To the West Coast

October 29, 2016

Breakfast was later today, because we didn’t have a long journey. We left at 9:30 am—much more civilized—and headed south-west. We travelled on a recently repaved stretch of Route 7 with no potholes!

Our courtyard at Hotel Relais de la Reine

Our courtyard at Hotel Relais de la Reine

No potholes!

No potholes!

Soon we came to an area of the country noted for sapphire mining, starting in the town of Ilakaka. There were a lot of buildings labelled “Bijouterie” (i.e. jewel shop) and a lot of clearly foreign investment. There were a lot of people panning for sapphires in the rivers and the whole area looked more prosperous than many of the other places we’d been.

Sapphire mining at Ilakaka

Sapphire mining at Ilakaka

We stopped briefly to buy water and then continued until we arrived at Zombitse National Park. We had a walk scheduled here to search for more lemurs. Our guide was named Lucien and he led us along the forest trails, stopping to see a very large Oustalet’s Chameleon. And before long he went off down a side path and then came back to show us the Zombitse Sportive Lemurs.

Zombitse Sportive Lemur

Zombitse Sportive Lemur

There were two of them, and since this species is nocturnal they were sleeping in tree cavities. One of them was larger than the other, and probably that was because they were a mother and a recently-born baby. Otherwise you rarely find two roosting together because they are solitary animals. We photographed them for quite a while before moving on. Then after a short distance we came across a group of Verreaux’s Sifakas who were feeding on leaves. Luckily for us they were at a reasonable height above the ground so we didn’t have to crane our necks too much. And yes, they had a cute baby sifaka.

Verreaux’s Sifaka

Verreaux’s Sifaka

Farther along we came to a big baobab tree, which was a hint of what was to come. Madagascar has six species of baobab, unlike mainland Africa which has only one, and we would see a variety of baobabs this afternoon.

Twin baobab trees

Twin baobab trees

Baobab grove with Pied Crow

Baobab grove with Pied Crow

We got to the end of the walk after an hour or so, and all of a sudden a Giant Coua appeared in the bush! Our guide had been trying to call one up for the whole walk but it only showed up at the very last minute. We had our picnic lunch at the table by the road before carrying on towards the coast.

Giant Coua disappearing into the bush

Giant Coua disappearing into the bush

The villages up on the plateau had been poor, but the villages down here in the spiny scrub were really poor, and it was very noticeable. The houses in the villages were made of sticks, the fences were made of sticks, and the lives of the people seemed to revolve about getting water. We saw the government truck which comes weekly to bring water to the area, but it looked like it was broken down. When we stopped for a break we talked to some young men who were riding their bicycles 10 kilometers in 40-degree heat to fill jerry cans with water to bring back to their village. Their bicycles had no gears and no brakes either!

Water boys

Water boys

Water brought by zebu cart

Water brought by zebu cart

As the bus went downhill into Toliara the air started to cool down and soon we could see the Indian Ocean in the distance. We finally reached the Victory Hotel, where we would be staying for one night; it was on the main road into the city in the middle of a rather industrial area. It did have a lovely swimming pool, but we decided to have showers instead.

We settled into our room, which was quite nice, and we found that Chambre 20, right next door, had fast and reliable wi-fi. So we took the opportunity to apply all of the app updates which were waiting! Dinner was at 7:30 pm and since there was pizza on the menu we ordered that, just one pizza for the two of us. That felt better than all the large meals we’d been eating on this trip.

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