Manambolo River Trip, Madagascar – Arrival at Tsingy de Bemaraha Nat’l Park

September 26, 2016

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

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We wake at 6AM to a still calm morning. Yesterday’s wind is now just traces in the sand.

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The guys prepare breakfast and pack up. They are not in much of a hurry. Breakfast is a collection of what they have left which seems like a lot – a local Nutella, a fresh box of muesli and milk.

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We’re on the river at 7:30. Calm and deeper with fewer shallow sections, the paddling is easier. The cliffs become more dramatic as we head towards the gorge.

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We pass more locals this morning – groups of children, net fishermen, locals in 2 pirogues tied together, a group of boatmen poling the canoes from previous tourist group back upstream.

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We are in the lead and head down a side channel to wait for the others. Alex mentioned to us this morning that we would be stopping at a swimming hole. We don’t know if this is it or it’s further up. The water looks cool, clean and deep so we decide to try it. The water is much colder than the river but refreshing.

The others show up around 11:30 and Alex tells us that Vunje will take us up the channel to a swimming hole while he stays back to prepare lunch.

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It’s a wet, sandy, muddy and rocky walk up the channel, in and out of the canoe a few times before walking the rest of the way in. The pools are clear, deep and inviting. We stop at the #1 swimming hole (still don’t know why they are named #1, #2, #3 and so forth). It’s a deep pool with a small waterfall at one end. We’ve already had a dip and changed into dry clothes so hesitate to get wet again. But the pull is too great. Don gets in and then me – carefree for 40 minutes, jumping off the eight foot bank into the deep pool and then back around again.

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The water is a perfect cool temperature.

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Great back massage in the white water of the cascade.

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When we get back to the lunch spot it’s after 1PM. I ask Alex how long it will take us to reach the park office. He replies, “two and half hours”. I’m surprised because we are supposed to do the Petit Tsigny this afternoon. We eat quickly and Alex decides to go with us in our canoe so we don’t have to wait for the others. I’m a bit perplexed because it seems that we are still behind schedule. Leaving at 1:40 with 2.5 hours to the park office and still a 2 hour visit before dark just doesn’t add up.

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I help paddle. The water is deeper here with no need to get out and push the canoe, but like every other afternoon the wind has picked up. Still with the 3 of us paddling we make good time.

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The limestone gorge is washed out in the mid-day sun, but as the light softens their majesty becomes apparent. Eroded by millennia of heavy rains the cliff face resembles the carved lace work you would find inside a cave.

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Only a few locals are on the river. Alex continues to prattle on about this or that giving us the typical Asian fact spin unaware that we are short on time. I’m annoyed as I paddle in the hot afternoon sun.

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Finally, about 2 hours in, the ferry taking the 4X4s to the office can be seen up ahead. We’re almost there. It seems crazy to see 4X4s and white people in a sudden clump after days of the near empty river.

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We bring our gear to shore and change into our hiking shoes for the Petit Tsingy walk while Alex buys our tickets. It feels great to have my feet once again snug in my hiking boots after days spent with sand and pebbles in my Tevas.

As we wait for Alex I notice the sign on the office door says their hours are from 6Am to 4PM. I wonder if Alex is aware of this. It seems the Malagasy way of thinking is things will work out or not. I’m still too type A for this county.

We meet Robert, our Tsingy guide for the next two days, and our driver Dominique.

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The Petit Tsingy is an easy walk through a labyrinth of lime stone pinnacles situated in a rain forest – albeit dry at this time of year. It’s warm and humid. Don and I are both sweating profusely but I’m happy just to be walking on solid ground. Most of the way is shaded. We cross no other tourists for the 1K hour plus walk.

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The trail has some tricky moments climbing or descending the sharp rocks and squeezing between the rock formations but is a gentle introduction to the tsingy. We stop at the two viewpoints – a sea of sharp limestone pinnacles in the late afternoon light. Robert uses my camera to take photos of us at key points. He’s obviously well practiced and has an easy going funny manner.

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We finish at 5:15 and find our vehicle already loaded with the rest of our belongings for the short drive to the hotel passing through the village of Bekopaka.

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