Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Fianarantsoa to Antoetra

September 10

We had breakfast at 8 as there is no rush today. We are leaving at 9. We thought that the hotel would have made a great place to stay for a few days and explore the city. But we were only there overnight and on we go. As I mentioned about other places, there are only so many nights available even on a 26 day trip.

José took us to a little delicatessen to get some water and cookies before leaving town. It was a wonderful little place. Po noted that they had the Chinese sausages that she uses for sticky rice and that she has to get from Toronto or Calgary as they are not available in Newfoundland. In addition to the water and cookies, Po also bought some croissants for the road.

About that road, for the next three hours we were up and down the hills and around the hairpin corners. RN7 is not a straight road. From Tulear to here we have had only a brief stretch of straight road The scenery is amazing. As we travel through the valleys there are places were the rice terraces reach the top of the hills. Every bit of space is taken up.

The road is narrow. It seems that we miss the bicycles and people by inches. When José comes up on a slower vehicle they put on their right turn signal showing it is okay to pass or left signal to say that it is not safe. José gives them a toot on his horn as we pass, and they reply with theirs. So I often get a blare from the truck horns in my ears.

There are good sections of pavement and some where the pavement has totally disappeared. We did see a little official road repair, but not much. And then there are the places where the locals had put dirt into the potholes. We often come to a complete stop in order to drive through the potholes, especially the ostriches, which is a term José gave me for the really big holes.

Shortly after leaving Fianarantso, I had José stop for me to take one of the panoramic views. I  jumped out of the car and went down a little hill. José drove on to find a place to pull over. As I got back up to the highway I was thinking about what a glorious day it was. Then I stepped into a hole and did a shoulder roll. I got up and dusted myself off and checked for damages. I was a bit shaken. Being ever the trooper, I  took a couple more photos. When I got back to the car they were unaware. My hand was bleeding a little, and I had a scraped knee. I was very lucky.

During my time falling into the hole José had been discussing our options for the next 24 hours, about whether we should do the planned hike tomorrow. He thinks we should just do a one hour village tour rather than the four hour hike with a few big elevation changes.

We continued on the windy roads. I stopped José a couple of times for photos, but when you are racing up and down the hills, the photos that I visualize give me about one second to determine if there is a place to stop. Most of the time we are long past before I can decide if it would have been good to stop.  José is good about stopping when I ask him to, but it is still frustrating as I am composing fantastic landscapes that disappear just after I see them.

After a few hours of the windy roads José made the turn to our lodge. We drove down a bumpy road for several minutes. We arrived at the hotel which is a lovely little lodge with basic cottages made from wood in the Zafimaniry style which we will see tomorrow. The hotel is on a hill overlooking a large field of rice patties.

When we arrived José talked to the owner in French about our plans. She replied that we could have a relaxing afternoon and do the walk tomorrow. I understood everything and said that was fine, we would do it that way (actually I just said it was a good idea). I am surprised that José is so worried about us, or just wants to get us going to get to the next stop, but I have been looking forward to this walk and cannot imagine not doing it.

The owner asked whether we wanted lunch. When she mentioned an omelette, I jumped at the chance. When you are used to having certain food on a fairly regular basis, and then go without for a few weeks, you really crave them. I am not the biggest egg eater, but I do like them, especially omelettes. It was delicious. We ate with José. All was good again.

In the afternoon we walked to the top of the hill. The children wanted photos. We watched some people working in the rice fields, including a couple of men with a plowing with a zebu. When we got to the top there was a church and as is typical, an attached school.

I had read that everyone sits together during meals. We arrived at the dining room. I was offered a traditional rum from their stock of dozens of different kinds. There was lots of French and German being spoken. We were wondering how we were going to mingle with this crowd. One table was set for over a dozen and the other for four. We ended up at the table for four. We were joined by a really nice couple from Belgium. We had a good visit. So the eating together thing worked out really well.  The food was wonderful with a main course of zebu kabobs. As is often the case in these little lodges, there were no other choices.

We had decided to get up early to get our start on the four hour hike. I said that since I wake up at about 4:30 every morning, I can get up at any time. So breakfast was arranged for 6 am. The hotel was really quiet, we were quickly off to sleep.

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