November 1, 2016
We were travelling today, back to Antananarivo for the end of our trip. Our flight to Tana had been changed from 4 pm to 1:10 pm—apparently this is typical behaviour for Air Madagascar—and so we had to be at breakfast at 6:45 am. After breakfast the boat came to pick us up, and luckily the tide was quite high so only a few feet of wading was required.
The boat journey to Toliara to about an hour or so, and our zebu carts came out to meet us. They all delivered us safely to the dock, where we were met by a bus which took us back to the Victory Hotel. There we changed into our walking shoes and repacked our bags, and then headed for the airport. We arrived at 11 am to check in, which was plenty of time because it wasn’t very busy—there was only one flight coming in and one flight going out today.
Our plane was a Boeing 737—you don’t see many of them these days—and there were no seat assignments so there was a lot of maneuvering by people who wanted to get on first. But somehow Paul managed to get an aisle seat in an emergency-exit row! The flight took about an hour to get to Tana; we were met by the bus from Au Bois Vert and soon we were back in the coolness of the forest surrounding the hotel.
Paul was still not feeling well so he drank a bottle of oral rehydration salts and took a Cipro tablet, then spent the remaining part of the afternoon relaxing. Dinner was at 7:30 pm, and tonight we had the pleasure of watching a musical group singing and dancing to traditional Malagasy music. After dinner we chatted for a short while but soon went back to our room for an early night.
November 2, 2016
You’d think that once we got back to Tana, we’d just fly home the next day. But no, Explore has this day as a contingency day in case the flight from Toliara gets messed up. Which is a definite possibility. But we were happy to have another day in Madagascar.
So after breakfast we boarded the bus to go to Ambohimanga, where the former kings and queens of Madagascar used to live. The name means “Blue Hill” or “Beautiful Hill” and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site now. The bus took us through Antananarivo along very busy crowded roads and through some very poor areas. After a while we reached the outskirts, where the houses became larger and more elaborate. In the inner city the houses were more like shacks, with no running water and poor sewer systems, and Hery told us that after a heavy rainstorm there would be raw sewage running in the streets.
At the palace we were met by our guide, who told us the history of the palace and its residents. The king’s palace was basically a traditional Malagasy hut, but of course a large version to befit a powerful man. And his throne was just a small stool. But after his reign the Europeans arrived and redefined luxury, so the adjacent queen’s palace was a small but traditional European royal residence. The kings and queens are long gone but even today some practitioners of the old religion come to the king’s palace to sacrifice a duck or a goose. It was a very interesting tour and a nice way to spend the morning.
For lunch we ate at the restaurant next to the site. The food served was a smorgasbord of local products: several cuts of zebu meat, chicken, fish, salads, and of course rice. All very tasty. We also had entertainment provided by a band and dancers. Despite the warm outside temperature the cooling breeze made it very pleasant, and Paul’s stomach was finally prepared to accept food again.
As we left we stopped at the gift shop and surprisingly there was a Madagascar Scops Owl sitting on a tree outside it, guarding a nest with at least one chick in it.
Then we returned to the bus to continue on to the Lemurs Park. The trip to the park took about an hour and a half and upon arrival we quickly got our guide and headed off on the trails. This park is on the outskirts of Antananarivo and it’s devoted to housing lemurs which have been rescued from being pets, and their goal is to raise awareness of the plight of lemurs and Madagascar wildlife in general.
As we walked along we could hear loud claps of thunder overhead, along with short sprinkles of rain periodically. The lemurs were fun to watch as they interacted with each other; they were all habituated to people so they basically ignored us. So much so that one of the lemurs leaped right between us, hitting Rosemary in the face with its tail on the way!
On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at a mall to shop for Madagascar chocolate. The mall was bright and modern and wouldn’t have been out of place in Britain or North America, but here it seemed kind of strange. And the supermarket didn’t really have much chocolate. From there the traffic was terrible; we didn’t get back to the hotel until after 7 pm so dinner was late at 8 pm.
November 3, 2016
The tour finishes today and we’re going back to London. But our flights don’t leave until the afternoon so this morning we went on a visit to a local vanilla producer. It was only a short walk up the road to her house, which was behind a locked gate.
First of all she gave us a short presentation on the production of vanilla. Vanilla is a type of orchid which takes three years to produce its seed pods. In Madagascar it has to be hand-pollinated by human workers because the bees who normally do that only live in Mexico. The best vanilla comes from the north-east, where she gets most of her beans. Not only are the roads really bad in that area, but the plantation is twelve hours walk from the nearest road! But despite that, vanilla rustling is still a problem.
We didn’t know what Agriculture Canada would think of vanilla pods so we bought some powdered vanilla and some more chocolate bars. Back at the hotel we finished packing and left for the airport at 1 pm. Our flight was at 5 pm but most of the others had a 3:20 departure on Kenya Airways. We didn’t have any problems going through immigration and security and police check, but a lot of people were called down to the baggage area to account for “contraband” in their luggage. And we heard of some who paid a bribe to deal with the problem.
The Kenya Airways flight had been delayed yesterday and the day before, and it was delayed today as well. So our Turkish Airlines flight left before theirs and headed off to Mauritius. Then Istanbul, then London, where we arrived early the next day. And it rained the rest of the day there. London in November, what can you expect?