Next day we woke up at 5:30am to get the 8:30 flight to Tulear, via Fort Dophin. Despite the fact that Air Madagascar has a horrible reputation with delays, in our case the flight was on time. The ride to the airport was magical as the heavy fog had engulfed the town. I probably missed the best shot I could ever take in Antananarivo. Foggy, hills at the back and rice fields with their reflections at the front, some people working in the early morning. Excellent light, but unfortunately the camera bag was at the bottom of the trunk with 6 other bags on top, the moment was gone and my shot as well.
We arrived in Tulear at 10:30 and waited until 2pm in a nearby hotel for a 4×4 to arrive. Jean-Luc, our driver for the next week did not help us feel any better as his English was poor and his French poorer. Not a great start. We followed RN7 – supposedly the only decent road on the island – to Ranohira, the entry point to Isalo national park. Four hours for 250km, non-stop as Jean-Luc insisted that it was dangerous to stop on the way, fearing that we might get robbed. The landscape is dry, mostly open fields, otherwise it looks remotely like the landscapes in Greece, only with different flora.
Many small towns and villages on the way, with huts made of clay, most without electricity and other utilities – running water is not known in this part of the country – and people sitting around, not looking very busy. Poverty is the word for describing south Madagascar.
In Madagascar the dead ancestors are very important and their tombs are usually next to the houses.
About an hour before our arrival in Ranohira, the sunset transformed the landscape and presented a good reason to stop briefly on the side of the road.
Just before Ranohira, we passed through Ilakaka, a boomtown created because of the nearby sapphire mines and the rush for an easy buck. In the 90s the population was 40, in 2005 it had reached 60’000!
It was already dark when we reached our hotel, the Relais se la Reine, a new and lovely lodge with independent bungalows. Ranohira has unquestionably the best lodges in south Madagascar and this one offered a very good restaurant and lovely spa. After a very good dinner, with soup and lamb, we enjoyed local flavored rum – arrangé in French – in the cozy lounge. I had the citron flavor and did not regret it. Priced at €1-2, you drink it straight up and feels great, especially in the chilly August nights. Must try.
Next: Isalo NP