I am trying to see as much of sub-Saharan Africa as I can during my last year in Ethiopia, so with that in mind I decided a couple of months ago to spend the week-long October break in Madagascar. Andreas’s holiday and mine didn’t coincide this fall (we’re teaching at different schools); he spent his vacation on Ikaria, trying to resolve some legal issues while soaking up the last of the gorgeous Greek summer sun. Then Alekka signed up to go on ICS’s annual Spanish language trip to Salamanca. So it was to be a solo excursion. But that’s okay, I like to travel on my own and I don’t often get the chance.
I bought a copy of Lonely Planet’s Madagascar when we passed through the Dubai airport in August, and I booked my round-trip ticket to the island early for a good price. But this fall I was very busy at work, and when I finally got around to looking at the guidebook, it soon became apparent that my usual on-the-fly planning method might not work so well for this trip. The book advised against renting a car, and also warned that public transport is extremely slow. Apparently I was going to have to organize 4×4 drivers, local guides, lodging, boat transfers, and internal flights ahead of time of I wanted to see very much in the eight days I had. What to do? After a little soul-searching I did a thing I’d always thought I never would: a week before the break, I called a tour company and asked them to plan me a holiday in northern Madagascar.
It was a private tour, just me and my guide, so there were no chartered buses full of fanny-packing Americans, no colored-umbrella-wielding guides, no group tables at restaurants with menus printed in four languages –unpleasant images that the word “tour” has always conjured up for me. It turned out to be a great choice. I would do it again.
My trip started with an afternoon in the capital city of Antananarivo.
The next morning started early with a 6am flight to Antsirinana (aka Diégo-Suarez) in the north. I visited Three Bays and took a walk around the city.
The next day began with a visit to Amber Mountain Park. I walked on quiet paths through the forest to see waterfalls, chameleons (who will get a blog post of their own in a couple of days), and exotic trees. Afterwards I had a late lunch in a small restaurant outside the park. I spent the night in a lovely lodge with an excellent restaurant in the countryside outside of Ambohitra (aka Joffreville).
The next day began with a long drive south to Mahamasina. This, by the way, illustrates why it takes so long to get around on the island:
On the way we stopped to look at Les Tsingys Rouges, unusual sandstone rock formations.
The afternoon was spent hiking in Ankarana National Park. The main attraction here is the tsingy. These are gray volcanic rock, sharp and jagged – quite different from the red tsingy I’d seen in the morning. I also visited a huge, pitch-dark bat cave. At the end of the hike I saw my first lemurs but it was too late in the afternoon and they were swinging around too high up in the trees for photos.
The next day was a drive to Ankify on the coast; on the way we stopped at a plantation where they grow vanilla, pepper, and cacoa.
To be continued…