Toliara to Antananarivo

Flying South to Toliara
(Friday 11th April, 2014)


A street in Toliara, Madagascar.

have been lucky enough to be permitted to join a tour, which one of M’s friends is a tour leader on. It’s a flight south and then a drive back up again.

We left early in the morning, flew to Tôlanaro and from there to Toliara. The descent to Tôlanara was horrible in terms of turbulence; my heart may have skipped a beat or two! The tourists on this tour is a group of Swedes aged 50+. I’m making an effort to try and understand what they are saying but I do find it a little difficult.

We arrived in Toliara and were driven to our hotel in our bus which will also drive us around the coming week, a pretty nice one. Toliara looks quite different to Antananarivo. It’s more white here, as in the soil here doesn’t have the colour of red. The buildings are made out of white/yellow stone. The people look slightly more mainland African. And we had a small glimpse of the coast line from the airplane, which was nice to see after being bound inland for so long.

We had a wonderful meal at an Italian restaurant in Toliara where I ordered a bunch of fried prawns. After this we tasted some local rums which was quite a popular activity with the Swedes.

After the lunch we went to Aboretum d’Antsoka, a botanical garden located not far from the airport. There were a lot of different, strange plants here – the south is a different climate, a lot drier. It rains 2-3 weeks in total during the year around here.
We saw bulbul and magpie robins (birds for those of you who aren’t aware), and in a lot of places there were big spiders hanging in their webs above us. The aboretum also had some old, although small, baobab trees, so at the very least I can say that I have seen (and touched) them now. We also saw a nightjar resting on the ground. It was a good visit though it is probably more interesting to people who have more of an interest in plants than I.

In the evening the Swedes went to dine in the restaurant at the hotel, but the tour leader, the bus drivers and I went out to eat at a local place, which was very nice. Otherwise it was an early evening.


A Visit to Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park
(Saturday 12th April, 2014)


Yellow-billed Kite flying above a beautiful landscape on the way from Toliara to Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park.

e got up early, me after a pretty poor night. I was pretty sure I had a fever because I kept shifting between being cold and sweating profusely. My throat also hurts so I think I may be looking at a flu – terrible timing.

We drove on towards Isalo National Park which is our next stop on this tour. On the way we enjoyed the now savannah-like landscape that the southern part of Madagascar also has to offer. We made a short stop at an especially picturesque spot where we saw a couple of Yellow-Billed Kites circling the sky.

There was also a stop planned for the Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park which is characterised as a deciduous forest, meaning that the trees lose their leaves during winter and is found in areas with warm, moist summers and cool winters. The forest itself was very green when we visited and had a resemblance to Analamazaotra; though the clear different was that the humidity in the air didn’t quite stick to you here the same way as in the rainforest. Plus the ground was a lot softer and less firm.

Right after we began our walk in Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park I spotted a big, grey chameleon in a tree. It was larger than the ones I had previously seen. A pretty fine specimen, and the smaller female was not far from there, too. We also saw some birds and even spotted a Sportive Lemur (nocturnal) which was sitting out in the daylight. It had smaller eyes than the one I saw in Andasibe, it seems. We also caught a short glimpse of some Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs, although we were not quite lucky enough to find the Verraux Sifakas, which are the lemurs known to jump/skip across the ground on two legs.


Baobab tree seen from below in Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park.

After our visit to Zombitse-Vohabasia National Park we drove on towards Isalo National Park. The sandstone rock formations which mark the beginning of the area are just incredible.

Our hotel is made up of little stone bungalows and the power is only on for a few hours in the early evening. It is pretty simple compared to yesterday but still a quite interesting place to spend the night – we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it feels like. The tour leader took me to a village in the vicinity where I got to pick up some medicine against my flu. I am concerned whether I can join the group on their walk in the national park tomorrow, but I’m told it’s not a physically straining path so with the medicine kicking in I should be okay.

We had dinner at the restaurant in the hotel, where they had a few odd things on the menu. I tried crocodile for the first time here, and it was not bad at all.


Hiking in Beautiful Isalo National Park
(Sunday 13th April, 2014)


Part of the beautiful landscape in Isalo National Park.

he entire day was spent within Isalo National Park where you are also required to bring a local guide in with you. When we first started our hike in the park, it looked vastly different than I had expected – we walked in a forest. But as we walked on, the landscape started to change, become more open and the sandstone formations started protruding from the savannah. It was remarkably beautiful everywhere, in places sort of reminding me of the strange landscapes of Cappadochia.

It was cloudy so it also wasn’t too hot as we were walking around. During the walk, we saw some large larvae, different plants, some walking sticks (so remember not to delete the picture with the stick on it) and even a snake at some point.

The first stop was the natural pool where we also caught our first glimpse of the famous Ring-Tailed Lemurs. The pool was gorgeous, having a little waterfall leading into it, as well as palm trees around this oasis to break up the yellow savannah. It was also in a small gorge so we had to walk down to get there. Some of the Swedes went for a swim in the pool but I just enjoyed the moment from the rocky shore.

After the visit to the pool, we continued on to the camp-site in the park where we would be having our lunch. It wasn’t a difficult path to get there, as such, but there was a lot of steps to walk down and with a backpack on, I did start sweating.
At the lunch area there was a group of Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs, and one of them was even cheeky enough to manage to steal some of our bread. They were clearly used to people eating around this area. A group of Ring-Tailed Lemurs also found themselves in the surroundings, which was nice to observe while we were relaxing.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any Verraux Sifakas today either. In all likelihood that means that we will not be able to see them at all – most lemur species naturally live in small, concentrated areas of Madagascar, because of the different biomes, climates and also because of the deforestation that means many forests are fragmented and isolated rather than linked together.


Meeting More Ring-Tailed Lemurs
(Monday 14th April, 2014)


Rock formation on the road between Isalo and Anja Reserve. Our guide told us there’s a myth that members of a tribe, while hunted by another tribe, jumped off this cliff to escape.

oday we started early, although not too early. I woke up at 6 because the light turned on (there is only electricity between 18-23 in the evening and between 6-7 in the morning) and I wasn’t able to fall asleep again. On a positive note I felt much healthier!

Most of the day was simply spent driving towards Fiananrantsoa. The landscape seemed to quickly change from savannah to granite cliffs/mountains, grey and greens; quite like I imagine the English and Scottish highland to look. It was very pretty.

We stopped for lunch at Anja Private Reserve near Ambalavao. I had a pretty decent steak, but most others chose to have pasta with cheese.. even though on another day when I ordered pasta, they had looked at me like I was a child.

After our food we went for a little hike in the reserve and we almost immediately spotted a large family of Ring-Tailed Lemurs. They are currently in their mating season so we got to hear their mating call: it sounds almost like a cat meowing. There are reportedly 400 individuals here on these 46 hectares. We also saw chameleons, a type of praying mantis, some black herons and frogs. And there were some rather great view points along the hiking route, too.

We made it to Fiananrantsoa and our accommodation for the night; again today the tour leader, the guide, the bus drivers and I went out to a local establishment for some local dinner while the Swedes ate at the hotel. Tomorrow the Swedes are supposed to take the ‘famous’ train to Manakara, but it is notoriously unreliable so we will see what happens.


Back to the Coast
(Tuesday 15th April, 2014)


Back by the ocean! At the beach of Manakara.

o the Swedes were supposed to take the train today. However, it turns out that the train had been cancelled because of issues with the engine (which is not a rarity in Madagascar). Therefore, we turned to our plan B and then turned that into plan C instead – driving with the bus to Manakara on the coast.

On the way we drove past Ranomafana, which is both a town and also a large national park filled with rainforest-clad mountains. I do believe it is secondary rather than prime forest, so I’m interested to see it.
The landscape changed again as we drove on, from rainforesty mountains into rolling hills – as observed near Ankara – with grass and the occasional flat leaved palm tree. In the valleys you could see more palm trees and vegetation. The hills over time turned into flatland and we started to see palm tree oil plantations on the road sides. Even though they are bad, environmentally, they do look pretty.

Shortly after we arrived at Manakara. Back to the ocean! In the foreground a human made canal where the pirogues are spotted fishing, with the foaming, wild ocean in the background. The waves crash against the man-made stone boundary between canal and ocean and break in huge splashes. Lovely.


The pirogues in the human made canal/lake in Manakara with the ocean waves splashing in from behind.

Went for a walk to the ocean, the Indian Ocean. The waves were huge and the water not safe for swimming or bathing. Made a note of the sound below the breaking of the waves. More of a sensation than a sound. A deep, deep rumbling as it vibrates sort of like thunder through the air. Gradually getting higher pitched until it reaches a point where the tone flattens out, garbles and dissipates.


Sailing Around Manakara
(Wednesday 16th April, 2014)


Children of local fishermen sailing between villages on the canals near Manakara.

We just arrived at the hotel here, Cristo it is called. It is a wonderful accommodation with a magnificent view over the foresty mountains, accompanied by the symphony of the birds. In the background you can hear the warbling of the river. Just wonderful; it’s a place where one should live and just take care of oneself.

In the morning in Manakara, the light on the canal was incredible. We went sailing on a rather dilapidated little boat. On the shore we saw some small fishing villages, and we were told that polygamy is the norm in these communities. Even the children and the women used dug out canoes to sail around or to go fishing. By one of the villages we went back on solid ground, took a stroll through the village and then witnessed some rather touristy song and dance by the locals. But the people were definitely very friendly.

Back on the road towards Ranomafana. It was very hot in the bus and it seems the sun is always shining in my side of it, no matter where I sit. On the way we made a stop and had our lunch on the side of the road. The smell of nature here was great.

Before dinner at our accommodation just outside Ranomafana, we went on a ‘night safari’ along the road side. We saw some different kinds of chameleons, a snake (in a tree), a large frog and last but not least a couple of Brown Mouse Lemurs. We actually saw them this time, not just a brief reflection of the flash light in their eyes. They are really adorable.

Something we were told on the road by our guide today: In the eastern part of Madagascar you can take any land you want, clear it and cultivate it and then after 10 years it will belong to you legally. With this in mind, it really isn’t strange at all that the rainforest is so fragmented and destroyed around here. It is significantly worse than on the way to Andasibe from Antananarivo.


Exploring Ranomafana
(Thursday 17th April, 2014)


Sunset over the rainforest from 16th April, view from our hotel in Ranomafana.

fter our breakfast, consisting of bread with jam and scrambled eggs, we left to go to Ranomafana National Park. It is truly a fantastic national park. I thoroughly enjoyed hiking around in the rainforest here. It is quiet but somehow still teeming with life. It is a little chilly but you’re still sweating because of the humidity. It’s a tough walk but also not really. I would have loved to have more than 3-4 hours in this national park!

We saw Golden Bamboo Lemurs, Milne-Edward’s Sifakas and Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs. Aside from that we also saw a mountain crab, some different birds, and some different insects. Unfortunately, there was a bunch of lemur species that we missed – maybe I’ll have to come back some other time.

We had lunch at a local restaurant in Ranomafana village today, including the Swedes. It seemed like most of them thought it tasted just fine after all. After lunch we were given time to swim in the thermal spring which has given the town its name: Ranomafana means “hot water”. The water had a clear blue colour but it was basically densely occupied by young men. Most (read: everyone) declined the swim. The plans were altered so that we had some free time to walk around the small town instead, with its little shops. It is the hub to Ranomafana, which has quite a decent amount of visitors, foreign and local school/college children alike, so it has some tourist-oriented shops.


Missing: 18th April.


Wood Carving and Carnival
(Saturday 19th April, 2014)


Houses in a village on the road between Ranomafana and Ambositra.

ost of the day today was spent driving along in the bus. We did make a stop on the way to take pictures of the surroundings, the houses on the mountainside and in the valleys, and to greet the village children as they came running to us. The children were very excited to be shown their own faces on the displays of the digital cameras.

At one point we made a stop with an amazing view over a valley. Red and green colours of the nature, the red houses, surrounded by mountains. Madagascar carries so many different looks.


Gorgeous view over a valley on the way between Ranomafana and Ambositra.

We also made a stop in Ambositra to have lunch. The wait to receive the food was quite long but in the end I did get my fried fish. Also treated myself to some ice cream for dessert, although the texture most of all resembled chocolate mousse. Still, it was tasty enough.

After lunch we visited a wood working workshop. They had made the tools themselves, too, using various items such as a spring from a bed, the saw part from a car, etc. The wood worker we talked to made some impressive pictures of figures, in wood. We saw a short demonstration also. Then came the mandatory visit to the shop which had some very cool things in it. I especially fell in love with two large Zebus carved in wood, in perpetual movement. However, they would have been way too large to bring home.

Driving on.

We arrived in Antsirabe, and since it is Easter there is a lot of festivities going on here. Later on, there will be a party at the festival site. Our hotel is a very impressive building, kind of resembling an old, European mansion. My room is enormous, probably not much smaller than our entire holiday home back in Denmark..


Our grand hotel in Antsirabe.

The evening was ours to use as we pleased (for the Swedes, too), though I suspect most went into the town to have a look at the carnival going on. I went for dinner and a couple of drinks with the tour leader and his staff and had a fun night.


Back in Town (Antananarivo)
(Sunday 20th April, 2014)


Pousse-pousse crew getting ready to take us around Antsirabe.

n the morning we were due to have a small city tour in the local cabs called pousse-pousse. They are little, wooden carts and are powered by pure leg work from a local. We jumped in and got taken around the centre of the rather small town of Antsirabe, but it was nice to try.. although also a little bit of a strange feeling to get around by having a person drag you  by running.

After this short town tour, we got back into the bus and we commenced our drive to Antananarivo and towards the end of this little adventure. We got dropped off at the hotel where the Swedes would spend their last night, I said my goodbyes and then I took a taxi back to Karthala and back to a normal working day tomorrow.


Green landscape between Antsirabe and Antananarivo.


Last updated 7th February, 2019.

The top picture is ‘The Road to Isalo’.