October 19, 2016
After breakfast we repacked our bags, using the smaller backpack to take to Madagascar. We would leave behind things like hiking boots and warm clothing. Our smaller backpacks are almost small enough for carry-on so we would try to get away with that. The Tube journey to Heathrow took just over an hour, with no “severe delays” like other lines were having.
Checking in went very quickly, as did security. We had lunch at the airport and then walked for 15 minutes to get to our gate. Turkish Airlines was very proactive about boarding (they didn’t measure our packs) and the plane pushed back from the gate about ten minutes early. We landed in Istanbul at about 10 pm and went over to the international transfer area to wait for our next flight.
October 20, 2016
We had a couple of hours before our flight’s departure, which turned out to be at a gate downstairs. The flight at the gate next to ours was going to Ashgabad, which we found out is in Turkmenistan, and it had several large ladies in colourful dresses and hats boarding with lots of shopping bags.
Our flight left about 1:30 am, which was just before midnight London time, which wasn’t too bad. For most of the flight to Mauritius we both slept, although Rosemary woke up to have dinner at 2:30 am but wasn’t really hungry. When the flight arrived in Mauritius about three quarters of the passengers got off, and the rest of us had to stay on board before carrying on to Antananarivo.
So finally we were in Madagascar! Now it became a bit confusing. Once we were out of the plane we were given a three-page document to fill in, so we did that while standing in the line. We paid £50 for our visas, got our passports stamped by the police, and then had to go back to yet another counter to hand in our health forms. But it was all quite easy, and since we only had carry-on luggage we went straight out of the terminal building.
The Explore representative waiting for us was Dési (short for Désiré) and the first thing he told us was where to exchange money and how much to exchange. Avoiding the touts we entered the formal bank, which consisted of two men behind wickets who handed us a card describing the exchange rates. We each gave the man €240 and got back over 800,000 ariary each, definitely a wad of cash.
We walked back to Dési and met two of the other Explore travellers, Nigel and Lisa from Wales. We chatted with them while waiting for the Kenya Airways plane to arrive with the rest of our group, but it turned out that their flight was delayed. So Dési had the driver take the four of us on their bus to our hotel for tonight, Hotel au Bois Vert. It took us a while driving through the narrow streets of Antananarivo but finally our bus turned into a driveway leading the hotel. The hotel was located in its own forested park, which was a pleasant surprise. Our bungalow was lovely with two large beds (one in a loft) and nicely decorated walls. Not bad!
Later we met the rest of the group, just before dinner. They had all been on the same Kenya Airways flight and had had a seven-hour layover in Nairobi. We definitely had the better flights! There were 13 of us, all from Britain except for the two of us, and more or less all of similar ages. Dési was about to hand the group over to the leader, Hery, but before leaving he showed us the daytime roost of a Madagascar Nightjar. Dinner was very good, but since we were getting an early start tomorrow we went to our room after dinner to have an early night.