Day 3 10/11 Our introduction to dusty Malagasy country roads
We left our Baobab Hotel early and proceeded to the turn-off. The road again passed through the Baobab Alley, where we took some more photos before proceeding.
This was to be a long day on dirt roads with few stops. Two ferry crossings added to the novelty of the trip with the waiting, boarding, getting the cars in and out, getting off, local vendors, local people and other tourists. Ferry crossings were very busy places and this was a confluence point for locals and tourists alike.
At the largest town on the route, Belo Tsiribihina, we enjoyed a very good lunch at a restaurant called Mad Zebu (Zebu are cattle in Madagascar and other tropical areas with a large hump – Brahman cattle).
After lunch we continued on the dirt road passing near the Kirindy Reserve, a nice area where the trees were still standing. Along the way we saw interesting lizards a Cynanchum? and Aloe vaombe. As we continued on we encountered locals either on foot or on their zebu-drawn carriages. In spite of my stubborn migraine headache the sights and landscapes observed up to this point were novel and interesting.
By the time we arrived at our hotel we were all fairly dusty and ready for a break. The hotel consisted on individual bungalows and there was a swimming pool and a restaurant. After a swim we joined the group for dinner. On the way to our rooms after dinner Mike spotted a chameleon on a shrub near the restaurant. They appear white in a flashlight’s beam. It had a been a long day but anticipation was in the air for the next day we would visit another landmark, the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve.
Day 4 10/12 A silver lining day
By early morning, the stomach pain that had started the previous night before dinner, had evolved into a very bad case of diarrhea and vomiting. In spite of this, I decided to go with the group in the hope that I would make it. I did not know that we were an hour away (about 8 miles as the crow flies) from the park entrance at the Tsingy. If the road the day before was bad, the road from our hotel to the Tsingy of Bemaraha park entrance was even worse. Upon arrival to the park we met our guide TV (we would later learn that he was to be our botanical guide and would travel with us for the rest of our Madagascar tour) and he proceeded to explain the “circuit” as guides in Madagascar like to refer to the various routes/trails one can walk in Madagascar national parks.
The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is home to a number plants and animals and it is an interesting area from a geological standpoint. Bats are an important component of the Tsingy faunal diversity given the extensive cave system found in this area.
By then, I realized that I had made a mistake in coming to the park and I asked our tour operator if our driver could take me back to the hotel. His response was a loud and short “out of the question”. I tried to start the trail but very soon it became clear that I was too sick to go on so I returned to the car and resigned myself to wait for the rest of the group to return. Before turning around I convinced Mike to go on with the group. After about an hour waiting in the car I must have looked pretty awful because at this point our driver spoke to me for the first time. He said to me in French that he felt sorry for me and could not let me wait for hours in the car given my condition. He offered to take me back to the hotel, but I hesitated at first – remembering the “out of the question” comment. He persisted, and in the end I accepted so we started the long way back.
I survived the ride back, but as soon as I got out of the car I experienced a violent bout of vomiting. After getting to my room with the kind help of the driver I was able to get some badly needed rest while waiting to get better. Other members had issues with food related health problems through out the trip, yet I am not sure if anyone else got sick enough to have to skip an outing as was my case.
Sometime by mid-afternoon Michael came back from the Tsingy and he appeared exhausted. His first words were: “you are lucky you were sick and did not go on the hike to the Tsingy”. Thus even though I regretted missing the Tsingy, there may have been a silver lining to my story since the hike turned out to be no picnic for people with short legs and or knee problems like me.
Mike’s comments: The hike through the Tsingy, though only something like 4 km total distance, took 4 hours and involved climbs up and down limestone cliffs via wire ropes where the participants wore their harnesses. In fairness, the harnesses probably weren’t necessary for many people – just a safety precaution in case you slipped (and then fell and died).
Click on the link to seea good article about the genus Pachypodium.
Some of the other succulents we saw before the trail became more difficult were: Euphorbia opuntioides, an Adenia, Euphorbia millii and another Euphorbia and a terrestrial orchid.
Some of the animals encountered during the hike included Decken’s Sifaka, Brown Lemur, Madagascar Iguanas, a chameleon and a mongoose.
After about an hour and a half our guide mentioned that we were at a point where the trail would get steep and people fearing heights or the steep hike could wait. Two people decided to wait. The rest of the group then proceeded and eventually, after considerable scrambling, we climbed up steep steps, perhaps 50-100 ft, with the aid of the harnesses. Here we reached a wooden platform where we had a panoramic view of the Tsingy. From this platform we could take photos safely and with “slightly less rush” than during the hike. I say slightly less rush because the platform was not large enough to hold more than 4 or 5 people and as other groups were coming there was not unlimited time.
Many of the following photos taken in the Tsingy are less than idea images. Many were taken by our Olympus TG-4 camera – a pocket camera designed for rough conditions and underwater use. Because it fit in my shirt pocket I could quickly take photos as we scrambled and climbed. My better cameras were in my backpack – I didn’t want to risk damaging them on the limestone – except when we stopped for a few minutes and I could pull them out.
Then we descended to the bottom of a Tsingy “canyon” where we had lunch. It was much cooler (about 75F in the canyon bottom, where sunlight barely reached. However, some of us had run out of water by that time. Then there was scrambling on all 4’s to go through short cave passages to continue on the trail. The final stretch was through fairly uninteresting grassland/deciduous forest devoid of many succulents.
By the time we were well into the Tsingy the temperature was about 90˚F (32˚C) at the top of the limestone, so we ended up being quite thirsty, despite us all carrying 1 liter water bottles. The real disappointment of this hike was that the interesting succulents (Pachypodium lamerei being the main one) were seen before getting to the difficult part of the hike, and that they were not seen on the return part of the trail.
In other words, most of the difficult hike wasn’t necessary – if you just wanted to see the succulents. We weren’t given a choice or informed of this possibility. Of course, most tourists come to the Tsingy not to see the succulents, but to experience the steep climbs and rough limestone landscapes. Thus, our tour guide (TV) did what he thought most tourists expected to do – rather than what our group was supposed to focus on.
We all assembled for dinner that evening. Most likely everyone was looking forward to getting some rest that evening.
Day 5 10/13 Gear shifting problems
On this day we returned to Morondava. So we were very quickly back on the dusty road, repeated the ferry crossings, the good lunch at Mad Zebu and again experienced a fresh set of car problems.
Except for our lunch stop at Mad Zebu, most stops were short. Some of these stops included a 23 minute stop near the Kirindy Reserve when our car’s problems became too serious to ignore. Another stop was in an area where Baobabs began appearing.
Along the way we saw locals traveling in zebu- drawn carriages and in some areas we ran into small fires.
Nice examples of baobabs appeared as we got closer to the Avenue of Baobabs, but at this point our vehicle had developed a leaking clutch fluid line and the clutch stopped working – making stops very undesirable.
Eventually our driver could not change gears without stalling the car so not only did we miss a stop that the other two cars made to see the two “embracing baobabs” just off our route, but we were also unable to stop when we drove through the Avenue of the Baobabs at a time in the afternoon when the light was better for photography. We could not communicate with the other two vehicles to let them know we were not stopping since cell phones did not work in that area and we did not have walkie-talkies.
We returned to the same Baobab Café Hotel in Morondava and dinner was again a slow 2-hour affair.
Continue to days 6-7 “Morondava to Manja”