Vist the fresh produce market
Markets exert a magnetic attraction for me, and so it was inevitable that we would end up wandering around the one in Andasibe ...
The range and quality of produce in Madagascar is an endless source of fascination for me. Most of what is on sale is recognisable for a tourist from the developed world, but was usually located in the section for 'exotic produce' (with a price to match), so to stumble across such abundance at rock-bottom prices is an absolute delight. Plus the joy of seeing misshapen fruit and vegetables (rather than hydroponic perfection) and knowing that their lack of symmetry was a likely indication of them being organic and utterly delicious!
The local varieties of fruit and vegetables on offer are often different to the ones that you might be familiar with elsewhere. So for example, there are several types of mangoes, including little ones no bigger than a child's fist (tasty, but I suggest that you don't buy these if you are looking for value for money, as in my experience, they are about 80% pip!). My only regret is that I didn't have the opportunity to buy everything that looked fresh and scrumptious and retreat to a kitchen to cook up a storm, so I just had to console myself with buying enough for picnic fare! As a result, there wasn't much chance of us returning from Madagascar with vitamin deficiencies!
Stroll down Independence Avenue
If ever there were a boulevard designed for elegant evening strolling, Avenue de l'Independence is it! Tree-lined, designed with panoramic proportions and stretching between the delectable railway station and Hotel des Thermes, it takes little imagination to conjur up the ghosts of long-dead expats retreating to the cool highlands to 'take the waters' and recoup their strength before returning to less gentle climes.
The Avenue also boasts a couple of monuments, including an interesting 'totem' style monument celebrating the different tribes of Madagascar. Sadly this is falling into disrepair, and at least one of panels has been detached (not sure what this symbolises for the tribe concerned?). Otherwise, the maintenance of the lawns and flower beds is clearly good, and it is heartening to see that this lovely public space is well used.
The quaintness of the experience is enhanced by the sight of rickshaws scurrying backwards and forwards at every turn - more decorative than comfortable, as our subsequent experience proved!
Admire the semi-precious stones
Madagascar is justifiably famous for its semi-precious stones, and we were taken by our tour guide to an excellent shop in Antsirabe that sold beautiful semi-precious stones and fossils.
The store owners (who were of Asian descent) made a great fuss of us and insisted on presenting us with small gifts on our arrival. I find this practice very uncomfortable, as such 'gifts' are seldom what you would choose for yourself, and it is virtually impossible to return the 'gift' without giving offence. Instead, you feel obliged to buy something in return - no doubt the intended outcome of the proprietor's 'generosity' - whether you might otherwise have chosen to purchase something or not. I have given quite a lot of thought to how I would try and avoid such uncomfortable situations arising in the future, and have concluded that I would make a point of telling my tour guide up front that I did not want any 'gifts' and be sure that he communicated that to the proprietor before I set foot over the threshold (still not sure that this would work, but worth a try)
The semi-precious stones are gorgeous, and make beautiful souvenirs - how better to fondly remember your time in Madagascar than to have a tiny piece of it dangling from your neck, ears or wrist? Buying semi-precious stones is undoubtedly a less risky business than buying gemstones such as alluvial sapphires sold at Ilakaka on the road to Isalo, where non-experts have no way of verifying whether the stones are genuine or not.
The fossils I am more ambivalent about, as there are international conventions on trade in antiquities - including fossils - which restrict fossil collection in certain areas (particularly those of particular scientific significance) and unauthorised transport between jurisdictions. You would have to be an expert paleontologist to spot fossils collected under such circumstances, and thus run the risk of unwittingly supporting an illegal trade which could damage sites of significance. There is also the possibility that you might not be allowed to import fossils into your home country, although it's fair to assume that few jurisdictions would have the customs capacity to enforce this: having said that, Australia is extremely tight on the import of all sorts of animal and plant material, so I could envisage them potentially giving you a rough ride if they found fossils in your luggage.
Rickshaw rides are hard on the chassis!
Taking a rickshaw ride is clearly a big thing for tourists in Antsirabe, and so our tour guide took it upon himself to organise one for us without prior consultation. As we had just started our trip and didn't want to offend him, we somewhat unenthusiastically went along with the scheme.
This was my second rickshaw ride (the first was in Melaka), and I can honestly say that I enjoyed it as little as my first. From a practical point of view, although we were reassured that the rickshaws can accommodate two people, they are not designed for Caucasian proportions, and with the two of us crammed in, our hipbones took an absolute battering from the wooden frame. On a more philosphical level, I am profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of being towed around by another person, as it seems to reduce a fellow human being to the level of a beast of burden.
As far as I was concerned, the ride couldn't end fast enough, and it was a merciful release when I and my battered bones could revert to self-propulsion!
Explore Antsirabe's history on foot
The centre of Antsirabe is a wonderful place for strolling - it's impossible to use the word 'walk' in a place so laid back, and indeed, perhaps 'ambling' is closer to the mark!
I am no architectural fundi, but when I am travelling, I do like looking at buildings and imagining why people would choose to build in a particular style. Avenue de l'Independence is the obvious starting point for any stroll, but there are little architectural gems to discover if only you take the time to wander down the neighbouring streets. The style of building is charmingly eclectic - from a Neo Gothic-looking church to Art Deco style buildings that must date back to the 1920s, and then some frankly eccentric stuff that defies any obvious pigeonholing. It is also fascinating to ponder on the fact that the sheer range and diversity of colonial buildings must have been utterly bamboozling to the local Malagasy, whose house layouts are strictly dictated by fady (traditional beliefs) which prescribe the orientation of the structure and the use to which each room is put (eg. parents' room in the north east corner).
Although it should go without saying, it is probably worth mentioning that we never felt in the slightest danger in Andasibe, and although I wouldn't have wandered around the streets after dark, I probably wouldn't do so elsewhere in the developing world either.
Roam the city... for the diversity in achitecture
If you have a thing for architecture, like I do, a stroll in Antsirabe would tell you about how diverse Antsirabe architecture can be... Well, it says a lot about who has influenced the city as well.
Here and there, you will find many buildings, houses whose styles are European inspired ones. Mostly located in the European district. French cottage- style house adjoin with Scandinavian villas. Gardens in front of houses are of English style. Some buildings just look like mountain huts somewhere in Switzerland... The whole set is rather unified though... Flowers, trees, large avenues are common to most of corners.
In the Malagasy district (as opposed to the European district), near Antsenakely market, for instance, you'll find traditional Highlands houses with balcony (lavarangana)... quite in bad shape but they are there. Sometimes, you may find nice verandas full of flower pots, always a nice view & ornament when in bloom.
The pictures I posted show some of architecture highlights in the area.
Now, to enlighten the untravelled in me, can we play a game ? Try to spot which influence each of those architectures (the whole building or the details) is displaying (betraying ?) Check the below travelogue...
- Food and Dining
- Historical Travel
Roam the city... to relax
I do not refer to walking in every Malagasy city as a relaxing activity. In Antsirabe, I do. Because the city is so safe, one shouldn't be afraid to bring one's camera around and snap pictures. Antsirabe has greenery, parks where to sit and watch people passing by.
Also, as the city is compact, I have a feeling locals tend to walk or hire a ricksaw when tired. No traffic jam with exception of the surroundings of the markets. Well, a market place is always a market place. However, Easter & Christmas holidays are the days of the year when Tananarivians hit the city with a car per family. Trouble is there.. otherwise the city uses to be rather calm, relaxing.
The tree-lined avenues always give some freshness whenever the sun is too bright.
Oh! and whenever your feet and the ricksaw don't suffice, you could hire a horse and do some horseriding to roam the city. Could be nice for kids.
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
I was first impressed by the architecture of this large room. The roof supports appear to be all concrete, and quite beautiful. But the selection of foods in here are testament to this fertile country. They have most of the familiar vegetables of the west and those of the tropics. We had a cook at our house and went to the market the first day with her to pay for and carry the food back to the house. Of course, we used Pousse-pousse to do the carrying! But every time our group went out walking, we ended up at the market. It seems to be open every day. There are western style markets at it's perimiter where you can buy prepared foods and drinks.
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
Visit thermal springs
- To see the "thermes", thermal springs.
On my picture, Les Thermes, thermal springs that made Antsirabe reputation. In fact, Antsirabe inherited its name from the discovery of salty waters in its area.
Antsirabe means "where there is much salt".
Norwegian missionaires, who built the city centuries ago, discovered that its thermal springs was (still is) amongst richest in the world. Later, the French settlers fully developed the concept. Madagascar now has its "Visy Gasy" ("Malagasy Vichy", Vichy being a thermal spa, city in France).
See there "Les thermes" : below Hotel des Thermes level. I read that spring water spurts out from a 22-meter depth , at 52?C.
Visit "Ranovisy " as well: meaning ''eau de Vichy''. Its is located South of urban area. It used to be a thermal spa with massages, baths. Last time I was there, it was quite abandoned... I heard that it is to be restaured.
- Business Travel
- Road Trip
Visit Andraikiba and Tritriva lakes
Vulcano lakes that both have legend.
Tritriva lake (18 km from urban center) is my favourite, a mysterious one in a thorough whole (a crater lake). The legend? Two lovers decided to die there, after their families forbid their marriage. They are reported to be reincarnated as the two trees in an embrace on the river's bank.
As for Andraikiba (7 km from center), I don't remember about its legend but note that a fady exists there. Two indeed: no pork meat is allowed in its neighbourhood and no piece of silk fabrics would soak in it neither... Years ago, this was the place for water-skiing in Antsirabe. I don't know however as for current situation.
Ask your hotel personnel about how to get there. Last time I was there, I was a kid so I cannot remember but it seems that it is possible to go there by bicycle as well as by car or taxi.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Hiking and Walking