Monday, 15 August 2016

Organizing the Land Portion of the Madagascar Trip

It really was a pop up that got me started on Madagascar.
I had decided that it was time to do a big trip. I really love Pouch Cove and have happily stayed home when friends went off to Cuba, Florida, Europe and other places. Back in my younger days I had travelled widely. I went off to live in Botswana when I was 22. I made two long trips back to the US by heading east with stops in places like Kenya, the Seychelles, Nepal, India, China and Australia. Then Po and I settled in Canada and trips have been confined to North America.  
That changed in 2011 when I finally went back to Botswana. After breaking out of my travelling rut I thought I would be making another big trip within a year or two. But those years stretched into five. So one day I decided it was time to find a trip. I was actually looking at trips to Mongolia and Bhutan when a pop up ad for Madagascar appeared. I immediately said, “That’s it!” and clicked on the ad.
At first I looked at group tours. There were a couple that sounded quite interesting. But I had two issues with the group tours. One was the number of people that I might be travelling with. I would have been okay with a group of six or eight, but all the tours had a maximum number of sixteen. A bigger problem was that none of the tours went to everyplace I wanted to visit in Madagascar. 

After reading many blogs, watching more than a few You Tube videos and reading many web sites of the local travel agents, I came to understand that the best way to travel in Madagascar is with your own vehicle and driver. The agencies have suggested itineraries which can be changed according to your personal preferences. I read about Espace Mada, the agency that runs the very popular boat trips down the Tsiribihina (or as it always referred to-“Descente de la Tsiribihina”). Their website mentioned a 20 day tour called the “la Grand Boucle” or the Big Loop in English. I now had my route!

We will go counter clockwise.

The trip really starts with the Descente de la Tsiribihina. From there it includes Tsingy, Avenue of the Baobabs, and Morandava, before heading into a key part of this trip, travelling down the coast of Madagascar between Morondava and Toliara. Due to the poor roads most tours have their travellers fly between the towns. But, a big reason for this trip is to photograph baobabs,and flying would miss some of the best places to see baobabs. We will also have a couple of two night stops at fabulous beach hotels.
After the coastal stops the trip heads back towards the east with stops at Isalo, Andringtira, Fianarantsoa, Antoetra and Antsirabe.
I made a few changes to the suggested Grand Boucle trip. I added a one night stop in Kirindy Forest Reserve, two nights in Andasibe - Mantadia National Park, an extra night at the start in Antananarivo and a stop in Manja.
Manja was an interesting decision. At times they advertise the trip with a stop there. Other times it is with a very long 12 hour drive that goes right on past. Manja has one hotel. Reviews vary from “Well, it is the only place to stay” to “Do not stay here”. I went with the stop.
I attempted to contact other agencies. Some never replied. A few, such GMT+3 and Cactus Tours were quite prompt with their replies but I had already gotten far enough along with Espace Mada that I decided to stay with them. I have Googled them several times. All that come up are positive references. We have now paid a deposit, so we are in their hands.

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