Fady. Spiny Forest & Fish, first stops in Madagascar

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Africa » Madagascar » Toliara » Tolear
September 30th 2022
Published: October 6th 2022
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Ethiopian Airlines delivered me safely to Antananarivo ( not surprisingly known as Tana for short), the capital of Madagascar after a 7 1/2 flight London to Addis Ababa, and 4 hour flight from Addis to Tana. The whole journey was very smooth and well organised and on exiting I soon saw my guide with my name on a card. Rainbow Tours arranged the trip, using an agent company called Za, here on the ground. So far everything has worked like clockwork and I have been passed like a precious parcel from one person to another and tracked all the way as I move on. After arriving from London I slept a night in Tana and was whisked away early in the morning for a flight to Tulear ( or Toliara, more about names shortly), my first chosen destination in the very south east of the Island.

When I checked the two tickets for the flights that my guide had given me I saw the return journey was in economy as expected but the outbound one was in Business Class. There had been last minute changes to the flights as Tzaradia, the domestic airline, change and cancel flights regularly as they wish. So I assumed there were no economy seats left. Travelling Business or First Class has long been on my wish list so I was excited by the possibility of finally being able to tick it off.

So bright and early (4 am), breakfast box in hand, we set off to the very small domestic terminal. My special ticket took me straight through past the economy queue to the first class lounge, small, something like a doctor’s surgery but with comfortable armchairs, drinks and snacks. Then 10 minutes before departure I was personally escorted to the plane and up the rear steps. I could get used to this celebrity lifestyle! Then my Business Class dream shattered in an instant. It was a small plane with only 2 tiny seats each side of the aisle and yes it was full but the Business seats were identical to economy, extremely narrow, just separated by a curtain during the flight! Oh well, Business /First will have to stay on the list. At least our Madeleine snacks were delivered on paper plates, economy passengers had to pick them out of a basket!

On landing I was met by the guide, Ntsoa, and driver Riga, pronounced Reeja. Ntsoa is a wildlife/birding guide who was showing me around Ifaty and then joining the group later for the first stage of our journey. So my first real experience of Madagascar started in Ifaty, a short drive north along the coast from Tulear.

I mentioned Tulear is also called Toliara. Most places in Madagascar have two names, one French and one Malagasy. Sometimes they are similar, other times they have nothing in common. It can be confusing. For example Diego Suarez is also Antsiranana, Fort Dauphin is Taolagnaro and Périnet is Andasibe. The new names were given when independence from France was achieved.


Back to Ifaty. The accommodation at Le Paradisier was as expected, a beautiful setting on the beach, good sized bungalow, but a little worn around the edges. I chose to come here to see the Spiny Forest, a particular kind of landscape that is quickly disappearing.

It is, to use the advertising strap, what it says on the tin. SPINY! It comprises a mix of plants, trees and shrubs, which, apart from wonderful baobab trees, are all spiny and range from ‘catch your clothing’ risky, to definitely painful if you have a close encounter. The area is arid and the plants use spines to help conserve moisture. Apart from baobabs, most of the vegetation, is mainly comprised of Didieria madagascariensis, Euphorbia and Pachypodium species which don’t grow very tall.

It looks so different from any forest I have ever seen before and it creates extra difficulty trying to spot the locally endemic birds as they are usually on the ground, well hidden, but we had a lot of fun trying to spot them. Ntsoa and I set off walking with a local guide, ( yes, in most places you have your own guide and driver, then meet up with a local guide,
Dug out pirogue with sailDug out pirogue with sailDug out pirogue with sail

Traditional fishing boat
who in this case had an extra spotter helper - quite a party but we rarely saw the spotter who communicated with his boss by phone).

We walked, and walked, sometimes ran, sometimes descended to our knees to peer through the foliage at ground level. Very exciting! We spotted the crested coua, the running coua, very briefly, and the ground roller, a rare and endangered local endemic, as well as a white footed brown lemur asleep in a fork of a tree. The lemurs don’t mind the spines and are happy to curl up in the prickles.

I have put some photos of the plants together in a group to show the spines but I had great difficulty choosing photos of baobabs as I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them. My trousers were so red from kneeling and crawling in red sand that I had to wash them that night.

That evening, once dark but before dinner, Ntsoa took me for a walk to try and spot a mouse lemur. He said it would take patience as they are (as you might expect), mouse sized. We went around the back of the hotel where the kitchen is outside (normal here) and shone torches into the scrub. Within 5 minutes Ntsoa spotted one. It was fascinating and we watched for half an hour, losing him and finding him again. Then we cut the ‘walk’ short, job done. Ntsoa went off for his dinner but said he would come to find me if he spotted anything else. When I was half way through my main course he ran up to say, ‘Do you want to see two together?’. I was off like a shot, leaving other diners looking bemused. However, getting good photos of mouse lemurs, or anything else in the spiny scrub, is a challenge. The vegetation is so dense there are always twigs in the way.

Early the next morning I was driven to the jetty in Tulear to wait for the boat to the next hotel, Ocean Lodge in Anakao, and where I said goodbye to Ntsoa (temporarily) and Riga. Anakao is only accessible by a 90 minutes boat ride in a small motor boat. The hotel won’t allow the boat to set off from Tulear any later than 9.30am as late morning the wind builds up and by noon most days it is so strong that I worried the thatched buildings would blow away. It drops again as the sun goes down. The wind, the isolation, and the wild scenery makes it feel like the end of the world.


There is a Vezo village near the hotel but apart from the pirogues, dug out canoes with an outrigger from which local people fish, very few people are about. Luckily the manager speaks some English, no-one else does.

In complete contrast to its end of the world surrounding Ocean Lodge is superb. There are 20+ bungalows, a reception hut and restaurant/bar structure. When I walked into my bungalow I was stunned, it is so simple but beautiful with an unbelievable view. Strangely, when I arrived there was only a young couple here. They left and I have been the only guest for 2 days. I really feel like royalty!

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the importance of fish/seafood in the diet here. Local people live on fish so I do too. There is no menu. I have so far had seven three course meals, and each and every starter and main course has comprised fish or seafood. My dinner tonight is my last full meal so I am expecting two more fish dishes. That makes 16 fish dishes in four days. No wonder Ntsoa gave me a strange look when on the jetty he asked if I liked seafood and I said not really but fish was ok! Having said that, the food has been very good and well presented. Sometimes I eat it without looking too closely especially the starters which are usually little bitty things mixed in home made tasty salads, or with rice.

The technical hitch I encountered was a problem with the safe. I couldn’t set it up properly but eventually managed to get it locked and then it wouldn’t open. A very nice man came with a bunch of keys, unscrewed a front plate and unlocked the safe. Then he gave me a lesson in French of course which clarified nothing for me. He watched me do it successfully and left. It worked fine for two days then again I couldn’t open it. The man returned, unscrewed the plate and unlocked it. Then he noticed that as the safe is on a high shelf I had difficulty reaching it so he carried a little table across and helped me climb up. I had another lesson in French. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t just about putting in the code and opening/closing but there was some sequence with a light. He made me do it over and over, sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t. As he didn’t speak English he couldn’t explain the sequence and as much as I tried I could not see what was happening, or any pattern. He kept saying ‘encore’ which I thought was reserved for congratulations after a good performance but soon realised here it meant, ‘ try it yet again!’. Eventually I decided I wasn’t going to get it and that climbing up & down on my own wasn’t safe anyway. So finally we decided it was better to put valuables in my case which has a padlock. Problem solved, but humiliation complete!

The first full day I went to Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. A staff member drove me, and of course he only speaks French & Malagasy. He tried very hard to understand my appalling French. Then he started to teach me a few Malagasy words, one of the first being when we passed goats. ‘Oonzie’ he said. Good, got that. So I pointed to the next few goats and repeated, ‘oonzie’. Oui he said happily. Next goat I pointed and said ‘oonzie’, ‘no’ he said, ‘oossy’. I couldn’t tell the difference but clearly there was one. From then on it was pot luck whether they were oonzie or oossy.

I had been warned that the road was rough so I brought my inflatable cushions. You couldn’t say the road is bad as there simply wasn’t a road. We would consider it all off road
Sand snakeSand snakeSand snake

Nothing too venomous in Madagascar
but over sand and shrubs. The most scary part was when one side of the sand rose up steeply and we were tilted at an alarming angle but the vehicle was some kind of 4x4 truck and coped well. Passing the taxi brousses and zebu carts usually meant we had to pull over and climb the side. Taxi brousses are vehicles of all sizes, usually dangerously overloaded that transport everything, passengers and freight from one place to another.

Once at the park entrance I met the guide and we drove on another 30 minutes before we started walking to see the blue soda lake, flamingos ( some distance away), a chalk cave containing blind fish and then surprisingly, as the guide said it was too late to see them, we came across a family of ring tailed lemurs, one carrying a baby which I didn’t see until I looked at the photographs. Sometimes the sun is so bright and the sand and spines so white that it is difficult to see properly.

I think I was the only person in the park that day. When we set off from the park entrance the guide said he needed to go to the toilet first. I had just been plus I had my shewee in my backpack ( for those who don’t know what a shewee is, it enables you to stand up rather than having to squat down, very useful especially in spiny forest!), so I was unconcerned about a three hour walk. But when I started walking with the guide he explained that the park was protected by a Fady, or taboo. It is considered sacred as the spirits of the local people’s ancestors remain there. That is why it has not been cut down like much of the spiny forest and because it is Fady it is forbidden to go to the toilet there. Suddenly three hours seemed a long time!

The next day I took the hotel boat across to a tiny island, Nosy Ve. It is protected as local people won’t go there as it is also Fady because of the tombs on the island. Again a guide had to take me around to see where the Red tailed tropic birds nest. We saw some snowball like chicks who are left on the island while the parents go fishing and one adult who looked as if it was sitting on an egg. There was also a kind of great egret. Some of which were black. I need to check exactly what they are when I catch up with Ntsoa, the bird guide.

After the Island we stopped by the reef and jumped in for a snorkel. The boatman was the snorkel guide too, so the boat was anchored and empty. I saw a lion fish and a black and yellow sea snake. I don’t think it was an eel as the jaw did not look big enough. There were lots of reef fish too.

Today is a rest day, so time to blog. Tomorrow after taking the boat back to Tulear I will fly to Tana and meet up with the group. Then on Sunday we set off for Morondava for the next adventure.

Ps Another couple arrived on the boat this morning.

Additional photos below
Photos: 55, Displayed: 31


7th October 2022

This location is on our short list. I've really enjoyed the blog.
27th October 2022

Hi, thanks for your comments. Madagascar is well worth visiting but seeing the wildlife takes careful planning. We were lucky that our tour director was so efficient and he managed to tailor the walks so people could choose the level of difficulty they were comfortable with. Happy travelling from Swanningaround

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