Day 6 10/14 Morondava to Manja – The adventure begins!
We were up early to watch the sunrise and the boats passing along the channel next to the hotel. We had breakfast, packed our bags and left the hotel. After the drivers got some gas at a petrol station, we continued on to near the turnoff to the Avenue of the Baobabs and then turned south – leaving civilization behind for the next 4 days.
The road was dirt and initially it did not look that bad. Our driver fell behind the other vehicles and took the wrong turn, not surprising given the lack of signs. Finally, the other drivers realized we were not behind them and one vehicle returned to find us. Then the 3 cars were on the way to our destination for the night – Belo Sur Mer.
The road did not stay good for long. Unfortunately our car continued to have engine overheating problems, which provided some unexpected stops that we actually welcomed. Our car had the most serious problems, but the other two vehicles were not in perfect shape either. For example a rear window of one vehicle did not roll down – important because air conditioning did not appear to work in any of the vehicles.
“The party begins” These were the words (in French) of our driver when we started heading south towards Tulear. Our tour leader had mentioned the night before that the next 4 days would be “difficult”. The cars could not go very fast because there were long stretches of deep sand alternating with water on the road and some deep-water crossings. Long days, bad roads and very few breaks made for a tiring journey. This was unfortunate, since we would often go through interesting areas from a botanical or landscape standpoint, but we would not stop often or if we did it would be too short for it to feel like a reasonable exploration break. Car problems were actually a good thing to a point because we were forced to stop. Of course sometimes we had to stop in less than ideal locations.
By the time we got to our hotels on this route we were pretty worn out and I suspect we were not the only ones that felt that way. Then it was a rush to be on time for dinner and then it was off to bed so we could get up early and repeat the cycle (sandy roads, car problems, long hours sitting in the car etc.)
This route went through a less-traveled area and although there were people and small villages in many places, it was surprising to see that none of the little villages had electricity or running water.
We were not yet finished with our succulent plant tour, yet we could already see a pattern of people everywhere and habitat degradation or destruction in a scale far greater than originally anticipated. You can read many interesting articles about Madagascar Conservation and Development here.
During this part of the trip a few tour members that were in the lead vehicle tended to make their driver stop if they saw snakes, chameleons, interesting plants etc. Although at times this may have been a bit annoying because people in the other vehicles did not know what we were stopping for, we eventually realized that we would have had even fewer stops if it had not been for them. On one of those stops today we saw a chameleon and a snake.
The positive aspects of the days we spent on this road were the landscapes and the plants. On our journey today we stopped to look at Adansonia za, Euphorbia stenoclada and Adansonia grandidiera. A recent article (Patrut et al. 2016) found that the oldest known specimen of Adansonia za was about 735 years.
Also on this road we saw Didierea madagascariensis, a dominant species in the spiny forest, for the first time. You can read more about the Didieraceae here.
We arrived at our hotel by late afternoon, but not before one last car trouble episode. As we were approaching the hotel our car finally died and we had to wait for one of the other vehicles to come and take us to the hotel.
After settling in, we and other members of the tour went out for a walk. Some people walked along the beach while others, including us, walked out of the hotel grounds to look at the mangroves and the vegetation in the area. There were the large succulent Euphorbia stenoclada growing in this area. We had good views of the mangroves and some palms – possibly coconut palms. We saw a pair of colorful butterflies and also a snake that another tour member walking nearby had caught.
After admiring a beautiful sunset we enjoyed an excellent seafood meal at the hotel’s open-air restaurant.
Day 7 10/15 Radiator surgery in the middle of nowhere
A nice sunrise and pretty ocean views followed by breakfast at the hotel’s open-air restaurant made for a pleasant start of the day. We did not know that today’s car problems would be the most serious so far.
By 9 am we were back on the road, which today became particularly bad and included some deep-water forges associated with irrigation activities. The rough roads detracted from appreciating what, in retrospect, was perhaps some of the prettiest scenery and succulent habitats on the whole trip. We made few stops and there were enough places we went through that probably would have been interesting to explore.
Around mid-morning we went through patches of dry forest. Here we saw some Aloes and also made a stop to see the baobabs (Adansonia za?)
By 12:30 our car finally died and afterwards in a 2-hour process it underwent an amazing “repair” job in the middle of nowhere while a group of locals silently joined our tour members waiting for the car to be fixed. We decided to have lunch at this spot, while the radiator was taken out and a variety of corrective surgeries were tried. It soon became obvious that the car could be revived for a bit, but a real fix was not going to happen on the road. We were all appreciative of the driver’s success in repairing the car enough to make it to our destination for the night.
After the drivers got the car “fixed” we continued to Manja. Our arrival at Manja was somewhat surreal. The roads were dirt and the town, although not huge, was pretty busy. I could not shake this feeling of being in a frontier town. We stopped in front of a very large metal gate and someone opened the gate. All 3 cars drove into this enclosed parking lot. There was no pavement and soon we had a group of very young porters all eager to grab our belongings. The whole scene was a bit chaotic and of course we were all pretty tired and some (including myself) were nursing migraine headaches as well. The manager, a woman, started talking to our tour operator and shortly after we were asked to follow her. Rooms were assigned and we all dispersed.
The hotel consisted, with exception of a more modern section above the bar, of tiny huts with the proverbial one light bulb to illuminate the whole room. As soon as we went into our tiny hut/room I noticed the lack of screens on the windows, the lack of fans, and the need to keep the windows closed. Not just because of possible mosquitoes, but because this was a busy place and people were circulating and walking right past our window – so it had to be closed.
After asking the manager (in French), who was still outside, for a fan and after waiting a while, I tried my luck again with a staff member. To my surprise this lady brought us a good-sized freestanding fan. Having the fan made a big difference that night and if we got any sleep at all it was probably thanks to the fan. It was stuffy and too warm inside our room even with the fan so I can only imagine how bad it would have been without it. Fortunately in spite of the less than attractive room, the sheets were very clean and we had mosquito netting over the bed.
We were also lucky to have running water for a shower that evening, which was not the case for everyone in our group. A cute frog in our shower was a positive note in an otherwise long day. By now I was so tired even the spider in the shower seemed trivial.
My only regret is that I did not get to see Kanto’s “famous” bar. I think I could hear the music, but Mike was too tired to go take a look and I did not really feel like going by myself.
Our group gathered for dinner at the hotel restaurant that evening and the food was surprisingly good, or perhaps we were all very hungry?
Continue to days 8-9 “Manja to Tulear”