Off Antsenakely market, I've found a cute stall selling natural soaps. The label on the table said "Savon naturel aux plantes de Madagascar". Being the type who would spend hours in a bathroom on her lazy days, the stall was sure a me-magnet. I had a feeling I was standing in front of those Provence markets stalls. Awaiting to seeing stalls with Souleiado-like tablecloth, olive oil, fresh herbs, fresh veggies (indeed fresh use to be those Antsirabean vegetable produce)... I was already sent away, indulging in my soap smelling. Grabbing a fragrant pebble, smelling it then leaving it for another pebble. Ginger, Cinnamon, Peach, Verbena, Coconut, many more and even our national Vanilla and Ylang-Ylang fragrances. It was the latter who reminded me I was in Madagascar... Vanilla & Ylang-Ylang.
After some time smelling, I asked the saleswoman who makes those soaps, for I having never seen such local quality soap: natural, vegetal & with Madagascar plants. It happened they were from Pr. Ratsimamanga labs, the very Malagasy genius who was known worldwilde. Late Rakoto Ratsimamanga reportedly owned (or was a major shareholder of) Roche pharmaceutical firm. In Madagascar, he contributed in making drugs more affordable for locals who cannot aford buying basic multinational drugs like anti-cough syrup, balms to heal wounds... For that, he researched on local plants & used the same ingredients as in Roche labs except that Roche products were user-friendlier (coated pills that are easier to swallow, good taste, attractive packaging). "Ratsimamanga products" as they use to be named (: those produced at IMRA labs) have basic packaging, contain only active excipients, no coating. That is what most Malagasy locals seek, living with few financial means: efficiency & cost-effective ;-).
What to buy: I knew IMRA labs produced care soap range. Vegetal "Savony Soa" (Soa soap) is widely used by locals to treat skin, anti-wrinkle. I didn't know they made fragrant soaps. The other salesman told those soaps were normally not for the local market & that they used to be for export markets. Now, I know why... They look like those L'occitane products.
I asked whether I could find it at the Tana outlet of Ratsimamanga products, the very one in Amparibe. I was told I couldn't find it anywhere else. Oh well...
I returned there the day after & bought my Ylang Ylang pebble. It gives a nice fragrance in my silk shawls & scarves drawer.
OK, I'll find where else one could find it otherwise those soaps would actually be special items to shop in Antsirabe only.
What to pay: 4500 ariary (less than 50 eurocent !) for my 100g Ylang Ylang pebble (picture #2)
I remember having bought garnet and emerald pieces in a gem trade house but I could not remember the name. Along with that, they also sold semi-precious stones such as amazonite, spectronite, agatha, pink quartz... and sculpted semi-precious stones (eggs, grapes, ashtray,...)
A friend of mine also bought, in another place, a "raw" aquamarina (still opalescent) but unusual and beautiful piece.
What to buy: Gem stones as well as fossilized wood.
Ask conditions of export since there are restrictions in exporting them.
What to pay: Cannot remember of the price.
Antsirabe is well known for the nice hand embroidered tablecloths and shirts sold throughout the city. Many locals are engaged in this enterprise and will constantly try to sell you something.
What to buy: The tablecloths come with napkins and are pretty nice. Vendors will be happy to open them up to show you, and will often open them for show when they see you on the street. We were fortunate to be staying at a house owned by the Norwegian School, so we could deal and bargain with sellers inside the compound, instead of on the street. This was a real plus.
In Tana and Antsirabe, there are many handcrafted carved boxes made of palisandre wood for sale. Be aware that this wood is soft, and may be broken when you get it home. Easy to glue and fix, but don't pay too much.
What to pay: We bought a lot of this stuff and usually paid about half what the asking opening price was. A teriffic bargain, and a nice thing to be taking home.