Horrible Experience at Antananarivo Airport, Madagascar.
September 1, 2013 - Our friends and I are out on a photographic tour and we were heading to the airport flying out of Madagascar to Mauritius on flight MK0289.
Suddenly, airport policemen stopped us at the parking lot, demanding to open our entire luggage for inspection, which is very strange. We travel as photographers to many countries and luggage inspection is normally done inside the airport terminal and not at the parking lot away from the airport building.
Our tour guide (a blind man) by the name of Simon told us to follow whatever the policemen want.
We obliged and opened our luggage. During the inspection, we noticed that one of the policemen was trying to confiscate our friend’s small crocodile wallet and bag that she bought at the gift shop at Mondava airport. Our friend was very upset and refused to give her stuff to the policeman. The policeman reacted very hostile and a commotion started.
Noticing the unusual incident, I took two shots of the commotion on my IPhone to document the incident. When the policeman saw that I was taking pictures, he told me to stop which I willingly obliged. Please see the attached pictures.
Finally, we managed to get out of the parking lot to the terminal building. Irritated by the bad experience, one of our friends took more pictures of the policemen using his BlackBerry. The policemen saw him and got angrier and tried to confiscate his BlackBerry. They tried to arrest our friend but we resisted, and this is where an ugly commotion started. All the people at the airport were watching with what was going on and our friend was hysterical and screaming like a pig being carried on to the slaughterhouse. I told the policemen to stop harassing us and that “I am going to call the American Embassy for help”. It was then that they immediately released our friend.
The policemen still tried to intimidate us by walking around us as we were lining up at the check-in counter.
We finally made it to the airplane and related our horrifying experience to the stewardess, who further advised us to report the incident to the captain of the Mauritius air, in case the airport policemen put some contraband drugs into our luggage to be picked up by their friend in the next airport.
We did follow her advice and disclosed that horrific experience we had at the airport parking lot.
To fellow travelers, be very careful when travelling to Madagascar. Plan your travel well by making sure you have a reputable and professional tour company that could properly guide you and help you enjoy your planned trip.
Madagascar is very unstable country as tourists; we have been treated like criminals by rough inspections at the airport parking area.
There is Airport Departure Tax Imposed recently, to be Paid in cash before the Check In, Ar 37,800-00 2 tickets will be given and the one Ticket/receipt will be taken upon entering the departure hall.
This is very straightforward. If you are approached by a ‘Tour Guide’ at the airport or in the street – assume the person speaking to you is a criminal. No doubt about it. You have to ask yourself – where in the world would you find a tour agent trying to get customers as they get off the plane? And in the streets? Madagascar is a country full of tremendous natural beauty, unique wildlife and very bad roads. To take a tour anywhere outside of Antananarivo will require a 4 wheel drive vehicle, good support and an office to operate from. This will cost more, but your new friend at the airport only takes cash and needs it all up front. Do not plan on seeing your money again. Do not even make a deposit. I used a company that I paid with a credit card and enjoyed every minute of my fantastic tour. Also a less than professional ‘tour guide’ could leave you stranded in a remote area if you even get that far. The conditions of ‘roads’ can be so challenging that car rental businesses include a driver with the car! This may be a better option if you really want to keep costs down or negotiate with a taxi for a full day.
When in doubt – walk away. Who’s in a hurry?
Please note: the pictures on this tip are just random photos of 'Tana
Nothing will prepare you for the disaster that is the Tana road network in daylight hours!
Like most cities, the Tana road network was simply not designed in anticipation of the weight of traffic that it is expected to carry. The narrow streets, hilly topography, the lack of traffic lights and absence of other transport alternatives simply complicate matters, and during the day, Tana's roads are little better than a tangle of traffic jams inching slowly forwards.
To say that it takes a long time to get anywhere is an understatement - chances are that this reality will hit you immediately as the journey from the airport into the centre of town (probably only 10km) will take at least an hour during the day. For this reason, if you are simply overnighting in Tana and catching a connecting flight the next day with no intention of visiting the centre of town, I would strongly recommend staying in one of the hotels out by the airport.
The reality is that there is nothing that you can do to change the traffic, so I would suggest that you help yourself by allowing plenty of time for your journey - especially if you're going to the airport. If you have Pollyanna tendencies, then perhaps give thanks that fortunately taxi fares in Tana are not determined by the duration of the trip (be sure to negotiate a fixed price up front)!
Otherwise (and this is very peculiar advice coming from one of the world's least patient people) take the opportunity to absorb some wisdom from the culture you're surrounded by - Malagasies are pretty fatalistic and especially good at gracefully accepting circumstances they can't change. And rather than stressing about the fact that your taxi has only advanced 10m in as many minutes, it's infinitely better for your blood pressure and personal equilibrium to be thankful that you have a ring side seat from which to observe a fascinating city whose streets team with life and interest!
Prepare yourself. If you walk in the Avenue de L’independance area you will be mobbed. Aggressive sellers will offer you: Cigarettes, sweets, vanilla, postcards, CD’s, DVD’s, newspapers and tourist souvenirs. They will follow you and swarm in groups. The majority of them are good natured. If you buy something they get excited and seem to think you will buy more of the same sort of item from them. In effect you cause a bit of a mini-riot of excitement. Keep smiling and play along and you will have no issues. After a while they get used to you walking around and most take a polite NO (said 10 times) as the message you are not buying. You can get some good deals on souvenirs though if you haggle for long periods of time.
BEGGARS can be very very aggressive. I have had some boys mob me and try and actually get a hand in my pockets. Do not be polite with these. Draw attention to yourself and they will go away. Also pickpockets do operate in the town and they may try the back pocket while a beggar distracts your attention. Oddly the crowded markets tend have to have less issues as the shopkeepers and market stall holders keep watch. Pickpockets operate everywhere unfortunately.
In general we felt perfectly safe in Tana. However, we did have a very scarey experience when our tour car was tailed by two dodgy looking blokes in a Citroen, who then tried to run us off the road. As our driver hadn't done anything to upset them as far as we could tell, we had to presume they wanted something from us, probably our money and camera equipment.
The standard advice is to not carry expensive camera equipment about - very sensible, but not always advice you follow when you like taking good pictures.
This tip probably applies to every destination in the world; but when you combine flights with Air Madagascar and Air France, you're asking for it! If travelling with someone else, make sure you pack some essentials in each other's luggage as luggage is very prone to getting lost on this route. It also takes a long time and a lot of beurocracy to get it back - particularly if you are touring, as most people are when visiting Madagascar.
If your luggage is lost - report it at the 'Lost luggage' counter where they will fill in a form for you. You may wish to visit the customs room, where you can get some money to buy replacement items. Unfortunately when we tried this, no one was available and any one vaguely offical ran off when we tried talking to them!
Relocated luggage can be sent to an airport near to where you may be staying or travelling, but don't hold your breath!
If you come to Madagascar as a tourist you are obliged to carry your pasport with you at all times. This is not the kind of thing you want to be carrying around with you all the time, especially not if you are staying a while.
The best thing you can do is to bring a copy of your pasport and your original and go to the police office in haute ville, central Tana. In the morning they can give you a certified stamp that states that the copy is real. This way you do not have to carry around your pasport all the time.
In central Tana you should be wary of pick pockets. Especially in crowded places such as markets and with getting in and out of taxi be's. Never carry your wallet in your back pocket or ina hip bag.
Sometimes people or kids follow you around asking for money. One can disttract you in front of your face while the others try to get into your pockets behind your back.
It is not dangerous, just be wary that's all.
If someone tells you that there is a "metro" or "tub" in center of Tana, beware! It does not exist there. This used to be a bad joke about sending tourists in a presumed metro/ tub station. In fact, it is a place of underground public toilets that used to be in center of then Analakely great market, late Zoma market... Up to now, no problem with that, except that it is a bad joke. In fact, the problem is that toilets there used to be so dirty and smelly... It's a bit mean from my compatriots' part but that's life!!
For years, so many tourists have been trapped by this joke!
Malagasy people use to be respectful of others but this one, I don't understand !
I was told that this is irony regarding poverty... as if the only tub Tana has is underground toilets.
[Update March 2005: anyway, you wouldn't fall into this trap anymore since the big Zoma market on Analakely doesn't exist anymore, only few stalls resisted. Then, you wouldn't really visit the area, the art market has moved away, so has the flower market, what is left is a plain market as the many the city counts. Those ochre tiled-roofed pavillions are parts of the market.
Besides, if you're looking for public toilets, you would find clean ones there, with dame-pipi whom you should pay off course.]
Although it is against Air France policy, you will not be allowed the usual two bags of 32kg each of CHECKED bags. They will try to charge you for over 32kg total. So, throw out or give away anything you don't really need to take home. Put the heaviest items in your carry on bag. The overage charge is E18 per kilo!!!
Don't go out in the evening/night alone! If there are no robbers on their way, there are lots of wild dogs in the streets. If you go out in the night, then it is a quiet and strange atmosphere: nobody around and only the dogs barking.
Walking in streets in urban cities, and especially Tana, used to be not as safe as it seemed. People are nice, smiling. But pickpockets are there.
However, locals (vendors, shoppers..) and Tana authorities undertook actions to clean markets, or at least, make them safer. This is one reason why so-called Zoma market (Friday market, that used to hold on Friday in Analakely area) was abolished. There are several stalls that "survived" from the cleaning. The area began to be dangerous for shoppers and vendors as professional pickpockets (sprinters) operated there, especially at wealthy women and tourists' expenses.
It may be safer, even nowadays and while wandering in other streets, to spread your banknotes in separate pockets of your clothes (and not in your bag neither in your traditional "banane" or bum bag). Don't wear things too expensive, such as your golden jewels. They are really "attractive"... Though Tana at night is not more dangerous than Paris or any other city.
No mystery, begging is everywhere in Tana, especially in urban areas.
It may sound weird that I recommend you not to give money to beggars. In fact, two reasons for that:
- First, if you give to a person, be sure that others will not come afterwards as they are spying each other, and you will soon be surrounded by beggars. Beggars use to fight each other if everybody is not equally treated;
- Second, one says "The hand that gives is always above one who receives". If really you have to give, give food to kiddies, not to adults...
Or even better, participate as volunteers in development programs, or assist NGOs that try to give poor families possibilities for better children's education, for instance.
While preparing your internal trip(s) to see other parts of the island, I find it interesting to have road trips rather than fly.
If you choose this option:
* Get informed of the type of road you/ the driver will drive in as sometimes, a 4*4 is needed.
The island offers this possibility for motorbikers to escape from crowded Tana to empty areas.
* My warning though, don't travel as a sole biker, rather travel with a guide and other bikers. This applies for safety reasons: in case of accident, sickness, breakdown, other guides and drivers may help yours... but applies to the risk of encountering local highwaymen as well. The more travellers and guides are in a caravan, the better it is.
Efforts are made by authorities to tackle highwaymen problem but regions are too large to be entirely covered and secured.
If I am not wrong, even 4*4 often travel as part of a caravan.
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