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Wednesday 11 September 2019

I had a leisurely morning. At 11am I checked out and my transfer to the airport was waiting. The traffic in the city was crazy but it only took 35 minutes to reach the airport, then I had a long time to wait for my 2.45pm flight to Johannesburg.

Although the airport is very small I found it confusing and couldn’t see where to check in. A few people started a line at the unmanned security check so I joined them. Had to put bags through the x-ray first, then check in, then go through immigration, then security again, then a police check of my passport.

No problems with the South African Airways flight leaving and arriving on time. I was back in Johannesburg just after 5pm and made my way back to the hotel where I started this journey on 29 July.

Thursday 12 September 2019

My flight home didn’t leave until 7.10pm. I had a late checkout at 2pm and waited at the hotel until the 3.45pm shuttle to the airport.

Boarding for this Qantas flight was really disorganised, quite chaotic with people being moved out of the gate seating area and lined up for bag checks before being let in again. Then they didn’t even check my bag. The flight home was completely full, so it was very uncomfortable.

Friday 13 September 2019

Finally back in Sydney just before 3pm. I thought I would be held up at Customs and found it strange that I wasn’t checked after I answered yes to the questions about being in Africa.

Then there was a long line at the Qantas transfer and people on my flight were called to the front. At the transfer bus my flight was asked to board first, but that was pointless because we then waited for everyone else to get on the bus before departing. I just made the flight and arrived back in Canberra around 5pm.

I left Canberra after seeing a beautiful sunrise and came home to a vibrant sunset. It's so good to be home. This was a long and tough trip.

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The Nomad truck tour was not as good as the one I did in 2017. Nomad have made cutbacks and it shows. We had to buy a lot more meals and there were several problems with accommodation. There were long travel days, which were unavoidable because of the distance between the places we visited – these days were boring and uncomfortable. And East Africa is less developed, making it a harder travel destination than Southern Africa. The start was marred by my fall – I initially thought I might have to go home, instead I only missed a few days of the tour but I was still in pain for the first couple of weeks, which affects my thoughts on this tour.

Would I do this type of tour again? No, it’s better left for younger people. I loved the national parks and they are definitely worth visiting. We realised that most of the national parks have landing strips for light aircraft and this would be a better way to travel … much better than spending whole days travelling on really bad roads.

The three of us booked a couple of extra things: day tour in Nairobi, three day Amboseli tour, and extra time in Zanzibar. We thoroughly enjoyed all these. Amboseli National Park is often overlooked but it was wonderful and Kibo Safari Camp was a beautiful oasis in the dusty landscape. The extra days in Zanzibar was a great way to finish off this part of the trip. We really earned the luxury accommodation after the truck tour.

Jude and I booked our Madagascar tour with Madagascar company Dadamanga. We looked at organised group tours that didn’t go to the places we wanted, so decided on a private tour with our own guide, vehicle and driver, which was no more expensive than the group tours. Brett (an expat Aussie), the owner of Dadamanga, was very responsive when we were planning the tour. He was also kind enough to loan me a camera when my small camera stopped working. A huge thank you to Brett … it was invaluable to have a small zoom camera when walking in the national parks.

If you’re thinking of travelling to Madagascar, be warned that tours and flights are quite expensive. There are cheaper ways to get around but Madagascar has very poor infrastructure. We came across an adventurous young man who was using the local transport – the taxi brusse (bus) leaves when people are crammed into every space and luggage and boxes (and sometime animals) are piled high onto the roof.

It was the uniqueness of the wildlife that drew us to Madagascar and I'm pleased I had the opportunity to experience the diverse landscapes, plants and animals. Of course I loved the cute and furry lemurs, and the geckos, butterflies, lizards and frogs but I was amazed by the weird and wonderful variety of chameleons. While I wasn’t disappointed with our wildlife sightings I didn’t love the country. It wasn’t the poor infrastructure or the poverty of the people because we’d been exposed to those things in East Africa. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania the people were really happy, friendly and welcoming but I didn’t get that feeling in Madagascar.

Walking in the national parks was much harder than I imagined. We didn’t do the longest or hardest trails but it was certainly challenging. To make it harder you have to go off the track to see the lemurs … that means making your way through thick rainforest or bushland vegetation, often on very steep slopes. And seeing the lemurs can be really difficult when they are high up in the trees.

Finally, I’m so pleased to be home where I don’t feel under pressure to be constantly looking for money to tip people .... I don't remember having to tip so much from any of my previous travels. I realise that I have just travelled to countries where many people live in poverty and I don’t mind occasionally paying someone a couple of dollars to carry my bag ... I really didn't like it when we pulled up and men were grabbing bags from the back of the car before we could get out. When you travel for a long period with limited funds it becomes very difficult to tip (and to find small notes for tipping) several times a day for local guides, trackers, drivers (car, taxi, boat), restaurants and luggage porters - plus tipping at the end of the tour for the guide and driver.

Posted by MissWalker 16:12 Archived in Madagascar Comments (2)

Back to Antananarivo

Peyrieras Reserve

sunny 20 °C
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Tuesday 10 September 2019

We had a much more civilised departure time this morning at 8am. No more long hikes! And the rain had stopped as we made our way from Andasibe back to Antananarivo.

Our first stop was at the Peyrieras Reserve. This was described as a type of zoo so I wasn’t expecting much. We started walking uphill and I had to watch my footing in the mass of wet tree roots … sounds familiar. I wasn’t feeling like another difficult walk. But it was only a short uphill burst and we arrived at the trees where there were lemurs.

There was a couple of Common Brown Lemurs that we watched for a while. There's nothing common about that beautiful fluffy long tail.

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Then we turned back on the track and there was a Coquerel’s Sifaka family – a male and female with a tiny baby and two young males. The female came down low and we were able to feed her banana and touch her lovely soft coat. This was a wonderful experience.

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Back down the hill we went inside the chameleon enclosure. The bushes were covered with chameleons of all shapes, sizes and colours. Amazing!

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Then we went into another enclosure that held smaller chameleons, geckos and the stick snake. Can you see the two snakes? The photo below that is a leaf tailed gecko.

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Next it was on to see the tomato frogs, then the tiny orange and colourful painted frogs, then larger snakes and a crocodile. The reserve was an incredible place to see a wide variety of Madagascar’s creatures up close and it didn’t feel like a zoo.

We had lunch at a restaurant in a small town and continued on our way. We previously made this journey in the dark so it was good to see the scenery in daylight. This area has a lot of water and the terraces are covered with rice fields. We had lunch with our guide and driver and saw first-hand how much rice the Malagasy people eat in a meal, a huge heaped plate full – and they eat it three times a day.

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Back in Antananarivo we made a stop at a chocolate shop to buy some locally made chocolate (it’s very good), then we had a short stop at a marketplace before going to the hotel. This is the same hotel where we stayed the first night in Madagascar and Jude and I finished the trip with another chicken with vanilla sauce meal from the same restaurant.

Jude had a late flight home tonight so it’s just me now!

Posted by MissWalker 02:40 Archived in Madagascar Comments (2)

Analamazaotra Reserve

and a night walk

rain 18 °C

Monday 9 September 2019

Another early morning. Breakfast at 6am and we left at 6.30am. Apparently the Analamazaotra Reserve gets quite crowded and Malala want to get an early start. We were the first ones at the visitor centre. Light rain was still falling. Another miserable walk? Except it wasn’t, it was actually enjoyable.

It was a much easier walk than yesterday. There was still the muddy slopes and slippery tree roots, plus slippery stepping stones but there wasn’t any great change in elevation (no steep uphill climbs). And the rain wasn’t so heavy that we couldn’t take out cameras. The negative was that we had the same guide as yesterday.

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But we saw and heard the lemur we’d come for. The main drawcard to this park is the largest lemur, the Indri. In the morning they let out a very loud piercing call that travels across the park. We certainly heard the call before we saw them. There were three sitting high in a tree. Our patience paid off when one came down lower in the tree and sat there for a while before leaping away. Photos are very poor quality - maybe some condensation on my lens.

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That’s when a heavy shower started and we made our way back to the carpark. Along the way we came across a Giraffe-necked weevil.

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We had been in the park about three and a half hours and the empty carpark was now completely full, including a couple of small buses.

We stopped at a craft shop in Andasibe, then went back to the lodge for lunch and a free afternoon. I was planning on catching up with my blog but the internet was frustratingly slow and kept dropping out. Photos taken during a brief period of sunshine at Grace Lodge.

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We met at 5.30pm to do a night walk in the local community reserve. The rain had eased and even stopped for a while during the afternoon but of course it started again as soon as we started the walk. The walk started along a nice flat path but we soon went off the path and into the forest. Walking in the forest was really hard to do at night even with a head lamp and a torch, with vines and tree roots that catch your feet and sticks that scratch your arms and legs and overhead branches to duck under. Unfortunately we still had the same local guide and he hurried through the forest while we were slowly making our way in the dark. We saw a few chameleons and frogs and woolly lemurs and mouse lemurs. We were back at 8pm and I was ready for dinner and bed.

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We’ve done a lot of walking in the last couple of days and I’m feeling really tired. There’s only a couple of days before I’ll be home. It feels like I’ve been away for a long, long time.

Posted by MissWalker 00:48 Archived in Madagascar Comments (1)

Mantadia National Park

And Lemur Island

rain 15 °C

Sunday 8 September 2019

We had an early start with breakfast at 6.15am and we left at 7am. It had rained solidly overnight and there was still steady rain this morning.

At the Mantadia National Park office in the village of Andasibe we paid for admission, picked up our local guide and started the long journey to the park. The slow journey along a muddy dirt road took well over an hour. We got bogged and luckily there were cars following – after much consultation amongst the men we were freed from the muddy mess.

Around 9am we started hiking in the steady rain. It didn’t take long before my pants were soaked through, then I could feel my jumper and shirt were also wet through even though I had a rain jacket and a plastic poncho over the top – at least I had dry feet. It was a wet, miserable walk through the rainforest. And it was a difficult walk, I couldn’t look up to see anything because underfoot was either wet stone steps, muddy slopes or slippery tree roots. It was too wet to take photos – I just took a couple with my phone.

The guide was determined to find some lemurs and didn’t want to give up but we seemed to be wandering aimlessly … he was a terrible guide. We did see a couple of lemurs. Well, almost see them because they were so high up in the trees. And we saw a giant worm. Almost forgot about the leech, after brushing past bushes I had a leech on my face! The only good thing about this hike was when it stopped! The best I can say is that we went for a walk in the rain in a primary growth rainforest … and it was all part of the great Madagascar adventure.

We had our picnic lunch under the shelter at the carpark. A quick lunch because we were really wet and it was quite a cool day. After we stopped walking I started to feel cold.

We started the long journey back on the muddy road and stopped at Lemur Island (Vakona Reserve). This is actually two small islands surrounded by water, which keeps the lemurs on the islands because they can’t swim. We got into a canoe and were taken the short distance across the water. We were greeted by two lemurs, who are very friendly and immediately jump onto your shoulders and head. I spent some time with the lemurs on my shoulder and fed them some banana – that’s why they’re so friendly. We walked on further to find the small Bamboo Lemurs, who are much more reserved and keep their distance. Back in the canoe we went to the shore of the other island and watched the Red Ruffed Lemur. He had a magnificent red coat. This was a lovely visit and the rain had decreased to a mist so we were able to take photos.

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We were back at the lodge around 4pm for a warm shower and a chance to dry out our clothes. There was no point in washing the muddy clothes, just trying to dry them because we’re going for another hike in the morning and the rain doesn’t look like stopping.

Posted by MissWalker 12:13 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

Flight from Toliara to Antananarivo

What time is departure?

overcast 20 °C
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Saturday 7 September 2019

We had a late start today because we were flying back to Antananarivo. The strong winds continued overnight and this morning the sand was still being whipped up by the winds. We had breakfast at 8am. Breakfast consisted of coffee and bread (a croissant and baguette) with butter and jam. We asked about eggs but that would cost extra.

The Ifaty Beach Club … on the exterior this looks like a lovely hotel. The little bungalows are quite modern, it has a restaurant and pool and it’s right on the beach. But the place has a bad atmosphere, the people running the hotel are unfriendly and make you feel very unwelcome. The place was almost empty, we were the only ones eating in the restaurant (breakfast and dinner was included). Because this is a tourist hotel on the beach they overcharged for everything – they charged double the rate for water and coffee that we had paid at other hotels in Madagascar.

A lady from the hotel took us to the airport at Tolliara and we arrived around 11am. Our flight was originally scheduled for 12.55pm but we’d been advised it had changed to 1.35pm. Our flight was with Tsaradia, a subsidiary of Madagascar Airways.

I had read about the unreliability of Madagascar Airways and we were about to find out how stressful and frustrating this is. When we arrived there were already a few people forming a queue for check in, so we joined the line and waited … and waited. There was an announcement in French and English but we couldn’t understand either. We found out that check in would now start at 2pm. The airport is tiny and there wasn’t any shops open at the airport.

There was another announcement that we couldn’t understand but people started moving. Check in started around 1pm, we had our passport checked and waited for the doors to the departure area to open. Once inside we had a body pat down and our hand luggage searched. Then we sat in a deserted waiting area – there were no shops open, no food or drink machines. And we still had no idea of our departure time.

Around 2.30pm the café opened, and they did a great trade in sandwiches and snacks. Then a small souvenir shop opened. Waiting passengers kept going to the window in hope of seeing a plane come in but all they saw was the trees bent over from the howling wind and dust blowing everywhere. I was really worried that a small plane wouldn’t be able to land in the strong winds and we’d be stranded there. And there were still no announcements about departure time.

Around 4pm we noticed some action from staff and we saw the loaded luggage carts go outside. More people kept watch at the windows and there was great excitement when a plane finally landed around 4.20pm. Passengers disembarked, luggage was loaded, we were on board and took off just before 5pm. The plane was full because yesterday's flight had been cancelled. We later learned that there was heavy security at Antananarivo airport because the Pope had arrived, and that may be why the local flight was cancelled.

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We arrived in Antananarivo around 6.45pm. With all the flights I’ve taken in my travels, this was the scariest landing I’ve ever experienced. There was a thump, a loud noise, sideways slide and very heavy braking. I was sure we were going sideways off the runway … at speed. There was absolute quiet in the cabin and sighs of relief when we came to a stop safely.

The big problem with such a long flight delay was that we were not staying in Antananarivo and still had about 4 hours of travel by car ahead of us. After getting our luggage we met our new guide Malala and driver Didi and started the drive around 7.20pm. It’s not a great idea to drive in Madagascar at night because the roads are so bad. The road was really winding and there were a lot of trucks coming from a port in the east, and it was raining. Didi did a great job threading his way around all the holes but it had been a long, stressful day and I’d had very little to eat all day and had a terrible headache. I couldn’t wait for the journey to be over so I could get out of the car. It was around 11.20pm when we arrived at the lovely Grace Lodge in Andasibe. I fell into bed knowing I had an early start in the morning.

Posted by MissWalker 10:56 Archived in Madagascar Comments (0)

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