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.
Now, what is to be seen in Manakara? Manakara is the capital city of Antemoro tribe, those who make Antemoro paper and derived products. You can buy them at the market, Bazary.
Side note: Antemoro paper is made from crunched Havoha (of a mulberry tree family) barks. Motifs are made with flowers petals, that are laid on the paste obtained from crunched barks. The whole set is left there for drying and to have the paste hardened.
Antemoro people: "people from the coast" are of islamic origin, reportedly Antalaotra from Comorros who reached East coast. That surely explains the high number of mosques in such less important port city. Anyway, it is worth the glance for its colonial styled buildings, on foot or by pousse-pousse.
Anakara people have kept "Sorabe", sacred texts, in Arabic words. Those texts remind of Antemoro history, astrology and some Coran verses. (Side note: Malagasy was first written in Arabic words before the English (missionaries) converted our Malayo- Polynesian language, written in Arabic words into the same but written in Latin words.) It's still place where one may see djellaba, headscarf.
It's a port city where stop cargos loaded with goods (coffee, beans..) that are conveyed to Toamasina from Fort dauphin.
If you land there after the FCE 10-hour train ride, then you may want to relax. For that, some cruise on Pangalanes canal with a boat to see mangrove flora, little fishermen villages.
Manakara is a part of a package FCE-Pangalanes-Ranomafana. Indeed, from Manakara, you can hire a taxi-brousse who is driving you to Fianarantsoa. A bit tiring though when taxi-brousses are truck-brousses. So:
An insider tip: a friend who did it in summer 2003 recommends to go to Parthenay Club (a hotel). He said that there used to be 4WD who waited for clients on their return to Fianar. They had conveyed people to Manakara, who wanted to experience the Manakara- Fianar train ride. So, the 4WD can drive you to Fianar or drop you at Ranomafana park.
At the Ankarana, a Special Reserve of the Amber Mountains, two hours away by road from Diego-Suarez are the blocks of basaltic and calcareous rocks with caves knwon as grottoes. In the caves, stalactites and stalagmites glisten with the pale light of torches. Bats get hardly restless. They flutter their wings so that the grottoes have life.
Visiting the Amber Mountains National Park can be done within one day. If you decide to camp there in order to enjoy the nocturnal life of its rich fauna, good walking shoes, ample garments and waterproof clothes, a torch and some waster and an anti-mosquito repellant are necessary. Schedule one camping night and two days of walk for Ankarana Special Reserve. The kit of the trekker and the camper is recommended. Tell your guide to accompany you.
When you are in Isalo canyon, pay attention to what guides tell you and don't miss the picture of this haughty-woman-shaped rock... It is "La Reine" (The Queen). Winds and rains combined their actions so as to give birth to such shapes.
I missed the pic though I was amazed by the shape of the rock. I saw it from the Route Nationale though.
BTW, ANGAP guide is a must-have while visiting such places.
When you are in Isalo canyon, pay attention to what guides tell you and don't miss the picture of this La fenêtre (The Window)... Winds and rains combined their actions so as to give birth to such shapes.
I missed the pic though I was amazed by the shape of the rock, like it was the case for La Reine. I hadn't read any book on my visit so i didn't really know what I would encounter in the park. This was an experience!! See my 3 albums on Big South Journey for that (in my homepage).
BTW, ANGAP guide is a must-have while visiting such places.
A classical for tourists: trying to take pics of La fenêtre when sunrays passes through it while sun is setting.. either with them staging either the phenomenon alone.
Be it in the gardens of Royal Palace of Antananarivo, in the streets of Toamasina city or in Toliara... you will be surprised by this enchanting smell of frangipani... Hmmm, those white and yellow-gold-hearted flowers.
They may be pinkish or a bit ochre as well, like here on the picture.
Frangipani flowers are one of Monoi oil components... Isn't that a sure sign of sensuality?
I will always remember my schooldays in primary school... My school had lots of this tree type and the white and yellow flowers used to fall as wind blows. But at same time, walking or standing near the tree just granted me with this intoxicating fragrance of the little flowers.
The petals are soft as velvet...
Though those brands are no longer released and that they were fashionable some 20-30 years ago, enjoy in Madagascar the ride of those oldies of your youth... Well, what I am talking about is appealing to the only French VTers and those who know those cars...
And don't overlook the longlasting "Deuch"...
Still, nowadays, there are other more recent brands on the market.
One particular feature as well: Taxi-drivers come from university. The job market is tough and after graduation, lots of university graduates just went into taxi-driving to earn their living... It applies for medecine doctors as well... 7 years for quite nothing. In the 90s, we saw a phenomenon amongst youngsters who have a job: they drove taxis (informal at that time) after working hours to be able to support the everyday-life expenses.
But again, situation is changing. People are more and more hopeful, many are motivated in struggling against this poverty inherited from several decades on bad governance. IMHO, hope, courage, motivation and willing is what the country needed to change, prior financial backing. Currently, markets are bustling, tough competition in several areas... Kind of renewed.
Also, it seems difficult now to drive informal since government instaured the uniform for taxis. Since early 2004, taxis in Tana are beige. You can easily guess that a non-beige taxi is a clandestine one. I would avoid them since, if most of clandestine cabs were owned by simple persons who wanted to have a second income, there had been some abuses. Some "cab drivers" were, in fact, kidnappers. I don't say ALL of them, but some. That is the reason why the beige "uniform" for taxis was instaured.
Well, this tip is not to ad on a hotel for its hospitability and offers. This is rather a tip on architecture and the use of materials according to the building's environment ( a kind of built in/on rocks). I really fell for it!
Not only it greatly differs from hotels' building in Madagascar but I kind of appeciated its real beauty made of stone (same as you will find in Isalo area).
Isn'it beautiful? I would use for a kind of honeymoon stay :-) Yeah, one can dream. Alongside to desert and natural reserves and natural pool in Isalo region.
And inside, it was all cool and fresh for this warm and dry area.
Try the experience of watching sun rise while visiting/ sleeping in Isalo parks and canyons.
By looking at my Tangorombohitr' Isalo page, discover how strange it should have been in this lunar landscape. Tangorombohitr' Isalo, or Isalo Massif, comprehends the Isalo National park.
- from October to May, sun rises at 5.00 am and sets at 7.00 pm,
- from June to September, rises at 7.30 am and sets at 5.00pm.
On June 26, Independance day, people in countryside (esp. in Tana) still celebrate it the "old" way.
After dinner, at 7-8 pm, families with kids go out with Chinese lanterns and make a procession through the village, call other families to join in, sing... If you are lucky, you would see musicians (or at least, those who play drums). End of June uses to be cold, that, however, doesn't spoil the fun. Just get yourself "warm wrapped" and the night is yours!
This is something I used to like as a kid :-)
Nowadays, June 25 (the eve) is a big time: fireworks everywhere, the biggest being those in big cities (Tana & the 5 other capitals of ex-provinces). In my village, no fireworks although as the Tana fireworks are visible enough & that I live North of Tana,- some 17km from the center-, one can still enjoy those. Also, in my surroundings (neighbouring municipalities), could be fireworks as well, in smaller quantity & less spectacular though... and very popular amongst country folks.
On the usefulness of oxen: an essay :)
One of unusual features of Madagascar is that it counts as many human inhabitants as zébus, those humped oxen.
It is probably the only country in the world where beef-zébu meat is cheaper than pork meat...
With lemurs, ravinala, oxen are emblems of the Island. Zébus are in dishes, in the streets of countrysides, in ricefields... as Malagasy people eat them, work with them and, in rural areas, are "chauffered" by them.
Now you are wondering, how does a zebu look like ? Enlarge rthe picture and you would see. Only male zebus are humped, female zebus just look like cows. The hump is a piece of choice in Malagasy cuisine. It is fat (probably gives high cholesterol :) and fits to some specific dishes that require fater meats. Still, not everybody can cook trafony: one has to know it otherwise the fat would put you off. One may need fat for a dish but not all this fat. Slicing it off is not enough, cooking requires some maestrio as well.
It was when visiting Ambohimanga administrative bureau (my village, Malaza, is part of Ambohimanga Rova municipality) that I realized how important zébus are.
I was waiting for my IDcard to be renewed and sitting at the officials' desk when I saw a "Bokin'omby " (literally: Zébus book). It keeps track of the census of zebus in the area. I've never seen such a book in the past. I asked about it and was explained that for zébus being for a great value and often easily stolen by thieves, peasants have to declare the number of zébus they have to rural municipalities so that whenever the latter have to carry out inquiries, they'll use it.
A census for zébus cattles not for pigs neither poultry products. Though, pork meat is more expensive than zébu's in Madagascar.
Ranovola is a typical beverage in Tana area (and surroundings). It is an amber-coloured hot beverage that you will drink while having lunch.
It is obtained from boiling water in the kettle that had cooked rice. First, cooked rice is taken out from the kettle. Then let remaining rice burn a bit. Then, add water so as to have it boiled.
The taste is special, it resembles very light coffee's. Imagine a burnt-rice beverage. Of course, Ranovola is safe (boiled and over-boiled) for you.
Watching sunset is not really exceptional but this one is really beautiful and I saw it many times in Madagascar, and not in Belgium. I saw it while returning from Foulpointe beach. Back from Foulpointe (Mahavelona in my Faritanin'i Toamasina pages), my friends and I had a warm evening, like if the sunset is just a sure sign of fun...
A tip that would make it less "off the beaten path" :
- from May to October, sun rises at 5.00 am and sets at 7.00 pm,
- from June to September, rises at 7.30 am and sets at 17.00pm.
Anjajavy is an area of outstanding beauty on a remote peninsula in northwest Madagascar with empty beaches and deserted coves and forest with ebonies and baobabs, mangroves. There are fishing villages, lemurs, rare birds, amazing reptiles, and unique tsingy limestone rock formations.
The Anjajavy Hotel is the only place to stay here and is on a beach that overlooks theMozambique Channel.
There are many things to do here - forest walks, village trips, private beach picnics, boat trips to the Mangroves, snorkelling, fishing..............lemurs, birds, bats and other reptiles to see - a week is not enough here.
The hotel is luxurious - 2 storey chalets built from local materials overlooking the beach and sea, lovely gardens, 7 private beaches and a separate marina for watersports. Food is superb and is usually served in the garden, cocktails are great and the staff are lovely.
Best is the wildlife. You are surrounded by Lemurs - brown Lemurs and Coquerel's Sifakas, beautiful birds, and numerous reptiles and bats. All are easy to see on walks around the reserve, on the way to the marina and in the gardens.
There are no roads to Anjajavy so you have to take the flight from Tana which runs 3 times a week.
This little village, is the spot from were you can take a boat to Ile st. marie, or the place to find some transportation if your are going further up the east coast. But you might not be lucky to get any transportation, as all the trucks are likely to be filled totally up. Then you have to go strait back to Toamasina, instead of spending days waiting as we did !!! In Toamasina you buy a ticket at the main station, try to pay a little extra to get the front set, believe me you wont regret it !!
I was stocked in Isora Ivongo for days....Not much happen in this town.....This is really of the beaten path.
The boat that goes for Ille st marie, are not the safest... they are mostly overcharged, and in a bad shape !! Adventure is garanteed.
If you take the boat, you shoul ask for a life jacket.
Résidence Lapasoa Isoraka BP 3650 Antananarivo Tél :22 611 40. 180.000 FMG Beautiful colonial...more
Le Royal Pallisandre is a very good quality hotel in the heart of the city. The rooms and public...more
Lot 66 B Antanetibe Ivato, Antananarivo, 105, Madagascar
Good for: Solo
see all Madagascar member meetings