October 23, 2016
We had a lot of travelling to do today, so breakfast was scheduled for 6:45 am. So when Rosemary woke up at 6:23 am and said “Weren’t we supposed to be up already?” we leaped out of bed. Dressing hurriedly and doing the final packing of our bags, we put them out on the porch to be collected by the porters. Breakfast was the usual French loaf with butter and jam plus a banana and a sweet fritter, and at 7:30 am we climbed aboard the bus to start the long drive to Antsirabe.
The first part of the drive took us back up Route 2 towards Antananarivo. But today was Sunday, so there were numerous people dressed in their best clothes heading to church. We also saw several recreational and semi-pro cyclists dressed in a variety of clothing styles and riding up the hill on a variety of bicycles. Some were doing quite well, even outdistancing the slow trucks on the hill. Hery told us that they were training for the Tour of Madagascar, which was scheduled for next month. Near the top of the hill we stopped for a break to stretch our legs.
Back at Tana we turned left onto Route 7, which we would follow for the rest of the day. We stopped at a petrol station, where we bought water and snacks, and then headed back out into the countryside. Here it was not as hilly and besides the rice fields there were also fields where vegetables were growing. We passed a lot of people washing clothes and carpets and the like and laying them on the hillside to dry in the sun. Hery explained to us that after the people in this area have a funeral, they then have a sort of cleansing ritual where they washed themselves and all of their possessions.
He then went on to describe the funeral practices of other groups elsewhere in Madagascar. Many of those practices were less savoury than washing everything; many of them involved getting drunk. The most extreme one involved having the body laid out for several days, during which time the bodily fluids drain out, and then family members drink some of those fluids to get good luck from the spirit of the deceased. Definitely a disgusting idea!
Most of the people of Madagascar build brick tombs near their villages where the body of the deceased lies as the flesh disintegrates, and after some time the bones are removed and then buried. As we drove along the highway we could see many of those square buildings on high ground, although apparently people are hedging their bets because most of them have a Christian cross on top.
Continuing through the agricultural area, Hery pointed out a large grove of pine trees which were grown to have their sap tapped. The sap and resin is used by the Chinese for soap and other cleaning products. We also stopped at a group of craft stalls selling raffia goods, but decided not to buy anything.
For lunch we stopped in Ambatolampy at Au Rendezvous des Pecheurs. The town was rather ramshackle but the food in the restaurant was quite good. By now it was early afternoon and we still had a ways to go, and most of us nodded off. We arrived in Antsirabe about 5 pm and went directly to our hotel, Résidence Camélia. It looked like a nice place, however just at the moment the power was out. We were told that wasn’t uncommon, especially at the end of the dry season when the water for hydroelectric power is low. So we dashed in for showers while there was still light in the bathroom, and they were lovely and hot. (They have a tank on the roof which is heated by the sun.)
Mealtime was scheduled for 7:30 pm, and it finally arrived at 8 pm. Considering that there was no electricity, the staff did a great job in their candle-lit kitchen and the meal was very enjoyable. At 9:30 pm we returned to our room to finish our journals, illuminated by our headlamps.
October 24, 2016
Still no electricity this morning, but we were up early because there was a packed program today. After breakfast we got into the bus and it took us all up to Lac Tritriva, which was a lake inside a volcanic crater not far away.
This was our first experience with Madagascar volcanoes and also our first experience with Madagascar begging. Hery had warned us about a welcoming committee and sure enough, as we approached the gate the bus was swarmed with young people all vying for our attention in order to sell us items made of stone, including necklaces, polished rocks, and fossils of dubious origin. But they backed off because they knew we would be back soon, after our walk around the lake.
Our local guide Jean-Claude told us about the lake and its history before leading us up to the viewpoint and then down the trail to the water’s edge. We continued around the lake, a short walk and not too difficult. The lake was very pretty and green too, and there was a pair of Little Grebes there. The vendors were more difficult; Rosemary ended up buying a heart-shaped pendant and Paul bought two fossil ammonites. It remains to be seen whether the ammonites are real or fake but to be fair the vendors made no claims except that they were pretty.
Back at the hotel in Antsirabe, our next project was to go on a pousse-pousse ride around the city. The pousse-pousse is like a Chinese rickshaw and we saw them in many places in Madagascar, but Antsirabe is where they are the most common. Rosemary’s driver was named Prospero and Paul’s was named Rasta, wearing a woolly hat with the Jamaican flag’s colours. We travelled in a convoy and the city tour lasted about 40 minutes.
The tour took us by the Hotel des Termes, which is a very large hotel built in 1897 in the French colonial style. Right now it isn’t open but there’s supposed to be a plan to fix it up and reopen it, supported by UNICEF. Then we continued through a small market, past the old railway station (no trains running now) and then back to our hotel. There were more beggars here; they would walk or jog beside us trying to sell us things or just asking for money.
We had lunch at the hotel and then hopped on the bus to make the trip to Ambositra, our next destination. But first we stopped at Western Union so that some of our group could change more money. This took much longer than expected, over an hour in fact. Apparently it was a highly bureaucratic process. So it wasn’t until about 3:30 pm that we got on the road.