Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar
Today started early.. 4am to be exact.. we’re still in Toliara and headed to the airport to catch our lovely 7am flight up to Morandova to start our Tsingy adventure. Unfortunately at this time my now favorite Patisserie is not open and we’re off to the airport. However when we check in for the flight we find out pleasantly that we get a croissant and a tea or coffee from the snack bar as part of our flight fare.. so we have that going for us which is nice.
While at breakfast I meet Greg from Blue Ventures which is the outfit that Bishop McTodd referred me to for diving. As it turns out they don’t run a commercial diving operation but rather have an NGO that works with the local community to help preserve and promote the natural wonder of a reef they have off their shore.
Finally we are on the twin turboprop plane on and on our way. A lovely plane that I could not take a picture of as the officials are very funky of the photos of the planes for some reason.. like the designs for the plane are not public knowledge.. but anyway.
We land in Morondava and while we are chatting with the Korean cell phone designer we actually see our names on an arrival placard.. Albert had done his job. I’ll comment more specifically on GAM travel and Albert in a later session but for now I’m happy with him as he has our ride here.
Well after picking up our bag, Pat and his tape worm need something to eat so we are dropped off by the drivers at the local hotel where we have a lovely ham and cheese omelet and enjoy the scenery of one of the larger of Madagascar’s cities.. this includes the Chicken/Duck man.. the dirty old Frenchman and his Malagasy hoochie.. the contrast of Zebu cart and Petrol truck and many other scenes that have actually become part of my everyday expectation by this point. I feel like I”m becoming accustomed to the life here that is sooooo different from home!
Then we are informed that our two person tour of the Tsingy’s (amazing UNESCO listed spiky rock formations) is going to be four people as we are to meet a Dutch couple in Belo and stay with them for the next four days. No problem.. we like people!
So off in the Land Rover we go.. earthquake, post-war apocalyptic doesn’t seem to describe the road conditions on the way out of Morandova. The pavement is so potholed and deteriorated that there is a secondary dirt road in the ditch that the drivers have blazed so they don’t have to drive on the pavement. Well this is the road for two hours.. then we turn left.. the road goes to dirt and our diver puts the hammer down at times to 95 to 100 KM/H.. same sized potholes but just more dusty, washboardy and completely dangerous dodging zebu carts, bikers, children, chickens, other 4×4’s and most importantly the taxi brusses! My nose is clogged with dirt by the time we arrive at the river on the opposite side of Belo.
The river.. what an odd sight. No bridge, all sorts of ferries.. and unfinished platform car ferry, massive narrow passenger boats made out of sketchy wood.. dugout canoes with PVC pipe outriggers.. somehow these people WILL get across this river and so did we. Finally in Belo, we meet Hide and Fianne from Holland. I knew I was going to like them when they came by to introduce themselves and Pat was in the toilet and I told them as much.. Hide’s response was “well I wont chase him there I’m sure he’s busy”.. we got along famously!
Back in the truck, this time with Chickens pecking at my shoulder.. literally! We are on roads .. and I didn’t think this was possible.. WORSE than the ones we just came in on. To make matters worse the back seat starts to REEK of diesel fumes. We find out they have a jerry can of fuel in a box right behind our seat that is leaking fuel like crazy.. they empty some and throw away the messy rags and continue.. an hour later we have to stop again before pat and I (and the chickens who have stopped squawking and basically moving at all) throw up and die. Getting out of the car I am woozy and nauseous and we spend about a half an hour washing the back of the truck out of diesel that had leaked all over the floor. Thirty minute later again we have stopped to get them to tie the box with the jerry can up on the roof.. this gets us to a non-asphyxiation state where we should be able to finish the ride. The only problem is that we are right on the edge of timing to get the last ferry over the last river. But we do… we roll up to the ferry just as the last car (us) is ready to load.. timing is everything 🙂
Finally we are at camp.. but then the logistical nightmares of who is sleeping where start to kick in. The dutchies were supposed to camp but want to stay in a lodge so we have to find them a room but they don’t put them at the same lodge we are at but a different one. So you have now from farthest to closest a situation where Pat and I are 2Km outside the dinner location, Hide and Fianne are 1Km outside of our eating location and then the Bar Mercury which is down by the river. So now we have this crazy logistical situation of every-time we have to eat the driver has to come out to our place, wait for us, drive us to the next lodge, wait again then drive us down to the meals location to have our, admittedly delicious, meals cooked there by our guide and trusty companion Liva.
After we put all that together we talk about “the program” for the next day. It turns out we only get to do a 4 hour hike despite the 50 minute discussion that Albert had with us about how we wanted to do a longer hike here and he assures us that we will be able to do two hikes in one day in the Big Tsingy. Well this is not true and it cannot be done because the park will not let us do both in one day… so we are a bit annoyed with Al
So that ends our first LONG day up to the Tsingy’s. Tomorrow we start early to get a bead on the heat of the day!