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November 10th 2014
Published: November 11th 2014
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We were told by a guide at the airport to "expect the unexpected". Good advice for Madagascar. Driving is no exception. The best road, built with EU money, becomes deeply potholed without warning. The worst rutted track randomly becomes paved for 30 metres and then reverts to dirt.

Most people here walk but there are a few bicycles - although we seem to see more strapped to the roof of a bus than on the road. Buses are invariably old Japanese minibuses, packed to bursting, six people on each three person seat. Produce is moved by zebu cart. Zebu (£200 each) are the beasts of burden as well as a food source. Zebu carts are erratic, zebu being prone to wandering or taking fright at other road users.

On our drives we see lots of rice being grown as well as cassava, cotton and mango. We even spot melons and tomatoes. They also make bricks in the fields, digging up a layer of clay before shaping it and leaving the bricks to dry in the sun. Once dry, the bricks are stacked into great cubes, maybe 4 metres in each direction. In tunnels under the brick cube, fires are lit to bake the bricks for three days. The smoking, solid brick "houses" are a strange sight.

We drive through a few "sapphire towns". These big villages have sprung up in the last few years around the new sapphire mining areas. The towns look lawless, we don't stop.

The landscape is forever changing. We had rainforest and traveller's palms near Tana. Further south we passed through fertile plains, covered with paddy fields and dotted with farmsteads. Then it was flat, windswept plains of scrub grass followed by high tablelands of rock, sand and baobab trees. Finally we arrived at the mangroves of the Mozambique channel - and then its sandy beaches.

Our beach break was spent in Anakao. To get there, we needed to catch a boat which would ferry us one hour down the coast - the road route is 290 km takes 6 hours. However, to get to the boat, we had to ride in a zebu cart which took us out to the deep water mooring in the bay. Expect the unexpected!

Anakao is quiet, really a fishing village with a few hotels dotted along the beach. Behind the beach there is thorn scrub as far as the eye can see, hostile and uninviting. We walked the beach, read and ate whatever the fishermen had caught that day. It was a nice relaxing break near the end of our trip. For the businesses, it is too quiet - we are told that tourist numbers are down this year, particularly the French.

Our flight back to Tana is at 14:30 according to the tickets or at 20:50 according to the Air Madagascar's internet site. Michel, at our hotel, checks. The flight will actually be at 11:30 am.

We take the 7 am boat back to Tulear across a smooth sea. A driver meets us and tells us the flight is at 18:00. Later he gets a call, the flight is probably at 20:50 again. It is and check-in is uneventful. From the departure hall, we watch staff lay out the airstrip landing lights, dropping them from the back of the airport's one truck. A fellow traveler, an air traffic controller, watches in disbelief.

The flight is on time and event free. We spend our final day in Tana seeing the few sights and gaining an insight into Madagascar's history and current troubles. Next stop Paris, then home.

More photos, as usual, below. The next blog will be in February ...

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