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!
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.
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.