Monday, July 20, 2015

Mauritius - Madagascar - Reunion - May 2015

All Pictures are at the bottom of the post

Train - Planes - and Automobile

On the road again 45 minute train to the Newark Airport - 7 hour flight to Paris - 7 hour layover in Paris - 12 hour flight to Mauritius - 1 hour drive to our bungalow. Counting the 7 hour layover in Paris that is 27 hours and 45 minutes of train, planes, and automobile.

We left at 2:30 PM EST and arrive at our bungalow called Charmant Bungalow, at 8:00 AM Mauritius time 2 days later, Yep we left on the 27th of April and arrived on the 29th of April.

We booked our flight through Air France but we actually flew Delta Airlines from Newark, New Jersey to Paris, France. This was a 7 hour flight. It has been years, about 20, since I had flown on Delta, and I hope it will be another 20 before I fly on them again. Oh, wait I fly on them on my return, I guess it will be 30 or so days before I fly on Delta Airlines again, not 20 years.

For an international flight the service was sub-par. Unfortunately business class was full so I could not move forward.

We enjoyed our 7 hours in the Charles de Gaulle airport. I think I know ever nook and cranny at this point.

Our second flight was also listed as an Air France flight, but it was on Air Mauritius. I tried to move into business class, but the Air France seat map was not accurate so I had no idea what business class seats were available. I was not looking forward to being in the back of the bus for 12 hours. I found a very nice gate agent that blocked 4 economy seats for the two of us, so we would be able to lay down for some of the 12 hours.

The reviews I read about Air Mauritius set my expectations rather low, I would say Air Mauritius exceeded my expectations on all accounts. The plane was clean, comfortable, the food was decent and the flight attendants were very nice and helpful. Plus the gate agent gave us four seats for the price of two. We took off right on time and landed about 30 minutes early.

With one leg down, I was happy with the flights, the round trip cost just over $1,000 USD by booking through Air France, a savings of $2,000 USD per ticket compared to booking through the carrier airline. One day I would love to understand how airlines come up with their pricing.

Why Mauritius? That is a good question! To make a long story short, it was decided last year (by vote) that Madagascar was on the list for 2015, since I was going to Madagascar it was suggested I visit the island country of Reunion  (really a commonwealth of France) off the east coast of Madagascar. It ends up the best way to get to Madagascar if you plan to go to Reunion is by going through the island country of Mauritius also off the east coast of Madagascar.

We had booked a private day tour of southern Mauritius for 9:30 AM the morning we arrived. We Taxi Mauritius. As soon as we arrived at our bungalow we showered and got ready for the tour. Our guide was right on time. Here is what we cover on our tour.
booked through

The Ship Model Factory - while clearly a tourist attraction, it was an interesting place. We start the tour watching the craftsmen create tiny authentic replicas of many different types of ships. From historical sailing cutters to current day ships like the Queen Elizabeth II. All the ships are built by hand, most made from teak imported from Mozambique. The sails were hand threaded the detail was unbelievable.  After the tour you find yourself in a gift shop where there is some slight pressure to purchase a replica ship. A worth while attraction as long as you understand it is designed to be a tourist trap.

The Crater of Trou aux Cerfs Curepipe  - from the Ship Factory we drove to the crater. This crater is a dormant volcano. From the crater you can look down on the city of Curepipe. The center of the crater is green and lush, the plant life is very vibrant with the rich soil, and plenty of both rain and sunlight.

Mare aux Vacoas Lake - next we drove by Vacoas Lake, while this lake is a natural lake it is also the main water source for most of the island. Situated at higher elevation, aqueducts were built to move the water via gravity to the larger population areas along the coastal cities.

Holy Lake Grand Bassin Hindu Temple - Mauritius has three main religions, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim. All live in harmony and many intermarry. In fact our guide who is Muslim is married to a Hindu women. We visited the largest Hindu Temple situated on a smal lake. Prior to getting to the lake you pass by a huge 60 meter high statue of a Hindu god (they have many gods). Each year there is a pilgrimage to the temple where over 500,000 people walk from the lower lying  cities up to the Hindu Temple passing by the statue. The road we drove on was extremely wide about 4 times the width of other roads on the island, this is to accommodate the pilgrimage. The Temple has statues of many of the different Hindu gods. These gods/statues are very elaborate.

Black River Gorge (view point) - we stopped at the overlook, depending on our schedule we may come back here for some hiking. From the overlook we could see down into the gorge. Like the
crater it was lush with plant life as well as a small water fall.

Lunch - we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant the guide picked. We both picked Creole dishes as this is a local food. I had the fish Creole and Margarite had the seafood Creole.

After lunch we had one stop left with two sites. The place is called Chameral it is privately owned. The first stop was the Chamarel Waterfall and the second stop was Chamarel seven-colored earth. The second stop was unique, the soil has different volcanic minerals given different sections different colors. Some people say it is as if you have left earth and are on a different planet.

After seeing the sites, we took the coast road back, which was similar to our ride from the airport to our bungalow, we had taken several hours earlier. Mauritius at one point was a British Colony, thus driving is done on the left side of the road.

When we returned to our bungalow we had time to relax and enjoy the gorgeous place we had rented. The bungalow sits up the hill from the main residence, very modern architecture over looking the Indian Ocean. The main house had a pool which we had use of.

We have been booking our stays through Airbnb.com for two years now, this as our 7th booking.
While usually less expensive than hotels, always more comfortable, and many ways unique. This place was no different. We were greeted by our host Sylvie with fresh cool fruit juice on our arrival. With landing so early in the morning Sylvie & Philippe worked with us allowing us to come right from the airport to the bungalow. The pictures on the Internet do not do this place justice. The bungalow is set up on a hill from the main house. The deck is well furnished and faces west giving great sunset views. The bedroom has plenty of room to store all your belongs so you can unpack and feel more like a resident and less like a traveler. The kitchen is well outfitted for small meals, with a hot plate that must have been nuclear powered, I have never seen a pot of water boil so fast. There is a microwave that I think is also an oven. All the furnishings are beautifully done. The bathroom is roomy and the shower has great water pressure.

We used the pool on our arrival day, what a way to refresh after a long day of sight seeing. Towels for the bathroom as well as beach towels for the pool were provided.

We decided to stock the kitchen with snacks and breakfast foods. Sylvie & Philippe listed places to eat (restaurants) as well as where to shop including driving and walking maps. We walked to the grocery, London Way about a ten minute walk. If you rather bike, there are two mountain bikes available for use including a lock.

One thing that was provided that we never had before was daily maid service, yes everyday!

We highly recommended staying with Sylvie & Philippe if you are visiting Mauritius.

After our walk to the grocery we took a quick swim.

Finally at 7:00 PM we let our bodies lay in bed and slept until 8:00 AM the next morning a full 13 hours of much needed sleep.

Day 2 - 

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden was the main attraction for the day. If we had time we would add other activities. We did not leave the bungalow until 10:00 AM this was a late start for us. Traffic was unreal, bumper to bumper for miles. We arrived at the gardens at 12:30 PM. What I thought would take at most 45 minutes took 2.5 hours. We hired a private guide to take us through the gardens, well worth the 500 rupee. The tour of the gardens lasted about 2 hours. 

We learned a lot of history of the gardens, how most of the plants were brought to Mauritius from other parts of the world and very few plants in the gardens were indigenes to the island. The gardens are the oldest botanical gardens in the Southern Hemisphere.  

After spending a few hours at the gardens we headed to Port Louis for some lunch. Port Louis is the Mauritius. Once we arrived we found most restaurants close from 3:00 PM until 7:00 PM. 7:00 PM is when they reopen for dinner. It was now 4:00 PM so no lunch for us. We walked a little through the capital nothing really caught our interest so we headed back to the bungalow hitting traffic again.
capital of

We had woke up to rain, which was light for our drive to the gardens. The rain stopped while we tour the gardens. The rains returned as we drove back to the bungalow sometimes torrential down pours, thus making the drive that much more challenging. I have driven on the left side of the road with right side driver configuration plenty of times, add in lots of traffic, motor scooters buzzing you like bees, narrow windy roads, and rain so hard the wipers can not keep up, made for a fun afternoon drive.

We found a great place for dinner Restaurant La Bonne Chute we arrived at 6:30PM, they did not serve dinner until 7:00PM so we had a drink at the bar as we waited. 

Dinner was excellent, I had the wild boar and Margarite had the fish Creole both local Mauritian dishes. We both had banana flambé for dessert.

After dinner it was off to bed for another great nights sleep, we had adjusted well to the 8 hour time change.

Day 3 -

Today the plan was to go to a Bois Cheri Tea Factory and the Biscuit Factory. We did go to both, but they were closed due to the national holiday - Labor Day. We still got to visit the Boise Cheri Tea Museum and do a tea tasting. At the museum they had a video of the factory tour so we do not feel like we missed much. After the Tea Factory, we visited the original capital and port city which is now more a fishing port. The waterfront was not that well protected from a strategic standpoint, that is why the main port and capital was moved to Port Louis. We had lunch at a nice restaurant along the water, we both had Dorado prepared Creole style served with rice. 

After lunch we went in search of the Biscuit Factory. You might say, "Why visit a biscuit factory?". 
We had heard this biscuit factory is unique in that the biscuits are made from vegetables rather than flour. Also the factory is rich in history spanning over four generations. Unfortunately we did not learn about the way the biscuits are made or the history of these special biscuits, as the factory was closed. The factory was north of town, rather then back track, we decided to take back roads home. What a beautiful drive along tree lined roads cut through the sugar cane fields.

We returned back to the bungalow just in time for a beautiful sunset. We decided on a light dinner of snacks, we were both full from lunch, plus we
would be leaving in the morning and did not want to throw any food away. Before turning in we said our good byes to Sylvie & Philippe as we would be departing early (before they would wake) in the morning for our flights onward.

Day 4 -

We had rented our car from Pingouin Car Rental. I have always rented from a world wide brand. Hertz, National, Avis, Budget, never a local company. In all our travels I have had issues with Hertz in Turkey and National in Scotland. Pingouin Car Rental offered far better rates and better car types than the world wide brands and their web site had great references as well as the positive reviews on trip adviser, I decided to take a chance. When you book you pay a 20% non-refundable deposit (about $20.00 USD), booking through their website was easy and painless. After you book you get a personal email that you will be met upon your arrival by an agent with a sign with your name on it. Sounds simple. It worked like a charm, our agent walked us to the car which was curb side, filled out the contract, took our payment (credit card), and we were off. He told us he would meet us at the same place upon our return. 

We pulled in at 6:50 AM ten minutes ahead of schedule our agent was waiting for us, he took our
keys and we were on our way. What a great way to rent a car, no waiting and no hassle, great service and a great price.

To get from Mauritius to Madagascar there are several options. There were two options that would work for us from a scheduling standpoint. The first, which seemed to make sense was an Air Madagascar direct flight from Mauritius to Antananarivo, Madagascar, the capital of Madagascar, about a 2 hour flight. The second option which is the one we took, Air Austral from Mauritius to Reunion, a 45 minute flight, then a one hour layover in Reunion, before continuing on to Antananarivo. The total travel time 3 hours 55 minutes. Why did we pick what we picked?

When you read reviews about Air Madagascar the most positive thing you read is that they will eventually get you to your destination, when you will get there, is the big question. The flight schedules change and are very inconsistent. We were not willing to take the risk of being delayed at this time. While in Madagascar we will be forced to use Air Madagascar and understand the risk.

As I write this section I am on our second Air Austra flight, so far so good, it looks like we will land in Madagascar on time.

Everything went smoothly with our transit to Madagascar.  One thing I will never understand is why the immigrations officer always asked where you will be staying.  They do not verify, they just ask. This time I just made up a name to see what they would say. I said the Madagascar Mandarin Palace on Main Street. The officer wrote down what I said stamped my passport and waved me on. Just an FYI there is no  Madagascar Mandarin Palace on Main Street in Madagascar. In fact there is no Madagascar Mandarin Palace on any street in Madagascar.

We were greeted by Derik as soon as we passed through customs. Derik works for Cactus Tours and will be our guide for today and tomorrow. The logistics for touring Madagascar is not very straight forward, much of the transport is unreliable and the roads are many times unusable. For those reason we decided to do a little more planning for this trip than we have done for others.

Luckily my good friend Rakava works for one of the top tour companies in Madagascar, Cactus Tours of Madagascar. I met Rakava about a year ago while trolling on the Internet. I am hoping we will get to meet face to face while in country. 

Derik dropped us off at our hotel after a one hour drive to go 16 kilometers, welcome to Africa. Like I said the transport is sketchy at best. We had a great lunch at our hotel restaurant. We are staying at Sakamanga Hotel. Ravaka booked us the three room honeymoon suite, what a great room. From the front, the hotel it does not look like much, in fact you might say it looks a little shady, but once through the doors, you are in an oasis from the city. 

Derik return after lunch to take us on a brief city tour of Antananarivo many times referred to as
Tana. The main part, center of the city is built on a hill about 3.000 feet above sea level. There are 3,000,000 people living in Tana and the surrounding area. From driving around my guess is half the three million people are children and most are out and about today.

Just below the hill, there is a lake shaped like a heart, in the center of Tana,. From the top of the hill we could get a great sense of the entire area. On the top there are two buildings a few hundred yards apart. One was the Queens Place which had been damaged by a severe fire. The other is now a museum but was originally the Prime minister's  Palace. We decided to visit the museum as we would learn more about the history of Madagascar.

It ended up that the museum was closed for renovations, but Derik knew someone that knew someone, that got us in and gave us a tour. There were only two rooms we could visit and most of the items in these room had come from the Queens Palace after the fire.

We learned an interesting story about circumcision. As in most of Africa, circumcision of young boys, is a big deal. In Madagascar, there is a ceremony usually in the summer months, this ceremony may only happen once every 7 years depending on the tribe.  A child is usually circumcised between the age of 2 and 7, though some boys are as old as 21 when they get circumcised. The ceremony is done as a village or tribal ceremony and many boys will be circumcised at one time. If you have a grandson you may want to skip the next part. The maternal grandfather must eat the foreskin of their grandchild or the grandchild is not allowed to be buried in the family grave site when he passes. If you are still reading, the ironic part is the foreskin is served with a banana. This is a true custom and is still practiced today in Madagascar.

Another history lesson we got, had to do with twins and why baby twins are killed at birth. Historically in Madagascar when one tribe attacked another, the winning tribe would take the land of the losing tribe and the losing tribe would become slaves to the winning tribe.

As the story goes, one tribe lost, and rather then become the slaves all the people in the tribe hid far away. Everybody except one women who had twin boys, caring for the twins made it to hard to hide. This women was captured, and then told the attackers where her tribe was hiding. From that point on twins were considered bad luck and were killed. This practice is still practiced today with the exception when the church can intervene they convince the mother to give the twins to the orphanage so the can be adopted off the island, true story.

After our tour Derik dropped us back at Sakamanga Hotel, Ravaka would be meeting us at 6:00 PM to review our travel schedule for the remainder of our time in Madagascar. It was now five so we had an hour to relax, I was excited to meet Ravaka.

At 6:00PM sharp our phone rang it was Ravaka letting us know she was in the lobby waiting for us. Rakava was much younger than I expected maybe 21 or 22. She really knew Madagascar I can attest to that based on the trip she set up for us. We went through our itinerary. There were only two changes the first instead of canoeing we would be taking a motor boat. Ravaka told us this change was for security reason. We did not ask anymore then that. Sometimes it is better to just not know, ignorance is bliss. The other change was Air Madagascar had canceled one of our flights. We had to move things around to fly out a day earlier. We knew this might happen when we planned the trip, Ravaka did a great job of re-accommodating us.

After our briefing Margarite and I went for dinner. We ate again at Sakamanga Hotel restaurant. I had  crystallized tomato with feta cheese as my appetizer and Shish Kabab  as my main, which consisted of beef, chicken and pork as well as onions, potatoes, and peppers. It was excellent the only issue, it was enough food for two. Maragrite had two appetizers. The first was an avocado stuffed with shrimp and the second was Foie Gras which the restaurant is known for. Both were excellent. A rather large thunder storm accompanied by a torrential down pour blew through Tana while we were enjoying our meal. The storm caused the power to go on and off several times. Sometimes for as long as ten minutes. Clearly by how the staff never missed a beat this was a fairly common occurrence. Candles were quickly deployed and the dinners and staff continued on, the power on or off it did not matter.

Tomorrow breakfast is at 6:00AM and we depart at 7:00AM so it is an early night tonight.

Day 5-  03MAY15: Antananarivo – Miandrivazo
We are  heading  westwards to Miandrivazo for an eight hour drive throughout the savannah, eroded landscapes, and typical Madagascar villages. We start off heading south on the N7 out of Tana passing through many small villages. With it being a Sunday, it is market day for many of the villages. Goods from pigs to fabrics are being sold on the streets. Also a lot of church goers in their Sunday bests. As we continue South we pass through Ambatolampy which is the coldest city in Madagascar, due to it's high altitude. Finally on our Southbound trek we reach Antsirabe, which is the second largest city in Madagascar just behind Tana. It is home to a lot of industries including textile and beer, the first brewery in Madagascar was started in Antsirabe. We stop here at a charming cafe/pizzeria  for lunch, before taking the 34 west.  We were about half way to our destination which is the town of Miandrivazo. As we left Antsirabe we took N 34 due West. It was now 1:00PM we had been traveling for five and a half hours.


The N 34 was a much better road than the N 7. Not as big a road, less traveled and much smoother. We stopped to stretch our legs at Mandoto to buy some water and stretch our legs. We were now coming out of the highlands and as we descended in elevation the temperatures climbed. With about 74 kilometers to go the road started to have pot holes that size of craters you might expect to see on the moon. This slowed our progress significantly. We finally hit Miandrivazo at 5:00 PM  nine and a half hours after we left Tana. Our first stop was the police station. We needed to register and get our permits for our up coming boat ride. Once that was complete Derik and Mamy dropped us off at the  Princesse Tsiribihina.

I forgot to mention, Mamy was introduced to us in Tana and will be our guide, Derik is our driver and Mamy our guide.

When you are traveling off the grid you need to set your expectations correctly. We did, and the Princess exceeded them. The room, small but clean and pleasant. With limited power generation the
hotel only has electricity from 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM.

Once settled we took a nice refreshing swim and then showered and got ready for dinner.

While today's drive was long and sometime tedious I feel it was well worth it. We got a nice overview of the mid-southern interior landscape of Madagascar almost bisecting the entire country. One thing that was clear is the Polynesian genetics has a remarkable influence on the look of the Madagascar people.

Day 6: 04MAY15: Miandrivazo – Sahambano
We were to start a 3 day canoe trip today. We were told for security reasons we would be switched to a power boat instead. This was a disappointment as we were looking forward to the 3 day workout (Paddling a Canoe).


Madagascar Boat Trip


We left the hotel at 7:30 AM for about a one hours drive to the small village where we would catch the boat. The last 10 kilometers took the bulk of the drive time. The road and I use the term "road", very lousily, was more of a dry creek bed, with more sand traps and divots, than most golf courses.

Once at the village we were greeted by many little kids that wanted their photos taken, we obliged
their requests. We found out the local school is over crowded so half the kids go to school in the morning and half in the afternoon.

While we waited we saw a few people depart in the dug out canoes that we had planned to take. Our disappointment turned to joy when we realized the passengers do not get to paddle, they just sit there and look pretty.

Once we saw the boat we would be taking, we went from joyful to ecstatic. For Madagascar standards we would be traveling like an Egyptian King and Queen, cruising the Nile.

When we were told our trip had changed due to security reasons we assumed the rebels were at it again. In reality Ravaka had upgraded us and wanted it to be a surprise.

As we departed, all the children wished as a Bon Voyage . The river was a muddy brown, which was caused by the fast current as the rainy season had recently ended. In October after the dry season the river is much slower and crystal clear.

As we headed south along the Mahajife River until we hit the Tsiribihina River and headed west. Like any natural river these rivers serpentine, windy their way to the next body of water. We travel through quiet fertile valleys, typical Sakalava villages and gorges of Bemaraha we see many other boats all types of commerce from passenger to goods. What a beautiful trip. We quickly pass the dug out canoes that left a good bit before us. Ravaka is a god, upgrading our transport. The sun is beating fairly hard, and we have a nice canopy and warm breeze.  

For lunch Mamy made us a tomato and avocado salad, followed by rice and freshly caught fish. Bananas and oranges right off the trees for desert. Wonder what the folks in the canoes are having for lunch.

We have seen many different types of birds, one of the most interesting birds to watch were the Hawks catching crickets mid flight and eating them without missing a beat.

In the late afternoon we stopped for a short hike up to a beautiful pristine waterfall. Maragrite and I both swam and enjoyed the cool refreshing water about 75 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The water was to cold for Mamy  so he returned to the boat. Maragrite and I continued to explore the water fall and the different pools it created. The abundance of insects of many different varieties was fascinating.

After an hour at the falls we continued the boat exploration west. We stopped just before 5:00 PM, at what looked like a small village that was actually home to over 10,000 villagers. We were greeted by about 7 children ranging in age from 3 to 10 as they escorted us on a village tour the group increased to over 20. The houses ranged from small grass huts to stone and cinder block three story buildings. The village was alive with activity, people going about their day to day activities. Tobacco is a big crop for this village and there were large building for storing and drying the tobacco.

About a mile down river from the village, we pulled up on to the beach for the night. Mamy prepared
a fantastic meal of fresh vegetables, followed by grilled chicken. You might wonder, without any refrigeration how are the meats kept fresh. This is easy, they are kept alive until cooked. A live chicken does not need to be refrigerated plus it produces eggs until you kill it. Eggs for breakfast, chicken for dinner. Yep, we got our answer, the egg came before the chicken.

After dinner we took a walked on the beach as we saw many villagers returning to the village, after a day of tending the fields.

We had a choice, camp on the beach, or sleep on the boat. We opted for the breeze, we would get on the boat. Good choice, the cots (wooden slats) were a little rough but we have slept on worse. Margarite and I have both decided to go for camper belly 3 days should be easy (Google "camper belly LifeOfDUG").

We had a beautiful moon rise during dinner, we timed it perfect with a full moon coming up over the eastern horizon as the sunset on the west horizon.

Day 7: 05MAY15: Sahambano – Anosinampela

We woke at sunrise  6:00AM went for a walk on the beach to stretch our legs and work the kinks out from our nights sleep. We continue heading west between the mountains, home for Sifaka and Fulvus lemurs - several species of birds like the Madagascar Fish Eagle, Herons, Comb Ducks, Helmeted Guineafowl, Parrots, Vasa, Madagascar Plover as well as flying dogs (bats), turtles, and chameleons.

As we passed by the cliff sides we could hear and then see the. Flying dogs (bats) in the caves along the cliffs. Much larger bats than we had seen on prior trip to other parts of the world, thus the name flying dogs.

Up to this point we have not seen any lemurs, Mamy feels this maybe due to the engine noise of the
boat scaring them off. One negative compared to doing this trip in canoes.

We stopped at a very small village for lunch. Mamy made an excellent lunch for us and we found a villager that offered to help us locate a few lemurs.  Success! Up in the tangerine trees we found two lemurs resting from their mornings work foraging the trees for food.

After the excursion searching for the lemurs, we continued on our west bound trip. What a pleasant way to see the interior of Madagascar.  We had four gentleman and a women working as the crew on the boat as well as Mamy our guide.

As we continued on, the land flattened out more like a plain than the hills we had passed through. You could see how wide the river gets during the rainy season.

We had now been on the boat for 36 hours and are enjoying it immensely. Not just the scenery, but visiting the villages and seeing how little material items people need to be happy, especially the children. We have seen this in many places of the world, but after a few months in the United State, we forget how complicated we make our lives with STUFF. One of the larger villages  we have visited along the Tsiribihina River was Sakalava village at Berevo, an old colonial base and oil exploratory site.

A few hours later we stopped for the evening. Another beautiful African sunset as well as a full moon
rising. We chose to sleep on the boat again. Each evening there is a nice cool breeze to help keep us comfortable, once the moon is fully up the breeze  subsides along with the warm temperature. Tonight we chose to spoil ourselves and put some mattresses down over the slotted lounge chairs. We both slept like babies waking up again to a beautiful African sunrise.
  
Day 8: 06MAY15: Anosin'Ampela–Berevo–Antsiraraka-Belo sur Tsiribihina

Bad news, 48 hours in and I did not make camper belly, Maragrite has reduced her intake and is still
going strong even after her morning coffee. Before leaving for the day we took a walk through the local village. The area has many baobab trees, though we would be seeing even more later in the trip. As with many of the villages the people love to have their pictures taken, and as much as we can, we try to oblige.

After our walk though the village, we had another great breakfast. I need to give Mamy a lot of credit he is not disappointing us with the meals he is preparing for us. This mornings omelet's were cooked to perfection each meal is accompanied with fresh fruits and vegetables.

We are just a few hours from port, the plan is to get close to port stop for lunch and then dock, this
will then end this portion of the trip. For lunch we had fresh vegetables including the best avocado I have ever had.  Followed by sautéed prawn, I would have to say they were fresh, as they had just come out of the river that morning. For dessert, bananas and watermelon.

We pulled into the dock which was bustling with commerce. There were two barges one had a Land Rover the other had a jeep and a tractor. Both barges were still being unloaded of rice and corn. The rice and corn had just come via barge from many of the villages we had passed, and would now be taken by Zebu cart to the markets.

The town we were in is called Belo sur Tsiribihina it is at the mouth of the Tsiribihina River. If we had done the canoe trip as planned the trip would of ended a good distance back and we would have been brought here by 4WD.

We said good by to our boat crew and gave them each 20,000 Ariary as a tip. We had no idea how much you tip the boat crew, but the crew seemed very appreciative. 20,000 Ariary is a little less than $7.00 USD.

A driver met us at the dock and drove us to our hotel for the night, Karibo Hotel. Once we got settled, we showered and rested. Mamy will meet us at 4:00 PM when he will take us on a tour of  Belo sur Tsiribihina. Why 4:00? The temperature is rather hot and should start cooling off about 4:00 PM.

The Karibo Hotel is very pleasant. You need to remember we are far from any metropolitan area. Most homes are just huts, few have running water or electricity. We have both, plus a ceiling fan. We are happy with our accommodations. No Four Season, but for Belo sur Tsiribihina it truly is paradise.

We had a nice walk through the village more commerce here than in the last few villages we visited. Being a port city it is the gateway for goods going both up and down river.  The streets are mostly walkers mixed with bikes as well as carts drawn by Zebu. There are a few 4WDs and trucks, but few and far between.

We have been in Madagascar for 5 days now, besides a couple of French tourist we have been the only white people we have seen. Mamy said for some of the young children we are the first white people they have ever seen. We have gotten so use to this, traveling in the far reaches of Africa we forgot what a novelty we are to some of the folks we run into.

Dinner is at 7:00 it will be hard for the hotel Restaurant to compete with Mamy's culinary skills.
  
Day 9: 07MAY15: Belo sur Tsiribihina – Bekopaka

I mention that the Karibo Hotel was paradise, well that all changed at 4:00 AM. Sometime after we fell asleep the power went out. This is normal for most of Madagascar. Someone at the Karibo Hotel thought there was nothing more important than restoring power so they kicked on a very loud diesel generator. This generator happen to reside just below our room. Yes, we woke up at 4:00 AM to a room full of carbon-monoxide and a loud generator running. We quickly opened the door to allow the carbon-monoxide to dissipate, but sleep would evade us for the rest of the night/morning.

We had a nice breakfast of freshly made omelets and then met up with Mamy and our driver. We would be riding in a Toyota Land Cruiser.   By 7:30 AM we were  north bound, our 4WD vehicle and driver did a great job on the red lateric track, going through the baobab forest and savannah to the National Park of Tsingy de Bemaraha, one of the World’s most unusual parks. A few times if not for the skill of our driver I am sure we would of been
stuck for hours if not days in the mud and ruts of the road. We covered 100 kilometers in just 4 hours.

Once we got to the banks of the Manabolo River we called the ferry over to transport us and our Land Cruiser to the northern bank and park entrance.

Mamy dropped us off at our hotel about 2 kilometers away. We would be staying at the Soleil des Tsingy for the next two nights, and let me tell you this was, truly paradise. As nice as any resort/hotel we have stayed at in Africa, with the personalized service to match.

Little Tsingy



At 3:00 PM Mamy and Fady (our driver) picked us up. We were going to hike the petit Tsingy which is right at the entrance to the park. The park requires you to have one of their guide take you on any hikes, we had Fred as our local guide. Fred was great his English was so so, but he was working hard to improve it. The petit Tsingy was created by the rains eroding the limestone creating fantastic rock formations. Not only did we tour these rock formations we also saw a lot of wildlife, the highlight was the lemurs. Watching them eating their lunch in the trees, once done eating they would run off by jumping from tree to tree some times clearing several meters at a time.

After our hike we returned to Soleil des Tsingy had a nice swim and great dinner. Dinner started with
an appetizer of smoked zebu and cucumber, the main was zebu with pasta, dessert for me was a creme brûlée, for Margarite dessert was a fantastic gluten free dairy free dark chocolate muse. Tomorrow will be an early start so off to bed it is.
  
Day 10: 08MAY15: Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Today we started with an early morning paddle through  Gorges of the Manambolo River. Mamy and Fady picked us up at 7:30AM, we picked Fred up on the way. We went to the same area that the barge had brought us to the day before on the Northern bank of the Manambolo River, which is also the main entrance to the park.

Great Tsingy Part I

Great Tsingy Part II


There was a canoe waiting for us, the canoe was actually two canoes tied together. The canoe captain had a tough job, we were going up river into a stiff headwind. We traveled for 2 kilometers viewing and learning about the gorge and how it was formed.

We pulled into a cave where we left the canoes and observed the cave and how it was formed by the
rain seeping in from above and the limestone being carried away.

The trip back was a little easier on the canoe captain with the current and tail wind.

Next we will be doing a four hour walking safari inside the park. But first we need to drive the 17 kilometers to the big Tsingy. This drive took just under two hours, the roads are more like mud bogs. Our driver did great, never getting us stuck. I can not say that for a few of the other drivers.    

A Tsingy is like a gigantic limestone cathedral, and constitutes a dense network of sharp pinnacles formations. This is found in only two places in Madagascar. The Tsingy, formed over centuries by the movement of wind and water, the big T'singy towers several hundred meters into the air.  Several species of succulent plants grows on the Tsingy.  We started our walk in the jungle spotting a few different species of lemurs.

This National Park also shelters 13 species of Lemurs, among them the Decken's Sifaka, Red Fronted
Brown lemur, the Grey Mouse Lemur, the Wooly Lemur, the Verrauxi Sifaka - mammals like the Narrow striped Mongoose, Fossa, 94 species of birds are also found here, like the endemic Madagascar Fish Eagle, Giant Couas and Vangas. Twenty-two species of amphibians and 66 species of reptiles have been inventoried here.
Once we reached the big Tsingy we hiked/climbed/crawled our way to the to the top. What an exciting way to see the Tsingy. In many places you are scaling the walls and must harness yourself to wire cables attached to the Tsingy.

The return is a little easier, but not any less challenging, You must cross a single person suspension bridge about 80 meters in the air. The bridge bounces and wobbles with each steep.

Once back at the jeep we headed back for what should have been an under 2 hour drive, but turned into almost 3 hours. The single track mud bog that they call a road swallowed up a few jeeps that had left before us.

Not that we would leave them, there was no way back until these jeeps were freed. Everybody kicked in and after some time everybody was free from the mud and on their way.
Tomorrow we have a very long day, Mamy requested we be ready to go at 5:30AM. We reluctantly
agreed. So far Mamy has been right with everything we have done, so why start challenging him now!

Another great dinner zebu capattio , followed by a main of duck with potato, and chocolate mouse for dessert. I enjoyed a great meal, while Maragrite had a bowl of rice. Her belly has been a little upset so she was not able to enjoy the tasty meals.

Day 11: 09MAY15: Bekopaka – Morondava
Today will actually be two days in one. Our flights that were to be in two days, were changed to tomorrow. Mamy and Fody picked us up at 5:30AM. This was a concern, since breakfast was not scheduled until 6:00AM. When we mentioned our early departure the hotel staff told us they would set up for breakfast at 5:00AM just for us. That is service!

The next issue with our early departure was the ferry barge back across the Manambolo River. Mamy contacted the ferry folks and they said they would be ready for us. As we drove to the river crossing, we past the ferry captain walking to the dock. We obviously gave him a lift. When we arrived the ferry was on the other side of the river, so the captain and crew paddled a canoe across to retrieve the ferry. The best laid plans!

We were on the road by 6:30AM, we would be passing back through Belo sur Tsiribihina which was 100 kilometers away about a 4 hour drive. Once in Belo sur Tsiribihina we had to take another ferry across the Tsiribihina River. The logistics on this ferry was much better. They were waiting for us as soon as we drove up, we immediately boarded and the ferry departed. The ferry ride was 30 minutes not only did we cross the river, we also went up stream about 2 kilometers.

Our first stop of the day was  Kirindy Forest Reserve, home of the Fosa predator, Tenrec, the Verrauxi Sifaka, snakes and chameleons. It was a 2 hour drive after getting off the ferry. Once there we were assigned a guide that specializes in Kirindy Forest Reserve. Kirindy Forest Reserve is a private reserve that is used for ecology education by several different universities. Our guide did a great job spotting a few different species of lemurs, even getting a few to wander within a few feet of use. Originally we were to stay at the park overnight and have a night hike to view some nocturnal lemurs, with our flights changing this was canceled and we continued our drive south. 


Baobab Avenue

We reached Baobab Avenue for a spectacular sunset. Baobab Avenue is were the road is lined with giant Baobab Trees. There is a Lyly Pond on one side of the road and Baobabs on the other. It makes for great picture taking at sunset. We were still 20 kilometers or an hour from our final destination of the coastal town of Morondava.

The road improved much, flat, smooth, and paved. Life was good until it got dark. Though the quality of road allowed us to increase our speed the obstacles did not. Bicycles, small carts, pedestrians, and of course Zebu, no lights on the road, a mud covered windshield, if it was not for the skill of Fody this might have been a dangerous situation. Never fear Fody is here, especially when it comes to driving. We arrived at our hotel at 6:30 PM 13 hours after we had left. We are staying at the  Pallisandre Cote Ouest Resort and Spa. The Pallisandre Cote Ouest Resort and Spa is located directly on the beach. Mamy made sure we were all checked  in and got us our new flight times, 1:45 PM. This means Mamy  will pick us up at 11:00 AM. We only get to enjoy this beautiful place for a short period of time.


Once we were settled, we had dinner, a salad with chicken fingers, this was a first for me and it was fine. The main was shrimp with couscous, in a curry sauce. This was fine but not to the same standards as the prawns Mamy had made us. Dessert chocolate éclairs, but instead of whipped cream they used Ice cream, it was a very nice touch and the best part of the meal.

It was approaching 9:30 PM, it had been a long day so we hit the sack.
  
Day 12: 10 MAY15: Morondava –  Tana

We had a relaxing morning. Mamy and Fody were not picking us until 11:00. We got our first view of Pallisandre Cote Ouest Resort and Spa in the day light. Each bungalow / cabana was set up as it's own suite. Each spaced 10 meters apart, my guess is there were 20 bungalows ours and a few others faced the Mozambique Channel. The rest of the bungalows sat back behind.  Each had a porch with a nice set of table and chairs for relaxing and enjoying the view. Inside the bathroom was at least a third of the space with a beautifully appointed tile and wood decor. The water pressure was great, and the hot water came form a solar exchanger which was nice and hot, but took a minute or two to get to you.


The bedroom was appointed in natural wood, the center had the king size bed surrounded by the misquote netting. Very comfortable. This was our first room since leaving Tana that had air conditioning and we took full advantage of it. There was also a TV from the 1970's with three station, which we never turned on. 

From our bungalow it was a short walk to the pool which we took advantage of with an early morning swim. The tide was low so the walk to the water was rather long. In hindsight I would have passed on a visit to the beach, from a distance, quite beautiful, but up close you could see the locals used it both as a dump for their trash and a human litter box for their poooo.  Yep, they pooped right on the beach, worse than a cat they did not even bother to bury their poooo!

Mamy and Fody picked us up right on time. Our flight was scheduled for 1:40PM on Air Madagascar. From listening to other tourist and reading reviews keeping a schedule is not a priority for Air Madagascar. It seems unless the flight is somewhat full it will not fly.

We arrived at the airport with 2 hours to spear. The arriving flight was right on time. We actually departed 49 minutes early. I am on that flight right now, so I am not sure if we will land early.

An interesting fact we learned this morning, one reason the roads are so bad is the national government pays the local villages to maintain the section of road that travels near their village. The village leaders, rather than pay the villagers to work on the roads, just keep the money. This somewhat makes sense, since 99% of the people in the village walk, bike, or use a zebu cart, why repair the roads for cars that they do not use. The roads are fine to walk, bike, and even take a zebu cart.

We landed 50 minutes early, on the flight they served us a drink and a small bag of cashews. The flight was very pleasant I would give them a 9 out of 10 based on all the horror stories we have heard. One flight down three to go.

Our itinerary has changed a few times since we arrived in Madagascar. The last change had us being picked up at the airport and overnight in Tana and then flying out early the next morning to Tulear. Prior to that change we were suppose to transfer from this flight to a flight to Tulear. We assumed the flight to Tulear was canceled and that is why we were changed to the next days flight.

Once we got our bags we went outside to meet our driver, but there was no driver. This was not a big surprise as we were 50 minutes early, there were other passengers waiting for their rides. After about 30 minutes we saw people showing up for a departing flight, we checked and this flight was to Tulear. Now we were a little confused / concerned, was a driver picking us up or were we suppose to connect to Tulear. It was now 2:50PM, no driver and more people checking in for the Tulear flight. I gave a call to Ravaka, but had to leave a message. I do not blame Ravaka it was a Sunday and we were probably panicking over nothing.

Finally a gentleman came up to us and asked if we were DUG and Margarite, it was our driver. We had seen him walking around, when he arrived about 20 minutes after we landed, he asked Air Madagascar about our flight. They confused him, because we landed so early, he was not sure if they were talking about our flight or another flight.

To make a long story short we found our driver, or he found us. The flight that was boarding for Tulear was the flight Ravaka was hoping to get us on, but it sold out, so she put us on the next mornings flight.

The best part, when we got to the car the driver showed us the sign he had with our names on it, we never figured out why he left it in the car, it might of saved us a few minutes and a little concern if he had the sign with him.  These things happen, and if they are going to bother you it is best to stay home and not travel. As we chatted with the driver we found out his name was Harry. 

We arrived at our hotel La Varangue, what a grand unique hotel. The owner must be a big collector, out front in a covered area there were 4 European classic cars, inside there were collections of antique phones, musical instruments, lights, and more. The reception area doubled as a bar, upon our arrival we were served fresh cool pineapple juice. 

The building was somewhat of a maze, clearly several structures put together over time. Our room was lovely. They room next to us was open and we took a look around it was more like an apartment with a nice outside sitting area.

We walked around for a bit, our main goal was to find an ATM and restock on some Ariary, Madagascar money. 700,000 Ariary to be exact or about $230.00 USD. One disturbing part of our walk was the number of kids on the street begging. You could see their moms telling them who to go after. It was very sad and disheartening, so disheartening we cut our walk short.

Sure we have seen scenes like this in other places, but never with mothers as blatantly exploiting their children. It was a shame for the kids. The irony of it all is our hotel is right next to the presidential place.

The restaurant at our hotel is closed on Sunday nights so Ravaka made us reservations at one of the best restaurants in town at the Hotel Colbert, just a few hundred yards from La Varangue. Before retreating to the sanctuary of La Varangue we stopped in to confirm our reservation.  The receptionist already had all our information and Harry had dropped off a voucher to cover the cost of dinner.

After relaxing back at La Varangue we ventured out for our 7:00 PM dinner reservation. The streets we deserted (the beggars gone) so the walk was pleasant. We were greeted and shown to a very nice table, the restaurant, opened at 7:00 PM and was starting to fill up. We both had appetizers of Foie Gras it was nice but not as enjoyable as the Foie Gras Magarite had our first night in Madagascar at the restaurant Sakamanga, but then again Sakamanga is famous for it's Foie Gras. I decided to go simple for my main and had spaghetti and meat sauce, neither Malagasy or French, but simple. Margarite had a trio of fish with rice and veggies. We both enjoyed our meals, Margarite said her fish was excellent.

Dessert time, Margarite was passing on dessert but ordered a Cream Brulee for me. I ordered a chocolate mouse. Both were fantastic, put together a spoon of half chocolate mouse and half Cream Brulee was to die for.

Harry was picking us up at 6:00 AM so we headed back to our hotel for what we thought would be a pleasant evening walk. Unfortunately we were immediately accosted by beggars, this time not the children but the mothers. We increased our stride and they quickly fell behind.

Once back in our room, we feel asleep only to be awaking by a swarm of misquotes. We have no idea where they came from. Here we were in the city of Tana and there were more misquotes in our room than we had seen in all of Madagascar so far, including many areas that had standing water that were perfect breeding grounds. What were we to do? Another anomaly, this was the first bed in Madagascar without a misquote net. As we swatted the insects, even hitting each other a few times, the buzz of their wings was like Chinese water torture! We decided to crank the air conditioner and see if we could freeze them out. This worked we finally got to sleep, but woke up freezing.

Day 13: 11MAY15:  Tana  - Tulear  – Monday
Harry picked us up right on time, we were at the airport at 6:30AM plenty of time for our 8:45 AM flight. Once through security we waited for our 8:20AM boarding call, which happened a few minutes early. We took off at 8:45 AM exactly. So far so good, two departures, one early, one right on time. Our first flight is to Taolagnaro / Fort Dauphin, we then have a 35 minute layover, not sure if we switch planes or not, but somehow continue on to Tulear. As I write this I am on the first flight and all is going well.

Air Madagascar is now three for three, flight number one was 50 minutes early, flights two and three were right on time. Let's knock on wood, since we have two flights left.

Bernice our guide was waiting for us as we exited the Tulear Airport. He even had a sign with ours names on it. He introduced us to our driver Mick. Mick drives a Mitsubishi 4WD pickup truck. In the back of the truck he has 4 mountain bikes. I had forgotten Ravaka has set us up with bikes for this portion of the trip. Once our luggage was stowed we were off to our hotel.

We are staying at Serena Hotel. A nice hotel, modern architecture, the hotel started on the second floor, not sure what was on the first. One interesting item was the room key. It had an RF chip in it, you just waved it in front of the door and it unlocked, same for the room safe. The room was rather musty, but Tulear is on the water so that may be the issue.

Bernice dropped us off at a nice Indian restaurant for lunch, while he and Mick went to assembly the bikes. They would meet us back at the hotel at 2:30PM. We both enjoyed our meals, the service was extremely slow, but we were not in a rush and they had a Bollywood movie playing that we watched as we waited.

On our walk back we experienced similar begging as in Tana, not as aggressive. At 2:30PM we biked to the  Antsokay Arboretum, Bernice told us it was a ten kilometer ride, it was closer to twenty kilometers, you will later see there is an issue with Bernice and distances.

Bike Ride Tulear to Antsokay Arboretum and Back


Riding a bike in Tulear is an experience in itself. First of all there are no rules of the road in Madagascar when it comes to driving, no matter what type of vehicle, car, bus, truck, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle, for that mater I would include pedestrians. We figure you can only worry about yourself and just make sure the space in front of you is open, if so keep riding. We survived. On the way back another bicyclist tried to pass Magarite just as a car was passing Margarite. The bicyclist hit Margarite's back wheel, Margarite held her ground and stayed strong, the bicyclist that hit her, stumbled, but recovered all was good. 

The Antsokay Arboretum was very nice, an outdoor Arboretum. We had a very energetic tour guide that gave us all the Latin names for the different plants and trees, as well as the birds. We are glad we took the tour and truly enjoyed it.

The bike ride back was an experience, it was dusk when we left the Arboretum and dark when we reached the hotel. We had no lights or reflective materials, there was no way cars could see us unless they had natural night vision goggles. What was worse, most cars for some reason did not use their headlights, maybe they do have night vision goggles.

We rode fast, our thinking, the faster we went the less time we would spend on the road, as we passed
other bikes they would race us, this made the ride back quick and fun.

Bernice had told us the ride would be 10 kilometers each way it was closer to 15 kilometers each way. So instead of biking 20 kilometers we biked 30 kilometers.

The Serena Hotel does not have a restaurant, so we walked to La Terrasse  restaurant just a few blocks down from our hotel. A little hole in the wall with excellent food. I went for a pizza and it was fantastic. Maragrite went for a very interesting combination,  she had two appetizers Foie Gras and mixed vegetables. We both had desserts, chocolate muse for me, and bananas flambé for Margareite. The walk home was fine, but the street was very, very, very dark, we screwed up and had forgotten our flashlights.

Bernice and Mick would be picking us 7:30AM.
  
Day 14: 12MAY15: Tulear – Isalo

We needed to get a picnic lunch before departing, we would be traveling the entire day with nowhere to stop for lunch. We decided to just get fruits at the market across from the hotel. Once all provisioned, we set out for Isalo National Park. We drove towards the savannah and the baobab areas. Several species of spiny vegetation of this area are endemic and exist nowhere else.

Our first stop was  Zombitse National Park, where we saw three different types of lemurs as well as some plants, trees, and birds, but the lemurs were the highlight two of the lemurs we saw were Hapa and Sifaka lemurs.


Zombitse National Park Bike Ride to Isalo


From Zombitse National park we stopped under a shade tree and had our lunch. Bernice said it was 40 kilometers to Isalo so we decided to bike from there rather than drive  more and then bike. We assembled the bikes and were off with Mick hanging back incase we had any issues. The first 20 kilometers was a slow steady climb, at kilometer 21 we had a 9 kilometer down hill. The ride was quite nice, smooth roads and very little traffic. At kilometer 21 we doubled checked how far we had to go and Bernice said maybe it would be 45 kilometers. At the bottom of the hill, which was 30 kilometers, Margarite decided to go ahead with Mick and get us checked into the hotel. We were staying at the  Relais de la Reine listed as one of the nicest places to stay in all of Madagascar.


Bernice is a slow and steady type of biker, I was much faster, and had a hard time going as slow as Bernice. I would ride ahead and then wait as I had no idea where we were going.

At 50 Kilometers Bernice said we had 3 or 4 kilometers to go. Our total ride was 60 kilometers. Bernice was off by 20 kilometers. We are buying Bernice a map. The ride was beautiful, but further than we planned to ride.

I guess we are starting to see a theme with Bernice and distances, first ride planned for 20 kilometers was really 30 kilometers, today planned for 40 kilometers was really 60 kilometers. If he tells us 60 kilometers tomorrow, we will pull out a map and measure.

After a fantastic shower and some stretching we headed to dinner. I had the gazpacho appetizer, curry
coconut fish as my main, and a chocolate muse covered in a hard chocolate dome for dessert.  Margarite had a medley of vegetables for her appetizer, pork ribs as her main, and fruit for dessert. Based on the way we devoured our meals, either it was a great meal, or we were starving from our bike ride, or both. I think it was both.

Day 15: 13MAY15: Isalo

Isalo National Pack


We woke at 6:30AM for our 7:00 AM breakfast. We met Bernice and Mick at 8:00AM we had about a 30 minute drive to the Isalo National park office where we would buy our hiking permits.

At the office we also met Martin, who will be our local guide for the day. We have now been in Madagascar for 12 days and it still baffles me why we need so many guides. We have our driver, we have our main guide, they are both with us 100% of the time and then when we get somewhere we have a specific guide for that place. I am not complaining, I love the extra service, it just confusing why all the guides.

As we waited for Bernice and Martin to get the permits we saw many other hikers. One gentleman was clearly going out hiking for several days. Just like when we went on the boat and took a live chicken, he had a live chicken tied to his pack. He would be eating well on his trek, very fresh chicken. 

Martin, explained that today's hike would cover about 13 kilometers in distance and just a very small
part of the park. We would stop a few places where we could swim, we will also stop for lunch at a beautiful overlook.
Composed of eroded ruiniform sandstone formations from the Jurassic era, Isalo is a semi-desert area characterized by its canyons, oases and lunar landscape - home for lemurs and many other endemic species. It gives the feeling of open space and stillness.

The hike started out in a forest area where we quickly saw several ring tail lemurs, this was the first time we saw this species of lemurs. Once out of the forest we were in a much more arid area of the park, the canyons made of sandstone that had been carved by both wind and rain made for some very unusually shapes in the rocks. The hike took us up and down the canyon walls.

Our first stop was an oasis that was a magnificent area, a crystal clear pool, feed by a cascading waterfall, all outlined by Palm trees and ferns. We stopped and I enjoyed a nice refreshing swim.

After a short break we resumed our hike, we would cross the canyon and head up to the crest, from this ridge line we could see both into and out of the canyon. We were now at the highest point of the hike. We decided to stop to have lunch as the views were breathtaking and we could not think of a better place to enjoy our lunch and great views at the same time.

After lunch we hiked down to another oasis, the trail was very well maintained and much of the hike was on stairs carved out of the sandstone. It seemed like we would go down 20 stairs and then up 20 stairs. We finally arrived at our second oasis, this one much larger than our first. We had now hiked 9 kilometers. We had been through an area that reminded me of hiking in Utah or Arizona in America, dry, wind worn canyons, short vegetation. These oasis, were more like tropical islands, then arid deserts. This oasis contained a picnic area / camp ground. The ring tail lemurs liked hanging out here as they liked to steal objects from the tourist. When we arrived we saw about a half a dozen lemurs doing just that. What a sight to see.


This oasis branched into two directions, like a "Y", the first branch we took led to the blue and black pool, both fed by water falls. The area was a narrow canyon, that was lined with moss and ferns. You could see how high and strong the water runs in the rainy season by just looking at the large trees that were lodged  high and dry on rocks well above the current water level. We decided to just soak our feet rather than swim as we only had a short time left and did not want to get in the truck wet.

After visiting the pools, we took the other branch to visit a rather high water fall that emptied into another pool. This water fall was fairly far up the path, and was significantly higher than the first set of falls. At this point we had been out for over 8
hours and it was approaching 5:00PM. We decided to "B" line it back to the car park where Mick would be waiting for us.

The hike ended exactly at 13 kilometers, clearly Martin has a better understanding of distances than Bernice. It had been a long day, but well worth it. In just 13 kilometers the landscape, plant life, insects, all changed significantly, as if we were walking from one world to another.

Once back at the hotel we had another awesome dinner.

A few things I have been meaning to mention the first, as we continue toward eastern Madagascar from the west I realize the facial features of the villagers are looking more Asian again. What I had not realized as we traveled west the people had become more African in their features. This makes sense since the west coast of Madagascar is close to South Africa and Mozambique. In the sixteen hundreds, people from these areas migrated to Madagascar and settled in western Madagascar.  

The east coast of Madagascar faces South Asia, thus folks that settled this region came from that area.

The other interesting / funning observation, since we have been in Madagascar anytime we walk into
a village the kids come running to us and greet us by saying "whaaats uuuup" I always return the greeting with a very strong "What's Up!". The kids would always laugh hysterically after I said my "What's Up!". What I found out today was the kids were not saying, "whaaats uuuup" but we're saying "Vasa". Vasa means white person in Malagasy's, not in a derogatory way but as a term of endearment.  No wonder the kids always laughed at me. They must of thought I was a nut! 

We will be leaving Isalo tomorrow, the hotel we are staying at is very nice, but I am surprised people have said it is the nicest in all of Madagascar. I would say Soleil des Tsingy in Tsingy National Park is far nicer. On a scale of one to ten I would give Relais de la Reine an eight and I would give Soleil des Tsingy a ten plus. The biggest difference was the staff, the staff at both were great, but the staff at Soleil des Tsingy seemed to go above and beyond. For example when we said we needed breakfast at 5:00 AM even though they did not serve breakfast until 6:00AM they opened at 5:00 AM just for us.

Day 16: 14MAY15: Isalo – Ranomafana
Today we have a long drive about 400 kilometers. I am glad the roads are much better on this section of the trip. As we left the rainforest area, we drove through the savannah and rocky landscapes of the southern Madagascar. One thing Bernice pointed out is that what looks like a grassy plain was once forest that had been clear cut to create pastures for the zebu to graze. While great for the zebu, this has caused a lot of erosion and other environmental issues for this area.

Isalo to Ranomafana

We stopped at Anja Reserve, a community-run protected area - here we got real close to the Ring tailed lemurs amongst others. There are over three hundred ring tail lemurs living in this small area. We were able to see several different families as we walked the reserve. We also enjoyed watching a
crocodile sun himself on a rock in the pond that borders the reserve. After taking a few hundred pictures of the lemurs we decided to move on.

We continued through a huge plateau and valley which is the area of the Bara, - a conservative farming tribe whose livelihood and rituals are centered on the zebu. Unfortunately we missed the largest zebu market of the Island maybe even all of Africa by just one day, but we did see the
results as we drove we passed many a shepherd walking their newly purchased zebu back to their villages.

The next major village we past through was Ambalavao, where we visited the Antaimoro paper factory, a very nice lady gave us a tour and demonstration of how paper was made in the 1,600's when the Arabs brought the technique to Madagascar and this is the way paper is still made today. The highlight was how they decorate the paper with real plant material.
Next on our list was the silk weavers’ workshops, which belongs to a local association of women.
Here we saw how they take the cocoons from the caterpillars and turn them into several different types of silk. We even learned what  different  natural materials they use to die and set the silk, from different tree barks, to curry. It was a very interesting process. I had no idea what went into making silk.

We had another 100 kilometers, of which the landscaped transformed into a think rich rain forest including a very spectacular water fall, before we reach our final destination of Setam Lodge which is set in Ranomafana rain forest / national park.

Immediately upon entry into our room we realized the musty odor, I guess this it to be expected in a rain-forest, but the musty odor was very strong. As you travel around Madagascar you must constantly remind yourself how nice the accommodations  are relative to the infrastructure of the country for example both Soleil des Tsingy and Relais de la Reine I would put up against any 5 star resort anywhere in the would, yet these two resorts have to provide all their own infrastructure such as electric and water, yet you would never know it.

As I write this I am reminded of the infrastructure issues, we just lost power at Setam Lodge. It is time for dinner, which reminds me how we have been enjoying gourmet meals with very little infrastructure.

Diner was nice we started out with a vegetable zebu soup, followed by chicken with rice and veggies. The chicken was a bit tough. For dessert we had a chocolate brownie with a vanilla cream sauce. The brownie was a bit dry. The food was not the best we have had so far, but it matched what one would expect from the Setam Lodge. 

Day 17: 15MAY15: Ranomafana

Ranomafana

Bernice said they would pick us up at 8:00 AM so we had a nice enjoyable breakfast at 7:00 AM and met Bernice and Mick at 8:00 AM.

We drove about a kilometer to the Ranomafana park entrance. Bernice introduced us to our guide for
the day his name, Diamond, yep just like the gem.  Ranomafana is a place to discover and experience the bewildering diversity of endemic plant and animal life it protects. Home for rare primates amongst other animals and plants.  We spent the morning inside the park, Diamond gave us a tour that lasted about 2 and a half hours. We saw the rare golden bamboo lemur, along with the brown and red lemur. All playing in the trees, jumping from tree to tree, while eating the leaves and fruits from the trees.

Along with the lemurs we saw many birds, a few huge moths, and of course some very cool spiders. It was a great visit to the rain forest.
After the park tour we relaxed at the hotel read some, and enjoyed a nice lunch on the outside deck over looking the park.

In the afternoon, we visit the village of Ranomafana and its water springs center. This is a public pool that is feed from a natural hot spring. While the pool looked inviting instead of jumping in the pool, we watched about 100 school kids have a blast in the pool. The kids were visiting the park as a field trip from the big city. 

It was a Catholic School from the village Bernice lives in.  Bernice happened to know the sister since
she had taught a few of Bernice's kids. We had a great conversation with the sister. She had been teaching for sometime and now teaches some of her past students children. She says she is a grand-teacher instead of a grandparent.

At the pool with the natural hot spring water you can also get a massage with essential oils extracted from local plants. We also walked through the market, Bernice bought us the same Malagasy bread that we had for breakfast. It is a rice, banana, nut combination that is backed inside a banana leaf, very tasty and enjoyable.

We decided to walk part of the way back to Setam Lodge. This walk took us through the village of Ranomafana.

On our walk we decided to meet some people the first was a young lady between 14 and 18. She cracks rocks into gravel all day. She does this with a hammer. Each piece of gravel is perfect in size to match the others. She can fill 20 bags in a day. Each bag sells for 800 Ariary the equivalent of 25 cents. Yes, she makes $5.00 a day. A very happy girl. I gave her 2,000 Ariary about 66 cents for talking with us and letting us tell her story. She was very thankful. A very sweet nice girl, and a very hard worker

The next girl we chatted with was somewhere between six and eight. I decided to walk in her shoes. Everyday maybe 3 to 5 times a day she walks
1.5 miles down a paved hill to the village water source. She fills her gallon bucket and gallon jug and then walks the 1.5 miles back. Each time carrying about 14 pounds of water. Not very heavy when you start the journey, but a mile in, the 14 pounds of water starts to gain weight. I did just one trip and was very happy we have running water. Like I said this little girl does this trip 3 to 5 times a day everyday. That is 9 to 15 miles of walking just to get fresh water for her family. She is happy to do it, though she was also very happy to let me cover one of her trips.

As you meet and talk to the people of the village you see one common thread, they are all content.
Their biggest concerns are family, and health. If they have both, life is good. There is no value placed on material items. Working hard is an asset not a detriment. 

Mick picked us up as we reached the end of the village and drove us back to the lodge.

At 5:30PM we met up with Diamond again for a short walk to observe nocturnal animals around the park. The walk was actually on the road up a few kilometers from the hotel. Diamond was amazing, not only could he spot all kinds of creatures, he was an expert photographer and taught Margarite how to shoot picture in the dark. The photographs she got were incredible.



After the walk we returned for dinner, our expectations were not very high. We had soup again, this time a very nice creamy vegetable soup. The main, chicken, rice and vegetables. The chicken was much better. Dessert was crepes flambé, it taste like crepes soaked in rubbing alcohol. Not worth eating.

Day 18 : 16MAY15: Ranomafana - Antsirabe

Ranomafana to Antsirabe Drive and Bike

Antsirabe is the town Bernice lives in so there is some excitement for him to see his family tonight.  After a breakfast, we stared our trip to Antsirabe - the city of water and rickshaws.

As we continued heading north east we could definitely see the Chinese influence. Not just the people's appearances, but things like the use of rickshaws for transportation, the food, etc.

We stopped in the town of Ambositra (just south of Antisirabe) to visit a woodworking shop. The cravers were making a replica of a very ornate table built in the seventeen hundreds. The original was carved from stone. This one would be carved from wood. The detail work was incredible all done by hand all 4 legs looked identical. After watching the craftsmen carve, we visited the shop, which has very beautiful wood work.

We continued on with our travels stopping about 50 kilometers out side of Antisirabe for a picnic lunch. A very beautiful setting, the entire drive today has been through beautiful rolling hills and valleys of rice paddies and farm land. The hills terraced for better irrigation and land use. We slowly left the rainforest, as the morning rain we had woke to broke to a beautiful sunny day.

With 15 kilometers left in our trip we stopped and switched over to the bikes. We did the last 15
kilometers via bike, entering the hustle and bustle of the town just as if we were part of the scene. Rickshaws, taxi bus's, trucks, a few cars, bikes, and us. All with their own story.

We are staying at the Royal Palace Hotel. A more modern hotel compared to what we have been staying out. Very nice and a great place to stay to break up the trip.

We had dinner at a great Restaurant  Razafimafy. The food was very traditional Malagasy with a Chinese flair which is typical for this area. Along with the meal we got to enjoy live traditional Malagasy folk music. Mick picked us up at 9:00 PM and we headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.

Day 19 : 17MAY15: Antsirabe - Andasibe

We departed at 8:00 AM  from Antsirabe via Antananarivo to the destination of Andasibe National Park, the drive will take 6 hours. Before we getting to Andasibe National Park we had a few stops to make.

Our first stop was a Zebu Horn artesian, they make all kinds of crafts out of zebu horns. We first got a demonstration of how they make spoons. The process was interesting, nothing goes to waste. They buy the horns from the slaughter house. First the horns are cooked to soften them up. Then the amount of material needed is cut from the softened horn, the material is placed in a hand pressed and cooled.
This hardens the horn which is then shaped as a spoon. From there you just work the material like plastic, with the final stages of buffing and polishing. Margarite bought some spoons. Everything looked great but we did not need anything.

Our second stop was Bernice's wife's shop. During the off season Bernice makes crafts from straw and also he makes clothes from Cotton fabric he buys.  The shop is right near the Zebu Horn Artesian so Bernice's shop gets a lot of tourist traffic. I bought a hat and shirt. We also  meet Bernice's family, wife, mother in law, 4 children and brother. What a great experience.

The third stop was the  mineral, stone, and gem shop. They actually collect the raw materials and then design and fabricate the finished products. They gave us a few items for good luck.

Tour de Madagascar Mantadia Nature Reserve and more

After the few stops we were on the road, just stopping for lunch. A lot of driving but we hope it will be worth it.  We arrived Vakona Forest Lodge at 6:00 PM what a beautiful place nestled in the rainforest far from any civilization.

Dinner was excellent. I continue to be amazed at the quality and gourmet cooking at these far reaching places. Magarite of course had the Foie Gras for her starter, I had planned to have the goat cheese salad, but they were out of goat cheese, so I chose the mushrooms topped with a potato pancake, might sound strange, but it was very good. We both opted for the duck in a orange marmalade sauce. Margarite had veggies as her side, I had traditional Creole rice, both were excellent. Margarite passed on dessert so I opted for two. The first was an ice cream scoop warped in a thin crape covered in chocolate sauce, again made just right. The second a chocolate cake with a trio of sauces, chocolate, vanilla, and honey. This was the only disappointment of the night, the cake was rather dry.   

Day 20: 18MAY15: Visit of Mantadia Nature Reserve

We had a busy day ahead of us. We met Bernice, Mick, and Nester at 8:00 AM. Who is Nester you may ask? He is our local guide. Yep, two guides, we are surly getting spoiled on this trip.

We had a 12 kilometer 4WD drive on a rather bumpy road, we felt like we were back in t'singy we went 12 kilometers in just over an hour. We could of run faster. We finally made it to Mantadia Reserve part of the Mantadia National Park, home of lemurs, birds and chameleons. The hike lasted a bit over two hours a rather challenging hike, the terrain was somewhat steep and VERY slippery, but worth-it to explore the primary rain forest. It had rained the day before on our drive in, but today was as clear as could be.


Nester did a great job of spotting things for us to see including Diademed sifaka, Black-and-white
ruffed lemurs, the insectivorous tenrecs and the rainforest-dependent ground rollers. When the hike was over Margarite and I debated running back rather suffer through the bumpy ride back. We decided to suck it up and go in the truck, what a painful ride.

In the afternoon, we first visited the Vakona Reserve where we saw several crocodiles. While they are in captivity, as much as possible the reserve mimics their real environment. We also saw a Faso which is a  cat like animal that is a predictor to the lemurs.

After the reserve we visited  Lemur Island where the lemurs are very friendly, there are 61 lemurs
from many different species living on the island. They will jump right onto you, an incredible experience! You simply can’t have the lemur experience anywhere else in the world. It was well worth the time.

Next we walked through the local village just hanging out with the locals. At dusk we met up with Nester for a night hike. We saw many similar things we had seen on our last night hike with Diamond, with one exception, this time we saw a mouse lemur. The mouse lemur is the smallest of the lemur species and happens to be nocturnal. It was a great sight to see. Below is an excerpt from a email I had sent to my publisher during the trip I though you might enjoy.

"We have spent the last few days in the rainforest.  We have done a few hikes. Last night we had a very funny, exciting, and maybe even a little dangerous experience. So funny that 24 hours later we are still laughing about it.

Unfortunately I forgot to turn on my GoPro, so I will test my writing skills and see if I can describe the situation.  It maybe be rather long. Remember as you read this English is my second language.

We were on a nocturnal hike. Joining us, Bernice our main guide, he has been with us for the last 10 days. Nester, our local guide who is an expert on the rain forest's, plants and creatures.

The reason for the nocturnal hike? There are many creatures that come out only at night. If you want to see them, you better be willing to hike at night.

Now for the rain forest, as it's name implies it rains a bit in a rain forest. When we arrived it was
raining, luckily yesterday the skies were clear for our hikes. With all the rain the forest grows rather thick. So thick it is close to impossible to walk through. The national parks cut trails through the rain forest in such a way that we can enjoy them without disrupting the Eco-system. Because of all the rain, things, like spiders, caterpillars, geckos, chameleons, and all kind of other little creatures especially leaches live in the rainforest. In fact earlier in the day Margarite got a leach on her face. They are much smaller than we expected and hard to see, which makes them hard to find and remove.

The scene is set, Nester is taking us through the park I am behind Nester, Margarite behind me and Bernice trailing us. Anybody that has hired a
guide, knows that a guide takes a lot of pride in their job, and wants their clients to have the best experience. No matter if the guide is a fishing, hunting, tour, or photo safari guide, they all want their clients to leave happy.

Nester explains to use there are two nocturnal lemurs in this area, the Woolley Lemur and the Mouse Lemur. The mouse lemur is the smallest lemur (the size of a mouse) and the rarest to see since it is nocturnal.

Three of us had some type of flashlight or headlamp, Bernice did not. The light is used to light our way and to spot the creatures we want to photograph (the creatures eyes will reflect off the light).

As we walk! Nester points out, frogs, dragon flies, chameleons, spiders. We even see the eyes of a Woolley Lemur. The Woolley Lemur hangs very high in the trees so we could only see the glow of it's eyes, unless you get very lucky that is all you will ever see, just the eyes.

I was curious as to how dark it really was, I asked Nester, would he be able to get us back if all our
lights died. He said we would have to wait until sunrise to leave the jungle. We then all turned our lights out, I am not sure if I have ever been in such darkness. After one minute we still could not see our own hands in front of our faces. Our eyes had not adjusted to the darkness.

There were two other groups hiking in the same area.  Nester would converse with the other guides in Malagasy. From what we picked up (yes after 18 days in Madagascar you start to learn the language), they would let each other know where different creatures were hiding.

We were nearing the end of our hike. The one thing we had not seen was a Mouse Lemur. Again this would be the crown jewel for Nester to show us a Mouse Lemur. During the entire hike Nester had been doing Mouse Lemur calls, so far with no luck. The calls came deep from his throat and are hard to describe.

If you are still reading we are about to get to the good part. Three  trails about 500 meters long, all parallel to each other, are cut in the forest. These trails are connected at each end by a trail that is perpendicular to the three trails. All three trails are built on the side of a hill.

We are heading back to the car, the hike is about over. Margarite and I are very happy, we observed unique creatures, and we're looking forward to a nice dinner. We were hiking back to the car in the same order we had been hiking, Nester, me, Margarite, Bernice. There was a slight gap between Margarite and I.

All of a sudden Nester started yelling at me in Malagasy, his excitement was over the top. I had no idea what he was saying, sure I understand a little Malagasy, but with his excitement and fast speaking, I got nothing as far as what he was saying. I just knew something was up. I looked at him like a deer staring into headlights, except I was a person staring at his flashlight.

He said in plain English," Hurry! Follow me, everybody!" He darted straight into the jungle, basically making a 90 degree right turn. The same forest I mentioned early is so thick it is virtually impossible to walk through.  Nester is about 6 inches shorter than us, and significantly thinner than even Margarite, and moves like a lemur through the forest.

We have no idea what Nester is chasing, we assume it is a Mouse Lemur by his excitement. Being the gentlemen I am, I signal for Margarite to catch up and go ahead of me and follow Nester. Was I being a gentlemen, or was I thinking, I rather Margarite hit the spider webs than me. Yes all those big spiders make lots of big webs.

Another interesting thing about the rain forest is bamboo, it can grow as much as 6 - 12 inches in a day, and it grows towards light. This means it does not just grow vertical, and can grow horizontal.

Picture this, we are running through the rain forest, following a person that moves like a lemur. We only can see by the flashlights/headlamps we carry. There are spiders, leeches, and all other kind of creatures surrounding us. Oh, plus the spider webs. We have no idea what the end game is, but we think it is to see a lemur that looks like a mouse. Every time Margarite hits a bamboo tree that is growing horizontally it slingshots her back onto me. Finally at one point the bamboo is so thick it stops Margarite's forward motion, she just plan falls down, she is laughing so hard.

Oh and did I mention the slope of the hill has about 20 degrees lift. As we both lay there laughing hysterically, we continue to hear Nester yelling hurry up, follow me. We can not see him we just keep heading for his voice.  We some how make it up to the higher/parallel trail. It seemed like we had been fighting the bamboo for hours, but I am sure it was just minutes.

Bernice trailing behind us, we had forgotten about Bernice as we got to the trail we remembered Bernice had no light, he said he just followed our laughter.

At the trail was Nester with a smile from ear to ear, there was another guide and her group. They had a flashlight pointed at a Mouse Lemur in a tree just a few feet off the ground. Perfect for picture taking.


In hindsight was it worth it, absolutely"

After the night hike we looked forward to another great meal, but we were disappointed. Margarite ordered the same things as the night before, but was not happy with it, the duck much tougher. My meal was very salty, it was a Sunday night, maybe the second string chef was on duty. We were very surprised the difference one night made in the quality of our food.

We will be departing this area tomorrow at 7:30 AM so off to bed we go.

Day 21: 19MAY15: Andasibe – Antananarivo

After breakfast we left to pick up Nester for a short hike through another part of the rain forest know Antananarivo. About half way back we stopped at the reptiles’ farm of Peryeras at Mandraka. While somewhat hooky, I am glad we stopped, we saw many endemic reptiles to Madagascar, though in captivity it gave us a great understanding of the diversity of this country when it comes to it's Eco-system. 
as Analamazaotra Nature Reserve. We saw a another species of lemur called the Indri which is the largest of all lemurs, they live in pairs. Last night we saw the Mouse Lemur which is the smallest Lemur and today we saw the Indri which is the largest lemur. Along with the lemurs we saw many other  endemic animals and plants.  After the hike we continued our 3 hour drive back to 

We are staying at the  La Varangue hotel. We had stayed here last time we were in Tana, though this time our room was not inundated with misquotes,  the stay was much better. We also had dinner at the La Varangue, the food was just OK, the staff and atmosphere was very good.
 The price for Madagascar standards was high, 124,000 Ariary or about $40.00 USD. If you stay at La Varangue hotel, get room number 3 not room number 10.
  


Day 22:20MAY15: Antananarivo–Antsiranana–Three Bays–Antsiranana NOT

Well good old Air Madagascar. We were suppose to first depart at 10:30 then 12:30 then the flight was canceled. Now what?

To make up for the lost day, Cactus Tours set us up to tour a crocodile farm. It was similar to the reptile reserve and the crocodile reserve we had visited except this was a true working farm. They raised crocodiles for both food and the skins. It was an interesting outing. They had over 150 full grown crocodiles.

Air Madagascar for some reason was taking care of the night accommodations I am not sure why as we have paid Cactus Tours for our hotel and food. The hotel they put us up at was A&C Hotel. A very nice hotel just 5 minutes from the airport. This was great since our flight was rescheduled for 6:30 AM. The one negative and it was a big one is the food was uneatable! I will find out why Cactus was not taking care of our accommodations. Update - I never really got a good explanation.


Day 23 :21MAY15: Antananarivo–Antsiranana–Three Bays–Antsiranana

Let's try again! 4:00 AM wake up call.

TNR – DIE DEP 6:30 AM ETA 8:00 AM (subject to change)
We finally flew from the capital to Diego then drove to Mountain d’Ambre National Park, first checking it at the Nature Lodge. What a beautiful lodge, built on the top of a hill, you could see the bay's out in the distance. The main building was the lounge and Restaurant all open air, made of fine wood. There are twelve cabins each beautifully appointed and located for both privacy and a great view of the sunset. After our night at an airport hotel the Nature Lodge was a welcome site. Our guide Rissa and our driver Atqqa suggested we have some breakfast before our hike.

Mountain d’Ambre National Park and more

After a nice relaxing breakfast we headed to Mountain d'Ambre national park, created in 1958, Mountain d'Ambre national park was the first national park in Madagascar. The goal was to protect the natural resources of Madagascar. The National Park System of Madagascar has grown tremendously over the last half a century.

It was now time to get closer to nature by visiting the wildlife in this dense rainforest. It was a
gorgeous day, slight breeze, dry air, clear skies and moderate temperatures.   Rissa suggested mosquitoes  repellent and a rain jacket. I laughed at the rain jacket, but she explained there were micro climates in the rainforest and you never knew when it might rain. The drive to the park was only about 30 minute from the Nature Lodge which was a nice surprise after all the long drives on the terrible roads from the other parts of our travels through Madagascar. Once we arrived Rissa explained we would be taking two, two and a half hour hikes with a picnic lunch break in between. While 7 species of lemur live In the park  2 nocturnal, Rissa explained we might not see any as the park is so big and the lemurs tend to stay away from the trails. The first hike was beautiful the rainforest lush and full of vibrant plant life. There were less birds then we saw in the other rainforest. It seemed this had to do with the season. Rissa found some interesting chameleons and a few geckos. Rissa even found the smallest species of Chameleon, less than an inch long. On this hike we visited two water falls. This region provides all the water for the people and the farms so it is very important and secrete.

When we got to the picnic area Atqqa had our lunch all set up. Vegetables, a potato salad with beets, chicken and fish, followed by fresh picked oranges for dessert.

The second hike was a little more challenging we hiked up over the mountain and down to a beautiful pristine lake that I was sure was the crater of an extinct volcano. We took a break and just sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet. After our break we headed back up the mountain to meet back with Atqqa. While we did not see as much wildlife as we had seen on other hikes in other parts of Madagascar this hike was beautiful in it's own way. Plus, we did not need our rain jackets the weather stayed beautiful the whole hike. Only Rissa needed the suggested  mosquito
repellent as she had worn shorts and the mosquitoes were swarming her legs.

We returned back to the Nature  Lodge at 3:00PM for a much needed relaxing afternoon just sitting on our porch waiting for the sunset.

Dinner was fantastic. We started with three tomatoes stuffed with fresh crab, the main course was fresh fish in a ginger sauce with vegetables and rice. Dessert was bananas in a sweet ginger sauce. Everything was perfectly prepared and the flavors perfect. What a difference from the meal we could not even eat the night before. It had been a long day so off to bed we go.

Day 24: 22MAY15: Antsiranana –

Diego Suarez is home of the second largest bay in the world. Known for their rugged beauty, the three bays: Sakalava, Pigeon and finally the Dunes will be our morning destination. Each bay has a unique landscape but all have in common the turquoise waters.

Rissa and Atqqa picked us up at 8:30 AM we traveled through the city of Diego Suarez to get to the bay of Sakalava, which is the largest of the three bays. Three hundred meters off the beach was a small island that looked like a mini volcano, though it was lush with green plant life. Rissa explained the Malagasy believe their ancestors spirits live on this island and for good luck it is important to leave offerings.

The second bay we visited was  Pigeon bay, this bay with beautiful white beaches and warm calm water, protected from the waves of the Indian Ocean by a natural coral reef. With the constant winds during the dry season it makes for the perfect place to wind surf and kite surf. My guess is there were over 100 surfers in total during the brief time we spent wading in the calm waters of Pigeon bay. Rissa said people come from all over the world just to experience these perfect conditions.


The last of the three bays was Dunes Bay, named for the high sand dunes surrounding the bay. We
walked the bay wading in and out of the beautiful turquoise water. As we walked we saw the ruminates of World War Two, Cape Miné with its guns and fortifications that authenticate the role of the former colonial army in the Bay of Antsiranana. arm fortifications and old artillery  cannons, this area was controlled by the French as they were battling the British.

We finished our loop leaving the camp to reach the village Orangea Ramena. Orangea Ramena is a fishing village we stopped at Restaurant G M Jeannette, we had a lovely lunch of fresh grilled fish and barbecued shrimp. 

After lunch we toured downtown Diego Suarez. With Diego Suarez being both a tourist destination and a location from three different Madagascar military bases, the city seemed to be thriving and more cosmopolitan than other areas of Madagascar we had been to. We also noticed significantly more Vasa (white people) in Diego Suarez than any other parts of Madagascar.Many were tourist here to enjoy the great weather and beaches. We also noticed many French military training the Malagasy Army. We concluded that some of the French military at some point hit their mid-life crisis, leave their families in France and move to Diego Suarez where they can marry a young beautiful Malagasy women, and live like a king for just a few dollars a day.

There were just to many middle aged French men, walking around with new Malagasy families for this not to some kind of place for these men to move to.   

We spent a few hours walking the city getting a nice history lesson from Rissa as well as seeing the bustling economy, with the busy port, the fish cannery, and even the gold mine out in the distance. While there were street vendors like in Tana, they were less aggressive and much more pleasant to deal with. We stopped at a very nice chocolate shop Roberts Chocolatier, and bought some pure Malagasy chocolate. We enjoyed the chocolates as we walked. 

We ended our walk back at the Grand Hotel were we will be spending the night.

Day 25: 23MAY15: Antsiranana - Antananarivo

Our flight was up in the air figuratively not literally until the last minute. We originally thought we would be flying in the late afternoon, then we were told early in the morning. This excited us, if we could land in Tana before 11:00AM there was a chance we could fly directly onto Reunion , gaining an extra day in Reunion, but more importantly skipping a extra night in Tana.

In the end the flight was confirmed for 1:00 PM. This gave us the morning to walk around Diego Suarez, it was Saturday morning, the town was a buzz with activity. The local market was busy, with farmers selling their products. After 23 days in Madagascar you would have thought by now I would of learned pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. One must look both ways, and continue to look both ways as they rapidly cross the street. Not only will cars NOT slow for you, I am fairly confident they will both accelerate and aim for you. Several times I was almost taken out by these three wheeled yellow taxi type vehicles.

We were picked up at 11:00 AM and delivered to the Diego Suarez airport without incident. Once there, we realized that it was possible to fly direct from Diego Suarez to Reunion, we had hope yet of bypassing Tana. Unfortunately that flight is just once a week on Tuesdays, and it was Saturday.

This would be our fourth flight on Air Madagascar. Of the four flight everyone of them had at least one schedule change, some just a few hours others more than a day. Once the schedule was what they consider confirmed all four flights took off and landed on time or early.

We found out the issue, Air Madagascar does not have enough planes to fly the schedule they publish. What they do, as it gets close to flight day, they move the schedule around to maximize the
number of full flights and minimized the number of less than full flights. For example they may have two flights schedule for a particular day, one from Tana to Tulear and one from Tana to Deigo Suarez. Two flights, but they will only have one plane available. As they get close to flight time they will cancel the flight that has the least number of passengers and reschedule those passengers on the next available flight to that destination. Which might be the next day, or in several days.  If you understand this going in, you build the flexibility into your schedule. Like we did with the extra day in Tana, but if you are on a tight schedule, you could be in trouble.

When we landed in Tana our driver was right on time we returned to our home away from home when we are in Tana and that is La Varangue hotel, with this being our third stay the staff is getting to know us.

Tomorrow our flight is on Air Austral at 1:35 PM. Air Austral is the national airline of reunion and is much more reliable than Air Madagascar.

Day 26: 24MAY15: Antananarivo - Reunion

Air Austral Flight UU612 depart TNR 13:35 to REUNION
Our driver picked us up at right on time and both our drive to the airport and the check in process were uneventful except one funny situation. As everybody was waiting for the flight checking to open there was one Malagasy man with about 5 suite cases going up to each person with minimum luggage (like us) asking if we would take one of his bags for him.

Air Austral charges you baggage fees based on weight not the number of pieces. I am sure his luggage was over the weight limit. We quickly denied his request. He finally found two passengers willing to help him out.

Reunion Island

In all our travels throughout Africa we have always found airport security significantly lax compared to the U.S. Not that the U.S. Security is that great. In fact most airports in Madagascar had no security, you simple walked on the plane. This flight was different we checked our bags as usually. We went through X-ray and metal detectors like you might in the U.S.  Then as we boarded the flight all our checked bags were laid out on the Tarmac, you had to identify your bag before they would load it into the baggage compartment. Boy am I glad we did not take that guys bag for him. Next all our carry on bags were thoroughly hand searched and we were manually waned with a handheld metal detector before we could board the flight.

Our flight was uneventful and we landed right on time 4:50PM. Our approach to Reunion was from the Southwest. As we were landing we could see a larger city and beautiful paved roads. This was the city of St. Denis. On our last landing in Reunion we landed from the Northeast and had a different impression of Reunion. We had the impression that Reunion was much less developed than it actually is. The baggage, rental car process was very efficient. We were on our way within 20 minutes of landing.

Four our stay in Reunion we have rented a studio apartment from a fellow named Philippe through Airbnb. One of the exciting parts of renting through Airbnb, is not just the anticipation of what the place will be like, but what the host will be like.

Philippe had asked us to meet him at La Rhonda in St. Leu. It was Sunday evening and Philippe had been out on 2 day trek and thought La Rhonda would be an easy place to meet. The plan was to meet between 6:00 and 7:00PM.

It was relatively easy to find La Rhonda, a great bar / Restaurant on the beach. We arrived just a few minutes before 6:00PM. We carry a mobile phone when we travel and buy SIM cards for that particular country once we arrive. Once we got settled at La Rhonda, Margarite sat at the bar making herself look as if she was waiting for someone, while I went in search of a SIM. My search was a bust, but I found a very nice lady that let me use her phone to contact Philippe.

We exchanged descriptions and what we were wearing to make finding each other a bit easier. When I returned to Margarite had already asked each male at the bar if they were Philippe, with no luck. We had about an hour to kill before Philippe would arrive so we decided to grab some dinner at a beach restaurant across the inlet from La Rhonda. We both had a great fish dinner.

Once we found Philippe and Natasha (Philippe's girl friend). We enjoyed a drink together and made
the casual introductions. It ends up both Philippe and Natasha are champion long distance trail runners, both capturing many international titles.

It was getting late so Philippe offered to show us to the studio apartment. It was a 30 minute drive from La Rhonda, the first 20 minutes were easy, we simple took the N1 to the N3, from the N3 we exited onto the D400. From the D400 it was all a blur, hair pin turns, single lane roads, that were two way traffic, hills that were 15% plus grades. Philippe lost us a few time, but kindly waited for us to catch up.

Once we arrived at the house, we found a very private studio apartment. The apartment had everything we needed for our three day stay. A fully equipped efficiency kitchen, very comfortable stall shower, and separate bathroom. The sleeping area was separated from the living area by a curtain that could be drawn when needed. We also had a private patio with table, lounge chairs and grill. Philippe offered us to use his pool when every we wanted.

Philippe spent some time with us mapping out our next day's activities. It was now 10:00 PM so we decided it was time to hit the sack.

Day 27: 25MAY15: Reunion

Philippe had suggested we do the Zabra Trail, Philippe kept telling us it is 700 meters. We had lost an hour with our trip from Madagascar to Reunion and ended up sleeping until 8:00AM. Once up we went to the market to provision for our hike. Philippe and Natasha had suggested and hour up the trail to the connection point, then take and out and back trail another hour to and scenic overlook. On the return rather than retrace the zebra trail take the Vers les Gites trail back to the road where we will rejoin the zebra trail at the start. All told they felt it should be a four hour hike about 10-12 kilometers. We were not sure what the 700 meters Philippe had been mentioning meant.

The hike was absolutely beautiful, the high jagged peaks, covered in mist and ferns glowed the brightest greens when the sun shown through the clouds. We could see the ocean most of the hike as
well as a few of the surrounding villages as we climbed above the houses. And climb we did, and climb, and climb, and climb. At this point our gluts were burning, this hike was like walking on a stair master on high speed, that was caked in slippery mud, as beautiful as the hike was it was just as difficult. Many parts we hiked the ridge line with 1,000 foot drops on either side. Every so often a trail runner would pass us, whether they were going up or down, they would have smiles on their faces and be traveling two to three times faster than us.

We finally reached the turn off, the hour estimated time was two hours. We grabbed a bite to eat and continued on. After a few hundred feet we decided to turn back, the trail was just a few inches wide with a wall in one side and shear drop on the other. We finished the hike as suggested reaching the road after about an hour, that last 6 kilometers were on the road, but a very steep road it was. Steep down slope, every step fired our gluts. We were beat! We found out what the 700 meters meant, it was the elevation we would be climbing. We hiked for 4 hours and 15 minutes. We traveled seven and a half miles, and we gained over a mile in elevation.

We rushed home as our day was not finished, I needed a shower as I had falling in the mud a few times and was covered from head to toe is a red clay mud. We were meeting Philippe and Natasha at 4:00 PM for our afternoon event.

Once we regrouped we found out we needed warm close as we would be heading up to 7,500 feet and once the sun went down temperatures would drop below 45 degrees. 

Philippe and Natasha were awesome host lending us clothes, we had packed for the warm climate of Madagascar not thinking we would see temperatures below 70 degrees let alone 45 degrees. The plan was to drive to the volcano, and arrive before sunset, once there, watch the sunset and than take an "EASY" walk (per Philippe and Natasha) to see the lava flow.

The last time the volcano erupted was 7 years ago, but Philippe arranged an eruption during our stay.
Clearly Natasha had gone to the Mario Andretti driving school, I had no idea a little car like hers could go so fast and handle the turns the way she took them. We did arrive in one piece, just in time to see the sunset.

Now for the "EASY" walk to the lava flow / eruption.   The trail was very crowded, I guess this makes sense it is not like the volcano erupts everyday. Philippe defines an easy walk as a trail run with just a few ascents and descents. Luckily for Margarite, her and Natasha got caught up in picture taking so their pace was a bit slower than ours. As we got within 2 kilometers for the eruption the sky glowed a bright orange red, as we got closer we could see lava being shot into the air.

We decided to take a break and wait for the ladies, the timing could not been better, also some how Philippe knew I was starting to suffer from starvation. He offered me a ham sandwich, best ham sandwich ever, and a drink. It took the ladies about 20 minutes to catch up to us. While the temperature had dropped, with the speed we had been walking I was hot. The short break allowed me to cool down.

The four of us were off to the races again, the trail was covered with small and medium size lava rocks, making it fun as you rolled your ankles every few steps. Philippe and Natasha got a few hundred yards ahead as we got caught up in traffic, yes the trail was that crowded. Once we got within 1 kilometer of the eruption we decided we had the perfect vantage point for photos. We took many!

The hike back made the hike there seem like a walk in the park, Margarite and I had to run every time we were on a flat surface just to stay close to Philippe and Natasha. It took us 2 hours to get out to the eruption and one hour to get back, 12 kilometers covered on the "easy walk".  Margarite and I hiked over 24 kilometers for the day gaining somewhere around 6,000 feet.

What a great couple Philippe and Natasha, they just met us, and they are giving up there time to show us around and plan our days.

Day 28: 26MAY15: Reunion

Philippe set us up on a great drive and hike. His personal must beautiful place on the island. We were to drive to Ciloas which Philippe thoughts would takes us and hour, once there he suggested we hike to Mufti the hikes rises 700 meters and then descends 300 meters to Mufti a small village that can only be accessed by hiking or helicopter.

The drive to Ciloas was as, if not more, beautiful than what Philippe described. What he did not describe was the roads, while all the roads in Reunion are very well paved, there is not one road that is straight, flat, or wide enough for two cars at once, yet most are two way roads. The road to Ciloas is no exception, hair pin turns, create a hair raising drive. If it would have just been us on the road the drive would of been easy, it was when the buses were coming down the steep grade and we are going up, both hitting the hair pin turn at the same time. Well, there was no way a bus is going to back up, into reverse I would reverse, hoping all my wheels stayed on the road.

With all the negatives, it was an absolutely gorgeous drive. Just like our hike the drives took twice as
long at it would of taken Philippe. We arrived in Ciloas around 11:00 AM and walked around the town before grabbing some lunch. Every time we got into or out of the car our gluts would yell out us for torturing them the day before, yes we were both sore.

We still had a 10 kilometer drive to the trail head for our hike, another beautiful drive, water falls everywhere. Once we got to the trail head a decision that had been nagging us all day was answered. Can we do this hike feeling as sore as we feel.

There standing at the trail head was a set of stairs at least 100 steps tall, but most likely taller, the stairs turned moving out of view. We both looked at each other and got back into the car and continued enjoying the beautiful views.

We had offered to take Philippe and Natasha out to dinner as a thank you for all they had done for us. We met up along the beach in the town of  Saint-Pierre. First we walked out on the public pier to take pictures of the sunset. It is winter time so the sunsets about an hour earlier than in the summer time.

We enjoyed a drink at a restaurant bar that was converted from the original train station. In the 1960's all the trains on reunion were replaced by highways and cars.

After our drinks we had a great dinner and grew our friendship with Natasha and Philippe.



Day 29: 27MAY15: Reunion - America

Today we depart, we have a flight at 4:50PM we decided we would bisect the island from west to east to allow us to see the east side of Reunion. The ride across was beautiful we learned there is a great deal of agriculture in the center of the island. As we approached Arrondissement of Saint-Benoit we saw a completely different Reunion than the one we had just spent two beautiful days at. This reunion was much more industrial and the homes looked of lower value.

We spent an hour looking for a restaurant we thought we would enjoy, finally finding a park that had a group of food trucks. We had a fantastic meal prepared by two of the most friendliest  people we had met. What a fun time.

After lunch we took a tour of a vanilla factory. This was very educational. We had no idea the preparation and years that go into the preparation of vanilla it could take up to five years to get the vanilla just right. As the factory tour ended, so did the final phase of our trip. We headed to the Reunion Island Airport for our flight, where to, who knows.

Cheers,

DUG

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