As we move down into the deep south of Madagascar we are reminded that this is the seventh-poorest country on earth; the poverty now really smacks you in the face. The huts, the fields, the clothes – all just substantially more obviously barely scraping by.
The last place we particularly wanted to go in the south was Islao National Park. From there we wanted to go to the west-central part of the country for a little beach time and another national park. Given the condition of Madagascar’s roads, though, you can’t just turn north and drive; you have to fly back to Antananarivo (or drive back, but that wasn’t very appealing) and then fly out the next day. So the plan was to spend four nights at Islao and the next drive four hours to Toliara for a flight back to the capital; as the flight wasn’t scheduled until after 3:00 PM that would work just fine.
That is, until our guide explained that while the schedule said a 3:00 PM departure, in fact they would contact us the night before to tell us the real time and that it was likely to be early in the morning. So we cut short our Islao stay by one night and drove out to Toliara for the night.
In the scheme of things all that worked out great. We ended up – at our guide’s suggestion – at a simple, beautiful seaside place maybe 45 minutes up the coast from Toliara. We had a pleasant little villa with a nice porch facing the ocean and a couple of great meals. Mark had a lobster lunch and I had a couple hours reading on the beach so we were both pretty happy. And then we got the call that indeed, the flight was going to leave at 8:00 AM, not 3:00 PM. That seems a strange way to run an airline but it worked for us.
So the next morning we had to get up at 5:00 AM for the drive back to Toliara; they want you at the airport plenty early. The airport meant farewell to Bio, our driver; he was taking two days to drive back to the capital. This was the first time we’d hired a driver for an extended tour like this and it worked really well. Bio was just about perfect: he drove well, chatted some but not too much, and stopped to show us places that were genuinely interesting. Can’t ask for more than that.
One thing about driving in Madagascar that I really liked; the dog that didn’t bark. It took me a few days to realize that unlike many lower-income countries where we’ve traveled the locals here aren’t addicted to their horns. We’ve been places – Cambodia in particular comes to mind – where the blaring of horns is just overwhelming. Here, not so much at all. The roads are shared with zebu and pedestrians and rickshaws and all sorts of animal-pulled vehicles so there’s no shortage of encounters at varying speeds. When someone needed to alert others, though, it was a gentle little tap on the horn, not a screeching noise. Made for a pleasant multi-day drive.
As for the commute to Antananarivo, this was a little domestic flight so security was modest: a guard looked inside my carry-on bag and just waived me through, no scanning or anything else. Eventually that non-stop flight we’d booked took off … and stopped. At a city well out of the way of our route to Antananarivo. When we finally got to the capital we couldn’t believe how long it took to get our luggage. And then how l-o-n-g it took to drive to our hotel; the traffic in Antananarivo – that day at least – was pretty horrible.
This, too, was just a one-night stop but we enjoyed it. We stayed at a little place way up the hill near the Queen’s Palace that we’d toured on our first stop in the city so we had an amazing view of the city. While out searching for an ATM – lots of places in Madagascar don’t take credit cards and the ATMs only disperse about $125 at a time (in $3 bills), so searching out ATMs is a constant here – I even chanced by an Italian restaurant that we went to for dinner that was a treat; it was good on its own terms but particularly good for a change of pace.
From here we fly out west for a week – a little beach time and then out to Tsingy National Park.