Amber Mountain National Park, Madagascar

October 2, 2016

Amber Mountain National Park-32.jpg

For our visit to Amber Mountain National Park (Parc National Montagne d’Ambre)
(we opted not to have a car and driver as we were staying at the Litchi Tree, about 4K from the park office. On the way to the park we lucked out and got a ride with a young Swiss couple staying at the guest house who had a private driver.

Amber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National Park

At the park office we got an English speaking guide, Joel, for the walk through the park. Joel explained the map of the park and helped us select a route. With Don’s faltering knee we didn’t want to do too much and selected a medium 3-4 hour route that included a lake and a couple of cascades.

Once the route is selected we go back in the office to pay the fees – 55,000 ariary per adult park fee, 4,000 ariary miscellaneous and 60,000 ariary for the guide, about $53 USD total for 2 adults.

Amber Mountain National Park

The first 3K of the walk is up the road to the campground making it 7K from town to the trail head. It would be an advantage to have a private driver so you could drive rather than walk the road portion.Amber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National Park

Along the road Joel spots some chameleons, several blue noses. One had an actual blue nose signifying that he is happy.Amber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National Park

Even in the dry season the park is quite green and pretty and was not as rainy as Lonely Planet indicates. According to Joel it hasn’t rained in the past 4 days. Today there is a mix of clouds and sun and windy with lots of cloud movement. It’s warm but a comfortable hiking temperature.

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Joel explains about the plants’ uses and local culture, pointing out birds, insects, spiders and chameleons. We see only one group of lemurs high in a tree, much too high for me to get a good photo.

Amber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National Park

It takes just under an hour to reach a steep 1.5K path down to the lake. The last 400 meters is the steepest.

Amber Mountain National Park

We see a few birds on the way down and Joel demonstrates a strangler fig tree.

Amber Mountain National Park

We stop for a break at the lake, a natural pool that is part of the water storage for Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). It’s not that pretty at this time of year.

Hervé, the owner of the Litchi Tree, packed a generous lunch for us – 4 bananas, crackers, sweet biscuits and 4 sandwiches – Swiss cheese with butter and liverwurst with cornichon.

Amber Mountain National Park

Back on the road we take a shortcut to the cascade path, another pretty forest walk with interesting plants and a few birds.

Amber Mountain National Park

At the Sacred Pool Joel explains that when a full moon falls on a Saturday locals come to wash away the bad juju.

Amber Mountain National Park

Out past the campground we run across another group who has spotted a leaf chameleon with the most impressive camouflage I’ve seen.

The camping area looks clean and pleasant, however, I wouldn’t say gorgeous as described in Lonely Planet.

Amber Mountain National Park

Down the alley of exotic trees planted by the French we stopped to look in the leaves for the smallest chameleon in the world. The same color as the leaf litter you wouldn’t spot (her), the male is smaller, unless you know what you are looking for.

Amber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National Park

Past the top of the second cascade there is a steep drop down. Just past here is a viewpoint.

Amber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National ParkAmber Mountain National Park

We wind through more forest and back out to the road. It’s 3K to the office. From the office it’s 3.5K back to town taking us about 35 minutes.

Amber Mountain National Park

While greener than any place else we’ve been in Madagascar, Joffreville feels shabby with metal shacks and worn out traditional construction. Locals seem more jaded, like they’ve seen too many foreigners. Not the easy “salama” (hello) we experienced in the West.

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Red Tsingy of Antsiranana, Madagascar

October 1, 2016

I had arranged with Paradis du Nord for a pickup at the Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) airport and a tour of the Red Tsingy (Tsingy Rouge) before dropping us at the Litchi Tree Guest House in Joffreville.

Raissa our guide and Patrice our driver for the day were waiting for as we exited the airport. Raissa, a pint-sized person dressed in white with pink tennis shoes, charming and funny, spoke excellent English, answered the questions asked and was the best guide we had in Madagascar.

Market outside of AntsirananaMarket outside of Antsiranana

On the way to the Red Tsingy we pass the turnoff for Joffreville where a lively, colorful Saturday market is taking place.

Road to Joffreville

Road deteriorates nearing the Tsingy Rouge

Although the road is paved it’s rough and badly in need of repair. Raissa asks us not to tell people that the roads are in bad condition as people won’t want to come here.

Road to the Tsingy Rouge

We pass bright green rice fields in an otherwise dry landscape of rolling hills.

Road to the Tsingy RougeRoad to the Tsingy Rouge

We stop for a few chameleons.

Road to the Tsingy Rouge

They sell lemon-mango “salad” preserved in lemon juice and salt. It’s  eaten over rice and can be kept for years. The red one includes hot pepper.

Road to the Tsingy Rouge

It akes about 3 hours to reach the tsingy. The last hour, 16K, is on a rough dirt track inside the park.

Tsingy Rouge

This tsingy is very different from the sharp edged pinnacles of the limestone ones in Bemaraha that we saw in the West. These sandstone formations are much smaller in stature than they appear in photos, reaching maybe 12-15 feet high.

Tsingy Rouge

According to Raissa this is a new discovery that wasn’t visible much before 2000 when the soft red dirt washed away to reveal the harder sand formations. The white outside covering is salt. Although the formations are very fragile and will erode away in time, at the moment new formations are still being uncovered as the rainy seasons washes away more of the loose dirt.

Tsingy Rouge

The tour stops at the edge of two picturesque canyons

Tsingy Rouge

before descending about 10 to 15 minutes on foot to a third view point to get an up close view.

Tsingy RougeTsingy Rouge

Tsingy Rouge

The red is more in the surrounding soil that the formations. The colors are intense, red soil, pinkish formations, blue looking grass against a blue, blue sky.

Tsingy RougePicnic Paradis du Nord

Before heading back we have a picnic lunch at the picnic area above the canyon walk. Arranged by Paradis du Nord we had a choice of a shrimp dumpling or stuffed crab for a starter followed by a choice of roasted chicken or zebu steak for a main, both accompanied by Chinese style vegetables and rice. The food was quite good. Finally an edible chicken.

Road to Joffreville

From the tsingy it took us 2.5 to 3 hours to Joffreville.

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Luggage Troubles – Air Madagascar Strikes Again

October 1, 2016

Arrachart Airport Antsiranana-1.jpg

After the cancelled flight yesterday we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t get bumped on our flight today from Antananarivo to Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). According to Hervé here in Joffreville the Prime Minister was using the planes and Air Madagascar had to cancel all the flights.

The airline sent an email at 7PM last night stating that our flight today had been moved up from 7 to 6AM and that check-in would start at 4:00. Wanting to be near the top of the queue we arranged for a 3:30 transfer from the hotel. The hotel was a little slow with the breakfast box (warm pastries, yogurt, cheese, ham and a banana) we had ordered the night before and the transfer left around 3:40, but still we arrived plenty early and were about the forth group in the queue at 3:50. Check in didn’t start until closer to 4:30.

The smallish plane was full, but I was thrilled to be in the air and on our way. We would land in Antsiranana ahead of schedule and continue on our itinerary as planned. A direct flight, it never occurred to me that the luggage might not make it. For whatever reason they didn’t load all the baggage and about a dozen people, including me, were left without baggage.

When our bag didn’t show up a woman in baggage claim jotted our information down on a piece of paper. I was somewhat concerned as we were not staying in Antsiranana, but Joffreville about an hour away. I and another woman, Katia, a Swiss, were staying at the same hotel, the Litchi Tree. They told us they would deliver the baggage later that same evening or more likely the next day. I didn’t know what to think.

When our bag didn’t show up that evening, the next morning I tried to call the number the woman at baggage claim had given me to check on my bag. All I got was a message saying to leave a message.

We met Katia again at breakfast and she was quite concerned about her bag as they were leaving the area the next day and their guide (they had arranged their trip with an agency) hadn’t even told the agency that the bag was missing.

Later that day at Amber Mountain National Park we run into Katia along with her guide. Her guide, not realizing that we know Katia, explains the situation in Malagasy to our guide, who then tells us that she has big problems. The travel agency told the guide that the bag is lost and he doesn’t know how to tell Katia. Now I’m really worried about my bag.

Back at the Litchi Tree, Hervé, the manager, greets us and tells us he has good news. The luggage, mine and Katia’s, has arrived.

Yay!

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Relais des Plateaux, Antananarivo, Madagascar

September 30, 2016

Relais de Plateaux Hotel and Restaurant is a convenient but pricey option near the Ivato International Airport (Antananarivo). The 10 minute transfer to and from the airport is included in the price.

Relais des Plateaux

The business traveler type rooms have all the expected amenities – tea and coffee service, water boiler, safe, hair dryer and minibar. The shower has plenty of hot with good water pressure. Wifi is available in the room albeit a slow connection.

The upscale restaurant is pricy for Madagascar but had an elegant vibe, welcome after our recent travels. Starters 12,000 ariary ($4USD), mains 20,000 to 30,000 ariary ($6-10USD).

Relais des Plateaux

We started with the onion soup

Relais des Plateaux

and the zebu carpaccio – the most tender zebu we’ve had to date.

Relais des Plateaux

For mains we tried the rock fish – an odd presentation with little deep fried fish packed around a fish head. Served with a vegetable medley it was nicely seasoned and tasty.

Relais des Plateaux

And the zebu steak bordelaise (red wine sauce) served with a potato mash.  I asked for medium rare and got a French medium rare, that is a little redder than what Americans would expect. Good quality piece of meat although somewhat chewy as zebu can be.

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Morondava Cancelled Flight – Private Charter Back to Tana, Madagascar

September 30, 2016

Flight to Tana-12

We were informed the previous evening that our flight back to Tana (Antananarivo) was changed from 14:15 to 12:30, leaving us not much time to explore Morondava, maybe a stroll along the beach after a leisurely breakfast.

That plan changed when Gary, the owner of Chez Maggie, informed us at breakfast that our flight had been cancelled. Apparently the Finance Minister had commandeered the plane from state-owned Air Madagascar for his own travel. Worse yet there are only 2 to 3 flights per week from Morondava back to the capitol and we had a flight out of Tana to Diego, a city in Northern Madagascar, the next morning.

He proceeded to explain that he could look into arranging a private charter for us. The cost would depend on how many guests wanted to go and what size plane was available.

Chez Maggie

We spent the rest of the morning waiting and chatting with the other stranded guests, 2 American nurses doing a bit of traveling after a volunteer project with Smiles and a group of Francophones – 3 French and 1 Belgian – at the end of a tour. Coincidently all 6 of them were flying back to Paris in two days. It was fun exchanging travel experiences and practicing some French. Everyone has a story to tell in Madagascar.

Chez Maggie

It took some haggling to get all the French to agree to a charter and then get their travel agency to pay for it, but in the end it worked out and we had a 9 seater for the 8 of us for 475 Euro per person, about double the Air Madagascar price, which Air Madagascar did refund.

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The private charter was by far the nicest prop-plane we have been on compared to those in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlight to Tana-5

We left Morondava at 1:20PM for the 2 hour flight to Tana flying first over the sea and the Avenue of Baobabs.

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Flying low as we approached Tana I was fascinated with the intricate patterns of the cultivated fields.

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When we arrived in Tana they rolled out the red carpet, literally. The airline office was the snazziest place I’ve seen on the island. Smelling of lemons, fresh and clean, the waiting room is furnished with sleek black leather furniture. The bathrooms have sparkling glass countertops.

 

 

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Chez Maggie, Morondava, Madagascar

September 29, 2016

This post is part of a 10 day trip with Remote River Expeditions.

Chez Maggie
Chez Maggie an upscale backpacker resort located along the beach at the tourist end of town has a pleasant garden setting and a pool.

Chez Maggie

The compound’s hacienda-style buildings have high ceilings but are a bit shabby inside and rooms are missing some basic amenities such as shampoo, a hair dryer and a safe.

Chez Maggie

The air-conditioning wasn’t working and although there are fans in the room, the electricity goes off between 3:00 and 6:00AM. With no air movement at this hour (windows are kept closed for security) it is way too hot in the room to sleep comfortably. Wifi is available only in the common areas.

The shower was fine with plenty of hot water. A note in the room explains that they run a special pump in the mornings and evenings to regulate the water pressure. Outside of these hours they can’t guarantee the water pressure provided by the city will be adequate.

Meals are served in an open-air dining room.

Chez Maggie Morondava

They have a broad selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, but it’s hit or miss as to the quality of the preparation. We liked the salads. The jardinière included plenty of vegies – grated carrot, sliced cucumber, tomato, etc. The fruits de mer had crab, smoked fish and shrimp.

Chez Maggie Morondava

Other starters included the smoked fish plate – a generous portion of good quality fish –

Chez Maggie Morondava

and the gazpacho – a beef broth preparation that was elegantly presented with a plate of toppings to be added table side but unfortunately lacking flavor.

The omelet was also nicely presented but over cooked and rubbery.

For mains we found the seafood pasta tasty but the grilled fish was over cooked and served with soggy roasted potatoes.

Chez Maggie

The continental breakfast included in our package had the nicest baguette we’ve had in Madagascar, butter, jam, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. The fried eggs, an extra charge, were well done.

Gary Lemur, an American, who runs Chez Maggie as well as Remote River Expeditions did us and some other guests a big favor by organizing a charter flight back to Tana after Air Madagascar suddenly canceled our flight. See the following post for details.

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Avenue of Baobabs, Madagascar

September 29, 2016

This post is part of a 10 day trip with Remote River Expeditions.

Avenue of Baobabs

This short dirt road with a high concentration of baobabs is famous for its sunset views of these peculiar trees against an orange sky, one of the iconic sights of Madagascar.

Avenue of BaobabsAvenue of BaobabsAvenue of Baobabs

Avenue of Baobabs

Baobab Fruit

Avenue of Baobabs

On the way from the Kirindy Forest to Morondava, our destination for the night, we stop at around noon. Not a tourist in sight and only a few locals on the road.

Sacred Baobab

Sifaka hanging out near the Sacred Baobab

Sacred Baobab

We also stopped at a sacred baobab where locals leave offerings inside the massive base.

Drive to Morondava

Road to Morondava

We made a second visit later that day after leaving our hotel, Chez Maggie, at 3:30. We would first visit the Baobabs in Love before heading to the sunset viewpoint.

Baobabs in Love

At Baobabs in Love there is a small commercial parking area with stalls next to the two baobabs uniquely intertwined.

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We stop for photos of a couple of other baobabs before reaching the Avenue of Baobabs around 4:00.

Avenue of BaobabsAvenue of BaobabsAvenue of BaobabsAvenue of BaobabsAvenue of Baobabs

There is a small commercial area with stalls selling local goods, some village huts and goats milling about.

Avenue of Baobabs

Tourists have started to gather along the road before congregating at the “perfect” photo op spot.

Avenue of Baobabs

On this particular evening there is not much color in the sky right at sunset. Just after sunset the color fades but then about 10 minutes later, when we are back on the road heading back to Morondava, the color dramatically deepens.

Drive to Morondava

If you want the classic road shot with the sunset in the background you’ll have to time your visit for when the sun sets in that direction. In late September the sun sets perpendicular to the road.

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