A slight delay in our departure as we worked out exchange rates and paid our hotel bill. If only we could have simply swiped the old visa but no, this was a cash only enterprise and our bill for two weeks accommodation and all meals for 3 people was AR 2,063,000 (Ariary ). This amounts to approximately NZ$ 997 which isn’t bad considering. We decided to pay in Euros and Ariary which is what created the mayhem. Fortunately, our Madablue guide/ driver (Mami) arrived in the nick of time to help with interpretations, got things sorted and we were on the road soon after 8am.
Our surroundings gradually changed as we left the noisy, crowded, chaotic and polluted streets of Antananarivo and drove into the wide open, fertile farmlands en route to Antsirabe. Words like random, eclectic, surprising and colourful come to mind. The country is divided into a number of tribal regions, each with their own customs, building designs, language and culture. French colonial gave way to orange mud and thatch. Relatively flat land became hillier with huge volcanic boulders. Vegetation changed from paddies to pine forest ( where resin is harvested by cutting the bark and collecting into little containers) to eucalyptus trees. There was water everywhere – and there were people dotted about in the fields – ploughing, harvesting, driving the zebu ( cattle), carrying chooks and pigs, cooking ears of corn to sell along the road and casting nets. The towns we passed through had an assortment of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meat and a variety of wares from hand-made guitars to little tin Coke trucks, woven goods, sculptures and other craft ware.
Along the way, we visited a tiny aluminium factory where scrap wheel mags and other bits and pieces are smelted down in little brick ovens and cast into huge cooking pots, tea spoons and ornaments. It is the only factory of its kind in Madagascar and it is hugely interesting and entertaining to watch the guys in their shorts and jandals pouring molten metal into moulds they have created. OSH in New Zealand would wring their hands right off at the lack of safety precautions! They are incredibly talented and in appreciation, we bought a little aluminium baobab tree and lemur…the symbols of Madagascar.
We stopped for an early lunch at a lovely restaurant ‘Au rendez vous des pecheurs’ ( ‘the meeting place of fishermen’ according to google) in Ambatolampy. Back on the road, we were making good progress until we were stopped by the gendarmes and asked for our passports. Unfortunately, Shannon’s passport was in her luggage in the back so she had to get out, unlock her bag and dig around for her passport under the watchful eyes of the authorities . At this point, Erin thought it would be a good idea to pass me her phone and ask that I photograph Shannon being scrutinised by the law… as a big sister would of course! Mami said,” no photos,” at the same time that the gendarmes looked up and saw me, phone in hand. Apparently and unlike in New Zealand, one cannot photograph the police at any time in Madagascar. Mami got a mouthful but he shrugged it off in his calm, good-natured way. Sorry Mami! Passports returned, we were on our way again. We still have the photo (-:
Suddenly, we were in Antsirabe. The streets are wider, there are fewer people, much less litter and generally there is a more relaxed feel about it. There are rickshaws everywhere resulting in the town being known as the ‘rickshaw capital of Madagascar’? We stopped to get a stash of staples ie chocolate, nuts, apples and Pringles at the supermarket and also to draw some cash, fending off a few hawkers and beggars along the way.
Our accommodation for the night is at the Couleur Cafe. The tour company has arranged a magnificent little oasis for us to rest up in, with gorgeous individual cottages set in beautiful, colourful gardens. The units themselves are stunning with wooden floors, high pitched ceilings, French pane windows and farmhouse doors. It is very tastefully furnished and exceedingly comfortable with professional, English-speaking staff ( bonus!).
We were given a vegetarian menu to choose off so we could pre order our dinner (things are looking up!) and once word was out that we love animals, we were personally taken to a tree in the garden bearing chameleons.
We leave at 8am tomorrow morning for an approximate 2 hrs drive to Ambositra. We look forward to the surprises the new day holds for us.