Monday, April 1, 2013

Madagascar: Antananarivo to Morondava

Madagascar, Madagaskarika, the Red Island, Mada; whatever you call it, Madagascar is unlike anywhere I've been before.  The flight from St. Denis, Réunion to the capital of Mada, Antananarivo (or Tana for short), is a little over an hour and the last third is spent flying over Madagascar.  The landscape is unbelievably ripply, and yes, very red.  My friends Amanda and Anne-Marie and I spent much of the last bit of the flight glued to the windows, excited for our first glimpse of the world's fourth largest island.  We landed just before sunset, the last rays of light allowing for us to appreciate the green rice paddies tiered on various hills surrounding the airport.  
Passport control was RIDICULOUS.  No line, just people crowding around a glassed enclosure, all clamoring to have their passports stamped with a ludicrously large red stamp.  Finally, a cool stamp in my passport.  We meandered out of the airport after getting our bags and exchanging money.  The currency, ariary, is ridiculous.  100 euros was roughly 300,000 ariary, so we felt a little strange carrying around such huge rolls of money.  I hid mine as best as I could before encountering the clamoring of the taxi drivers.  We managed to talk a man down on the price a bit before venturing into Tana.  Bartering is a huge way of life in Mada.  By the time we reached the city, it was nighttime and people were flooding the streets, crowding into hotelys (basically roadside snack stands, restaurants, and small goods sellers).  The mass of people was slightly overwhelming.  These snack stands were little more than plywood and sticks with simple foods such as rice and fried dough being made available.  We were all wide eyed as we made the hour journey to our hotel: Hotel St. Germain.  After a good night's rest and a passable breakfast, we nabbed another taxi to the Gare Routiere de l'Ouest.  It was from there, the bus "station," that we were going to grab a taxi brousse (bush taxi) to Morondava, a city on the west coast of Madagascar close to the Allée de Baobabs, Kirindy National Forest, and Belo sur Mer, all of which were on our list of destinations. On the way to the bus station, we passed several people pulling huge carts overflowing with crops.  I still don't understand where the strength to pull those carts comes from.  We also passed several battered fifteen passenger vans filled with people.  Half the time the door, which was on the back of the van, couldn't be closed because people would be hanging out the back due to lack of space inside.  

We pulled into the gare routiere and our cab, an old and battered Renault, was immediately mobbed by people.  I began panicking.  The panic level rose to an even higher extreme when our cabbie was physically pulled out of the taxi and pushed into a building.  Our fears were subsided moments later when he reappeared with a gentlemen who sold us seats for his taxi brousse.  Once money was exchanged, the mob surrounding the vehicle slowly dispersed, and we climbed out of the car with our packs to wait the several hours it would take to get going.  Our taxi brousse was supposed to leave the station in the early afternoon, but schedules often don't get followed.  Indeed, our taxi brousse didn't leave for another three hours after it was supposed to take off.  We placed bets on when the bus was going to leave, with Amanda winning.  The extra time at the station gave us an opportunity to look around a bit.  I wrote in my journal and was soon surrounded by kids.  Anne-Marie and Amanda took pictures of them crowding around watching me write.  I thought it would be cool to get some "fujiroids" of the kids, so I brought out my Fujifilm Instax camera.  It takes photos and automatically dispenses them, much like a Polaroid camera.  Everyone went nuts and several photographs were given away to kids and one to a mother who kindly asked if she could have a picture of her and her child.  Eventually we made our way onto our bus, an old battered 15 passenger van we dubbed The Mystery Machine.  It was called this, not necessarily because of the resemblance to the famous Scooby Doo van (although the color was the same), but because it was going to be a total mystery whether or not the van would get us the 600 kilometers to Morondava without breaking down.  The three of us and my camera bag containing all my gear were squished into the back seat of the bus with a little space in front of my seat for my bag.  Our packs were placed with the other luggage on top of the bus, covered in a tied down tarp.  

You might be saying at this point, "well, this is all great, Aly, but where are the pictures?!"  The pictures (and videos!) that follow were taken with my iPhone. I also took several fujiroids which I haven't been able to scan yet.  I was warned not to bring my camera out in Tana, and to be very cautious with it in general in Madagascar.  It was a warning I took to heart at first and then became more relaxed with as the trip went on.  In the end, it proved that caution may have been the best route in some scenarios, but that's for another time.  

zebu, the "jungle cow," used in sacred ceremonies and also as a show of wealth. 

Rice Paddies


  1. How much did the taxi ride cost, and how did you end up booking it?

  2. Hey, Mat! The taxi brousse ended up being around 30,000 ariary, which is around 15 USD. I paid for an extra seat to keep my camera equipment with me instead of on top of the bus, so I paid around 30 USD to get to Morondava. Tana has a couple of different bus stations (gare routieres) that correspond to where you want to go. So, if you are staying at a hotel the night before your trip out of Tana, ask the concierge or front desk staff which gare you should go to and if they'll call a taxi for you in the morning to take you there. Your driver will then be able to help you purchase tickets from the various collectives at the gare. Ours was dragged from the taxi itself, but he came back a few minutes later with a ticket seller who let us pick our seats and gave us our tickets. If you get lucky, you could be staying in a hotel where a taxi brousse will just pick you up from your hotel and then you wouldn't have to deal with the mob at the gare. I don't know how often that happens in Tana, but when we left Morondava, we had a hotel pick up. I went with very little knowledge of what to expect at the gare routiere, but the hotel staff and various taxi drivers were super awesome at giving me the info needed.

  3. thank you very much for your help! I appreciate it. I am planning a trip there next year

  4. how many hours is the trip from tana to morondava?

  5. Hey Pocholo, sorry it took me so long to respond to you. Depending on your mode of transportation, it can take up to 20 hours to get to Morondava from Tana. It took me about 16 hours via the taxi brousse. If you hire a car and driver, the time will be shorter. You could also rent a car yourself, but the country is pretty volatile and it's not recommended.

    I took a taxi brousse back to Tana from Morondava as well, but stopped at about the 3/4 mark for a couple of days in a town called Antsirabe. The taxi brousse wasn't in the best condition and that particular leg of the trip took about 15 hours. So times do vary pretty wildly.

    Mat, I hope you have a great time there! When are you going? Make sure to watch out for the rainy season, a lot of cool things are inaccessible during that time of the year.