It’s a tempting thought – to rush to the beach and to dip my toes into that postcard turquoise blue water, to soak up the sunshine and live on a diet of coconuts, crayfish and sweet Malagasy rum. But it’s not going to happen. For one, Madagascar is huge and diverse! Two, it’s going to take us 3 days to get to the coast – mostly because I ask our driver to stop every few minutes for a photograph. And three, there is so much more to discover about Madagascar other than the beautiful beaches, chameleons and lemurs!
After 3 solid days of tropical-drizzle in the East, we were good and ready to move on to the dry central highlands and the West coast. We’d hired a gold-dusted 1987 Peugeot Station wagon for our family road trip (a relatively new model for Madagascar) and a driver from GAM Travel. The plan was to take a slow drive down to Morondava, (famous for its alley of baobabs) stopping at Antsirabe and Miandrivazo and ending our trip with a few glorious days on the beach at Belo-sur-mer.
As we headed south from Antananarivo on the RN7 road, almost instantly, the East becomes the West. Tropical rain forests disappear like a cloud in a desert and the terrain becomes dry and mountainous. The road relentlessly winds around hills and villages, taking us deep into what seems the agricultural mecca of Madagascar. We pass multi-coloured patchworks of organic vegetables, harvested rice paddies and long-horned Zebu pulling ploughs through the rich red soils. For the photographer, the countryside is like driving into an ‘Art Deco’ painting with a ‘pop’ of colours, shapes, patterns and textures around every corner. And for anyone with an interest in agriculture, it’s a fascinating region. No space goes unused and all the fields of grain and vegetables are fed by an impressive water canal system. It quickly becomes obvious that these people are natural farmers and very hard workers!
The scenery on RN7 road from Antananarivo to Antsirabe
A traditional Malagasy village
Other than the impressive agriculture in the central highlands, the towns are also very interesting. It seems every town and village specialises in something. We passed a village specialising in colourful ‘reed’ crafts, another town made Mother Mary statues, another – wooden drums and guitars. We passed a ‘wooden toy truck village,’ an ‘aluminum metal works village,’ a village specialising in homemade Wine and the bustling little town of Behenjy, famous for its duck and foie gras. We drove this leg of the journey in half a day. If I could do this trip again, I’d leave ‘early bells’ from Antananarivo so that there is more time to stop and browse.
It’s not advisable to drive at night in Madagascar due to the increased risk of robberies by bandits who target private vehicles and taxi-brousses. Plan your trip with this in mind and remember that driving in Madagascar takes time. Expect to reach an average speed of 80 kilometers per hour and windy roads.
The bustling little town of Behenjy is famous for its duck and Foie gras. It’s just an hour south of Antananarivo on the RN7 and is a great stop for a quick lunch before heading on to Antsirabe.
He said, “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who dont believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl
“Look for chances to take the less-travelled roads. There are no wrong turns.” – Susan Magsamen
We stayed just one night in Antsirabe. Not by choice – there are plenty of things to see here. But unfortunately we were so pushed for time on this trip and needed to continue towards the coast. I think a month in Madagascar would have been about right for what we’d like to have seen but in our case, we had a mere 12 days to work with.
We stayed in the Green Park Hotel for one night. It was cheap – around 70000 Malagasy Ariary’s for a family room. It also houses a wonderful little restaurant called Chez Jenny, popular for its pizza and Malagasy rum. I’d have to say that the food made up for the accommodation! Great food and restaurant and quite average rondavels! I slept with one eye open that night as mosquitoes buzzed around our heads looking for a way through the undersized mosquito net. Thankfully they did not find the hole. It’s not surprising that the hotel is home to a billion baby mosquitoes as there is a great big slimy green pond in the middle of the garden, the perfect breeding ground! So if you stay here, do stock up on Mozzi repellant and spend as much time as you can afford in the restaurant! The restaurant is really good.
Green Park Hotel, Antsirabe
Antsirabe is famous for it’s Pousse-Pousse transport. You’ll find hundreds of Pousse-Pousses whizzing passed you, some being pulled by a bicycle and some by men on foot. We did a quick morning family Pousse-Pousse trip around the centre of Antsirabe before continuing with our road trip. I must say that being pulled around a city by a barefoot man, seated like a queen upon a chariot didn’t always sit comfortably. But while these thoughts floated around in my head, I was suddenly interrupted by a honking pousse-pousse horn behind me – an elderly pousse-pousse driver was trying to get passed. He passed us at speed, like a well-oiled machine and steamed on ahead of us pulling an entire family down a busy street! I realised that this is simply the way of life here. I decided to lean back in my seat, relax and enjoy this unique sightseeing experience in Antsirabe.
Madagascar’s interior is worth exploring. I wish we had more time as I know that this trip was like exploring the tip of an iceberg. I often hear myself saying, ‘we’ll see it next time’,but will there really be a next time? I hope.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventure we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru