Star Date:  June 2009
From Southern to Northern Madagascar


Hello Dear Family & Friends!


Mbola tsara anaro!
(Malagasy Northeastern dialect greeting)   

Mora Mora!

(Slowly, slowly - Malagasy)



"Life is never what you expect.  That is what I live for – the unexpected." 
(~Joseph Gill) 


To boldly go where no road has gone before.  Forty hours straight through to the west coast frontier town of  Tolear.  Brutal, but our only option without flying.  Arriving at the taxi brousse (bush taxi) station we were amazed to see our new Mercedes 'limousine'.  Looking like a gigantic cattle truck it had welded steel benches for over 100 people, all covered with a tarp to keep off the dust, sun or rain.  We met Nirana and his 12 year old daughter, Sandrina, who told us that the taxi brousse stops for the night in his village of Tsiombe.  "Would you like to spend the night with us?"  We graciously accepted.  The beginning of each leg on a bush taxi truck starts off with great excitement of the adventure ahead.  After about 6 hours, the novelty wears off as does the skin on your bottom.  Bumping in after dark, 10 hours into the journey, we arrived in Sandrina's little village.  A small lake filled the center of town from a downpour that morning but luckily we were met with stars and a glorious display of the Milky Way, unrivaled anywhere but possibly the Outback of Australia.  We followed Sandrina and Nirana home to their dark, dusty little home and before we knew it were offered one of the beds alongside them in the only bedroom of their 3 room shack.  Sandrina apologized for the unkempt state of affairs as his wife was in Tolear while their 2 boys studied.  Feeling a bit strange we laid out our ever present silk cloths over the bedding and fell fast asleep, that was after we fell flat on the floor as the bed gave way when Joseph rolled over the first time.  No problem.  Up we got while they fixed the frame, and we were soon sound asleep until awakened at 7 am.  Ear plugs are a gift from heaven.  We soon discovered that the toilet was not a place safe to even enter so we improvised a new squat and run technique for life in a busy village.  Finding a back corner of the yard we dug a hole, put up Joseph's umbrella to cover one side, as we took turns holding up the ever ready piece of silk cloth for privacy on the other.  Business accomplished.  Adapt or perish.  Grabbing some fruit and great photos in the weekly morning market we zoomed off in a cloud of dust about 10am, profusely thanking our hosts for their hospitality.  We spent a unique day driving through dry spiny forests, home to prehistoric looking endemic thorny trees.  From wild octopus trees, to compass trees always facing south, to pencil trees whose sap is used to make cheeky chewing gum by the children (which we tried), to the giant fat baobabs, which the gods planted upside down by mistake.  There are 11 varieties of baobabs in the world, 9 of them here.  One kind is nicknamed the 'vahaza' (foreigner) baobab for it's shedding skin, which resembles a white person peeling after burning in the hot sun.  Remote village after remote village offered a glimpse into the lives of the hardy locals barely surviving in these harsh conditions.  Eating mainly manioc roots, these welcoming folks were curious and friendly, with those warm Malagasy smiles abounding.  In one village we despairingly noticed our radiator lying on the ground beside the truck.  Well, I suppose that will throw our 'schedule' (ha-ha) off.  Arriving in our intended town of Betiocky, completely dark at 2am instead of 10 pm, we decided to continue on jarring along to Tolear.  After seeing the condition of these trucks we didn't want to be stuck for a week or so awaiting the next 'limousine' to arrive.  Cold and numb by then we slept off and on, sometimes jerking awake as our hard heads met the hard steel bar in front of us.  Two small eggs, a sore nose and 4 mosquito bites were the only battle scars as the truck stopped in the forest for our morning 'find your nearest tree' break. 

Our new friend, Michele, was a French nurse back in Tsiombe heading into town for some supplies.  Having worked in the field here and in Africa for over 20 years he provided invaluable insight in the life and living conditions of these two groups of locals, 2 of the 18 different tribes on the island.

Out here in the desert the only river dries up and they are without water, except small amounts dug in the sand, for up to 5 months a year.  This water is brown so they prefer to not use it to do laundry, instead they drink it and will use the pure water provided by visiting NGO's to wash their clothes.  Sanitation is a new concept that must be taught.  All but one of the water purification plants are all defunct in town due to lack of maintenance.  Seems putting money into projects without follow up, is just a waste of resources.  The people here suffer mainly from TB, malaria, parasites, skin diseases, and many children are malnourished, big extended bellies telling the story.  Michele helps wherever needed but has become frustrated with the improper use of chemical drugs, handed out pell-mell by untrained doctors with sometimes as little as a year's education under their belt.  He was excited to learn about MMS (see our health page) and hopes to use it in his clinic when he returns.  Death is common and a reason given for producing large families, in a land of no social services.  When a person dies in the Mahafaly or Antanosy tribes of this region, the body remains in the home until a large painted cement family tomb covered with symbols and statues of sorts is created, up to one year later.  Zebu cows are killed and the meat given to neighbors, reminding us of the keeping up with the Jones' burials in Suluweisi, Indonesia; also taking years to pay off the debt.  Once the body is buried, the house by custom, must be burned, so often a little house is quickly erected for this purpose to preserve the larger family home.  This island nation is being consumed with overpopulation as thousands of these barely clothed and fed children explode in thatched roofed villages and devour what meager natural resources are available.  Back to overpopulation as the root cause for so many problems in a developing country.  Education is crucial and Michele believes after all his years of experience that education of the women is the key.

Arriving high noon in Tolear, about 48 hours since leaving Ft. Dauphin, we showered and collapsed into bed, near comatose.  A tasty Italian pizza and a full night's sleep made us good as new.  After a few days of exploring this rambling but friendly town we had to satisfy our bush taxi fix.  Off up the coast to Ifaty, actually Mangily, we wandered along a sandy lane down to the shore for 4 soothing nights of lapping ocean waves against the white sand beach.  We meandered down the sandy main road buying fruits and vegetables and through rustic Servaso village compounds in search of the giant prize 'teapot' baobab'.  Over 1000 years old this wise old wizard of the spiny forest has seen many things come and go, including us.  We had fun wherever we went while having an 'authentic village experience', retreating to our beachside hut at night to sleep in a clean bed with a clean toilet.  Infrastructure is so welcome at times, especially after weeks of hard travel.

Skirting the colder winter weather so far we knew it was time to go back up through the cold high plateaus to get to the warmer northern regions; flip side now that we are in the Southern Hemisphere.  As things often go with us, Joseph, a former gemologist, had been interested for old times sake in visiting the sapphire mines in Madagascar.  'By coincidence' he met Volker who told us to stop by his home near Ilakaka and he would take us to the mines.  We enjoyed the company of Volker, Edgar and their Malagasy wives, while exchanging ideas, songs and cooking outside under the stars.  Spending 2 days surrounded by the stark mountains of Isalo Park was inspiring.  The geological beauty of this area is another astonishing facet of the varied landscapes of Madagascar.  It was fascinating watching the rows of Bara workers in the sapphire mines moving mountains one small shovel full at a time, dreams of brilliant gems dancing in the heads of their foremen.  The pits they leave behind are yet another scar on the face of Madagascar.

The lively Wednesday Market in Ambalavao is a colorful panoply of the people, culture and crafts of the Haute Plateau.  Traditional food was available such as fried bread dough of all shapes, tempura type vegetables (the only thing we could try), skewered bits of meat, and w
hen locusts attack the crops, locals retaliate by frying them up. Wizened old herdsmen walk their zebu cattle here to Madagascar's largest zebu market, from as far away as Tolear, hundreds of miles away.  No horses used, they are accompanied by carts of every size and style; some pulled by zebus, others by men.  Wheels are made of bent or carved wood, old bicycle rims and we even saw one wheel carved from stone.

A highlight of the area was the astonishing little Bestilo tribal park next to Anja Village, 12 km. south.  Without a doubt one of the best we've seen in Madagascar; it was a combination of spectacular mountain scenery as you scramble up large granite boulders, and down through forests while dozens of ring tailed lemurs frisk about near you.  These unique creatures aren't afraid of humans and love to sit perched above you on rocks or in trees arms outstretched taking in the morning sun, curiously watching you watch them.  A real up close encounter.  This village has stopped chopping trees in the 35 hectare park and eating lemurs since 1991.  The large cave where the lemurs sleep at night was once the secret spot for the villagers who were forced into hiding by the Merina Kingdom who would sweep the countryside in search of slaves.  There are also several ancestral tombs high in the rock faces, off limits to grave robbers in search of the prized hand spun silk shrouds wrapping the bones.  We walked 3-4 miles through the spectacular scenery and fields back towards town and stopped by a little village on the left, noted for the big rock and church steeple.  We stepped into the crumbling church and immediately were joined by the whole village, dropped jaw amazed that we were there.  Soon we were pounding rice with the women, showing our family pictures, playing games with a balloon, and learning village songs and dances.  What a lot of fun.  They were sad to see us go and we were sad to leave; but it was over 8 kms. back to the town and the afternoon sun was setting fast.

On our way up RN7 to Antsirabe we met Pastor David, a Lutheran minister, who had attended seminary in the US.  He and Joseph spent hours discussing health and myths about the world religions.  Pastor David and his wife came by our hotel room, "to learn more", proving his open mindedness.  He left with his laptop loaded with a new library and his head spinning.  He wants to meet us in Tana before we leave to further discuss all the new ideas presented to him.  Antsirabe is a quaint city with broad tree lined boulevards, cathedrals and colonial architecture.  Sunny days were followed by chilly nights, when you could see your breath.  This changed our plans of heading west to Miandrivazo.  Camping at night along the Tsiribihina River seemed a little out of reality for these former Hawaii cold lightweights.  Back in Tana, via a station wagon packed to the gills, (with Gills) we realized how much had happened to us over the last 1.5 months. After our horrendous travel on taxi brousses in the south, we didn't even notice how uncomfortable the ride was because we were on a paved road.  It's all relative. 

Heading north towards warmer climes like moths to the flames, we set out to explore the remaining parts of this fascinating island.  We arrived after dark in Ambondromamy, (still don't know where it is) and ended up at the only clean small hotel in town.  There we met Bary, a gem buyer and voodoo master.   'Fanafody' is the Malagasy art of traditional medicine or herbal healings.  Bary would be called an 'Ombiasy' or healer.  We warned him not to use the word voodoo around westerners.  Even though we are supposedly less superstitious in the west, talk of voodoo still sends shivers down our spines.  After some of the stories we have heard here this may be well founded, but Bary just like to use his powers to help people.  He never charges for his work.  A surprising evening woven with talk about sapphires, gold, traditional Malagasy herbs and good luck spells.

Up we got at 5:30 and off to the taxi brousse stand but the damned thing never came;  broke down somewhere along the way.  At 12:00 our helpful touts flagged down a friendly  guy heading north in a brand new SUV.  We worked out a deal to share gas and spent the day like royalty, barely feeling any of the bumps.  This vehicle actually had shocks, windows that worked, soft seats.  Confirmed bush taxi junkies, we were disoriented with the luxury for a while to say the least.

Coming out of our dark hotel, into the pitch dark streets of Ambanja, we literally bumped into Marc, a gem dealer, there buying stones at a new garnet mining site.  We all spent the evening with these two gemologists, Joseph and Marc, sharing stories of days in the gem industry in London, Paris, New York, Tucson.  Before we knew it we were hiking out to the demantoid garnet mining site where a village of 60 residents had mushroomed into 15,000 miners.  Total chaos as they were all digging holes in search of the big find of green stones that would make them rich.  Hiking through the dangerous maze of 40 ft deep holes, mud and rocks I slipped off a log, luckily landed on my feet but ended up knee deep in mud, a stick embedded in my shin.  I righted myself, arms in the air like Rocky, to the cheers and laughter of hundreds of people watching the spectacle.  We are always there to entertain the crowd!       
Diego Suarez is a beautiful blue deep water port, surrounded by stark arid mountain landscapes and distant sparkling white sand beaches.  Home to descendents of seafaring ancestors there is a diverse ethnic mixture of Arabs, Comorians, Chinese, French, and the local tribes of the Sakalava and Antakarana.  Men sit like koala bears, stripping leaves off 'kilidung'  branches and stuffing them in their cheeks until they are bulging.  Red, glassy eyes tell of their desired amphetamine buzz.  Decaying colonial architecture reminds us of French glory days gone by.  Finally winning their independence in the 1950's, after the French killed over 90,000 citizens, it was  an impassioned Independence Day weekend.  On our 8th Wedding Anniversary we watched fireworks for over an hour along the beach in Ramena (in our honor no doubt!).  Ramena Beach is one of those places where you can get stuck in the 'chill- axing' mode for a long time.  A clean, quiet white sand beach with turquoise water, a small fishing village, and a roving troupe of affectionate lemurs satisfied the ocean fix we Hawaiians need every once in a while. (see below). 

The Pirate Republic of Libertalia, in northern Madagascar, was founded by French adventurer Captain Mission and defrocked priest Father Caraccioli.  Like Robin Hoods of the high seas they sailed about freeing ship loads of slaves, always with minimal bloodshed.  Establishing a thriving community up north in the early 1700's, they were joined by pirates from many countries and lived peacefully until being massacred in masse unexpectedly by the surrounding Malagasy residents.  While no one can deny the lively history of pirates in Madagascar, Libertalia still is hazed by conflicting stories and legends.  Portuguese sailors first named Madagascar but they, and subsequent European fleets failed to establish colonies here.  It was these hardy European and North American buccaneers who expanded their territory from the Caribbean to Isle Saint Marie, establishing a new base in the Indian Ocean, from which to plunder.  In their hey day over 1000 pirates terrorized ships en route between Europe and the Far East.  One of the world's most infamous pirates, Captain Kidd, lived on Isle St Marie.  Commissioned as a privateer against the pirates of Madagascar in 1695, he himself slipped over to the dark side and plundered several wealthy  ships passing by.  The wreckage of his ship, the Adventure, was discovered by divers in 2000 but most of his treasure has never been recovered.  Hi aye Matey.

Montagne D’Ambre National Park was like stepping back to a time when man and nature lived graciously side by side.  Madagascar's oldest park (1950's) is richly clothed in lush greenery, colorful orchids and stately old trees.  These enormous old growth trees surround you in a primeval energy, like few remaining places on this planet.  Immense branches high up in the canopy provide a playground for hundreds of noisy, frisky lemurs.  Colorful chameleons, birds and butterflies came out of hiding while we hiked the trails or relaxed in front of the  many beautiful misty waterfalls.  We were overwhelmed with the primordial beauty and soon high on an oxygen overload, a gift from these wise, old giants of the forest.  Locals believe that when the surrounding land was logged and disturbed, the spirits of their ancestors fled to Amber Mountain, where they live in the trees, stones, and waterfalls.  Many still come to magical Sacred Falls to make offerings and commune with their 'tromba' or ancestors, reconnecting with Nature. 

Staying at the clean, well maintained WWF Gite d' Etape Guesthouse, in a tranquil forest setting, is the best way to visit the park.  Lulled to sleep by frogs, crickets, twinkling fireflies and shrieking lemurs and waking up in the morning to the Hallelujah chorus of the multitudes of bird species, completes the forest experience.  We had the park all to ourselves; just us and those crazy lemurs!

Spending the night in Ambilobe we were told that the taxi brousse across the mountains to the remote NE Vanilla Coast, only went for 10 hours overnight.  Not wanting to believe it we booked a seat on a 4x4 from Diego supposedly leaving at 8am.  Why go if you can't see the scenery?  At 7:50 a jeep arrived and hurriedly tried to get us in.  Someone from our hotel told us to check the vehicle number to our reservation and it didn't match.  This band of characters had literally tried to kidnap us to fill up their vehicle, right out from under their competitor's nose.  We only pay once we are under way on a journey so it didn't matter to us, but it was kind of intriguing.  We knew we were in for yet another wild taxi brousse adventure.   We laughed about the 'mora, mora' slowly, slowly Madagascar scenario with a jovial Korean gem dealer we had met.  When he enquired about the time of departure for us he got the standard answer, "Show time! - when it's full."  When we were waiting to depart a full 44 hours on the SE coast it was bearable because we were hanging around our hotel and the village.  This time waiting around a dusty taxi brousse stand started to lose it's appeal real fast.  Promised it would leave at 8am, then 10, then noon; by 3pm we had had it.  Realizing that we were embarking down a rough road, full of breakdowns and delays, we simply looked at each other and said, "We've already done this.  Enough is enough."  We later saw our 4x4 truck still 'trolling' for customers at 5pm (only 9 hours later than the 'promised' departure time). We got our money back and caught a taxi brousse to Tana, a smooth but very long 22 hour 'flight'.  After sitting/sleeping next to someone for that long the 20 passengers become like family; sharing stories, pictures, food, and singing along to the Malagasy music. 

It got colder and colder as we got near the capitol and we knew that we were heading back to the coast for sure the next morning.  Winter had arrived with a vengeance, a storm spreading cold rain throughout the region, our first bad weather in 2 months.  Hind sight is always 20/20 and we wished we had stayed up at lovely, warm Ramena Beach near Diego.  Once down from the central highlands, landing in Tamatave on the East Coast, the temperature moderated and we peeled off the layers.  We spent a glorious day walking over 5 miles back  into the jungles of Park Zoologique Ivoloina Nature Sanctuary.  There we were enveloped in the quiet beauty of trees, lakes, and animals.  An active training center for children, and a breeding and rehabilitation project for endangered species, we spent hours enthralled by the shenanigans of groups of semi-wild large black and white ruffed lemurs and smaller crowned lemurs.  Not aggressive in the least, some of these dear primates even jumped on our shoulders for a closer look.  We were also treated to barely moving tortoises and boa constrictors, cherry red tomato frogs, squawking birds and several chameleons who thought we couldn't see them.  Walking through the villages en route along the river was just as good as the park.  Like the Flintstones everyone was busy mining sand from the river bottom or breaking rocks.  When we caught a ride back in a large truck, on a load of hand made gravel, it was like being celebrities waving from a float in a 4th of July parade.  Everyone knew us from our walk up so they waved and laughed as we bumped our way back down the dirt road.

This coast is touchy weather wise, with horrendous cyclones December - March and now a wet season that ends in August or October?  A Frenchman who has lived here 10 years said it rains here a lot and in fact he moved back from Isle St. Marie because the weather was worse out there.  Doesn't know what all the fuss is about for tourists to spend time on the island.  Now having limited time, the rains washed our plans of seeing the southern Vanilla Coast and Masoala Peninsula Park from our minds, knowing what happens when Nature reclaims the already treacherous, bumpy roads.  In fact we all piled out of our taxi brousse when heading to Ivongo and walked on the thin 16 inch ledge of remaining road.  The only road north had simply slumped away 2 days previously leaving a huge ravine, as is the case of thousands of hillsides everywhere in Madagascar.  When the trees that hold the soil are gone, eventually the soil erodes away.  We were luckily met on the other side by a truck that dropped us in town.  All cars on that side are just that: on that side for good, with no way to leave.  That is until the government does something.  Don't hold your breath; the politicians are busy trying to remain in power, as infrastructure collapses around them.  Not only the soil is eroding in Madagascar.

Expectations.  We always know things will work out for the best and we try to not have too many expectations as we travel along.  Have no expectations.... just go with the flow.  We each had a picture in our minds what Madagascar would be like.  It is completely different.  Indescribable at times.  After our big taxi brousse fiasco up north we decided to head to Isle St. Marie and chill for our last 2 weeks.  Wrong.  Most of the time 'lady luck' stacks the unlikely odds in our favor but not this time.  Flights there just doubled with the supposed high season, although no one is here (Air Madagascar's silly monopoly).  The rough seas this time of year have cancelled all sailings of wooden boats that haven't sunk in previous storms.  The daily 'fast boat' which would cost us $140 rd trip (get real) for both of us, for the short 5km trip over was full.  (Our Lonely Planet quoted $10 each way for the 2 hour sailing).  "There must be a mistake.  We just traveled for days via bumpy roads on long taxi brousse rides to get here!"  We stood there tired, dropped jawed, dazed.  Our paradise bubble popping before our very eyes.  As we looked at the island in the distance Joseph declared, "What difference would it make if we were on the island looking out at the ocean or on the coast looking over at the island?"  He set off in search of a little beach bungalow to call our own, on the white sand beach of Ivongo.  Expect the unexpected.  Flexibility.  Change.  Plans, what are they?  So we settled into our new little home away from home, happy to be warm and immobile, thankful and satisfied at having explored so much of this truly exhilarating Mad Island!








And so it goes.........................................Next the mysterious, dazzling, raw continent of Africa.  In this land of intrigue, for only the intrepid, seasoned traveler, life is never what is expected.  Again, thanks for sharing this website with friends.  First hand experiences and current information via this high speed technology, helps us to learn more about this fascinating planet we all share.  Keep Smiling!   Glad you stopped by.   Thanks for keeping in touch!  Take care!



Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph



Travel notes:

$1.00US =2,000 Ariary

Public Toilets:
Mi Pi Pi - 50a (4 cents)
Mi Ka Ka - 100a
Self explanatory.  It was hilarious at one dark outhouse type toilet at the
Fiana bus station.  The woman attendant stayed out side my door to listen to the proceedings so she could charge accordingly.

Market on Friday, one small very local guesthouse which we didn't look at because we stayed with Sandrina in his house.

Very rural village.  They claimed there was a small guesthouse but arriving at 2am in the dark we decided to just keep going.

Chez Lala: Ave de France, phone # 94 434 17, good rooms for 18,000 w/bath.  Set in a pleasant courtyard, it is a block from the seaside.  Not terribly helpful, the girls are more interested in finding a good French boyfriend than service.  The workers do keep the place clean though, which was a blessing after our weeks in the remote areas.  Walk down the road to the beach and there is a row of hotels with ocean views (mud flats) to check out.

Etoile de Mer: fairly expensive (8000a) and only small to medium portions, but they cook up a great tasting Indian curry.

Pizza Jeff Terrasse:
Just down the main street from Center Hotel and all the gem shops.  Great pizza and friendly helpful proprietors.

Mangily - just beyond Ifaty:
Alex's Guesthouse:  The least expensive place right on the beach.  Quiet, clean, totally relaxing, great beach along the fishing village, red sunsets.  Take the taxi brousse to Mangily (5000a), walk about 1km down the sandy lane to the beach.  The walk is further down to the hotels in Ifaty.  Bargained for 24,000a near the sand, good restaurant, helpful English speaking Erik, electricity from 6-9pm.  Many other guesthouses along the beach - a bit more expensive but have a look.

Reniala Botanique Spiny Forest:  Just down the main road, 10 minute walk from Alex's Guesthouse.  Turn left on the main sand road, then right down a sand lane to the forest.  Worth the walk to see a great array of baobabs.  No need to get a guide as the 10,000a includes a guide for the 1 hour circle hike. 

Color Line, main highway, well done gem showroom run by Swiss owner.

We stayed in a side cabin at lovely Isalo Ranch Hotel on the edge of the park.  This German run Eco hotel has spectacular views of the mountains, especially from the pool area.  Expensive (70,000a) but there may be a discount during this lower tourist time.  

Tsienimparihy Hotel Restaurant: Across from the main bazaar, phone # 75 341 28, clean, new rooms and friendly staff.  Make sure the hot shower is working in your room before deciding which one to stay in.

Tropic Hotel, another option, clean, Chinese run place on the north edge of town, 1 km.   

Andringitra Park, near Ambalavao is a remote, stark mountainous park with a good WWF guesthouse and a lower entrance fee. Go to the Angap office, 200 meters before the Tropic Hotel to get entrance to and make a reservation to stay in the guesthouse at Andringitra Park. 10,000a/day entrance plus guide.  Good trip around the waterfalls, 4 hours.  Only 10,000a rather than the 25,000a or more now at other parks.  The minibuses only go up the 40 km 2-3 times a week.  A beautiful park in the mountains to hide away at for a few days.

Seven km south from Ambalavao is the village of Anja.  One of the best park experiences in Madagascar.  Fascinating hike, ancestral tombs, and lots of striped tail lemurs up close.  7,000a entrance plus 8,000a (1-2persons)guide for 1-2 hour trip.  We paid for 3 hours but the basic trip for 8,000a would have included everything.  The villagers run a small park, the proceeds of which are returned to them.  The park has plenty of lemurs hanging around waiting for their photo to be taken.  You can climb the mountain for 4 hours from here.  A good stop.   Camping available.

We stayed in the old Hotel Prestige, right near the center of town, recommended by Pastor David.  Great location, very clean but worn, it is a favorite of locals.  (25,000a with shower but no toilet) You may do better looking around for something more modern.

Take the taxi brousse west to Miandrivazo, then Ampieky, to organize a boat privately down the Tsiribihina River, camping at night.  You could return via road.  It was just too cold in June-August for us to try it.   Full tours to the river can also be arranged.

Villa Nanambina, clean little very basic wooden boxes with nice touches like lacey mosquito nets and plastic flowers, shared toilet, (15,000a)  down the road 100 meters on your right towards Diego.  We were happy to see this place considering how rough the town was.

Ylang Ylang Hotel: the best place in town for the money, 20,000a for a clean, quite modern room with friendly family running the joint.  Good rooftop sitting area.  Out in the middle of nowhere, but 1000pp taxi will get you anywhere around the dusty back roads of town.  Taxi brousse (2000a) out to the port, for a boat over to Nosy Be.  After having the hotel prices quoted in Euros we decided to move on and avoid the crowds of Nosy Be.  Coming from Hawaii these resort towns with inflated prices always fall short.  A couple days might be a good R & R break though.  Expect to pay $20 and up for a cheap place - not on the beach.

Diego Suarez:
Hotel 1 Fian-Tsilaka, phone # 82 223 48.  Go to the Hotel Colbert, 51 Rue de Colbert.  Walk north 1/2 block turn left.  Take a left again and our hotel was on the left side.  An older hotel but very clean & quiet.  Good location, right downtown.  Get a corner room second floor.  (20,000a-30,000a).

Mami at Cap Nord Voyages, good travel agency for flights, next to the Colbert Hotel.  phone # 20 82 235 06.

The Hotel de Poste is north down our hotel's street, on the left.  Good views and the legume or pomme de terre sauté, vegetables or potatoes sauté's are excellent - for only 2,000a each.  Free wifi internet while you eat - they are relaxed and friendly so you can catch up on your emails but skype and downloading does not work.

Ramena Beach:
18 kms east of Diego is one of those places you could get stuck in for a while.  We hid away in a little bungalow set in the trees, 30 seconds walk from the beach. 
Badamera Cafe/Pension, phone#03 20 7733 50
email: or  Ask Swanie to hold the room for you in the new bungalow with a bathroom, closest to the water (25,000 - 40,000).  Without bathroom or longer stays cheaper.  Quiet, clean, peaceful place set back in the shade.  Listen to the wind rustle through the trees and walk out the gate and you are at a stunning, clean white sand beach.  Swanie, her family, and menagerie of little (but not noisy) dogs are extremely helpful and friendly and it would be a relaxing stay that you would want to extend.

A highlight is turning right at the beach and in the trees next to the 5 Pres? Hotel 50 feet, lives a family of lemurs.  They love fruit and in the morning or evening will line up for a piece of banana.  One jumps right on your shoulder so he won't miss his turn.  Lots of fun.

Nautica Hotel, one new room right on the beach.  They would have let us have a room for 25,000a for 4 nights.  The taxi brousse turns around at the water in the village.  Standing looking out at the water, the hotel is down the beach 25 feet on the left.  There are many hotels to choose from along the beach.  The Oases reminded Joseph of India - give it a pass.

Take a taxi brousse (2,000a) to Ramena.  For the Badamera jump off 300 meters before the village.  For the Nautica stay on until the end.

National Hotel, phone # 2020 8206541, one block from the taxi brousse stand from the north.  Very clean, friendly staff, wide balcony with tables.  Get a room in the back, on the end where it is quiet.  Make sure you get a room with a mosquito net, or request one. (25,000a)

Montagne D’Ambre National Park:
We were there on the busiest night of Independence weekend and still no one was there.  We took a taxi brousse from Diego to Joffeville (3000a) and then paid the driver 25,000 to take us the 7km to the  WWF Gite Guesthouse.  It was our only option as we were heavily loaded with bags and 2 days food from the great market in Diego.  The Gite only has 3 rooms, 1 larger dorm room (for 6) and 2 smaller rooms with bunk beds and clean bedding, so I suppose booking ahead in the Diego Agap office would be a good idea.  It is completely remote so be prepared with torches and candles for the partially functioning solar lights. It is carefully cleaned and watched by the caretaker.  Cooking facilities are your only option, but you must be self sufficient - not even salt lurks in the Spartan cupboards.  3 km back at the park office they charged 25,000a per day and arriving about 2pm even negotiated for 1/2 day so we could
spend two nights (6,000a per person/per day) in the Gite.  You are now required to have a guide so book ahead for the following morning (20,000a to 40,000a up to 5 hours, for 4 persons).  You will only see a few small tour groups pass by.  You are free to slip off by yourself down the road late afternoon (after the afternoon showers 1-3pm) when the coast has cleared, our preference, and check out Antanakarana Falls on the path to the left.  A good 50 min circuit back to the road.  The second entrance closer to the park office has a wooden map, as maps of the well maintained trails are no longer given out.  The lemurs wake up about 4pm and we easily saw over fifty goofing around in the canopy above.  Make sure you watch your clock as darkness falls like a curtain back in the dense forest.  Walk several times to magical Sacred Falls with bright kingfishers, near the Gite any time you wish.  Ask your guide to send a vehicle the morning you leave, if you have full baggage.  We negotiated for 30,000a total all the way to Diego.  Actually we just flagged down our taxi brousse heading south at the junction.  If traveling light you can hike back to Joffeville and get a taxi brousse from there.  If you don't stay up there, the walk up and back 3 km from the entrance, is part of your paid hike.  Plus you still have to arrange for hard to find (no taxis) transport up or walk the 7km from the village.  By then the lemurs are sleeping.  Better to get an early start right from the Gite where your guide meets you.

Toamasina (Tamatave):
Espadoa Hotel, 44 Rue National: We spent over an hour in the dark looking for a decent hotel.  There are very few good ones for a good price.  Finally we arrived at the good location of the clean, well run Espadoa ( phone # 53 303 86 - 24,000a) and were relieved at clean sheets, hot water and a fancy but reasonably priced restaurant (sauté legumes, vegetables 2000a).  Great, fun waiters.  Rooms vary greatly so look at different ones until you find one which is suitable.  3rd floor back side is good.  Get a room in the back (#311 is good) as some bimbo opened a karaoke bar across the street and yelping dogs in heat would be an improvement over the noise/singing that echoed from there until after midnight.  No noise heard from the back rooms.  1,000a pousse pousse to taxi brousse stand.  Get a bicycle rather than foot powered guy.  3,000a taxi to taxi brousse stand.

Park Zoologique Ivoloina: 
Catch any taxi brousse north by 9am (2,000a) and jump off at the crossroads to Ivoloina village.  Walk the 4 km through the villages to the park entrance.  There are campsites, a small cafe by the lake, a training center and tons of picture seeking lemurs.  Walk back or catch a truck to the junction, then walk along the highway until a taxi brousse stops. 10,000a entrance.

Soanierana - Ivongo:
Ivongo Hotel, 1 km before Soanierana - Ivongo Village, basic bungalows with the waves crashing at the doorstep, on a white sand beach (16,000a for 4 or more days).  The end unit rocks you to sleep with the crashing surf.  A friendly gaggle of sisters, with gaggles of geese, guinea hens, and chicks, run the place.  We had lots of fun cooking together over the wood fire. 

We met and hung out with Lhof, (Orange cell # 032 42 94275) a great honest young guy, who speaks good English and likes to practice.  He can help you with anything here in the area or Isle St. Marie concerning hotels, boats, etc.  He would be an excellent guide, if that's what you need.  Just ask for him down at the dock or near the fast boat kiosk.

Isle St. Marie:
All boats for Isle St. Marie leave in the morning (8-11am).  Make your reservation for the next day if the boats are full.  You can stay right at the dock in a very basic hut or back at the Ivongo.  Remember it rains here year round.  Don't come here during the rainy season (July -Sept).  The rough seas and rain don't make for a beach experience, although that's when the whales are playing off shore.  Instead during winter head north to Diego Suarez and the beaches near there - see Ramena Beach above.

We met Albert, the friendly owner of La Baleine, 5 km from the port out on the island.  The photos of his place looked good and he was willing to give us a weekly rate of 16,000a/night with bathroom, right on the beach.  Check it out.  Call and they will pick you up from the dock free. (phone # 0320237826)

Salama: Hello
En Vo vo (Like in sounds) - How's it going?
Chara: Good
Mora Mora - slowly, slowly
Faly- happy

Unique Books on Madagascar:
Fascinating old books to download free and read, available in PDF's from
*Thirty Years in Madagascar, Matthews, Thomas Trotter, 1904
*The Last Travels of Ida Pfeiffer & Visit to Madagascar, 1861
We learned from reading about Ida Pfeiffer's solo journey to Madagascar in the 1850's, that the Merina Queen of that time had hired a European musician to write music in her court, thus the current blend of cool sounding melodic music and spicy rhythm. We also learned that in the 1830's there were 11 levels of caste system ranging from Royalty down to those born into slavery.  If a ship was wrecked on the shores of this island the survivors were put into slavery for 5 years, then set free.  Also Ida recounted the torture and cruelty of the Queen against hundreds of thousands of her own subjects.  Unbelievable. What an interesting era.



Our three month exploration of this unique island.









This proud fisherman had to run his prize catch back to Ft. Dauphin,
 (over 4 miles) before it spoiled.

Enjoying the south coast waves on a hot day.  Some beaches are safe,
others are teeming with sharks.

Lovely young lady.  Malagasy women take great pride in their
appearance with unique braided hairstyles, bright clothing, and sporty
 hats or covering their faces with herbal paste as protection from the sun.

This wise old baobab of the spiny forest is over 1,000
years old.( near Mangily)

Mercedes 'limo', alias taxi brousse or bush taxi, our home for the
next 48 hours.

Inside this luxury liner there was seating for over 100 passengers,
with many extras squished in the back along certain routes.

When the weekly taxi brousse pulls into a village everyone comes to
watch. Snacks are for sale such as bbq'd skinny chicken pieces, roasted
corn or potatoes, pistach or peanuts, fruit, etc.  Some people even
negotiate for a new chicken or turkey to tuck under their seat.

In these remote villages people are in awe that a foreigner is on board. 
Soon we are joking with the children and often, if encouraged, they
would sing or dance for us.  They loved seeing their photos, first
time no doubt.  Always saying, "Thank You."

Tsiombe can be without water for months on end, yet the center of
the village was a lake from the previous day's downpour.  Bikes
and zebu carts were the main mode of transport.  Vehicles wouldn't
last long with those rough roads and without gas stations...?

When a boat arrived from across the horizon to Mangily Beach,
everyone would jump up and help carry them to shore. 
An interesting fishing village to hang out in.

One of the friendly families we bought vegetables from, along the sandy
main road which was so quiet that the dogs slept in the middle.

At least 30% of the women had herbal pastes of yellow, orange or
brown protecting their skin from the hot, drying sun.  Their skin is
several shades lighter underneath.  Thank goodness they haven't added
harmful bleach to the mixture like their wealthier Asian neighbors.

Sapphire mines of Ilakaka, moving mountains of dirt one shovel full at a
time.  Madagascar has historically been rich in resources, thus the same
 old story of political upset while the resources disappear behind the scenes. 

Like a gold rush, miners flock to these mining areas with their families,
often living in tiny huts.   Life is hard but this woman smiled more than
people I've known complaining because they need a 3 car garage
instead of only 2.  We are so spoiled in the west.

Stark mountain peaks run from Isalo National Park to Andringitra
Park, near Ambalavao.

Ring tailed lemurs catching the morning rays at the 'not to be missed'
 Anja Community Park.

Winter time in a high mountain village.

Pounding rice for dinner in the delightful village up the road from Anja.

This balloon had the village children jumping and tumbling in the dirt.

Teaching me how to really 'shake my bootie'.  We had fun for hours
playing, singing and dancing until worn out, we headed back up the road.

The stunning mountains and valleys of the Haute Plateau.

Las Vegas comes to the Ambalavao Wed. Market.

With one baby on her back, one at her side, this woman
handed out free smiles as she sold home grown rice.

Nap time. Everyone in Madagascar has a rest from 1pm to 2pm.

A classy snoozer, only 50 feet further down the road.  People chuckled
as we caught everyone 'sleeping on the job'.

Who needs shocks or back windows?

As we headed north, there were many electric blue waterways to cross.

Grand Prix, Malagasy style.

Marc and Joseph inspecting green demantoid garnets at the mine.

Hundreds of holes scar the earth in search of garnets.  It takes muscles
and time to dig these mines by hand, and provides hope of money for
these destitute workers.

Peaceful, clean Ramena Beach near Diego.  The family of sociable
fruit loving lemurs live in the trees behind the boat.

These lemurs have befriended a couple of ex-pats from France who
feed them rather than the locals who unfortunately still eat them.
 Why move?

This cheeky fellow (the lemur I mean) will jump down on your shoulder
looking for a piece of banana; as the more timid females wait their turn.
They are very gentle as they hold on to your fingers with their delicate
fingers. Fun to observe up close, they waited for us morning and evening.

Sacred Falls, one of the many magical waterfalls in Montagne
D’Ambre National Park.

Bright colored kingfishers search for
food under the falls.

Keep your eyes open for frogs and lizards
 of every color, experts at camouflage.

Animals are hiding everywhere on Amber Mountain, you just have to
be patient and keep your eyes open.

Large, impressive, semi-wild ruffed lemurs hang out at Park Zoologique Ivoloina, near Tamatave.

This friendly fellow, a certified sun worshipper, opened his arms to
 the celestial rays as soon as they broke through the jungle canopy.

Sticks are used for everything here from fences, to walls of huts, to stilts.





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