Isalo – Tulear – St Augustin
We left our desert haven early before the heat got too much. We passed the sapphire mine and the 3 towns associated with sapphire trade which have blossomed since the stone was first discovered. They were initially of a bit of a ‘Wild West ‘ set-up where everybody carried guns..and used them. The river adjacent to the first town is the heart of the community and driving over the bridge, we can see people bathing, swimming, washing clothes, fishing and panning for gold and gems. No doubt they will receive reimbursement that is a fraction of what the big dealers will resell for.
The huge sandstone rocks have disappeared now and the land has become flat and dry. The villages here subsist on Cassava, corn and rice which is expensive as it cannot be grown in this harsher climate. We pass many tombs – some huge, elaborate and decorated with symbols and others are simply piles of rocks…indications of the previous wealth ( or lack of it) of the deceased.
As before, there are many police road blocks along the way. We have been stopped about 5 times since our road trip began. Conversations are in the local dialect and papers and/ or passports are shown. Apparently, many people attempt to come over here by boat from Africa so the checks are to make sure that everybody is here legally. The gendarmes always take a long stare at us in the vehicle and they simply refuse to smile. They do carry weapons.
We got our first sightings of the beautiful baobab trees that I have been holding out to see since we set off on our journey. These trees are now protected as they only grow in very limited areas of Madagascar but previously their bark was used as room-dividers, the fruit eaten and of course the wood had a number of uses.
Over the crest of a hill, we finally got our first sighting of the ocean and palm trees. The streets became sandier and busier with bicycles, scooters, rickshaws and vehicles. Buses on the side of the road where having huge loads strapped to their roofs as passengers boarded. We were in Tulear. We did some grocery shopping, topped up on cash ( everything has to be paid in cash here!) and stopped at a cafe for a light lunch.
At each stop we had the usual array of beggars and hawkers mobbing us. We have been careful not to hand out too much, but have given lollies to a few children, one who was break-dancing on the road and another who was repairing holes in the road. We have been told by a local that the holes get dug up again..but even that is resourceful in it’s own wicked way! We also gave our watermelon and apples to our little friends at the Mahavelo, but it is a bit of a quandry…to ignore..or share??. In the town where we spotted the baobabs, our driver didn’t want to stop for us to take photographs and told us that the locals are becoming aggressive if they are not given something.85% of my photographs have been taken through a window from the backseat of the car travelling at speed..with a shitty android camera. I have missed so many perfect photo ops, but realise that if I had to stop for each photo I wanted to take….we would never reach our destination.
From what little I saw of Tulear, I wasn’t overly impressed. However we do return for a night before our flight back to Tana so I’ll reserve my opinion for then. A shortish drive from Tulear on the main road and a longer, bumpier journey along the coast and we were at our destination for the ‘relaxation’ part of the journey – 3 nights at Residence Eden. And Eden it is. A huge thatch bungalow on the beach, a few meters from the ocean and a large, west-facing deck to watch the sunset from. We can see the ocean whilst lying on our beds! A family of birds has set up nest in the thatch ceiling above my bed and I can hear the babes chirping each time a parent returns with food. The French owners here have 7 dogs and kittens so we will have plenty of company on beach walks or sitting on the bar / restaurant deck. The girls have already baked in the sun today..they were out on the deck minutes after being shown our quarters. There is a reef protecting the beach-goers from sharks….but, I think we’ll tiptoe around the edges of the ocean. The local tribe are apparently expert fishers and boat people. We can see them bobbing out on the ocean from our windows. A great place to relax before we fly back to the chaotic capital in 4 days.