After flights from Dubai, long cars journeys and an overnight stay in Antsirabe, a two day boat trip down the Tsiribhina River in Madagascar to kick back and relax was definitely a welcome activity (or non-activity). Waterfalls, lemurs, camping and village life was all to come…
A canoe does not know who is king. When it turns over, everyone gets wet.
>> DAY ONE
Our journey starts in Antsirabe
We woke up to the rain in Antsirabe, we grabbed a quick coffee and jumped in the bus for our 4.5 hour journey to our breakfast stop, we were told 3 hours but I think that’s Malagasy time. The foggy morning and wet roads soon turned into dry curvaceous valleys and blue skies. Hurrah!
The roads aren’t the smoothest to attempt sleep but I hate to miss out on seeing snapshots of local life as we drive on through. As we reached villages, the homes were adorned with the Madagascar flag to celebrate Independence Day on the 26th June, the driver honked the horn to warn the kids playing in the roads, there was odd random pieces of solar panels trying to soak up the energy for the night time power and even dead pigs on a bus roof alongside luggage.
Elephant Mountain and brunch
We had a stop off to check out Elephant mountain, a hill in the distance that is shaped like the mammal lying down sleeping. This is definitely only elephant in Madagascar! Next stop was much needed breakfast, or should I say brunch at 11am at La Pirogue in Andapanangoy, Miandrivazo. The passports were all taken to the police to verify us before our boat trip. The kids from the village came up to see us all shouting vaza (foreigner in Malagasy, asking the smokers for cigarettes. We thought money was a better option, they were pretty excited as they ran down the street waving their 2k Malagasy Aviary in the air.
We got a few supplies of THB (Three Horses Beer is the Malagasy ale) for the boat from the shop in the town before getting on our way. The landscape became greener with many ladies working in the rice fields. Passed through a couple of checkpoints then off road for an hour to meet the river at the village of Masiakampy. The local guys jumped on the back of the bus to help us get us and our luggage on the boat, the kids multiplied and swarmed around us shouting “vaza vaza”, this phrase will be heard a LOT over the next few days.
Set sail on the Tsiribhina River
As they say in Malagasy… Alefa (Let’s go!). There was lots of time to relax on the boat and say Samichara (Good health in Malagasy) with a THB. We got the low down from Nolavy, our tour guide, about his tribe called Sakalava. It is customary that the fathers eat first at the table and it is forbidden to enter your sister’s room. There’s 18 tribes in Madagascar, each with their own dialect, however, there is an official ‘Malagasy’ language so they can understand each other. Being an old French colony, this language is spoken by most. If you speak French, this will help you communicate and read signage, menus and leaflets.
As the sun was setting, we finally found our place to pitch up the tents by the river. The team served up a delicious meal and we sat chatting and listening to their amazing outburst of Malagasy melodies accompanied by simple musical instrument – the forks! I was given lessons on how to play forks to the beat failed miserably, not through lack of trying. It’s true what my mum said “You really aren’t musical but I support you getting involved”.
>> DAY TWO
Lemurs and waterfalls
Yoga at sunrise was just perfect, totally set me up for the day. Once the tents were packed up, we had breakfast on the boat and set sail again on the Tsiribhina River to the waterfall at Anosiampela. We were greeted with a tree full of red-fronted lemurs who were more than happy to come and say hello… and eat our bananas! A short walk in the forest took us to this hidden gem with two pools of turquoise water, one with a fabulous waterfall also known as a camping shower.
Once back on the boat, we could see crocodiles gliding along the water’s edge and groups of people washing, not next to the crocodiles obviously but who knows when one will pop up, not sure I’d be risking that one.
Vazas visit the village
We carried on down the brief stopping off briefly to buy papaya and fit the kids with new outfits which was super exciting for them considering Independence Day was the following day. Between the group, we had brought a lot of items for the children in the village ranging from clothes, flip-flops, pens, notebook, hair accessories, games, balls and more. I noticed some of the kids had white colour on their heads, this is apparently a natural remedy for sickness, and some local ladies had yellow on their face, this is the bark of the tamarind tree mixed with water to protect them from the sun.
Next was a larger village, there was a LOT of kids running from miles away to see the boat full of VAZA! To avoid a riot, the kids queued up to get presents. One guy in our group brought a polaroid camera, it was a genius idea, once they realized the photo would develop, the kids and mums were just loving having a photo printed out. We felt a bit like the Pied Piper as we walked towards the market, they just wanted to hold your hand. The two girls that latched onto me, who were very sweet, were called Anna and Beatrice, thankfully I remembered some French from school to get by.
Bat caves and back to camp
The boat passed by the tall bat caves, if you looked close enough you could see bats flying around in the crevices of the rock. There was agriculture happening on the water’s edge of the Tsiribhina River with rice patches and peanut bushes, then fortunately, we crossed a fisherman with a great catch of catfish, that’s dinner sorted then!
Our new home for the night was found on the river bank as the orange sunset shimmered on the water by a solitary baobab tree. A special effort was made for dinner that evening with ornamentally carved fruit and vegetables, and the catfish obviously! The evening was rounded off with a bonfire, live Malgasy music and dancing. Again, I joined in but not sure my twerking is up to scratch!
>> DAY THREE
The morning of Madagascar Independence Day was misty one. When I emerged from my tent I could see random spider’s webs scattered all over in the sand, amazing to think how busy there were in the night. Our boat was flying the flag of Madagascar, it is three colours, white represents loyalty, red for sovereignty and green for green biodiversity. The boat trip finished in Belo / Tsribihina and we said our goodbyes to the crew. Our departing gift was a final local song we had heard a lot in the last few days, beautiful send off!
Heading to Tsingy de Bemaraha
Our next chapter was of the trip was heading back to dry land via Belo where we stopped off to order our lunch for our return in three days, preparation is key! The town was getting ready for Independence Day, everyone was dressing up, ladies in bright outfits and men in suits. We left the town to celebrate and we took to the bumpy roads for 4 hours to visit the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, not a journey for the rainy season or sensitive stomachs!
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Trip organised by Trekkup
Thank you to Nolavy and his team for showing us the sights!
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