Mauritius – September 15th

Today started with a series of unfortunate events that ended up leading us to a perfect little island of the coast and resulted in the most perfect afternoon!

We headed out to the car around 0800am today to get started on some site seeing and our big hike. But as we were getting in the car, the owner of the apartment we were staying at came out and called Jay over to talk to him. The man said that they had double booked the room we were in for that night, and he needed us to leave. We were a little shocked at the request, but said ok. The man told us he had a different place lined up for us down at the beach. So, we headed back into the apartment to pack up our stuff. 

Once we had everything out of the apartment, the man introduced us to two gentlemen in a car parked nearby and said that they would take us to the new place. So, we followed them for a short time, and they dropped us off at a house where we met a different person who got in his car and told us to follow him to the place. This was getting to be kind of complicated, but we followed this new man, who we assumed to be the owner of the new apartment. When we arrived, we were taken to a cozy little second story apartment with a balcony overlooking the water. It was very nice, and with the view, we didn’t mind being evicted from our other place as much. 

View from apartment balcony

But we had sites to see today, so we couldn’t stick around the new apartment for long. We dropped off our stuff and headed back out. 

We planned to go to a nearby park with several attractions. The first part was Chamarel Waterfall which was a lovely bifurcated waterfall made from the volcanic rock. 

Chamarel Waterfall
Chamarel Waterfall

The second attraction was called the 7 Colored Earths. This was an interesting site. Over time, erosion stripped the dirt of any nutrients so there is no vegetation that can grow here. In addition, the iron and aluminum oxide in the different color dirts repel each other creating the different colored strips. It’s very pretty to see. I decided that the 7 colors were brown, tan, grey, light purple, dark purple, pink, and red (but the colors were never listed anywhere). 

7 Colored Earths
7 Colored Earths

Our next activity for the morning was our big hike. Jay had mapped out a trail that was about a 9 mile loop up two different peaks in Black River Gorge. We had a little bit of a drive to the gorge, and this is where our next unfortunate event happened. As we were making our right hand turn (driving on the left side of the road) up toward the mountain, we nearly got run over by a bus. Remember I said that drivers frequently drive around parked cars using the opposite lane? Well, when Jay slowed down and put on his turn signal to make his turn, there were two buses behind us. The first bus realized we were slowing down to turn, but we think the second bus thought we were stopping and pulled out to try to pass us. We didn’t see the second bus coming up until we were making our right turn and nearly got t-boned by the bus. Luckily Jay swerved out of the way and stopped on the left side of the road. But it was close!

After we recovered, we made a u-turn and headed back to the turn we missed when we nearly got hit by the bus. We drove up a winding road with hairpin turns into Black Gorge. We were getting pretty high up and thought that there would be some nice lookouts, but the vegetation was so dense everywhere that you could hardly see anything.

In order to see a lookout, we actually passed the trailhead we were going to use and headed up to a waterfall lookout up the road. The platform usually used to see the waterfall was under construction, so we couldn’t get a great view, but we did our best. Then we headed back to the trailhead. 

As we approached the trailhead, we saw a pretty big rain cloud forming above one of the peaks (Black River Peak) we were going to climb, so we took some time to try to decide if we should do the full hike, or just try to summit the tallest peak. As we were deciding and gathering our stuff to get ready for the hike, we realized that we had left the lunch we packed at the apartment. In our rush to move apartments, we carried in the bag with our lunch and accidentally left it. Not feeling comfortable doing a 9 mile hike with no food, we decided we’d summit the tallest peak and call it a day. 

We headed out on the trail. Almost the entire way, we were in a tunnel of trees. The vegetation was so thick that you couldn’t see anything except at a couple of places with clearings. The trail was pretty muddy in some spots as well and we were having flashbacks to our Rwenzori Trek with our gum boots. 

The hike had a lot of rolling hills so every time you climbed up, you would have a steep down climb as well. It was like this until the very end, which had a steep incline to the top. There were ropes to assist in making the climb which was a little tricky. But we made it.

It was a nice view of the city from the top. Unfortunately, there were about 10 people up there with us and one of them was a very loud, very annoying French man who didn’t stop talking the entire time we were up there. 

Big repellant bracelets Jay’s brother, Josh, gave us. It was very buggy at the top!

So after snapping some pictures, we headed back down. We got a few sprinkles on the way down, but otherwise had a nice hike. Our legs and shoes were covered in mud by the end, but we were pretty used to the mud by now. 

Mud!

We headed back to the apartment for our lunch. We ate our PB&Js we had packed for the hike on the balcony. While watching the water, we noticed some kayakers heading back to the shore from an island just across the bay. We thought, “hey, that looks like fun!” So Jay grabbed his phone to look up some kayak rentals nearby. 

But as luck would have it, the people renting us the apartment had a kayak and said that we could use it. We packed our bags, carried the kayak down to the ocean, and headed off to the island.

We paddled around the island to the other side and found a nice beach to dock on. There were very few people on the island and we basically had the beach to ourselves. We took a quick swim and then took a walk along the beach. 

Jay was snapping pictures the whole time like he always does, so I didn’t think anything was out of the norm. He set up his camera on a tree stump with a self timer and had me stand ready while he ran over so we could get a picture of the both of us. 

Some first attempts at self timed pictures

After taking a couple of self timed pictures and finally getting it right, he did one more. But this time, he grabbed my hands and got down on one knee. He proposed to me on a beautiful private beach in Mauritius with the sun going down and the water sparkling behind us. It was perfect!

Proposal!

Even though we were evicted from our apartment this morning, and then we were almost hit by a bus, and then we forgot our lunch and had to take a shorter hike, it was all worth it because it all lead us to that kayak and that little island out in the Indian Ocean where Jay proposed!

Happy after getting engaged!

To top it all off, when we kayaked back to our apartment after the proposal, there was a rainbow right above us as we paddled in. We took that as a sign the Mauritius gods were smiling on our engagement. 

Rainbow!
Jay’s grin after proposing
Spaghetti dinner and talking with family about the good news.

Travel from Madagascar to Mauritius – September 14th

Today we flew from Madagascar to Mauritius – our last destination of the trip! We had to get up at 4:00 am to make our 6:00 am flight. 

When we arrived in Mauritius around 0900, we were excited to see the nice weather and how green it was here. We ended up renting a car because it was just too much of a hassle to get cabs everywhere. Then we headed out into Mauritius. Mauritius is covered in farmland and sugarcane fields. Google maps isn’t the most accurate here, so it took some time to figure out if we were supposed to be driving through the fields google was taking us through or not. We eventually got on our way though. 

Sugar cane field

Our first stop on our drive was to a place called Pont Naturel which translates to natural bridge. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a very cool site. Mauritius is volcanic and has a lot of lava rock. The natural bridge is a strip of lava rock that goes across a small inlet on the southern coast of Mauritius. The waves are huge here and they crash under the bridge and up into the inlet. You are able to safely walk across the bridge and watch the waves crash into the rocks and spray. It’s quite a site! 

However, we learned that if you’re waiting for the big waves to splash for a photo, they never come. We spent about 30 min trying to get a good jumping shot of Jay with the splash of the waves. It wasn’t until we stopped trying to take the photo that the big waves actually came. 

Trying to get a good photo with the splash to no avail.

Once we got our fill of Pont Naturel, we headed out on the road again. One thing you quickly learn while driving in a new city are the un-written rules of driving. We knew ahead of time that they drove on the left side of the road here, but Jay quickly found out some other things he didn’t like. The roads are quite narrow and there is no shoulder anywhere. Normally, if you wanted to stop somewhere, you’d pull over to the side of the road and park. However, here, there are no places to pull over on the shoulder. So instead, people just stop on the road and park. Drivers here have become accustomed to putting on their blinker and  driving into the oncoming traffic lane to pass these parked cars and buses that stop. 

We were not aware of this at first, and when a bus stopped in the middle of the road, Jay wasn’t sure what to do. He attempted to go around it at first, but then saw the oncoming traffic and stopped. The oncoming traffic continued toward us, but we were unable to reverse because the car behind us had stopped too close. So there we were creating a huge road block. Eventually, the bus driver who was relaxing on the side of the road came over and moved the parked bus forward so that we could get back in our lane and let the oncoming cars pass. But we learned our lesson and always make sure we have clearance before going around these cars “parked” on the road. 

Sugar cane so close you can reach out and grab it.
Sugar cane

Our next stop was at Rochester Falls. After driving through field after field of sugar cane, we arrived at the falls. A gentleman selling pineapples on the road told us we had to park our car and walk to the falls, so we did. The waterfalls were made from a long stretch of volcanic rock columns. We snapped some pictures and continued on the drive. 

After seeing Rochester Falls, we decided to head to our apartment and drop our stuff off. When we arrived, we were told that the room wasn’t ready and we should come back in an hour. So, we headed out to a local grocery store (even though we had already bought some groceries on the way in). Then we drove around to look at a couple of beaches. We were shocked at the number of kite surfers out on the second beach we stopped at, but according to a local, that was a normal day for the area. 

After an hour was up, we headed back to the apartment. It was a nice little room with a large outdoor patio area. There was also a dog that had something wrong with his vocal cords, so every time he tried to bark, which was quite often, it sounded like an old man hacking or trying to clear his throat. 

We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day after getting up so early, so we turned in early. We had a big hike planned for the next day. 

Antananarivo, Madagascar – September 13th

Happy Friday the 13th! We took it easy this morning and headed out into Antananarivo around 1000am. We went to an old palace of tribe kings and queens from the 1700-1800s called Ambohimanga. We found a cab driver who took us in his beat up old car that took about 30 sec for the engine to turn over. But we made it after about 30 min of dusty roads and a climb up a hill. Our cab driver had never been to Ambohimanga before (even though he said he was part of the Merina tribe that the palace belonged to), so he came in with us. Apparently, drivers get to go into these places for free which was a nice perk for him.

The site was the palace made into a museum with artifacts labeled throughout the compound. There were also tombs of the kings and queens. The best part of the whole area was the lookout onto the city. The palace was up onto of a hill, as any good fortification should be, and this gave way to some beautiful views of the city. 

After our visit, we headed back to the apartment for a quick siesta because it was the hottest part of the day. Then we went back out into the city for the afternoon. 

We were on a mission to find some Madagascar vanilla which is supposed to be famous around here, but anyone we asked didn’t even seem to know what vanilla was. We figured it must be from a different region. We got a couple of cake slices from a local bakery and found some beers and headed back to the apartment. We enjoyed our beers on the balcony and watched the sunset.

Dog we named BFE (big fluffy ears) that lived at the apartment we were staying at

I think the traveling was starting to get to both Jay and I because we were both cracking up at everything and we were sure we were losing it. Lol.

We pulled ourselves together enough to get some dinner and then turned in early. Tomorrow we fly to Mauritius.

Madagascar – September 12th

Jay was finally feeling better this morning, so we headed out to get him some food for breakfast. 

After breakfast and a short walk on the beach, we met up with Rado and he took us to the airport. We made sure he knew we had a wonderful time in his country, his driving was top notch, and the way he went above and beyond to find us hotels and restaurants was awesome. I hope he knew how much we appreciated having him as our driver/tour guide. 

We arrived at the airport quite early so Rado could get back on the road. Whereas the flight from Morondava to Antananarivo was 1 hour, the drive back was 2 days. We knew Rado was anxious to get back to his family after driving us around for over a week. We flew on a small prop plane back to Tana (as the locals call it) and walked to the apartment we were staying at. We had dinner at a little restaurant around the corner and then got some rest.  

Madagascar – September 11th

Well, the $10 plate of seafood that Jay was so excited about yesterday for lunch proved to be a mistake. He ended up with a pretty severe case of food poisoning last night. So, he was out for the count this morning and I was on my own. 

I opted out of the tour of the fisherman’s village Jay had originally wanted to do this morning and instead took a walk along the beach while Jay tried to recover in the room. 

Boats on the river that runs into the ocean (tide is way out)

On my walk there were quite a few people trying to sell me boat rides, fabrics, and face painting. After going through the routine of conversing with the sellers until they got the message that I wasn’t going to buy anything, I finally made it down the beach. I walked until I hit a river and couldn’t go any further. Then, I turned around. I found a nice spot on the beach to sit which seemed to be out of the way of the people selling things. Of course some of them found me. But in the mean time, I typed out some blog posts and read some of my book. 

Where the river enters the ocean
Fishermen getting their boats ready

As a sat there, a young girl came up and introduced herself in Malagasy and then she tried in French. I thought she was going to try to sell me something, but she was just being friendly. She didn’t speak English, but was very interested in talking to me. She would write words in the sand to see if I better understood, but I still didn’t speak Malagasy or French. She took my book and thumbed through it. There was a section with pictures of elephants and she looked at each one. Then she grabbed my phone and started taking pictures. I had it in the back of my head that she could easily get up and run with my phone, but she didn’t. She was just a curious girl on the beach. She looked through my photos I had taken on the trip and was excited to see the pictures of the fosa and the baobabs. Then she found the video button. She started taking video of me and had me repeat what she was saying in French and in Malagasy. She got a kick out of that. I asked Rado later what she was having me say, and it was the days of the week. After about 40 minutes on the beach, she was finally satisfied with exploring everything I had. Of course she couldn’t leave without asking for a bonbon, so I gave her a couple candies and she was off. 

Young girl I met on the beach

By now it was noon, and I had to get back to the hotel to meet Rado and see how Jay was doing. I grabbed some waters for Jay on the way back and found him up and sitting on the balcony outside the room. He said he still didn’t feel great, but was good enough to go to the beach for the afternoon. 

Rado took us to a restaurant for lunch where Jay got a bowl of rice to the confusion of the waiter who didn’t speak English. Rado explained that Jay wasn’t feeling well and that seemed to clear up the confusion. Then we spent a couple hours at Kimony Beach just relaxing and swimming in the surprisingly warm water. 

Jay’s fancy rice lunch
Kimony beach

For dinner, all Jay thought sounded good was bananas, so we walked to the local market and bought some. We looked for some bread so I could make a sandwich, but like the rest of Madagascar, we had trouble finding it. I told Jay to head back to the room, and I would look for some dinner for myself. I didn’t end up finding any bread and headed back to the room with some snacks. To my surprise, Jay had found a bakery on his walk back (he took a different way back to avoid the smell of the fish market). We had a quick dinner and turned in early for the night. 

Madagascar – September 10th

This morning, we did a short hike in Kirindy National Reserve. After spotting several lemurs and a chameleon, we met up with Rado again. 

We drove back to Morondava making two stops along the way. One stop was at the sacred Baobab. This Baobab is thought to be the oldest in the area and people often pray to it and give sacrificial offerings such as chicken’s blood.

Sacred Baobab
Sacred Baobab

The second stop was at the loved Baobab. This Baobab’s trunk split in two and then wrapped around itself so it looks like two trees hugging. That’s why they call it the loved Baobab.

We arrived in Morondava around noon and checked into our hotel. We told Rado to take the rest of the day off and we walked into town. As we were looking for a lunch spot, we met Rado walking around in town. He showed us where a nice restaurant for lunch was and then headed out. 

After lunch, Jay and I walked along the beach and relaxed at our hotel which is right along the beach. 

Interestingly, the hotel we are staying at was hit by the March 2019 hurricane that destroyed Mozambique’s coast. The entire front half of the hotel has fallen into the sea. And when we checked in, the receptionist apologized for the restaurant being swept away to sea as well. We had no idea the hotel was in this state of repair, but our room was very nice, quite, and right on the beach, so we stayed. We were kind of glad to be supporting a hotel that probably wasn’t doing very well after the hurricane. 

Our hotel – our room is to the far right of the picture
Room that was destroyed by hurricane
Kids on the beach excited to see my phone

Madagascar – September 9th

Today we drove from Bekopaka to Kirindy National Park. We drove back along the same road we came in on. The caravan with the armed guard left at 7:30 this morning. The armed guard was actually in our car today. We wanted to take a picture of him, but you’re not allowed to take pictures of government officials. 

We drove over the bumpy dusty roads and made it to the first river crossing. We crossed without incident and kept going on our drive. The guard actually fell asleep which was impressive that he could sleep with the bumpiness of the roads. 

A couple hours into the drive, we started to hear the hiss of air escaping and we knew we had a flat tire. Luckily we were in the caravan and everyone got out to help us change the tire. It was really cool to see how all of the guides/drivers helped each other out. One of them said, that they have to help each other because one day it might be their turn to need help.

Flat tire

Rado made quick work of it, and the tire was changed within 15 minutes. However, the car wouldn’t start after we got the tire changed. Luckily, it was a manual, so we did a rolling start and were on our way. 

Rado, our guide, getting the spare tire

Right before the second river crossing, we stopped for lunch and dropped off our armed guard. We breathed a sigh of relief as we made it through this territory without any robbery incidents. Lol. 

Rado also stopped to get the flat tired patched at a local shop. It was quite interesting to watch them fix the tire without any modern equipment. They basically glued a patch on the inside of the tire. It passed the water test without any bubbles, so we called it good.

Rado and the mechanic fixing the tire
Some kids gathered around as we waited for the tire to get fixed

After lunch, we arrived at the second river crossing and drove onto the ferry with perfect timing. We drove straight on the ferry when we got there, and were the last car so we left immediately. The ride across the river was longer because we had to go upstream quite a ways.

When we tried to dock, there were several ferries that were also trying to dock and a ferry that was trying to leave. The wind was blowing and the drivers didn’t have as good of control over the ferries. We ended up colliding with another one of the ferries, but at such slow speeds, there was no damage, and we were able to dock and drive on toward our destination. We got a kick out of saying we were in a boat crash though. 

After the second ferry, we had about an hour drive to our camp for the night. We arrived at Kirindy at around 3:30 pm. We checked into our bungalow and relaxed for a couple hours before our night hike.

Kirindy National Park is known for its cat-like animals called fosas. We were told to make sure all of our windows and doors were closed well tonight because the fosas will come in to look for food. They have been known to attack humans and they tend to like females for some reason.

While we were relaxing at the restaurant, what started strolling through camp but a fosa. We followed it through camp as it got a drink of water from a tub and opened some cupboards to look for food. Fosas are native to Madagascar and aren’t found anywhere else, so we were excited to see one. A second female stilled through camp a short time later. 

We did a two hour night hike and saw some more lemurs. Our guide didn’t speak much English, so it was a little hard to get information from her and the actual lemur species names are still a bit of a mystery, but we know we saw a lot of grey mouse lemurs. 

Grey mouse lemur – has a collar on for research done in the Reserve

After our night hike, we turned in for the night. Just as we were falling asleep, we heard the creek of the bathroom door. Confused, Jay turned on a light to find a grey mouse lemur in our room. The lemur had crawled in through the gap between the roof and and wall. We enjoyed watching him for awhile and eventually shoed him outside. We also had a gecko and a frog in our room so it was quite the nature experience. 

Grey mouse lemur paying us a visit in our room

Madagascar – September 8th

Today was our tour of Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park. This park is a 200 km area of unique spiky rock formations.

The rock formations were made almost 200 million years ago after Madagascar broke off from the continent of Africa. The area of Tsingy, although now about 80 km inland, was previously under water. This can be seen in the many seashell fossils in the rocks.

The tectonic plates along a nearby fault line in the Mozambique Channel collided forcing the rock upward, thus creating the rock formations. However, they weren’t sharp and spiky at this time. The acid rains slowly eroded the formations into the sharp spiky points we see today. The acid rains erode the formations about 1 mm per year creating sharper and sharper rocks.

The Malagasy word Tsingy actually means to “tiptoe barefoot.” The people who first lived here had to walk along the sharp rocks barefoot, or tiptoe. 

This morning, Rado got up at 5  o’clock am to drive to the ticket office, buy our tickets, find an English speaking guide, and drive back to pick us up by 7:30am.

He picked us up with our guide Richard in tow. Richard is actually from the village of Bekopaka where our hotel is located.

Our guide, Richard

We arrived at the park after about an hour of bumpy dusty roads. Unfortunately, there were also many other tourists there as well. We put on our harnesses which we would use on several steep sections in the park and headed into the forest trying to beat the other groups. 

We spotted a couple of lemur species right off the bat including a Western spotted lemur and a white sifaka lemur. 

3 white sifaka lemurs in the tree

After about an hour of hiking, we started to see the rock formations. They were incredibly interesting to look at. You would never think that rock would form into the spiky wavy formations that we were seeing. 

We crawled through a cave to get further into the park. We were glad to have our headlamps here which we actually turned around to get on the drive over. 

Then, we climbed up a fairly steep area with wires that we could clip into with our harnesses. 

We eventually made it to two viewing platforms that looked out over all the formations. 

My only complaint was that the platforms got clogged up with tourists because we all started the hike at the same time. A caravan was required to drive to the park, so it was almost impossible to stagger the start of the groups, but it was still a little annoying having to wait for tourists to finish taking all their pictures. Anyway, we enjoyed the views and took in the uniqueness of the area. 

The route is an out-and-back on the forrest part and makes a loop in the rock portion. The climb down the rock portion had many more areas which required us to clip in with our harnesses. It was basically a via feratta with ladders, steep sections, bridges, and cliffs. We also went through a couple more caves on the way out. 

Once we made it back to the forrest section, our guide Richard took us along a different route at our request. Most tourists go back along the same route they came in on, but we got to go out an adventure route. It was more climbing and scaling sharp rocks, but it was cool to get to climb around more on the rock formations. We went through a couple more caves and saw some bats. Our path took us along a large fissure in the rocks until we were able to climb out.

We finished our hike explaining to Richard the differences between the words “hot” and “warm” at his request and promising him we would email him some of the pictures we took that morning. He wanted the pictures for his business pamphlets. 

Rado met us at the end of the hike and we climbed in the car to head back to the hotel at around 1:00pm. We had to drive back with the caravan and we timed it perfectly to be back right when it left. 

Along the way, another car in the caravan broke down, so we took in their passengers and drove back to town. 

The rest of the day we spent lounging by the pool and relaxing. Tomorrow we head back toward Morondava. 

Madagascar – September 7th

If you’re a little confused about our route here in Madagascar, I will try to explain it a little bit better. It took me awhile to figure out exactly where we have been going with the complicated Malagasy names and many different national parks and reserves. Additionally, when you have two travel agents (Rado and Jay) figuring out all the details and making the plans, it’s easy to just sit back and take in the sites. 

We arrived in Antananarivo via plane. So far we have headed over to the west coast to visit Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. Then we headed back to Antananarivo which is more central, and continued east toward Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park via a route through Antsirabe and Morondava. 

Ok, now that that’s all cleared up, I’ll keep going with the blog. Today was another long drive to our destination of Bekopaka which is the town outside Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park. It has taken 3 days to get here partly due to the trip to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park which was admittedly out of the way. Tsingy is actually relatively close to Antananarivo, but you can’t reach Tsingy any other way than through Morondava because the roads are bad and frequently flood.

Rado told us that today would be 8 hours of dusty, hot, bumpy roads with 2 river crossings. The roads are so bad a car with four wheel drive is required to make the trip. All the reviews of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park said it was a difficult place to get to, and they were right! But, from the pictures we’ve seen of Tsingy, I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. 

We started our morning driving out Baobab Avenue which was a dusty bumpy road. Then we drove 3.5 hours along roads that could give anyone whiplash until we reached the first river crossing. We have done river crossings in cars before and it was easy. You just drive the car up a ramp onto the large ferry boat that takes you across the river, and then you drive the car off again. 

However, this river crossing was not like this. There was a flat wooden boat that looked like a barge, but had a catamaran-like boat underneath the wooden platform of the barge. Two of the barges were lined up along the riverbank and tied together. A dirt ramp went down to the river bank where the barges were parked and two metal grates were placed on the barge. This was the ferry we were supposed to drive our car onto. Not only our car, but two other cars and a minibus were also lined up. 

Rado told us to get out of the car, so we did. One car drove on. Then it was our turn. Rado drove down the ramp onto the first barge, over the part that was tied together and onto the second barge. The other cars and minibus followed, and to our surprise, the loading process was pretty seamless. We got on after the cars and went floating down the river.

Jay and I both agreed that we would be very nervous to drive our car onto this small wooden platform in the river (where there are crocodiles). But Rado did it with ease saying he had done it over 100 times. We asked him how many cars had sunk into the river trying to get across. He said just one. Something broke on the ferry and a car went in the river 2 years ago. Crazy!

We met some kids excited about technology while waiting for Rado to drive off the barge
Driving off the barge
Kids asking for bon bons

After the first river crossing we drove a short distance to our lunch spot called Mad Zebu. We had a delicious French lunch (I had vegetarian ravioli and Jay had red snapper). We also bought some “beer hats” which were sold at the restaurant because they were just too cute not to. “Beer hats” were little sombreros the restaurant put on the beer bottles to prevent flies and dust from getting in. We bought 4 for about 1 dollar and they threw in a fifth one for free!

Then we walked around the little town. Jay found some baskets that he liked and bought them for about 50 cents each which he was overjoyed about. 

Rado had told us to be ready to go by 1:30pm so that we could drive with the rest of the tourist cars in a caravan. We didn’t really understand why we needed to drive with the other tourist cars, but we didn’t question it. When we found Rado again and headed back to the car, we found out that we had to have an armed police escort for the next part of the drive. The caravan happened at 2:00pm every day because that is when the government organized the police. There were about 20 cars with police in the front, middle, and rear. 

Rado and Jay driving in the caravan

I guess about two years ago, the tribe that lives along this road had been robbing tourists of cameras, money, and laptops. So the police were organized to prevent further robberies. We made it through without any incident. 

The road (National Road 8) was remote and rough. It required 4 wheel drive due to the many holes, dips, and climbs. We bounced along the hot dusty road for about three hours. Then, we came to the second river crossing. By this time, we were pros. We hopped out of the car. Rado drove onto the barge, and we followed. Whereas we went quite far upriver during the first crossing, this one was a short straight shot across the river. 

Once we made it across, we hopped back in the car, and were at our hotel in the next 15 minutes. We checked in and Jay took a quick swim in the pool. Then we had dinner and called it a night. Tomorrow we head into Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. 

Madagascar – September 6th

Today we drove from Antsirabe to Morondava. We watched the countryside change from green rolling hills to brown wintered hills. 

Along the drive, Rado stopped at a bridge and showed us an area with many many Malagasy people pounding at the rock of the riverbed with sticks. Rado told us that they were looking for gold. Gold had previously been found there and the people continue to dig and pan for gold. Apparently, they still find some daily.

Malagasy people digging for gold

While we were watching the people dig for gold, a group of kids gathered around us as normally happens when “vazaha” (pronounced “va-za” and meaning foreigner or white-skinned person) go anywhere. The kids here are something else. It was a common occurrence for them to yell at us as we drove by, “Vazaha, bon bon” asking for a sweet treat. They would wave and dance for us if they saw us and would always crowd around cars with vazha inside to see what they could get – candies, pens, hair ties, clothes, and notepads for school were most common. However, they were kids and would often fight for the gifts if there wasn’t enough for all of them. So Rado would organize them into a line and we would hand out candies to all of them one at a time so they wouldn’t fight. Rado warned us to never give out candies if we didn’t have enough for everyone and only to do it when he could organize the kids for us (we didn’t speak Malagasy or French). We found out why when other tourists threw out candies and the children dove on the floor fighting the other kids for the sweets.

Sadly, the children are also very poor here and do odd jobs to try to get money or food. It was another common occurrence to see children filling in the holes in the roads with dirt and then begging for money as cars drove by. We saw children as young as probably 3 years old doing this. We didn’t know whether it was better to give them money and basically promote child labor or to not give them money and see them sad and hungry. Rado would only give money to adults filling in the potholes, so we followed suit.

For lunch, we told Rado that we wanted to find a market and just buy PB&J sandwich supplies to save money instead of going to a restaurant. He turned us loose in the city we were in. It was surprisingly difficult to find bread, but we eventually just bought some Malagasy pancakes and small round doughnuts and said those would do.

But then, we saw a woman selling what looked like rolls, so we tried to buy some. She only spoke French and Malagasy, so we didn’t understand how much she said they cost. So, we handed her small bills to pay for the rolls until she looked satisfied. Our lunch consisted of the breads we had bought and the largest grapefruit we had ever seen which we bought in a different town a couple days back. It was too sour to eat, so at the suggestion of Rado and a friend he was talking to, we gave it to some local kids. They ate it up!

We drove from 8 o’clock that morning until about 5 o’clock that evening and finally arrived in Morondava. We wanted to reach Morondava before 6 o’clock so that we could watch the sunset on Baobab Avenue.

Baobab Avenue is a place that is famous for its baobab lined road out in the country. These trees have impressive trunks that hold many thousands of gallons of water. They look like they are upside down with their roots sticking up in the air – at least now that they don’t have their leaves. We took a million pictures and watched the sunset on the trees. Then we headed back to our hotel for the night.