Friday, July 10, 2015

A Few Hours in Morondava.

Early morning in Morondava.

For us, Morondava was just a place to spend the night, on our way back to Tana. But that didn't mean we didn't have some fun while we were here. The highlights of our short stay was an amazing dinner and an impromptu and very memorable performance by Jean Claude.


We arrived into Morondava , yesterday, after it was already dark.  At the hotel, while Jean Claude got us checked in, we said our goodbyes and thank-yous to Faly and gave him his tip.  He was a VERY good driver but a bit aloof - we never really broke the ice with him.

At 7:30p, we were back in the hotel's reception room.  Jean Claude was already there and in a few minutes, a very familiar looking red colored SUV pulled up outside.  It was Binu!  It was good to see him and we all broke into smiles as he approached us.

We all got in the car and Binu drove us a short distance down the road to a local restaurant.  I didn't know how our meals would pan out when I was planning this trip so I tried to identify places for us to eat in all the major towns and cities we would be in.  For Morondava, I had picked a place called Chez Alain -  it was very highly rated by many diners.  I had my heart set on going to Chez Alain but since it was obvious Jean Claude already had a place in mind, I decided to just go with the flow.

Binu parked the car and we walked a short distance to a hotel called Le Corail. 


Under the restaurant's name, printed in large white letters, was the phrase *Ex Restaurant Chez Alain*.  We were going to be dining at Chez Alain after all!


We entered into a large pavilion type space - a very seaside kind of feel to it.  There were no other diners except for the four of us so we had our choice of tables :-)


The menu was surprisingly extensive but as I had told George earlier, I was going to eat seafood any opportunity I had and I would eat the most expensive plate I could because expensive here is still cheap by US standards.  So for tonight, I wanted the grilled langoustine.   George decided to order the same.


As we waited for our food to arrive, we all chatted a bit and I tried to take some photos - not really a good idea in the dim light.  We just had a small bulb illuminating our entire table.


Our langoustines got delivered first.  Holy cow!  Basically, it was two lobsters, split in half and grilled.

We waited for Jean Claude and Faly to get their seafood meal before we dug into our langoustines. Of course, they ate their meal with a ton of rice.  I can get rice at home so I skipped out on everything but the langoustines.


George is your typical American lobster eater - goes for the tail and if there is a claw, then the claw.   Langoustines have no claw but there's a lot of body meat.  Ravenous George was done eating in about 10 minutes.  I savored every bite as I rarely get to enjoy something like this.  In fact I don't think I've ever seen a langoustine for sale in a DC market.  I ate the tail and body meat, sucked on the crawlers and then went into heaven sucking up the contents of the head.  Oh so good!!   But it was all way too much for me so I ended up sharing what I couldn't eat with Jean Claude and Faly.  The langoustine meat was a bit chewy but very, very sweet and very nicely grilled - just the right amount of char.

I am all in!  Yum!!

After dinner, a singer took to the *stage* with his guitar.  As he strummed and sang, he was accompanied by a drummer and another percussionist.  In front of him was a tip jar.  The guy was not bad but he was not good.  Not a single tip ended up in the  jar.

Then, all of a sudden I heard a different voice singing. I looked up and saw that it was Jean Claude!  Not only was he singing, but he was also playing the guitar.  I immediately walked over to film his performance.  I noticed the percussionist was keeping rhythm shaking a plastic water bottle filled with sand.  Simple but effective!


As Jean Claude performed, several diners walked up and put money in the tip jar!  He was better than the first act!  Later I asked him how he learned to play the guitar and he replied that he's self taught - learning by watching videos on the internet.  He also said that he has a guitar at home but it's not as nice as the one he just played on - the one he has is a bit broken....not exactly sure what that meant but his words broke my heart.  He has such talent and wants to express it but lacks the instrument.


After dinner, we went to a small souvenir stand.  George had told Jean Claude that he wanted to get a small wood carving of a lemur.  Surprisingly, the first place we went to had exactly what George wanted.  While he was there, he also picked up a very nice wall hanging.  With purchases in hand, we made our way back to the hotel.


Back in the room, I took the opportunity of having a good WiFi connection to upload some photos and to take a nice shower.   I hit the sack fairly early as I knew the alarm would go off early.

I was actually awake before the alarm went off and laid in bed until the alarm went off and George woke up.   There was no time to waste; we didn't even have breakfast.

Pretty sun rise from our balcony room.  The reflection is on the hotel's pool.

Today was going to be a marathon of a road trip kind of day.  We were going to be driving from Morondava all the way back to Tana - a distance of about 650 kilometers (404 miles).  It would be the longest distance we've driven on this trip!

I snapped this photo as George locked the door to our room.  This is the street that front of the hotel faces.

Hotel Baobab Café. Modest but very comfortable hotel.

We hit the road at 6:30a but before we left the coast, we stopped to take in the view of the ocean - the Mozambique Channel, to be exact.  We had been on an island all this time and had no yet seen the water so it was nice for Jean Claude to give us a small chance to step in the sand.

The sand was powder white but the beach was littered with trash - not all that badly littered really but you still had to be a bit mindful on where to step.  Nonetheless, there's something about walking on sand, taking in the fresh sea breeze and watching the waves that completely relaxes me.  Ahhh.......is all I have to say.

I love the gentle pink light of early morning. 

I stayed close to the road but George ventured down to the water's edge to take photos.


It was early in the morning so no bathers were around but several fishermen were already hard at work.  It looked like they were hauling in a catch.


A few photos of the beach and water and I was back in the car.  It was a chilly morning and the light breeze, coming off the water, was beginning to cut through the thin cloth of my long sleeved shirt.


It was early in the morning and the streets of Morondava were relatively traffic free, by Madagascar standards, although there were plenty of people walking alongside the road.   It was a pleasant ride through town though it's by no means an attractive looking town.  I don't know if it's because we had just left the ocean and beach behind or because it was so early in the morning but there's a very calm and relaxed vibe to this place.  If only there hadn't been a airline strike and we could have arrived into Morondava and spent a bit more time here.   Maybe on my next visit to Madagascar :-)


Our next stop was at a gas station.  We need a full tank to make it all the way back to Tana.

Tuk-tuks were recently introduced into Madagascar but they've quickly become very popular!

Then, we stopped for Binu to pick up something.  He placed a large straw basket in the back of the SUV and then took off the lid to show us what was inside.  At first glance, I had no idea what it was.  Turned out to be a cake - a very large cake!.  I can't remember exactly what it was made of but apparently, they make the best version or maybe only version of it here.   You can tell from the expression on his face that he's happy to get the cake and I'm sure his family will be just as thrilled!


Next stop was at a small roadside eatery.  Jean Claude asked if we could stop so that he and Binu could grab a quick breakfast.  Of course!


The menu.


Inside the eatery, there were a few individual tables.  Alongside one wall was a long counter.  At first the guys took seats at the counter while George and I sat at one of the tables.  Looking around the place, I knew that George would not eat the food cooked here and without a cast iron stomach, I didn't blame him.  I would've eaten but I figured I should keep pace with George so both of us just ordered drinks - coffee for George and tea for me.


Food came quickly for Jean Claude and Binu.  I snuck outside and stood in front of the window, that they were facing, to take some photos.


Simple breakfast of rice and stewed beans.  The beans looked really delicious.

As the guys were eating, I told them to join George and I at the table - no need to sit separately so they brought their plates of food over.  They were a hungry twosome.  I still can't get over the quantity of rice the Malagasy eat at each meal.  It's incredible how both guys can stay so slim given the volume of carbs they consume each day!


A woman took a spot at the table behind us. I watched as a bowl of congee was put down before here.  They eat congee here!  Very Asian.  Too bad I didn't know beforehand.  I would have ordered a bowl.


George and his cup of coffee, served in a rice bowl.  He pronounced this to be the best cup of coffee he's had since arriving into Madagascar.


Out front, the eatery had food to go.


Sitting on the shelves were a couple plates of spaghetti noodles, a dish of macaroni, a potato salad kind of thing, some grilled chicken and a shredded carrot dish.  A big pot of soup was on the burner.  Interesting selection of breakfast food.  I'm getting the sense that there really isn't such a thing as breakfast food here.  It's more typical of what we would find in Asia - what we eat for lunch and dinner is also what we eat for breakfast.   I was seated just a few feet away and I watched quite a few people stop by and pick up something.  The restaurant was also packed with people so this is a popular place for the locals.

Jean Claude enjoying his breakfast.  I don't think a croissant would make him happy.

View across the street from the eatery.

View down the street from the eatery.

Breakfast was a short affair for the guys.

Back on the road, we didn't get far before we made another stop.  This time, a large bag of rice was added to the back of the SUV.   We are in Madagascar's rice growing region so I'm sure not only is the quality of what you buy here better than what you can get back in Tana but most certainly it's cheaper.



 Next was an unplanned stop.  Jean Claude spotted a woman, walking along the road, carrying four chickens in her right hand.  He had Binu stop the car so he could negotiate buying the chickens from her.  I can't remember what he paid for them but it was dirt cheap.  I though these were going to be for dinner but Jean Claude, the animal lover, had gotten them as pets for his two children.  He wants to teach them about raising animals and learning about where their food comes from.


The four chickens got to spend their ride on the floorboard of the front passenger seat.  Jean Claude had to be careful where to rest his feet.

Poor birds.  Left their yard this morning and I'm sure they have no idea where they are now.

On the outskirts of town, our last stop was an expected one.  Jean Claude is from Morondava and his mother still lives here.  He had been in phone contact with her so she was already waiting for us when we pulled over - across the road from a small cluster of homes, of which she lives in one.

Knowing that he was from Morondava, we had been asking Jean Claude if he was going to see her as the last time he had seen her was several months ago.  He never gave us a definitive answer despite all the times I told him she would be extremely disappointed for her to know that he had come all this way and not taken time to go see her.  Reflecting back, most certainly he could have had dinner with her last night and left us with Binu.....we don't bite :-)  In any event, I understand this is a work trip and I appreciate his conscientiousness but nothing brought a bigger smile to my face than seeing mother and son, enjoying a brief reunion on the roadside.  She looked so happy to see him and he very much looks like mom :-)


After Jean Claude bid his mom goodbye, we continued our road journey to Tana.