The drive to Andasibe from Tana had taken place in the dark, so it was nice to do the drive back in the daylight so that we could see some of the countryside. In particular, the 10km windy ascent up and over the mountain pass had me wishing I was on my bike, and after coming around a corner I was astonished to a road cyclist making his way up the climb with a follow vehicle behind him (wise choice, given the "daring" driving styles of most of the locals):
He looked pretty young, and I leaned out the window shouting encouragement as we motored by ("Allez, allez!") which he seemed to appreciate, as when I looked in the rear view mirror I saw that he had jumped out the saddle and was sprinting as if there was a Preme on offer up ahead. This was fun to see, the only bicycles that we had seen in Madagascar up until this point were beat up mountain bikes used for transportation (understandably so in a country where the average yearly wage is less than $500 USD and the Look bike this guy was riding probably cost upwards of $3000 USD and there aren't many roads that you could even ride a road bike on). Needless to say, I go into withdrawal without bikes and it had been almost 2.5 weeks since I had seen an expensive European racing bicycle, so I felt revitalized after we passed the only cyclist in Madagascar.
As we dropped down over the other side of the mountain pass and began to approach Tana we saw a lot of rice fields such as these ones:
Rice is one of the staples of the Madagascan diet with most people eating it three times a day, and apparently the land around the capitol is well suited to growing rice. We didn't yet have a hotel booked in Tana so as we drove we called a few places, eventually settling on a reputable french hotel in the city center called "The Louvre". The traffic in Tana was pretty congested and chaotic (we never saw a single traffic light during our entire visit to Madgascar, though they did have a few roundabouts) but we eventually made it to our hotel where we bid adieu to our driver after arranging for him to drop us off at the airport the next morning for our 10:30am flight to Johannesburg.
We still had afternoon to explore the city, so after dropping off our bags in the room we headed out for a walking tour of the sights recommended by our guide. We started by walking down to a lake (about the size of Green Lake in Seattle) that had a WWI monument in the center, and after circling that we continued around the stadium and through some markets. One thing that took us aback was the utter lack of sanitation in the city. There was garbage everywhere as there had been in the other cities we had visited, but here we encountered several instances of people (both male and female) relieving themselves in the wide open whenever they felt a need. In one case a young boy (probably between 5 and 10) was about to cross a busy street at a crosswalk, then seemed to changed his mind and whipped his pants down and started peeing into the street. Nobody else took any notice, as if this was business as usual. I would have expected there would be some sort of public sanitation in place in the capitol (this was not in a slum area, it was adjacent to the national stadium which seemed to be in excellent repair) but apparently this was not the case. There wasn't much to do but hold my breath and be thankful that I live in developed country, but it was pretty sad to see the types of conditions so many people live in.
After spending some time searching for some stairs that would take us up to the highest point in the city and the city of the royal palace we were finally successful, here is Roanne heading up with me in close pursuit:
There were great views from the top of the hill and a number of nice buildings, some of them remnants from the colonial era. Here is Roanne paused to look out over the city with the lake and the monument at its center visible below:
From here we made our way back along the crest of the hill towards our hotel, becoming mildly lost at times because while we did have a map, there are no street signs anywere and one is not much use without the other. Along the way we saw some evidence of the elections and political activity that had taken place in the last couple of weeks (ENY is the name of one of the national parties):
We didn't have access to the internet during our entire stay in Madagascar so we were a little out of the loop with world news, but apparently there had been a political coup about a week prior. It had been non-violent and unsuccessful, but it was a little disconcerting as we had also been told that the Tana airport had been closed as a result so we were worried about our flights in and out of the city (we later learned that the airport had not been closed after all).
We passed through the largest market area of the city area on the way back to our hotel, a bustling area with lots of activity. As we walked through my nostrils fluctuated between delight at smelling some delicious food being prepared and disgust at the smell of a pile of garbage or worse. Here is Roanne navigating the crowds:
After showering back at the hotel we headed out for our last dinner out in Madagascar, for which we chose a french restaurant called "Le Rossini" which our guidebook touted as having the best french food in Tana. We definitely agreed, as the dinner was amazing with great service and a nice atmosphere (with added points for the camoflouge-clad solder randomly standing outside on the street corner holding a semi-automatic rifle). We finished with the special dessert called "Madagascar Chocolate Adventure" which our server refused to describe for us, insisting it had to be a surprise. It turned out to be 5 different samples of Madagascar chocolate, prepared as a mousse, a crepe, a pudding, etc. and was a delicious and great way to end our culinary experiences in Madgascar.
Back at the hotel we settled in for a good night sleep before rising early the next morning to catch our flight to Johannesburg enroute to Seattle.
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