Friday 20 May 2011

Madagascar Honeymoon, Post #6: 18 to 20 April 2011

18 April

Our drive brings us back to Fianarantsoa, where we started the train journey a few days ago. We stop to change some money and Eric drives us up to a view point. The whole city lies at our feet. Fianarantsoa is the capital of the Betsileo people and its name means "place of good learning".

We continue driving, past more stunning country side and some really big herds of zebus.

These come from the zebu market in Ambalavao (the biggest in Madagascar), the town where we are headed for our next stop. The zebus were purchased there and are now driven towards their new owners, who may run abattoirs in the big cities like Antanarivo. They are quite impressive, with their long horns and large shoulder mounts.

We arrive at Ambalavao and drive up to another workshop. Unfortunately, all the employees are out to lunch, but Eric can explain how they make paper here.

It is an Antaimoro paper factory we are visiting. The paper is made from the bark of the Avoha tree, which first needs to be soaked and boiled in water.

Then the bark is pounded to a pulp and spread out unto linen frames.

You can make one big sheet of paper like this, or smaller pieces for items like stationary or picture frames. The pulp is spread out into the desired shape and left to dry slightly. While it is still a bit moist and tacky, fresh wildflower petals and leaves can be added.

The frames are then carried out into the courtyard, where they are completely dried by the sun within a few hours. They can easily be removed from the linen by pushing from the back and then peeling the paper off.

These are snaps from the paper shop. I liked the big wall on which hundreds of visitors had pinned their business cards or passport photos. Unfortunately, we had neither.

We also have lunch at the restaurant here, which has the most beautiful plastic patio chairs I've ever seen.

After lunch, we pick up another guide, Marcel, who will take us for a walk in Anja Park. This is a community run preservation area, which provides an income for the local people through tourism, while they make efforts to protect the flora, fauna and historical sites in the park.

Once again we do not have to wait long until we spot part of the lemur population, Ringtails this time. It's like they had been waiting for us on this rock, because once we have seen them, they begin to disperse into the surrounding bushes. But the do stay near enough for us to keep watching.

Spot the lemurs! I think there are 5 in this photo.

We keep on walking, and after passing this last sleepy lemur, it's all plants and rocks from there. We still keep hearing the different groups of ringtails calling to each other as we continue our tour.

A Betsileo grave situated in the rock face of a mountain. The zebu skull is the one from the zebu that was sacrificed in honor of this person's life.

We arrive at Tsara Camp just in time for sunset. The road to the camp was the first dirt road we had to drive on, and it takes an hour and 15 minutes to drive the 25 km. There are potholes, washouts and little streams crossing the road. We passed many a zebu cart and quite a few pedestrians. Everybody waves and we exchange the ubiquitous 'Salama' greeting.

For the duration of our stay, we are the only guests in the camp. Barnabas, the manager tells us that they had one couple staying a week ago and are awaiting a group of travellers the day after we leave.

We have a simple but tasty dinner of leek and tomato salad, pork chops and caramelized banana for dessert. There is no fancy food here, nor hot water or all-night electricity, as the camp is so far away from civilisation. What there is are beautiful sunsets, thousands of stars, and friendly local staff.

19 April

I wake up with the sunrise and the first thing I hear are Ringtail Lemur calls in the far distance. After a breakfast of homemade rolls with jam and fresh pineapple, Barnabas takes us for a hike into the nearby forest, where the lemurs live. It is 8:30 when we leave the camp, and the sun is already hot in the sky.

A mass of freshly hatched grasshoppers on a plant.

Mount Chameleon. So named after the rock formation on its top, which resembles the reptile. It's not really clear to see in this photo.

After a half-hour walk out in open fields, we reach the forest. There are patches of tress and clearings with grass that reaches higher than Marco's head. We pass another grave, this one is not very well maintained and you can look inside to see skulls and some bones. Barnabas informs us that some cattle rustlers were buried here about 40 years ago, and nobody will look after the resting place of a thief.

We can hear the Ringtail Lemurs calling somewhere near, but Barnabas goes looking for them twice and comes back without finding them both times.

Just before the forest ends, we get lucky once again and meet a family of about 10 lemurs. They are having their leafy breakfast and play with each other, while one of them is perched on a rock, like he's the group's scout, looking for possible dangers.

We watch them for quite a while, and I don't take many photos, because it is just so neat to watch them all interact as a group.

We leave the forest and make our way to a natural swimming pool, meeting more lizards and a chameleon. Barnabas lets us rest for 15 minutes, before we start our way back to camp along the sun-baked slopes of the mountains, through ricefields and across narrow irrigation canals.

We walk through a small village, and the business minded villagers greet us with a stall of bead necklaces that have been made from plant pods and seeds. We communicate with them in our pidgin French and Marco buys me two necklaces (funny this never happens at a jeweller's...). Just before we turn to leave, one of the teenage girls says to us out of the blue and in clear English: "How are you? It is very nice to meet you. What is new?" I think she was practicing what she learned in school. We have to laugh and I give her the answers to her questions in Malagasy. Tsara, misaotra. Good, thank you. And Tsy misy. Nothing new. This makes the whole group laugh in return.

Rice laid out to dry on raffia mats. Next to it are two mortars, in which the rice will be pounded to flour by hand. The other picture shows the pretty wood carvings on a house, which apparently was built in 2006. The houses here are made from clay bricks with clay plaster, which gives them their characteristic red colour. For the Betsileo, the house has two floors, and the staircase is always on the outside. It takes about 2 to 3 months to build one.

More kids who wanted their photo taken. It was funny, some of them would approach you and ask for 'une photo?' straight out, whereas the shyer ones would just hang about in the background and stare at you until you offered to take one of them as well. But all of them were always pleased to get the attention. These boys below were putting on a play fight for the camera.

Corn drying in the sun.

This is us after the hot, hot hike. And that's our remedy there on the table. It's our new discovery. THB Fresh, a shandy, which tastes deliciously refreshing after being out in the sun. And as the brewery's slogan says: Soa Ny Fiarahantsika! We're better together, Marco and I!

In the afternoon, we just do some laundry and hang out by the river near the camp, watching the day end.

Walking on water a dam...

Another beautiful sunset. Eric told us he enjoys being in these mountains most of all the things he does when he is driving tourists, and we get why!

Night Sky

20 April

We try to catch the sunrise and get up at 5:30, which is an amazing feat (especially for me!), but the sun does not indulge us and stays hidden behind the mountains. We get on the road again to drive to Isalo National Park. We pass areas with masses of mango trees, but unfortunately, the mango season is in December. Some of the women we see wear clay on their faces as a mask, to protect them from the sun. I can feel how the air is getting more arid by the kilometre.

As we drive further South, the landscape gets more barren and starts reminding me of Monument Valley in the States.

When we reach a plateau, there even is nothing but grassy plains for a while.

After only 3 hours of driving, we reach our hotel, Le Relais de la Reine and are royally impressed with this one. The hotel is built out of natural stone, right into the desert rocks. It's got rock gardens and lush greenery and a big, regal dining hall, where I have the best shrimps I have ever eaten. After lunch, we have two hours to ourselves and go for a swim in the pool and a lovely wash in our bathroom's walk-in shower. Oh, by the way, isn't my husband just one handsome guy!? Travelling suits him!

Just before sunset, Eric collects us again to drive to the park's small museum and then on to La FenĂȘtre, to watch the sun go down.

La FenĂȘtre is a rock formation in the park, and the sun does set right in the natural window that has been shaped by wind and rain. Except for the sounds of a few tourists chatting, this place is the quietest I have been to in a while.

After I have played around with my flash settings for a while, Eric comes to shoo us back to the car, as apparently some not so nice locals drive up to this spot to make some easy money by robbing straggling tourist after dark. If even our Malagasy tour guide says it's not safe, I think we can assume that it really is not safe, so we wave goodbye to the pretty pink clouds and go back to the hotel.

So nighty-night it is for now. This was a long one, so I will give you the weekend off and then there will be one last (promise!) Madagascar post on Monday. There will be beaches, palm trees and blue sea, so we can all relax after this holiday blogging madness!

Thanks for sticking around, intrepid readers!

Here's what I showed you so far:

Post #1
Post #2
Post #3
Post #4
 Post #5 

And here's the last of the pics:

Post #7

© Annika - All The Live Long Day (unless otherwise stated)


  1. Hi, I just found your blog. These pictures are AMAZING!

  2. Absolutely gorgeous pictures. Can't wait to read more! Love!!

  3. just stunning views and pics annika!


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