty spring roles with salad and I followed my mains with cheesecake and icecream. Over hearing a coupe at the table next to us, we introduced ourselves and learned they were from Sweden. The Scandinavian accents still trick us. They were on their way south from where we came. After some travel comparison stories (as they were going to New Zealand soon) we exchanged business cards and said our goodbyes, knowing we would probably see them at breakfast if they were getting up as early as us (7.00am).

We enjoyed our coffee back in our room. Having coffee making facilities in our room was unusual in Madagascar so we made the most of it.

Thursday 8 March – back to Tana.

We had a big day of driving along the familiar road, through many villages. The road was a “snake road” as Rivo used to call it with many potholes.

We stopped at a really big colourful market. There were 100s of people there as today was a Festival for Women throughout Madagascar. It was a holiday for the children from school. All women do not work on this day (although I saw many rural women still working). Each town has processions of women campaigning for their rights, playing music, singing and being involved in general celebrations. They all wear hats and often the same hat as each other in village groups.

The trip back to Tana was a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the towns and 420 kms of roads we drove over 11 days earlier.

Surprise, surprise, the roads hadn’t improved, nor had they straightened!!!! There were certainly some crazy drivers on the road taking risks when they were passing in both directions. Potholes on the road, the verges, dodging bikes, taxi-buses and the 100s of people walking on the roads was all in a day’s driving for Rivo, and he did it so well and with safety and our comfort being his highest consideration.

Wow, what a diverse lot of experiences we have had during those days. We of course stopped several times for lunch and coffee breaks. It was fine weather all the way except for a shower of rain close to Tana.

Once back in busy Tana, Rivo drove us up to the large hill which is a very special feature within the capital. This is where the Palace was built in times of the Madagascan Monarchy. As there are no more kings and queens, the palace is now a museum. Until the late 18th century, the island of Madagascar was ruled by a fragmented assortment of shifting sociopolitical alliances. Beginning in the early 19th century, most of the island was united and ruled as the Kingdom of Madagascar by a series of Merina nobles. The monarchy ended in 1897 when the island was absorbed into the French Colonial Empire, from which the island gained independence in 1960. We also admired the artificial lake with a large statue in the middle. This controls the city water very effectively.

We checked back into Hotel Mellis in the centre of the capital city. We had dinner in the hotel as we were going to be getting up at 3.30am to fly to Diego Suarez which is on the north coast of Madagascar.

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