Three Horses Brew
THB signs are almost ubiquitous in Madagascar, and stand for the local beer: Three Horses Brew. I would have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the beer. It comes in 3 different forms, 2 similar regular beers and the super-refreshing cider-like "Fresh" version. Aptly named...
The Fresh has a low alcohol content for those who require it. And, the regular beers are tasty, high in content and come in a huge bottle.
My first hours in Tana streets during my visit in Feb-March. 2005 were a bit of a shock.
The city has changed, spruced up, cleaned. The buildings on Araben'ny Fahaleovantena (Avenue de l'Indépendance) had been restored and painted in their initial beige, crème and ochre colours. It is, undoubtedly, a third world country but Tana has recovered bit by bit its capital city status. Works on infrastructure are numerous, to ease traffic. Around the city center, new motorways were built to channel fluxes from suburbs to city center.
No doubt that locals’ and authorities’ will to improve have affected locals mentality. People pay more attention to public infrastructure. In the past, whilst phone booths were systematically destroyed for various reasons (political manifesto, robberies..), it's nice to see phonebooths functioning in their glassboxes. It's all about that: a change in mentality.
It is now possible to enjoy the several lush gardens. Salarymen, pupils, families can rely on clean gardens to enjoy their noon lunch. Gardens have keepers which sometimes have their homies in the gardens themselves. They are closed at night though, to avoid beggars sleeping there. What a change from those unkept, dirty, stinking gardens that used to serve as open-air toilets from the past.
Those are some of the many changes I noticed. No doubt that efforts are kept. Life is tough over there since we rely a lot on rice and oil and that prices of both commodities on world markets had considerably soared. Few days before I left, it was announced that rice pricing is forecast to diminish. That was a relief for the many Malagasy households. They just wait for consequences on domestic prices. Still, life is busy as hell, people have faith in the changes. They contribute in them. A nicely chaotic city.. That would sum up this city.
I noticed, though, that it is more and more crowded: more cars in the streets, more people. Where are they all heading ? rushing everywhere ?
Look at that picture: you just see the carmin roofs of the narrow traditional houses, the white concrete roofs of more modern buildings. Looking closer, you'll notice they are diversely displayed, looking East, West, North... It's the image of Tana: nicely chaotic.
Update Dec 2009: Warning... It has so much changed over here since the change of mayor in 2007. Dirtier, smellier, messier... Miss the clean city I used to love strolling in under the helm of Marc Ravalomanana and his clique. Not evrything was perfect but... Then, the city was cleaned. Regularly. And streets and pedestrian lanes belonged to, respectively, cars and pedestrians. Nowadays, it's the reign of vendors. Their stalls are everywhere.. on the streets, on the pedestrian lanes. More and more informal streetstalls, not a good sign...
June 26, it is Independance day.
No office neither shop opens on June 26, it is Independance day.
On the menu:
- Procession in Mahamasina stadium
- In the evening, at least in Tana countryside, families and musicians (drum and sometimes, fluts) go out for a procession with Chinese lanterns, sing, call other person to join them.. How I enjoyed it when I was a kid. :-)
Things that may make a big difference to your stay
We travel with hard shell suitcases that have combination and key locks, as these are harder (but not impossible) for thieves to raid as you're passing through airports (a huge problem throughout Africa, including South Africa). They are also useful if you are going to leave your case in your hotel room and don't want to leave stuff lying around that might tempt the domestic staff to indulge in a spot of 'affirmative shopping'. However, we can now justify this as we are middle aged and tend to use more 'respectable' modes of transport than I did in my backpacking days! We would recommend taking two smaller cases rather than one large case, which can be heavy, unwieldly and difficult to fit into restricted space (eg. light aircraft).
Always carry a collapsible spare bag 'just in case' to accommodate those extra purchases! Maybe we didn't do our research properly, but we were (pleasantly) surprised by how high Tana is at 1475m (over 4,100 feet). Thus, extremes of heat experienced elsewhere in Madagascar are moderated by the altitude - this would hold for most of the High Plateau that forms the 'spine' of the island. It can therefore get pretty cool in the evenings, especially after rain (we visited in late November). I would therefore suggest packing items that you can layer to give you extra warmth (and discard with decency, piece by piece as it warms up), and also include a light showerproof jacket As with everywhere, always bring more camera chips than you think you'll use - they're so small and light that they really won't make a difference!
Make sure that you bring a battery charger with the necessary adapter (Madagascar uses the European two pin plugs) I always travel with the following items in the developing world:
* a toilet roll (I have a fantastic fabric toilet roll holder with a drawstring that I bought in Phalaborwa, which goes everywhere with me)
* a water bottle holder that we bought in Peru on honeymoon. This simple but ingenious contraption is ideal for hiking, as it holds plastic bottles up to the size of a 2 litre Coke bottle and is worn over the shoulder, keeping hands free but water bottle close to hand
* a plug that fits all sizes of plug hole (amazing how many sinks and baths don't have one)
* a packet of kiddie's wet wipes
* a 'bum bag' (are they still called this?) You know, those glorified money belts that you wear around your waist to frustrate pickpockets
* plastic ties which you can use to secure the zips on bags
* a trusty Swiss Army knife (since 9/11, it is a huge frustration not to be able to carry this essential in my hand luggage) - used for absolutely everything, including removal of plastic ties!
* ear plugs to dull background noise in hotels and on public transport
* an airline eye mask (useful for trying to sleep in rooms where the curtains don't keep out the light effectively)
* a cheap sarong, which can be used for a multitude of purposes, from light blanket to sling
* photocopies of key documents (passports, tickets etc) stored in a separate place from the originals
* a stache of English Breakfast Tea bags, because I'm a middle aged fart! Outside Commonwealth countries, the locals - particularly Americans - have no idea how to make tea that any self-respecting Brit would touch! If I'm travelling somewhere like Madagascar, where I know that fresh milk is not reliably available or where water quality may be suspect, I'd carry South African rooibos (red bush) tea or another herbal tea that would make boiled water palatable.
The Zoo again!
Well, I could not decide, whether the Zoo is off the beaten path or a mus see. Why visit a zoo, when you can see the animals in their natural environment? That is, why many people don't visit the Zoo in Tana. But many of the animals shown you'll never see outside of the Zoo, because they are soo seldom and so special. In the Zoo you can see the animals from very close. The Zoo in Tana lies in a nice valley and has a lot of beautiful trees and plants.