Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Antsirabe to Andasibe

September 12

We had a big day of driving ahead of us, but José had suggested that we could take our time since there was wifi. But, in order to use the wifi we had to go out in the courtyard which was a bit chilly, so that did not really work out. They gave us crepes for breakfast, which means a good breakfast to me. The hotel was really quiet which was surprising considering the sounds that are outside, the sounds of the life of Antsirabe, like every other town we have been in, a really bustling place.

José gave us a quick tour of the town before we left. He took us down to Independence Avenue where we had a strange incident happen. Anytime we stopped we would be besieged by souvenir sellers. In fact we had been aggressively pursued when we got in the truck to leave the hotel. We had not seen anything quite like this anywhere else. Yes, there had been people trying to sell things, but not like this.

As I was getting back into the vehicle after taking some photos at a monument showing all the tribes of Madagascar, a particularly aggressive woman selling little stones was right in my face. I shut the door (not aggressively), and we started to drive away. She pounded on the door. We thought she was just mad that I did not buy anything. We drove on to the Hotel des Thermes, an old colonial hotel. When we got out for José to show us where the thermal baths are, we noticed that a strip of her little stone bags had gotten stuck in the door. We drove back up the avenue to look for her, but she was not around. José talked to a couple of pousse pousse drivers and ended up leaving the stones with them, hoping they would give them to her.

We had about six hours of driving ahead of us, about three to reach the outskirts of Antananarivo and another three to reach our hotel. Have I mentioned in previous posts that the road is windy? The road remained windy, although it is not that bad between Antsirabe and Antananarivo.

We passed the Coin du Foie Gras, one of the restaurants in the town of Behenjy, known for its foie gras. It was just past 11:00 so seemed a bit early for lunch and neither of us are such big fans of foie gras to make the stop.

As we reached Tana, José mentioned that he was going to take Po to a metal working place where they make baobab sculptures. Po was touched that he had remembered this from a few days ago when she had been told about the place by one of our hostesses.

We are turned onto the bypass road, what looks like a relatively new road. This makes a world of difference when driving past the capital. José turned down a side road. We saw women doing a bucket brigade. At first glance we thought they were just getting water. But then we could see that everything was quite black. It was a cleanup of some type of spill. They were just wearing normal clothes, no safety precautions at all. It all happened so fast that I did not get my camera up to take a photo.

We pulled into the place with the sculptures. Po just about jumped from the car. They do metal fabrication of various sculptures, mostly baobab trees. The building itself is amazing. There were large, several metre high baobab tress out front. We discussing buying one for our yard in Pouch Cove but settled on a small one. We went to the back to see where they do they cutting and welding, but it was lunch time so no one was working.

We headed back to the main road. We were now on RN 2, the road to the coast. José said that we would see lots of truck traffic since the road goes to  Madagascar’s primary port. He was correct. So we were back on a windy road, going up and down hills, and now we had to contend with all the trucks that had to be passed. The worst part is when we were following behind the trucks waiting for a chance to pass. The diesel fumes were terrible.

The landscape changed as we were now entering the eastern rain forest. There were places were very lush vegetation, but also virtually bare hills where the trees had been cut. In one place there were piles of wood waiting for pickup.

We turned off the road towards the national park. José mentioned that tomorrow morning we would be going with a guide to a place without many tourists. He also promised that I would see my indris which is all that I care about.

We got to a little village and followed the signs to our hotel, the Sahatandra River. It is a brand new hotel, just opened in July. Our original itinerary called for us to stay at the Vakona Forest Lodge, but apparently the place is so popular that getting a reservation is almost impossible. I went back and forth with Irina about trying to find some place else, but we ended up staying with this place. My concerns started with their website that advertised things like jet skiing on the river, but it just sounded a bit too pristine for a national park hotel.  Irina assured me that they were not going to do the jet skis and that she was not comfortable recommending anywhere else.

The lodge is quite nice and, of course, brand new. The rooms are bungalows on a hill, looking down on the reception/dining room. They seem to be going all out to provide top notch service. When we went down for a coffee and to use the wifi, they rushed to push in our chairs. As usual, we were asked for our dinner order when we checked in. We both opted for the duck.

After enjoying our hot showers, we went down for our dinner. One thing about the design of this hotel, they did not make it easy to get from your room to the dining room. It is a long haul as there is nothing like a straight walk to the dining room door. You have to go all the way around the end of the reception entrance to get there.

We met with José to discuss our plans for the morning. We are going to have breakfast at 7 and then make a quick getaway to the park for our chance at meeting some indris.

The serving was formal. My soup was served from a tureen. The waiter asked if he could serve me. It was way more than I could eat. The duck dish was tasty, but Po and I both thought it tasted more like chicken.

When Po ordered her meal she only asked for the main course, no starter or dessert. She requested extra vegetables. When we were served our duck, she had the regular amount of vegetables. We thought they had forgotten, but a minute later out came a plate full of vegetables.

When we made the big trek back to our room on the hill, we decided we did not need the mosquito net. It is just too cold for them. We were surprised at the cool temperatures. I had to get my jacket out of the suitcase to wear on top of my sweatshirt on the way down to supper. It was really cold in the room as there is no heating. Luckily they provided a duvet.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I had stopped taking my malaria tablets. It will be quite bizarre if that gets me in trouble. I have seen a couple of mosquitos the entire time we have been here. Those two were in bad shape. They hovered over my iPad and I clapped my hands and squashed them. The little fellows can not survive here now. It is freezing.

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