Ever noticed that I insisted on you hiring ANGAP guides while visiting national parks? Not only because local ANGAP guides are the ones who know about "their" territory. Also, ANGAP (association nationale pour la gestion ds aires partagees) aims at protecting nature.
For decades, nature parks, and other areas btw, have been under threaten. Peasants have been doing harm to Mother nature. For instance, local slash and burn technique, Tavy, was used not only in hills and more and more eroded soils, locals started to use it in parks and nature reserves as well. The cause: locals haven't had any education, neither awareness on preservation. They had to make do with they've known so, they haven't benefited from any specific program (like most of Malagasy peasants for decades, btw).
Then ANGAP was founded in 1990, a NGO that coordinates and manages the program for preserving Malagasy biodiversity. Soon this initial mission had to be extended in local development actions. It realized that preservation couldn't go along with poverished locals whose actions would go against ANGAP projects. Now, 50% entry fee amounts are allowed in micro-projects of neighbouring villages. Along with locals, other associations and financial aids, it helps in schools raising, setting of agriculture areas, rivers. ANGAP plays a role in orientating peasants too, according demands, markets. For instance, it would implement the cultivation program of orange, litchis with 70 households of one of Andasibe villages. Lots of similar projects in neigbouring areas of parks now.
Please, hire ANGAP guides. It encourages them to keep up their good work. It is reported that only 15% of Malagasy territory are covered by forests. Sad. "Blue island" then is now "Red island". The green, so deep that it tended to the blue shade became the red shade of the nude soil of the island. The guides contribute in showing the endemic species and educating us on the fragile balance of Madagascar's nature.
This is obvious... Watching nightactive lemurs is a nightlife in Ranomafana park. Hire a guide and he would be pleased to show you about his area.
Yet, you may watch them in really early morning too. But, the tip is realted to "night"life so...
Dress Code: In Ranomafana park, it's always rainy. So, boots, raincoats.
In winter, warm clothes jumpers, long pants.
Film rolls :)
One knows it, a trip to Madagascar is expensive.
As a solution, travellers are now tempted to pay for the expensive air ticket to the mythical, dream island and use dead-cheap transportation means. It is sthg I understand but bear in mind that taxi-brousses are not panacea, esp. if you travel there for 2 weeks and that you intend to go through many spots of the island. Roadtrips this way are dead cheap but not comfy all the time. Look at my picture, taxi-brousses are not all like this mini-van. On some portions of RN7 (Tana- Big Southern area and trips within Big Sout area), taxi-brousses are huge trucks, loaded with people... Yeah! trucks, not coaches.
Here and there, tourists who planned to travel by taxi-brousses *only*, eventually, ended by turning down half of their plan. They then travelled the first half by taxi-brousses but changed plan and hired 4WD with driver for the rest of the roadtrips. It is common that even backpacking hardliners end digging into that last minute change.
Unique Suggestions: - Choose a sedan as taxi- brousse, or a mini-van or a 4WD (private rental services). It is possible to arrange with other passengers the cost of a 4WD hiring.
Yet, if you are taking a taxi-brousse in a remote area and don't have any choice but the truck:
- Socialize in the truck. Will help you to "entertain" yourself. :)
- If possible, have some walk when there are halts on your itinerary because sitting in the back of a huge truck is not that comfy.
- Bear in mind that a taxi-brousse in remote areas has all power to unexpectedly drop you in the middle of nowhere (well, a dive in a small village). You looked for adventure, no? You have it! :) But just be prepared to that.
Fun Alternatives: Carefully consider transportation means combination according to your budget, your time. Also, never aim too big in Madagascar. IMHO, better travel to few places but you would come to know well, for hiring a guide for instance, instead of wasting your time (say, 8 hours in a truck-brousse) in transportation for only 1 day in a place. For sure, this is one of travels you have to carefully plan.
For instance, there are distances you can easily do with taxi-brousse because roads are well-kept (Tana-Toamasina, Tana-Antsirabe, Tana-Fianarantsoa). On other lines (like Toliara- Taolagnaro/ Fort Dauphin, Fianarantsoa-Ranomafana-Manakara), it's tiring within those trucks esp. in rainy season.
To explore the South, either take your time when roadtripping (taxi-brousse and train combination), either less time but hire a car with driver.
The train is more comfortable and cheaper than taxi-brousse sometimes. Plus, government undertook lately investments and rehabilitation works. It seems like a renewal has come, as for the national rail company (that would be now privatized, if I am not wrong).
Three rail lines from Tana in Madagascar:
- Tana-Toamasina (usually closed in rainy summer for fear of erosion...)
- Fianar-Manakara (off beat track and hugely rehabilitated in 2003)
If you are into a "truck-brousse only" mood when starting and that you have time, plan extra-money in case you shift plans. You may add days in hotels to relax/ recover or go for more comfortable transportation means. In both cases, it would cost more than the truck. Still, you can skip the internal expensive flights.
The South-East primitive forest by train has been always mythical for me.
The image one has of train services has been always bad. I enjoyed a railtrip to East, a kind of an inauguration ride. Afterwards, services went bad and we stuck to roadtrips.
Now, for this FCE line, it is an old line from the 40s that was victim of cyclones in early 2000 BUT largely rebuilt now.
The line is reported to be one of the three steepest in the world (along with Burma and Ecuador), with 67 bridges and 48 tunnels. It offers the traveler magnificent views as it descends the escarpment east of Fianarantsoa.
With three newly rehabilitated locomotives, the FCE is ready to welcome travelers. 163 km path from the high plateau to the sea through forest, bamboo trees and ricefields. Land of Tanala people ("those who come from the forest" )
Take your time because it is a leisurely ride with a speed of 20-35 km/hour. 8-10 hours from the highlands to the coast. Then, plenty of time to admire the evolving landscape, to socialize during a communal travel and to enjoy the bustle of village stations as they come alive with the whistle of the arriving train. A tip: to Manakara, book left aisle for a better view. From Manakar: right aisle.
Plus, a unique railroad experience: the world renowned Micheline. The rubber wheeled train rides the rails only in Madagascar and is available for group charter.
By clicking here, you can have a look at roadmap of Fianar- Manakara with prices, schedules. Also, options as for sites to see. Hence the combinations of different transportation means.
For instance, they suggest as one of options to "Take the train from Fianar to Manakara and then return to Fianar by road with a stop on the way back at Ranomafana National Park." This is, IMHO, something to do if you are interested in nature reserve. Visit fauna in a lush forest with refreshing cascades, features of the park.
Fondest memory: For your photosafari, better hire a guide then. Only them kows where to find the beast.
The local guides (preferably ANGAP) know where to spot them, in which area. The search for lemurs can take some time but the pleasure to encounter new species is so exciting.