Friday, July 3, 2015

First Views of Antananarivo.


There is no rest for the weary traveler, at least for George and I.  Our original plan was to spend our first night in Madagascar at a hotel in Tana which is how locals refer to Antananarivo.  The next day, we would embark on a 3 hour drive to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park and spend a day and night there.   But, when I sent a reminder to Rija that we would be arriving into Tana shortly after 2p, he suggested that we head straight to the park instead of spending the night in Tana.  That way, we would have more time in the park.  I thought that was a good idea so I agreed.


We left Ivato Airport but before we got on the road to Andasibe, we had a couple of tasks to take care of first.  On the top of the to-do list was settling up on what we owed Rija.  We had paid a deposit that was equivalent of half the cost so we owed the balance which George brought in euros.  We would take care of business at Rija's home.

From the airport, we drove through the Ivato neighborhood.  Not only is the airport in this neighborhood but it's where Rija lives.

We crawled our way along a very busy road - submerged in a pool of dilapidated buildings filled with sea of people, motorized vehicles, human drawn carts and shops. 


Tana is a poor city.  Roads are not good but congested with traffic, buildings are run down at best and there's trash strewn about everywhere.  It reminds me of so many of the cities I've been to in developing countries.  We could've just have easily been driving through downtown Dakar or Bamako or even Kathmandu.




It was a short drive to Rija's house.


Comparatively speaking, we were in a slightly nicer part of Ivato.  We turned off the main road and followed the sign.


The entrance to Rija's house is protected by a gate.  A man came to open it and Beeo pulled the car into the small parking area in front of the house.  Rija's house is very modest by US standards but I suspect that for Madgascar, it's considered to be at least a middle class, if not upper class home.  It's an eclectic place - filled with a lot of plants potted in recycled plastic containers and wall murals. I'm getting the sense that this is Rija's personality.   The murals reflected his spiritual side - he's a huge admirer of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King.

Turns out he's also huge country music fan.  Gee....could that be why he loves to dress up in Western style clothes....shirt, jeans, boots, and cowboy hat to top it all off!

One of the many murals that adorn the walls at Rija's house.  If I remember correctly, they were painted by a friend of his.

Rija welcomed inside his home and we sat in his living room.  First, Rija informed us of a change in plan.  Our itinerary had us flying to and from Tana and Morondava, which is a city located on the west coast of Madagascar.   Unfortunately for us, we had arrived in the midst of an ongoing Air Madagascar strike. The strike was nearing three weeks without sight of resolution so Rija put together a *Plan B* for us which was to rent a car and drive.  It would be a 12 hour drive each way versus an hour long flight.  My heart sank as that meant less time in both Tana and Morondava but it didn't look like we had any other choice so we just have to make the best of it.  Otherwise, the rest of our itinerary remained unchanged.  I keep my fingers crossed that the decision to go by road does not turn out to be a bad one.  I guess our only other option would have been to scrap seeing the sights on the west coast but that was NOT something I was keen on doing as it would have meant not getting to see the baobabs and visiting Tsingy de Bemaraha - two of Madagascar's most iconic sights.

After hearing the change in plans from Rija, George and Rija completed the paperwork and George him the balance due.

Then, it was back on the streets of Ivato.  We were headed back to the airport with Rija so he could go to the currency exchange (presumably to change the euros that George had given him to ariary) and we could gas up for our road trip to Andasibe.






After doing the needful at the airport, we dropped Rija off at his house and finally hit the road!  George and I pretty much had our faces glued to the windows - taking in views of Tana as we headed out of town.  It was such a surprise to see rice paddies in town!


According to Beeo, 2 million people call Tana home and they primarily live in places that we would describe as slums.  My observation is that most people prefer to live in the hills of the city - setting aside the flatlands for growing rice.


In addition to large areas of land set aside for growing rice, there were also large areas set aside for making bricks.  Presumably, the earth here is suitable for bricks.  I spotted several places where bricks were being fired.


On one stretch of road, we saw a huge dirt field that is popular spot for informal football games.


Our next stop was to a supermarket called Jumbo.  We needed to buy bottle water, some snacks, and bug spray for George.  Inside Jumbo, it looked like any supermarket you would find in the US.  In fact, the shelves were stocked with many familiar products.

Checking out the bug spray options.

We were pretty quick in gathering up the stuff that we needed but we ended up stuck in a line with a guy appearing to need a price check for a broom and dust pan and no one seeming to be able to figure out the price.  The only other line that was opened was processing customers who had carts full of stuff.  So, it was a bit of a wait.  George was getting frustrated but these things happen in a lot of stores and you just have to be patient.

While George took care of buying the stuff, I stepped outside.  There was a small snack type place.  The fried stuff, in the cart, caught my eye.  They looked like fried wontons and spring rolls.  The trays were almost empty.  I wanted to think that meant the wontons and spring rolls were tasty so I bought a few of each for all three of us to snack on.  We hadn't eaten much in hours and we still had a three hour drive ahead of us so we needed something to sustain us until dinner.

Almost all gone!!

Paying for the snacks.

The 8 spring rolls and 10 wontons cost a little over 10 cents each.  So cheap!  I have a feeling that it's going to be very cheap to eat in this country!


Back in the car, we immediately broke into our snack stash.  George had brought a bag of bacon flavored chips.  Just as you can't go wrong with anything fried, you can't go wrong with anything bacon flavored!


I handed George and Beeo a couple of the fried things.  They were cold but not bad tasting.  I offered George a second helping but he turned me down.  I know he's a bit cautious about what he eats when he's on trips like this.  I can't blame him.  I wouldn't want to get sick on the first day of my trip either.  When I first started traveling, I was just like him but after all these years of going to developing countries and shoving all sorts of food into my stomach, I pretty much have a cast iron stomach.  I've not tested it by drinking local water but food like this doesn't bother me anymore.   So, Beeo and I shared the rest of the wontons and spring rolls.

As we munched, we took in more of the daily sights of Tana.





We drove through one part of town where the street was lined with cobblestone.  The street was also really, really narrow and while I wasn't sure we would be able to pass the cars in the lane next to us, Beeo managed it.  He was obviously used to driving here and the tight squeeze didn't faze him one bit.



It was close to 5p when we finally made it to the outskirts of Tana and hit some open road.  We had 3 more hours to go.



Exhaustion finally kicked in for me and I put my head back and closed my eyes.  When I woke up, it was pitch black dark outside and we were somewhere in the countryside, snaking our way along a windy road.  I had been asleep for more than 2 hours and even though that was not much sleep, I woke up rested enough to stay awake for the rest of the trip.

We made it to our hotel, the Feon' ny Ala, just around 7:30p.  Beeo helped get us checked in and accompanied us to our cute little bungalow.  It was too dark to take photos of the bungalow and our room so I'll do that tomorrow.  In the meantime, we thanked Beeo for the ride and bid him goodnight.  We would reconnect with him bright and early tomorrow morning.

George and I took a few minutes to get settled in before heading to the hotel restaurant for dinner.   The place was empty tonight but it obviously could accommodate large groups.  We sat at a small table for two.


Neither of us was really hungry so we settled on soup for dinner.  It was cold outside and a bit soup seemed to be the perfect thing to warm us up.  George kept his jacket the entire time we were inside. I was again wondering whether or not I had enough warm clothing with me.   Hmmmm......something to think about.


George enjoyed his first sip of the local Madagascar beer, Three Horses Brand.  So far, it's a thumbs up review from him.

Beer, warm soup and a jacket to keep him warm!

In no time, two huge bowls of soup were delivered to our table.  I had expected a bowl of soup with some noodles but what we got were bowls of noodles in soup.  George had the rice noodles with chicken and I had the egg noodles with wontons, char siu and strips of egg omelet.  Yes, they served Chinese food here albeit Malagasy style!  Later, I found out that the hotel is Chinese owned so no surprise, they have some Chinese influence in the food here.

His first meal in Madagascar!

There was a small bowl of chilis.  I decided to try some.  It was FIERY hot!  My little smidge of chili was enough to spice up my entire bowl!  They sure can eat spicy food here!!

It was a big bowl but I devoured it all!

After dinner, we headed back to the room and finally unwound from a really long journey - all toll, we had been traveling for at least 30 hours!  Tomorrow, we're meeting back up with Beeo bright and early at 7a so tonight will be an early night's out for both of us.

As I laid in bed, I looked over the photos I had taken today.  I still can't believe I'm actually in Madagascar!  Tomorrow, if we're lucky, we'll get to see some of the amazing wildlife that call this country home.  I can't wait!

Goodnight from Andasibe!