Blog of the trip to Madagascar

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 08:06 AM
Moved to Ivato, the village next to the airport. My flight is on thursday, arriving SFO on friday.

Practicalities
A brand new hotel (actually unfinished) called K6 right at the entrance of Ivato village, 1 km from the airport, two nights for 50000 and i have an entire floor for me.
Also need to list another hotel in Irosaka where i almost stayed tonight: Tana Jaracanda 30,000

The cheapest ways to go from Ivato airport to Antananarivo: walk out of the parking lot 50 meters and on your immediate left there is the bus stop for line D that goes to the cirt terminal 500 meters north of the train station. This is realiable till about 5pm. After that it is safer to take a hotel in Ivato.
There are frequent buses from Ivato to Tana that pass in front of the Ivato Hotel. They cost 400 MGAs. A taxi costs exactly 100 times more.
To the left of the airport's parking lot there is Homelidays guesthouse. To the right after 300 meters you get to Le Cosmos Hotel and after 500 meters you get to a major junction; turn left (sign for Ivato Hotel) and walk another 500 meters till you see the sign for K6 Chambres. The Lonely Planet (2008 edition) sends people to the Manoir Rouge that is in the center of Ivato, but that makes sense only if you really want to see the center of Ivato, which is unlikely. There are also Pension Amy, Agape and Care of 39 besides Le Cosmos.
There are four main bus and taxi-brousse stations (gares routieres): eastern (in Ampasampito, 4km east of city center), northern (in Ambodivona, 2 km northeast of city center), western (Fasanny Karana, 4km southwest of Lac Anosy), and southern (in Lalana Pastora Rahajason, but i never had to use it even for going south).



Ambojimanga
Sunday, June 1, 2014, 07:27 AM
I almost missed this place, instead it is a really nice and quiet spot in the mountains. It is the old capital of Madagascar before it was conquered by the French and it has the royal palace of the 19th century but mostly it is just a very idyllic place with great views of everything. Not easy to get there on a sunday (not many buses).




Antananarivo
Saturday, May 31, 2014, 01:06 AM
Back in the capital after endless train and bus rides. Every time i am back in Tana i stay at Isoraka Hotel, stratagically located in the high city and 10 dollars. By now i know the many steps of Tana by heart.

Various on Madagascar:
- Preindustrial age: shepherds walk dont take the train; no power tools everything done by hand; pushcarts no donkeys or horses; most tools are made of stone and wood; women and children spending hours to grind rice and wheat
- The economy balances tourism, agriculture, trade and livestock farming (trade shows te Arab and southasian influence; agriculture shows the Indochinese influence with rice fields etc)
- Many villages are run like cooperatives that mix all these activities
- Hardworking and honest people
- I rarely worry about my belongings
- Buses leave when full which is one reason why they are alwys late (sometimes it takes 2 hours for the 7:30 bus to leave), the other reason being that they almost always break down in the middle of the trip
- i have rarely seen such clean hotels for such cheap prices
- they live according to the "mora mora" adage (slowly slowly) but then at 5pm everybody is crambling to get home or buy something before everything shuts down - by 6pm there is virtually nobody in the streets, not even local buses
- in 3 weeks i have not seen more than 2 mosauitoes in this entire country that is infamours for malaria - maybe the secret is to travel in the dry season
- Prices qre always in francs, surreal because the franc does not exist anymore, it taks a few days to get used to divide always by 5
- little pressure from vendors in villages because most villages are run as cooperatives (everything you spend in food, lodging; entrance ticket, souvenirs is divided by the whole village)




Manakara
Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 02:56 AM
Reached Manakara on the east coast (Indian ocean) after a grueling 15 hour train ride. Lots of European tourists on the train. The only working railway in Madagascar has become a tourist attraction (although the villages in between are not all that interesting)
Very relaxed lifestyle here in Manakara. Nonetheless despite the huge distance from any major city, this is a big market just like all other towns. I even found a place that rented me a bicycle for the day (three dollars). It was cold in the mountains; it is mild here. Absolutely no mosquitoes. The most visible feature: pousse pousse everywhere (the local version of the Asian rickshaw). Only one taxi in town and it is a tiny three-wheeled vehicle. All locals use the rickshaws.

Practicalities
Hotel Flamboyant 20000 (another impeccable double room for less than 10 dollars)
Taxibrousse to Fiana 13000 7 hours with Madatrans
From Fiana to Tana 23000 12 hours
The train rides back to Fiana every other day so i would have to wait two days.
Nice guide in Manakara who speaks fluent English: lezoma.art@gmail.com Arthur



Fianarantsoa
Monday, May 26, 2014, 07:31 AM
South. The trip from Tana felt really long this time, despite being "only" ten hours, because the roads down south are mountain roads, up and down and crazy winding. Great pictures of mountain villages that look just like the Alps.

Today i went further south for 3 hours into really remote villages.
As impressive as the lemurs and mountains are (this time reminiscent of Yosemite's granite peaks) the star attraction turned out to be the human landscape.
The mass migration of the shepherds must be seen to be believed: hundreds of shephers with thousnds of millions of animals walking on the highway towards north. It takes them one month to reach the capital Tana.
Anja Reserve instad is overrated (but easy to see lemurs there).
Tomorrow i take the only train in the country to the east coast and then back the following day if the train does not break down.

I have to say that so far Madagascar is the easiest African country ever. Safe during the day. Very few scams, most peopmle are super honest with the foreigner. ATMs everywhere and Internet everywhere. No power outages so far.
Each town is a town-wide market so you can easily buy anything you need.
People are friendly and helpful, and many of the young speak enough English to answer simple questions.
BTW, here you can pay gasoline with your mobile phone. I took pictures of the sign at the gas stations. And so far the Internet connection has always been good.
The only problem for me is that they use the French keyboard which are a real pain.

Practicalities
Bus from Tana to Fiana 23000 ten hours
Hotel Arinafy 24000 another impeccble hotel (500 meters from bus station, 1km from train station)
For Anja take the bus to Isaho and get off at the entrance 6000, 3 hours
The park is riiduclously expensive: 10000 the ticket but as usual guide is mandatory and it is 12000 for every 30 minutes...
The train costs 40000 in first class (i admit i dont have the stomach to try the second class after seeing the first class)



Antananarivo
Friday, May 23, 2014, 02:23 AM
Back to the capital after another very long bus ride through half of the country: 31 hours total. Bus rides take forever because 1 they leave 2 or 3 hours late (loading all the stuff on the roof takes forever - even motorbikes sometimes), 2 they make very long stops for food, toilettes, chatting with friends and 3 the bus always breaks down at least once and typicaly in the middle of the night when it is almot impossible to repair so you spend hours in the middle of nowhere waiting for another bus or truck with the right tools. (You also learn to really hate local music because no matter how late at night they play loud music nonstop the whole trip).

Practicalities
Diego Suarez to Tana with UTA is the fastest; left at 3 arrived at 10pm the following day 60000
I am staying again for the 4th time at the Isoraka Hotel, stratagic location in town and only 26000 for a nice clean room
India Palace restaurant nearby with vegetarian thali dinner...



Diego Suarez
Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 09:11 AM
I reached the very northern tip of Madagascar after visiting two national parks. Anakarana was wroth it. Montagne d'Ambre was not.
One day of rain stranded me in a small village, Joffreville, but totally worth it for the palace with tropical garden where i was staying for 10 dollars.
Now i need to find a faster way to return to the capital Tana.

The parks are not cheap because the entrance ticket is 25000 AND the guide is mandatory (and theoretically fixed price 25000 to 30000).
Ankarana that begins at Mahamasina was worth it. Lots of landscape, especially the tsingy and the hole in zhich four rivers disappear (they travel underground for 30 kms)

Diego Suarez aka Antsiranana is a very livable town, more Mediterranean than African. Suddenly i am surrounded by white men, and most of them are old and single. Apparently Noisy Bei is also like this, colonized by single white men from France, Italy etc often with great local girlfriends/wives. Met one French/Algerian who was in the USA for 6 years and moved here, married a local girl, now runs the restaurant Les Arcades.
Lots of Muslims here and Indian Muslims mainly. A veritable meltiing pot. Great three bay location. Just too hot for me.
You can see the indian influence also i the colorful silky dresses of the women and on the taxis that are tuktuks.

Practicalities
Mahamasina to junction with Joffreville road 10000 2h
To Joffreville 2500 1h
That is the end of the road.
Le Relais is a pricenly palace turned into hotel with a spectacular garden. 25000 for the cheapest room. They also have two tree houses.
Dinner and breakfast for 15000 (huge portions)
run by two elederly sisters one of which speaks good english
mosquito net
but bugs and spiders in the rooms, inevitable in the countryside

To Diego Suarez Antsiranana 5000 2h
Hotel Concorde 30000 very nice and right in the middle of Ave Colbert
Lots of hotels here.
The gare routiere is 7 kms south of town (1000 ariary to get there by shared tuktuk). The fastest bus to Tana is run by UTA, theoretically 24 hours.
Always fun when you arrive at the bus station and are attacked by dozens of shouting peddlers trying to drag you to their office.



Antsohihy
Saturday, May 17, 2014, 08:07 AM
Going north. After 16 hurs of overnight bus ride i decided to take a rest. This is a small village with only one hotel, no restaurants but 2 internet cafes
It is very hot again. But still no mosquitoes.
Generally more expensive than the capital.
People are still indifferent to foreign tourist even here in the middle of nowhere, an unusual but welcome behavior in Arica.
Prices are consistently quoted in francs, the old currency, even if the banknotes are new. You have to divide by 5: 2000 means 400. No matter what number is printed on the bill they will multiply by 5 and call it that way.

Practiclities
Bus from Tana to Antsohihy 40000 left at 6pm arrived at 10am
Only one hotel in town Anais 30000
Tomorrow Antsohihy to Ankarana park, another long bus ride 25000
Antsohihy to Mahamasina 10am - 19:00 25,000 to Ambilobe plus 5000
Chez Aurelie bungalow 10000 plus dinner and breakfast 20000



Tana
Thursday, May 15, 2014, 08:57 AM
Back in Tana after a big of adventure: the taxibrousse (minivan for 20/30 people used as a bus) broke down in the middle of the night. We eventually made it to Tana at 7am instead of midnight.
Nonetheless lots of fun zith the other passengers.
People are used to get stranded and just take it as it goes.

Note: the Trisibihina river creates islands near Ibofo which are a natural wonder

Tomorrow i head north to Antsohihy and then the following day i should reach Ambilobe for Ankarana national park and then Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) the very northern tip and i hope to visit also Montagne d Ambre.
All of these are very long overnight bus rides. I have learned from my mistakes: always book one day ahead and book the seat next to the driver for best views (although worst possible safety)

It gets dark really early here; at 5:30pm and it is a bit funny how everybody rushes to close shops and get home around 5pm.
So far i found good internet cafes everywhere.
Tana has 2 indian restaurqnts and countless French-style cafes, but also like all African cities it is a big market where you can easily buy food at every corner (best and biggest avocados ever; mandarins, baguettes etc).
So far all hotels have been impeccably clean (and i never spent more than 12 dollars for a room)

Tana is a city of steps (like Montmartre). Luckily it is never too hot.

Practicalities
Bus 157 from Cnapps/Anosy to Andravoahangy station (400)
Taxibrousse to Antsohihy leaves at 4pm, arrives 6am, 40000
Favorite restaurants: the Indian in Isoraka near the post office and Kanana off the steps between Isoraka and Avenue de Independence




To Morondava to see the Avenue de Baobab
Sunday, May 11, 2014, 10:04 AM

Bus to Morandava (16 hours)
which has an infinite beach mainly used by fishermen
although the tip near the lagoon is being developed by hotels and what looked to me like brothels
the real attraction here is the Avenue du Baobab abour 1 hour by very bad unpaved road where you can see unlimited baobabs
Here by the sea it is hot very hot
Antananarivo is at 2300 meters so it is not so hot but here at sea level it is tough
I still have to see a single mosquito. Madagascar is famous for malaria but how does it spread if there are no mosquitos?
People are very friendly everywhere.
About 1 percent speaks English

Practicalities:
Taxibrousse from Fasanny Karanta station (Gare Routiere de Fasanny Karana)
44000 ariary but only 35000 on the way back
leaves at 5pm (even if they tell you 2) arrives next ,orning at 9
from Morondava t Tana 930am arrives ,idnight
Morqndqvq: Central Hotel (zhich is not centrql qt qll; fqr fro, everything) 25000 but great rooms with view
taxi to Avenue du Baobab 40000



Analamazaotra park
Sunday, May 11, 2014, 09:54 AM
I saw a few indris and a giant chameleo on a short jungle trek
Absolutely no mosquitoes
Very simple traditional village
It gets dark at 6pm here
Village life always inspiring if intimidating


Practicalities:
Walk to the north shore of the lake and catch the bus n.123 146 or 147 to Ampasampito taxibrousse station (400).
Bus to Andasibe 7000 about 5 hours
Walk 3 kms to Andasibe village.
The entrance to the park is halfway along the road.
I stayed at the hotel inside the village Hotel Les Orchidees 12000
Park entrance fee 25000 plus guide 20000 which is pretty much indispensable
but you can qlso enter the same forest from the village for 30000 that includes the guide
Best hours to see animals is 7 to 11
Normally the jungle walk takes 2/3 hours



Antananarivo; Madagascar
Thursday, May 8, 2014, 01:41 PM
Arrived very late on May 8 in Antananarivo after a 27 hour flight
but very easy to get around and very safe (contrary to what expected).
Possibly the safest city in Africa so far qnd certainly safer than the USA (no guns).
Easy to find food; plenty of restaurants; huge market; everything you need in stores.
The streets are kept clean, certainly cleaner than San Francisco.
No touts; no hassle; no begging children; etc:
I don't think i have ever been in an African country or any developing country where local people are so indifferent to the only foreign tourist in town.
People here resent being called Africans and now i understand why.
The main issue in Tana (short for Antananarivo) is traffic, like in many devecloping countries: traffic does not move between 8am and 8pm, just one very long line of cars. Ironically lots of taxis asking you "taxi? taxi?" all the time but where would you go if traffic is not moving at all?

It gets dark very very early like 1730 and everything closes

$1 = 2380 Malagasy ariary (MGA)

Visa upon arrival: 30 days and it is free but the officer demands a "cadeaux" (tip)

Guesthouse in Antananarivo: hotel@isoraka.org
Hotel Isoraka, 11 Ave Ramanantsoa 26000 MGA

Internet: 1 dollar/hour

To reach the airport or US embassy
& Take a txi for 40000
2 Book a shuttle for pickup at the hotel 10000 0340556548
3 From behind the train station walk to Vasakosy and take bus to Ivato

Pictures of Madagascar

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