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Weekend with Lemurs

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”
― William Shakespeare

Money!

Money is a big issue here. I am not only referring to money for survival, but also estimating how much to take. We don’t use cards here so we have to guesstimate how much to take. Too little and it can get a bit awkward, too much and you can also be in trouble! This leads to a further issue. The biggest Malagasy note is 10,000 Arirary which equates to a little over 3 US Dollars. A further issue we had was towards the end of the month, finding a cashpoint machine which actually had ANY money! After trying the fourth ATM, we got lucky as it had some money. All it had was 5,000 Ariray notes which is approx 1.5 US Dollars. We made several withdrawals which meant we had several inches of cash in our pocket! Which in fairness isn’t worth a great deal but takes up a lot of space!

Pangalanes Canal

Madagascar is famous worldwide for being a totally unique place, an island which harbours unique wildlife which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, unless it is a zoo or special exhibition. We are so lucky to be able to spend time here and to be able to explore this magnificent place.

We set off relatively early (for a Saturday morning) and met up by the edge of the Pangalanes Canal which luckily for us, goes past the outside of our housing village! Our destination is only accessible by boat, it is approximately 60km from home and would take approximately 3 hours. As it happened, it took a little over 4 hours but nobody really cared as it was a fascinating trip!

Along the way, there was plenty of traffic. The canal is connected to a series of enormous lakes and runs up to Tamatave which is, the commercial hub. So, when sailing along the canal, you will come across many river buses carrying people as well as livestock, bamboo boats pretty much submerged under the enormous loads of wood, fishermen as well as sand pirogues which is something I really want to expand on as it is fascinating. As we were chugging along the canal, we came across several pirogues laden down with red sand. By the way, a pirogue is a long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk. The sand is delivered to local destinations and it is used to make bricks for houses. As you sail along the river, you come across pirogues held in place by sticks in the water. To get the sand, there’s a person which dives to the bottom of the river, fills a bucket and empties it in the pirogue. He will do this until the boat is as full as possible, usually just a couple of inches above the water!

Pangalanes Canal Collecting Sand

Diving for sand

delivering sand along the pangalanes canal

Only a few inches above water!

As we continued our trip passing village after village and river boat after river boat as well as numerous fish farms, we made a comfort stop. Or shall I say, we stopped in a beautiful place with white sandy beaches. The purpose of the stop was not to admire the sand but to try and find a tree or some bushes, I shall leave the rest of it to your imagination!

Once we finished on this stretch of canal, we headed across the interconnected lakes and eventually reached our destination.

 

Palmarium Hotel

We arrived at the hotel in time for lunch. Our cabins weren’t quite ready so we ordered food and waited….. and waited….. and waited. Eventually, after two hours, our food arrived. In the mean time, we were kept entertained by lemurs wandering around the place freely and enjoying the interaction with humans as well as all the attention, not to mention the lovely bananas too! Our food arrived and I must admit we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was. It certainly exceeded our expectations. After food we were briefed on our rooms which were now ready.

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Yummy banana and ALL mine!

Lights Out at 11pm

Quite literally, lights went out at 11pm. The only means of electricity here is by generator. This means that there’s only electricity at certain times of the day….and night. We were told that the generators were switched off at 11pm until 6am. There was also intermittent electricity supply throughout the day. I must say, it didn’t really bother us all that much.

We spent the afternoon admiring lemurs and wandering around the lush gardens as well as admiring the local wildlife!

Some Malagasy wildlife

We pre-ordered our food well in advance, in (vain) hope that we wouldn’t have to wait as long as we did for lunch. At 7pm we had the local village choir? (I am not too sure what to call it really) who performed songs and dance for us and of course, we all joined in!

After all the singing, dancing and laughing we went through for some food, yup, it was another long wait, but the food was great, and the banana flambe was amazing!

We went to bed and made ourselves as comfortable as possible, I must admit, it wasn’t too bad…not bad at all! By 11pm, as promised, we were plunged into total darkness. We woke up relatively early but late enough to have electricity again. It was a beautiful morning and the lemurs were in full swing, quite literally! We popped over to the restaurant for breakfast at 7, the lemurs just wanted to play. They were jumping all over the place and demanding attention…OK, more like demanding bananas!

We pre-ordered our lunch for 11am as we needed to head back as we were stopping at a fishing village on the way home. Of course, lunch didn’t arrive till 12 but once again it was lovely and well worth the wait. Sorting out the bill was another interesting story as it was totally disorganised and all the information had to be put together along with who had had what etc etc. It wasn’t quite as bad as when we went to Sri Lanka in which to pay the bill by card meant having to borrow a card machine which took two days to organise! Eventually we paid up and we were on our way.

Fishing Village

I have cycled past numerous villages but never actually stopped and had a wander around the place, it almost felt disrespectful to do so. When I was told we would be stopping in a fishing village on the way back I was most excited to hear this as it is an opportunity to meet people as well as see what life in a village would be like. We pulled into what can only be described as a picture postcard setting, somewhere you can only ever dream of.  The reality for the people who live there is very different to the dream location on a photo.This place is located between the lake/ Pangalanes Canal and the Indian Ocean. They live on a strip which is probably a mile wide….. if that. There’s a train station…..of sorts. It is actually an abandoned building which most of it has collapsed. I think the correct word for it is derelict! We had a warm and very friendly welcome. Of course, within seconds we were surrounded by children who followed us around. Even though life is tough for them, no running water, no electricity, poor and very basic medical help, these people are smiley and happy. Yes, I am sure they would love to live in better conditions but they are not miserable due to their hardship. They were very happy for us to wander around their village though I must admit I felt a bit uncomfortable doing so. Not uncomfortable because of safety but from their perspective. Imagine having people walking around your village looking at how you live, that sort of thing. The kids were ever so friendly, I only wish I had had a football with me and we could have had a kickabout on the beach. We walked up to their primary school which only recently had had a roof; courtesy of a parents and school association. The village is pretty well stocked up which I was quite surprised. There was a butchers, a baker, a shop that sold various ointments and herbs as well as several other little shops. We walked across the village and to the beach where there were several pirogues which are obviously used for sea fishing. This is probably one of the THE most dangerous jobs in the world. These pirogues are flimsy little boats and the waves in the Indian Ocean are pretty big, not to mention the strong current and sharks! Katja played on the beach with a few of the kids but unfortunately we couldn’t spend much time there. On the way out we bought several necklaces which were made by the women from the village, so that’s quite a few Christmas pressies sorted!  I would love to go back there without having to rush off, spend time with people and get to know them.

Katja decided that she would sleep most of the way back!

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Here are a few more photos!

We arrived back home just before attending a site BBQ but already planning and looking forward to our next adventure!

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Solar Eclipse

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”.
–Steve Jobs

What a fabulous quote by Steve Jobs, so very true.

Ever since knowing we were moving to Madagascar, we have known that on Thursday September 1st there was going to be an annular eclipse and that it would cover about 90% of the surface of the sun. We have been keeping an eye on the forecast for several days, yesterday 31/08, we had torrential showers, the worrying thing was that the forecast was pretty much the same for today. When we got up at 6am, we could hear the rain. However, as the morning progressed it wasn’t too bad. Cloudy but at least no rain. I went out to the football field at 11:00 am and caught the beginning of this amazing event.

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A little after 12 o’clock all the kids came out from school and all met up on the football field, we all brought some food, had a picnic and all watched in amazement as the light faded gradually and the temperature dropped noticeably.

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Weekend

“It’s not that we spend five days looking forward to just two. It’s that most people do what they enjoy most on those two days. Imagine living a life where everyday are your Saturdays and Sundays. Make everyday your weekend. Make everyday a play-day…”
― James A. Murphy
We never really got into the whole thing of Friday Saturday weekends in the Middle East, it is so nice to have real weekends, i.e Saturday and Sunday!
Funnily enough, we kicked off the weekend on Friday night by going to the Tiki Bar (Bar/ Restaurant on site) where we enjoyed a variety of Middle Eastern food. Sadly, there was no Machboos or any Yemeni food which is definitely our favourite Middle Eastern food. Nonetheless, there was a nice variety of food which we enjoyed, of course, these were accompanied by a few beers and chatting with friends.
Saturday, was packed with fun. Starting off at 6am and heading out for a long bike ride. Here’s where I am having to adapt a bit but in a good way. People I have met here so far who are into cycling, are considerably faster than me. I am more used to touring rather than speed mountain biking. It was a great ride, heading out of town and towards the Lemur park. On the way back, we headed through Bazaar Kelly which is absolutely massive. It is packed with people, pouss pouss, tuc tucs, cars, trucks, vans, buses, chickens, people walking pigs you sort of get the idea. Not the best of places to have a puncture, but, such is life. As my riding partner was pulling away from me, I felt the back end of the bike go “funny”, this was followed by that rather depressing hissing noise indicating I had a very flat tyre. I managed to catch my riding partner’s attention and he turned back to make sure all was OK. Well, it wasn’t. My tyre was totally flat, and this was definitely not the best of places for it. From a safety perspective, I had some concerns but then again, rather than wasting time being concerned, I just got on with it. I found a quiet(ish) area, walked the bike there, and proceeded to strip the back wheel off and change the inner tube. Yes, I carry several spares with me, inner tubes being the most important spare of the lot! Interestingly enough, nobody paid any attention to us, a couple of little kids probably no older than 4 or 5 walked up to us, I let them have my old inner tube which they were very happy with. In the midst of all this, my pump decided it wasn’t too interested in doing its job, fortunately we had a spare pump. Soon enough, my bike was the right way up and we were back on the road. We arrived back home at about 9am after a 56 km bike ride. I was covered in mud and tired but having thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

After a shower it was all back to normal again and time to carry on with the rest of the day. Katja had a whale of a time at a birthday party later on.

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The evening was then followed by a second Arabian food evening!

Sunday there is a scheduled power cut for maintenance, power is due to be off for several hours. Not that we really noticed it as the power generators kicked in and life continued as normal. Which is great as we are in the middle of cooking Sunday roast for a bunch of people. Or I should be a bit more specific. Cathy has been cooking since this morning as well as making a delicious cheesecake. I have been busy cleaning my bike!

Christmas!

Yes, I know, it is only August! But, as all our plans involve traveling, we need to book things nice and early. We decided to out on hold our initial plan of going to Australia for Christmas. Instead, we decided to go back to the UK for 10 days, spend Christmas there. Then head off to Bulgaria and spend New Year’s Eve with friends in Sofia and then head off to Spain around January 4th for a week before heading back home to Madagascar around January 14th.

Driving through Toamasina

Here are a couple of videos I shot on my Go Pro driving into and through Toamasina, quality isn’t great as I was holding it in my hand and the road, as you can see, is bumpy! The night before and not long before we had set off, we had a lot of rain!

 

First Bike Ride in Madagascar

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring” – Desmond Tutu

One of the big things I have been extremely keen to do since even before we arrived is to get on my bike and explore! I was advised that the safest thing to do is to go out with a group of people. I waited patiently until Sunday as there was a group going out for a ride. As it happens, it was only just two of us that went out. What an awesome experience that was. Yes, I have been driven around Tamatave numerous times and seen the sites as a passenger in a car but going out on a bike was a totally different and amazing experience.

One thing worth mentioning is that cyclists must carry ID (passport or certified copy) as well as a cycling permit! The permit cost all of 30p but we must have one as there are many police check points all over the place!

My Cycling Permit

My Cycling Permit

Oh yes, I think you also need to carry a copy of the receipt for the bike too!

Anyway, we headed out of the housing village straight into town. We cycled to Bazaar Be (Big Bazaar) where we did a quick stop to say hi to someone my cycling partner knew. While cycling around town we went past several churches where there was standing room only with quite a large crowds spilling onto the street! We cut across town and past Ocean 501 which is a lovely beach Restaurant / Hotel where we had lunch the first Sunday we arrived.

View from Restaurant

View from Restaurant

After Ocean 501 we headed out of town along route 5 and past the “new” Hospital, past the local Airport (which is more of a glorified bus station) and past a busy market area. We then headed off road and along the bumpy track which leads to Ivoloina Zoo park and along a wide river (I cannot find the name of it, but it is a fairly big river as you can see below!). As we rode, we went past a couple of small villages where people were busy going on about their daily life. We also went past the local church which was broadcasting its hymns through loudspeakers at full blast to ensure the whole village and surrounding area shared in the experience!

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We reached Ivoloina and had a quick break in stunning surroundings!

After our break we headed back to route 5 and then headed towards a massive market area. As a bit of an adrenaline junkie, it was such a buzz cycling in the midst of totally disorganized chaos. Pouss Pousses left right and centre, cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians carrying chickens, turkeys and goodness knows what else. Simply awesome! After some time the crowds thinned out and we were leaving town along route 2 which heads towards Antananarivo. We peeled off the main road and ended up heading back to the housing village.

I then headed off to the beach and met up with a bunch of people to enjoy cooling off in the pleasantly refreshing  waters of the Indian Ocean!

Ivoloina Tamatave

Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty – Brian Greene

One of the most exciting parts of living in a new place and a new country is to explore. We didn’t come to Madagascar to live within the walls of a compound. We came here to live, explore, experience and learn. We are so fortunate to have a wonderful driver who knows his way around the place, it certainly makes life so much easier! So far we have done a couple of short tours around the area.

First proper visit was to Ivoloina Zoo which is not really a Zoo in the traditional way in which you have a whole bunch of animals in cages or pens. This is more of a nature park with rescued Lemurs and a couple of other species of animals which are being taken care off. Anything else within the area is roaming free. As most people reading this will know, Madagascar is home to a vast diverse range of animals, plants and trees which is unique to the island.

To get to Ivoloina is pretty simple but like most things here when it comes to traveling, it takes time! Most of the road is tarmac except for the last 4 km which is a pretty bumpy track which takes you past a couple of villages where you will see people smashing rocks which they will then sell for roads or building.

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