Sunday, 26 April 2015

Let the Adventure Begin

Recently one of my sisters came to visit me and the two of us, along with a good friend, Stacia, from the ship, travelled up to northern Madagascar to explore the country.

The adventure began with a 5:30 wake up alarm, dressed, luggage up to reception, a quick breakfast, disembarked, a few hugs on the dock and into the bus and waving goodbye by 6:30am. The road out of Tamatave to Antananarivo (shortened to Tana) winds around the mountains. I mean, curving around mountains for practically 8 hours solid! Unfortunately the first 4 hours of Stacia’s journey was spent vomiting into a bag, or sitting staring out the front of the bus trying not to throw up. I stayed in my seat a few rows back, trying not to watch and sympathetic vomit into my non-existent vomit bag. It was quite the relief to eventually make it to Tana where we sat still in traffic before making it to the guesthouse and giving my sister, Sarah a great big hug!

Sarah, Deb and Stacia

Day one of adventures took us into the city centre of Tana where we wandered through the markets, soaking up the smells of dried fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, checked out the locally made clothes and pretty much anything else you could imagine.

The old royal palace

The following day we headed to the airport to make our Air Madagascar flight up to Diego Suarez, in the north of Mada. We’d heard a lot about Air Mada making a lot of changes to flights and while I’d been on the bus from Tamatave to Tana, I had received a call from them telling me both flights had moved times. So I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief that we were actually going until we were sitting on the plane and in the air.
Even though we made it to Diego, when we waited for the luggage to come out, a lady came out and said that they had left everyone’s luggage behind in Tana. They had some reason like it was too hot or too heavy, but just decided to leave it all behind, but they would fly it in tomorrow. Haha. The whole flight full of people tried to cram into a small office to leave details of the hotels and places for Air Mada to drop off the luggage after it arrived the following morning. The only problem we had was that we already had plans that we couldn’t change the next day and now that we didn’t have our things it would make it difficult. We ended up staying around until we were the last people there and after a few phone calls, one of the guys in the office printed out a form which we signed and they handed over some compensation money to each of us! The idea was that we could go and purchase whatever we needed for the next day- easy to say when you’re in a country with shopping centres! Anyway, we headed to the nearest supermarket for some toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and water- all the essentials in life!

The funniest part was Stace going to sleep in her clothes and waking up in the morning with the alarm, flicking back her blankets, standing up and saying, “Ok, I’m ready. Let’s go!”

The essentials

We hiked up French Mountain, a 485m mountain, in our flip flops and joked the whole way up and down saying as we tripped or slipped on the rocks, “Flip flops, no problem.” We managed to get all the way up and down with all skin and flip flops intact, despite my prediction. (I did have to take them off at one point because my feet were too sweaty to stay in them!)

Diego Suarez, Diego Bay and Sugar Loaf Mountain

"Flip flops, no problem!"

A well-deserved lunch

We visited the Three Bays.

Our luggage was returned to us, much to our relief, even though they tried to give Sarah someone else’s bag! After several phone calls, a trip in the car here and there and knocking on the Air Mada office door, we eventually got her bag back.

We took a trip out to Emerald Sea, marvelling at the gorgeous colour of the water and AMAZING snorkelling!

A reminder from the coral of our time at Emerald Sea.

From Diego Suarez we drove down to Ankarana via the Tsingy Rouge.

We found this male chameleon on the side of the road.

Petit Tsingy

Tsingy Rouge

Tsingy Rouge

We walked through the rainforest to the tsingy limestone, spotting some lemurs and other wildlife along the way. Tsingy means tip-toe in Malagasy.

Driving over the roads between villages and national parks, our guide turned around and said to us, "The holes in the roads, we say in French as chicken nests, but here they are so big we call them zebu nests." So for the rest of the trip whenever we had to drive around or through a big pot hole, we'd call out, "Zebu nest!" or "Elephant nest!" for the really big ones.

Zebu walking home
We spent a night in Ankify at a beautiful place called Baobab Lodge where the view from where I lay in my bed was gorgeous.

A tour at a plantation that grows vanilla, ylang-ylang, pepper corns and cocoa beans taught us a lot about many different Malagasy exports famous around the world.

Did you know: Coca-Cola uses Malagasy vanilla in its products? McCormick & Co also sells and uses Malagasy vanilla.

Cocoa tree

A small cocoa pod

Inside the cocoa pod

Cocoa seeds are fermented for 6 days.

After fermentation the seeds are dried in the sun.

Remove the skin and you have 100% cocoa.

Ylang-ylang trees are cut so that the branches can always be reached.

Ylang-ylang flowers

Ylang-ylang flower

We were greeted in Nosey Be by our local tour guide who pulled out refrigerated face clothes scented with ylang-ylang to refresh us. We dropped our stuff off and walked along the beach soaking up the colours of the setting sun and our surroundings.

We watched the sun set over the ocean at Mont Passot and fill the sky with colours.

We set out for a day trip to Nosey Tanikely, exclaiming on arrival of how beautiful the colour of the ocean was and once we were swimming and snorkelling around, I was just in awe.

We snorkelled around for hours, swimming with sea turtles and pointing out to each other the different fish, so colourful and so creatively different from each other. It was like being in a whole different world. I liked to duck down and swim among the fish, watching their little bodies flit about and change direction, showing off the colour reflections from their glittering fins. There were so many colours, so many fish, so many shapes, such beauty to watch and be a part of.

After snorkelling we had an amazing Malagasy picnic lunch, where we were joined by a local lemur. We were told not to feed him, because he’s wild, but it was difficult to keep him away from the bananas!

"Look out Stace!"

We also saw the most beautiful chameleon I have ever seen!! Amazing colours!

Lokobe National Park in Nosey Be was our next adventure. We were driven to the nearest village close to the national park and then hopped into a pirogue (French for canoe) and rowed ourselves 45mins to the village where the national park is. We were taken by three amazing guides who found us the most extraordinary creatures, which were very difficult to spot for the untrained eye!

Can you see the mossy leaf-tail gecko?

Pygmy Chameleon

Boa Constrictor

The very rare Mouse Lemur

Wild vanilla

After another amazing picnic lunch we digested our food over interesting conversation about Malagasy culture and rowed ourselves back over the gorgeous green sea, through a cloud of rain, back to our waiting vehicle.

Female chameleon

Our last day we waited to hear if our Air Mada flight had changed times again- it had, but they had moved it back which gave us enough time to get back out for a half day of snorkelling. We lathered up with sunscreen and the spent the hours face down in the sea, chasing the fish, swimming with turtles and soaking up all the life under the sea that we are never able to see from above.

We spent one more day in Tana, shopping in the markets and wandering around the streets.

Adventuring means asking locals for directions.

Tana city

We loved our calendar fabric from 1985 & 1990 pillowcases at the guesthouse.

Goodbyes soon came as Sarah flew back to Australia and Stacia and I headed back to the ship, with plenty of washing to do and a million photos of the amazing things we had seen.

Have I convinced you to come and see it all for yourself?


  1. You've definitely convinced me!!! I was so thrilled to find out the ship would be serving in Madagascar again for this next field service. After spending two weeks in Tana for field service for Gateway training in March, I would have been so sad not to be able to explore this beautiful country more. Your pictures are absolutely incredible Deb! Looks like a wonderful trip!

    1. Looking forward to meeting you when you come!

    2. Same here! Quick question for you: my dad is a big photography buff and he just oohed and ahed (and almost drooled!) over all your pictures. He was wondering what kind of camera you have?

    3. Wow, that's quite the compliment! :) I just have a simple Canon 500D with a 17-55mm f2.8 lens.



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