Tana to Morondava
Day 1 10/9th The early days and the wonders of pavement
Our succulent plant tour began on a nice sunny day. Our three vehicles and drivers were waiting for us at the parking lot of the Ibis hotel in Antananarivo. Luggage was loaded and people settled in the car of their choice and then we were off. It was exciting to be starting this tour and expectations of things to come were high. The first day was not too difficult and I should note that we were driving on a paved road, a luxury in Madagascar where many roads are not paved. Due to the lack of many succulent plant habitats between Tana and Mandrivazo, our destination for the night, this first day was not very productive and did not include many stops. The simple lunch (sandwiches, fruits) was next to the road.
There was a stop at a good-sized town and we did not know why we had stopped. The group wandered around a bit and we checked out a shop or two. While at one of the shops we noticed the driver of our car was changing a tire. He was very quick about it, but my first thought was: is not this a bit early to start changing tires? Then Mike commented on the bad condition of the tires in all 3 vehicles. Little did we know that this would not be the last time car troubles/maintenance were part of the conversation.
As we drove on we started to appreciate the common elements that form part of daily life here in Madagascar. Examples include small shops next to the road, colorful butcher shops, people going about their daily business some carrying heavy loads, some heading for church, while others did laundry in rivers near the road.
Common sights along the route were the rice paddies and fires, both important elements that have shaped the landscapes in many parts of Madagascar.
That afternoon we arrived at our hotel at 5:30 pm. Our hotel was a pleasant place, out-of-town, with nice views of the surrounding terrain and a swimming pool. The rooms were a bit warm but we managed. Dinner that night at the hotel was OK, although our food was a bit heavy with garlic. All inconveniences appeared minor since this was, after all, only the first day and we were finally on the road in Madagascar!
Day 2 10/10 A visit to an iconic place
Our breakfast was at 7 AM and this became the norm for most of the trip. Early this day we crossed the scenic Tsiribihina River, which was teeming with people doing laundry and cattlemen crossing with their cattle.
During one of the few stops that day we spotted an Adenia growing near the road, its thick trunk helped us spot it among the dry tangled vegetation. At this stop we also encountered local kids for the first time and they seemed curious and followed us while we looked around. This would become commonplace, as we were never very far from people during this trip.
As we headed for the Avenue of the Baobabs we ran into a cattle market next to the road. Cattle owners bring their cattle to be sold on certain days at these markets and there is plenty of activity to observe at these events.
After some hours of travel on the paved road through uninteresting terrain (mostly burned or deforested) we eventually arrived near the coast and turned off the main road to visit the “Avenue of the Baobabs” near Morondava. A well-known landmark, the “Avenue of the Baobabs” appears in most travel guides and books about Madagascar. Most pictures do not show the people and human disturbance that is taking place very close to the trees.
Adansonia grandidieri is considered the largest of the Madagascar baobabs and there are conflicting reports about their age. A recent article (Patrut et al. 2015) discusses the results of their research about this subject. They found that the oldest specimens they studied were approximately 1274 years. A 2013 article discusses the vulnerability of three baobab species to climate change and the effectiveness of the current protected area network.
To be fair, the trees were impressive, yet the whole experience was less enjoyable than expected due to the noticeable human disturbance around the site. There were people fishing for frogs, others were selling wooden baobabs while still others were just passing through with their cattle. People and cattle were abundant in the area and the tourists were there too although in a minority. Unfortunately our visit was not timed to experience this site with the best light for photography, but we were told we would come back through here and there would be another chance for photography.
Then it was time to head to Morondava and the Baobab Cafe, our hotel for the night. This hotel was in an interesting location next to a mangrove-lined channel with fishing boats steadily passing by. After a swim we joined the group for dinner at the hotel.
Continue to days 3-5 “The Tsingy”