That infuriating Air Mad Experience
The finances of the inauspiciously (but aptly) named Air Mad have never been particularly robust, and are sicker than ever given the downturn in business since the coup in January 2009. So, if you're heading for Madagascar, be warned of the unwelcome additional randomness that this potentially brings to your travel itinerary.
With cash being tight, Air Mad has trouble maintaining the size of its fleet and retaining the services of pilots. As a result, the airline often seeks to economise by 'consolidating' flights that are not full. This usually happens at little or no notice, and the first that the hapless traveller knows of the change is when they appear at the airport to check in for a flight that no longer exists.
This happened to us recently on a flight between Antananarivo (Tana) and Ile St Marie. We had been repeatedly warned at the necessity of checking in 2 hours in advance - even though this is an internal flight - as the flight is often overbooked and so we dutifully pitched up at 04:15 for the 06:35 flight, bleary-eyed and with two cranky children in tow. We were summarily informed that our flight had been cancelled and our bookings transferred to the flight leaving at 13:40. After we queried why we had not been informed of this change in plan when we had reconfirmed the night before, we were reluctantly referred to the "Welcome" desk.
However, the reception we got there was anything but "welcome". Having told us that we had been e-mailed to inform us of the change (a blatent untruth, as said e-mail was never received by either us or our travel agent, and anyway, what's the point of e-mailing people who are already in transit?), the 'welcome lady' then seemed to be of the opinion that we should simply accept the 7 hour delay with quiet resignation. When prompted to clarify what Air Mad intended to do to ease our situation (when it was patently obvious that she intended to do nothing whatsoever), she sulkily attempted to fob us off with a voucher for breakfast in an airport cafe that wasn't due to open for another hour. Unsurprisingly, we failed to be enchanted by this less-than-grand gesture, and eventually she capitulated and gave us a day voucher for the guest house in which we had been staying, which also covered the cost of the taxi both ways.
As it was, the later flight that we were transferred onto was delayed and turned out not to be a direct flight, so we found ourselves kicking our heels for 45 minutes in the transit lounge at Tamatave. In hindsight, clearly they had decided to cancel the Ile St Marie flight - presumably because it was not full - and had combined it with the scheduled Tamatave flight, and the upshot was that we arrived on Ile St Marie nearly 10 hours later than we had planned on (so much for our fantasies about enjoying our breakfast overlooking the ocean!).
It came as no surprise that our return flight from Tana to Johannesburg was also delayed ...
If you would like to avoid the dubious pleasures of flying Air Mad - at least on the international leg - it is possible to fly between Johannesburg and Tana with Airlink, a subsidiary of South African Airlines, which has a somewhat better reputation for time keeping. However, be warned that if you choose to take this option, you do not qualify for discounts on internal flights (which are operated by Air Mad), which can have rather nasty cost implications. For the cynically minded (such as myself), it seems like whatever course of action you take, Air Mad will manage to frustrate you, one way or the other!
Update (July 2013): Since I wrote this tip, the Airlink service between Jo'burg and Tana has been discontinued, so you're stuck with Air Mad if you're travelling this route. On a more positive note, recent postings in the Madagascar forum suggest that Air Mad's reliability may have improved somewhat, although I can't verify this based on my own experience. Nonetheless, I would still recommend that you exercise caution, and factor in time for possible delays when booking connecting flights.
Beware of multiple place names!
This is really more in the way of a caution than a warning, but the multiple names in use for a single place can make planning your Madagascar trip a real headache!
As far as I can work out, there has been a push to 'indigenise' place names so that they more accurately reflect Malagasy culture rather than the colonial influence. This is nothing unusual in a post-colonial environment: such renaming has been extensively undertaken in places like India, and is currently underway throughout South Africa.
What ever the ideological reasons for the change, it can be really confusing for the tourist, especially people who are only starting their planning and are trying to get their heads around a completely unfamiliar country.
Some changes are fairly minor - Antananarivo for Tananarive for instance (although everyone calls it Tana anyway). Toliara for Tulear is also reasonably easy to follow. The switch from Toamasina for Tamatave is getting harder to follow, and you deserve to be forgiven for not realising that Fort Dauphin is now Taolagnaro ....
I would love to assure you that it gets easier when you're on the ground, but in fact that isn't the case. There seems to be no consistency in road signage, and departure boards in airports and signs at bus stations seem to blithely mix old and new names, much to the confusion of the hapless tourist ...
Oh, and since I'm on a roll, it would be so much less confusing if there weren't so many places starting with "A"...
Surviving the scrum for visas at Tana airport
Since we last visited Madagascar in November 2008, the tourist visa requirement has been waived. This is good news, as it was a fairly pricey addition to the holiday budget, and on the face of it, this would seem to simplify the immigration process.
Sadly, not so! The unhelpful and apparently unconcerned air hostesses on the Air Mad flight that we arrived on told us that they didn't have any immigration forms, and so an entire planeload of passengers from a full flight descended on the arrivals hall to hunt down the few - woefully insufficient - remaining arrivals forms. Passengers were then given conflicting advice from immigration officials about whether families with children needed to complete one form per person regardless of age (which is correct) or whether only the adults needed to fill in forms. Only once we reached the front of the queue at immigration were we then informed that there was another form that needed to be completed, which just further added to the chaos. As a result, passengers were struggling to complete additional forms whilst their passports were being passed from one official to another - I am always particularly worried when I and my passport become separated. All in all it was an unsettling experience, particularly for people not used to travelling in the developing world, and a less than ideal welcome to a country after a long international flight.
How do you survive such an unseemly scrum? Well, first prize would be to try and ensure that your tour operator provides you with the necessary forms in advance so that you are able to complete these before you arrive - given that the forms are in French, this would also allow non-Francophone visitors to seek assistance from the air hostesses or immigration officials if required. You would also think that Air Mad would be professional enough to make sure that it carries sufficient arrivals forms so that each passenger is issued with one during the inbound flight: the main tourist office in Tana was emphatic that they are meant to do so, and was shocked to hear that this is not the case. However, this would presume on a certain minimum standard of planning and customer service that has not been apparent in any of our dealings with Air Mad on either of our visits.
Otherwise, try to hold onto your temper and your sense on humour and, if all else fails, resort to visualisation techniques, and try to focus on the ice-cold Three Horses Beer that is awaiting you on your arrival at your hotel - however frustrated you feel at the time, it will be worth it!
Please find below a website that lists names & locations of night-service drugstores (Pharmacies de garde). Seems it's weekly updated with the weekly rotation.
Further down, ambulances to call in case of emergency.
For hospitals, I'd stick to Clinique Saint-Paul.
You could also find those in local newspapers.Related to:
- Family Travel
Scorpions, Reserve speciale de l´ankarana.
The natural park "Ankarana" is home to many scorpions.
For some reason they like the smell of boots ect. Leave your boots outside the tend, and tjek for scorpions before going to sleap. I had a big fellow, in my tend when I woke up one morning.Related to:
Berenty - Mosquitos
There are many mosquitos in Berenty Reserve. The chalets, although they have mosquito nets, let in a lot of insects. We were constantly finding them inside our nets during the night and consequently got bitten a lot. This was November and I'm not sure if this is typical for other months in the year.
Applying mosquito repellant was essential here and taking along some of the mosquito coils that burn during the night would be a good idea as they were not provided when we were there.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Berenty - Watch out for Lemur Raids
Although very cute, the Ring Tailed Lemurs of Berenty Reserve have learned that tourists take a siesta in the afternoons and that 3.30pm is the perfect time for room raiding. They wait until they think you are either asleep or out and, if you leave your window open the whole group will invade your room. They are looking for food but most of the things that tourists bring also interest them. They will lift the lid off your suitcase if it's not locked, check your cosmetics and make sure they approve of your holiday wardrobe too!
You can actually see them staking out your room - and you can set your watch by their timing. Unfortunately it can get very hot in the afternoons but if you leave your windows open you are asking for trouble from the Ring Tails.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Hospitals & care units
For sure, to get sick and stay into hospital are not the aims of your travel over here. Still, this is something to be known: Madagascar is not (yet) a country where to fall ill.
I've heard so many bad (even lethal) experiences in my family & friends circle about care units & hospitals (esp. public hospitals) over here. For most of them, the danger rather comes from the careless behaviour of care professionals (doctors, surgeons, nurses...) than from a supposedly aging machinery.
Aging machinery has nothing to do with, for instance, the death of a newly-born who got spasms at birth for having stayed too long in the womb although the mother had already called for help for a long time while the midwife & the nurse kept on chatting in the corridor. Aging machinery has nothing to do with, for instance, the death of a newly-born due to some complications during a week-end whilst the doctor, upon a phone call from the worried father-to-be during the week-end, answered he was still enjoying it in the countryside & the delivery would take place on the following day (Monday).
I could go on with such a sad list....
Now, I'm just giving you one address of hospital I know well. More expensive than public hospitals but at least, you could go there blindfolded:
Route d’Ambohipo Ambatoroka
Phone: (261) 20 22 271 47
Their team is growing in specialty: from paediatrics to cardiology through urology, aesthetic surgery...
Another one I've heard positive things about is Polyclinique d'Ilafy. Even more expensive than Clinique Saint-Paul but hey! Health doesn't have any price. It's your first wealth after all (or so we, Malagasy, use to think).
Phone: (261) 020 22 425 66 or (261) 20 22 425 69
If you have to go into a hospital, please, ask to be sent there. Both Clinique Saint-Paul & Polyclinique d'Ilafy are in Tana.
Now, don't let my tales put you off, save these addresses on your laptop, on your pda, amongst documents you'd travel with and be welcome. And, above all, I wish you a safe stay over here.Related to:
- Family Travel
Don't drink from tap, rather have Ranovola...
Though locals drink water from tap (I do.. I am still a local over there...lol), just don't do it. Otherwise, you won't enjoy your travel in Madagascar as you will have to be stuck in the toilets most of times :-)) Also, in urban areas, to clean up running water, they use chloride & it smells & tastes... chloride.
Be sure that if you are having a soda drink - mineral water (Olympiko, Eau Vive), the bottle cap is sealed. Avoid "natural juices" in restaurants and snacks since most of time, they water down beverages, with water from tap. One thing is possible, buy juice in tetrapak packaging. Tiko brand is Malagasy & has a fine passion fruit juice although their orange juice tastes too chemical, in my books.
You could try Ranovola, a typical beverage in Tana area (and surroundings). Ranovola is an amber-coloured hot beverage that you will drink while having lunch. It is obtained by boiling water in the kettle that had cooked rice. The taste is special. Imagine a grilled-rice beverage. Of course, Ranovola is safe (boiled and over-boiled) for you.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
Beware of Anila Transport in Diego and Nosy Be
O.K., let's say that one fine day you are looking through your Lonely Planet or Bradt guide and see that there is a company that provides a direct service between Diego Suarez and Nosy Be called ANILA TRANSPORT and you thinkthat sounds much more civilized than getting crammed into a taxi-brousse and sweating it out with the locals....
My advice is to rip that page out of your guide book (like I did after I learned the hard way) and forget Anila Transport, and never let the words or anyone associated with ANILA have anything to do with your journey anywhere in Madagascar. This is a scam and a great way to get scalped 40,000-50,000 AR.
This is what happened to me.....
I was in Nosy Be and read about Anila Transport in the guide books. By some stroke of misfortune I was led to the Anila office (really just a private residence in an alley off the main drag) in Hell-ville. I was issued a ticket with a number and the alount I was to pay.... 40,000AR. The next day I went to the dock and met the Anila representative. She told me to give her the money. I told her that I wanted to see the vehicle. She pointed to a group of French tourists sitting on the boat in the harbor and told me that we were all traveling together and that they had already paid in advance. She said that the van would be waiting for us on the other side and it would take us directly to Diego. I nervously forked over the cash and she stamped "payee" on my ticket.
When we reached the other side, in Ankify, there was no van to pick us up. The French folks started yelling at the taxi-brousse drivers and demanding that we be taken in a van. They claimed the Anila van had broken down and that we would be taken by taxi-brousse.... there was no other option. So, we got stiffed for the money and had to ride in typically hellish taxi-brousse to Diego and had to pay that driver as well. The Anila office in Diego turned out to be a table outside of some Chinese restaurant with some woman who played dumb when I tried to explain what happened.
Take your own creamer for your coffee
If you are like me and like cream in your coffee, bring a small jar of creamer from home. They did not have coffee creamer (in 1996 anyway) in the hotels we stayed in. In some places they had milk or cream in a pitcher but it was questionable because of lack of refrigeration or which animals it came from! Some places had canned milk but you weren't usually sure.Related to:
They'll find you!
A good reason to go to Madagascar is to see wild animals. You sometimes have to do some effort to find them. However , lucky you!! There is one species of animal that will do an effort to find you. An all time favorite of many who traveled the tropical rainforest : Leeches
After the rain , they are wainting for you to pass by and find a cozy spot on your skin where they can suck themselves full of blood. Your donation is highly appreciated since that is what they need for breeding. Here you can find some tips if you want some as pets.
Seriously - HERE you can find a way to remove them. Sorry I don't have a picture of one , since Frederik was always so fast removing them , I didn't had a chance. For some reason they liked him better then me. I had quit ordinary clothes on while he had expensive adventure gear....whatever.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Don't swim in stagnant water!
There is a whole world of creatures and bacteria waiting for you....under the water level. They are just waiting for you to get in and it is the only thing why they are born. **sigh**
I know you can get some serious deceases by swimming in Stagnant water. Bacteria got all the time in the world to develope here , zebus are willing(?) victims to transport all kinds of nasty animals , worms etc.
But it was so hot , and we were so dirty , and we walked for so long...so I did swim in sort of stagnant water. up till now I feel fine , 5 weeks after. My surroundings still say I look good and is responding normal to me so I guess I didn't take too much risk. lol
OK serious now. There are some serious risks involved. There are deseases you don't want to get. So get advice from locals or if you got one , your guide. He'll know if it is safe or not. Don't swim in water that looks dirty , is visited by animals as drinking pool. In general , use your good sence.
If you are at sea , don't go swimming anywhere either. Always get advice if there is riks for sharks. Few accidents happen , but they do happen with the great white shark. Don't let it be you.
If the name of the cave is 'cave des crocodiles' , figure out yourself if it is safe to swim there , test it and let me know. ok.
Most books will advise you not to eat salads. Why? Because a salad is washed with water and the bacteria in that water will cause travelers diarrhea. About 50 procent of all travelers in Madagascar are estimated to get travelers diarrhea during one stage of their journey in Madagascar. This inconvenient thing happens because of the change of food and/or bacteria whe are not used to get exposed at. Said that...it is more or less logical to be carefully.
I can't imagine myself not eating fresh veggies , since I love salads. And the starters on Madagascar , especially the salads did taste like I never had them before. It is hard to find out what you will be getting - Salade du chef - what's in the name. But it ware crispy baked zebu meat and salty shrimps with a fantastic dressing , good tasting tomatos and...
The point is , I did eat salads and fruit during our complete journey. And we did had some trouble at some points. BUT it was worth it. Take proper medication and use it when needed. We didn't had pain and it wasn't that inconvenient. And looking back on it , I didn't want to miss out on all that great food either.Related to:
- Food and Dining
Feeding wild animals!
I feel a bit like the nasty aunt that spoils the fun writing this. But somebody has to do the job. There are tour operators , guides etc and independent travelers who feed wild animals in order to get them closer etc. And yes , I must admit , it is a fun idea and even I would buy 10 kilo of banana's and take them into the national parcs. BUT that has serious consequences and I like to tell you about them.
-a lot of lemurs don't have banana's on their natural diet. They are fond of it but they don't digest it too well. (it is like humans and chocolate - chocolate is fine - 2 bars a day can be handled - but from half a kilo a day our health is in serious danger - Believe me!)
-lemur groups who are on tour operators way on a regular bases and get feeded are much larger then natural groups , social disturbed behavior is one of the consequences.
(I know it is the easy way to find the animals , you stop for 30 minutes , put the tourists in the middle , make some noice , take the pictures and off you go again...and you'll earn some great tips)
-some species of lemur become infertile by feeding them fruit or other products that are not their natural diet.
All the guides at Mantadia will tell you not to touch ,neither feed the animals. And responisble guides like Jacques from 'king de la piste' take home the peels of the banana's too after eating them ourselves. THAT is responsible behaviour.
There is however no danger for you....
La Varangue was a beautiful and peaceful place to rest in busy Antananarivo. We has 2 short stays...more
Lot 66 B Antanetibe Ivato, Antananarivo, 105, Madagascar
Good for: Solo
Le Royal Pallisandre is a very good quality hotel in the heart of the city. The rooms and public...more
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