We had an early morning start and followed RN7 for 350km to Fianarantsoa and then to Ranomafana. The landscape is mostly sub-dessert for the first 80km and then it changes when we approach Ihosy, the capital of the Bara people’s region. It is very poor everywhere. Except the RN7, nothing else is paved, even in the town center. All houses are small huts made of wood and clay, without electricity or running water. The people are walking barefoot. In fact we did not see a single person wearing shoes along the way. Everywhere there are crowds of kids. What impressed me is the vast area of uncultivated land and the complete absence of agricultural tractors. It may have to do with the soil being poor and the fact that they cannot cultivate the same area for two consecutive years. Sporadically we crossed some zebu herds, signifying some sort of raising livestock activity.
We stopped in Ihosy, a town of 6’000 for fueling and grabbed the opportunity to walk on the main street and take some pictures of the local people. We also visited a local school, which was empty form students as this was vacation time for Madagascar. Ihosy is in better condition that the smaller towns and there seems to be a fair amount of economic activity, yet most people walk barefoot. The people here do not mind to be photographed and love to pose if you ask with a smile. In this respect, Madagascar seems to be a lot different than in mainland Africa, I guess it has to do with the fact that they have not seen a war for a quite a while and so they are not overly suspicious with strangers.
At noon we arrived in the Anja reserve, a small private preservation area for ring tailed lemurs.
Right at the entrance, some locals were playing petanque, the national sport of Madagascar, inherited from the French colonial era. It is like curling, if that rings any bell.
We took the one hour walk with a local guide and got very close to these cute creatures. The reserve is probably the best area to observe them as their quite habituated to humans and do not run away if you approach them within 4-5 meters.
We had some really bad food in the reserve restaurant. The chicken I had classifies as one of the worst I ever tasted. Pity, because the reserve is a very good preservation effort.
We took again the RN7 north and after half an hour we arrived in Ambalavao, a charming colonial style town with great ambiance. We stopped and enjoyed a walk on the main street and the market place.
In the late afternoon we reached Fianarantsoa and after a quick refueling stop continued to Ranomafana. Fianarantsoa stands on 1200m on the plateau and the temperature fell considerably when we approached. As we were approaching Ranomafana we entered the rain forest region and the vegetation changed considerably. It was already dark and the 63km road to Ranomafana was narrow and curvy, so it took us more than 90 minutes to get there.
By the time we reached Christo hotel we were already exhausted. The good thing is that we were the only guests and enjoyed a very personal service and a tasty dinner with soup and zebu steak. The bungalows were really basic, but there was hot water and the mosquito net did not have any holes. What else do you need in this part of the world?