Tag Archives: Moramanga

Mitsinjo reserve and the journey back to Antananarivo

Sunday June 9 2024 – The afternoon today was spent retracing our tyre tracks towards Antananarivo. But first we had one final wildlife walk in the Mitsinjo reserve within the Analamazaotra park.  This actually started from the same place as yesterday’s night walk, but today we entered a reserve where yesterday we walked along the road. We met Abraham there, and before we started the walk proper, he was able to show us a young Elephant-ear Chameleon that he’d spotted on a tree outside the reserve.

“Mitsinjo” comes from the Malagasy for “looking ahead”; it is a private reserve set up by guides to promote conservation and community tourism.

It also features the steepest trails with the trickiest access of all the walks we’ve done so far.

It starts of with a fairly standard-looking path, oh yes.

But this gives way very soon to narrow, steep and tricky paths through the rainforest.  Before we started up the steep bit, Abraham showed us a reforesting centre that has been set up in the reserve.

Original species – some trees, some other plants – are started in pots, which are set up in a potting shed

beyond which is a nursery area for bring on the more mature seedlings.  it’s very encouraging to see initiatives like this, dedicated to countering the ravaging deforestation that the island has suffered over the years.

The Steep Bit was only 60 metres or so of vertical ascent, but was quite hard work. However, the walking we’d recently done in Spain served us well and so when Abraham offered us a rest at a specially-constructed rest area

we were able to decline, and so pressed on. As we did so, Abraham spent a lot of time on his phone, and it became clear that he was chatting to other guides who were out in the reserve, to get pointers to where there were creatures to see.  The first of these was an Indri, who was not inclined to be helpful to us paparazzi.

Abraham woke him/her up by playing Indri calls from his phone, and so we got a bleary glance

before it decided to go back to sleep.

Some time later, we came across a male Parson’s Chameleon, obligingly sitting at head height in a tree.

I took some detailed photos; I’m fascinated by ithe eyes which look like elephant eyes within the spooky, independently-moving chameleon socket.

The Parson’s Chameleon is the largest of the Madagascan chameleons.  This one was apparently not particularly large, as they go – here’s a photo to give you an idea of scale – as I say, he’s head height above the ground.

Nearby, Abraham also found us a young female of the species, which was a distinctly different colour.

As she matures (in about a month’s time) her skin will turn more green and she will end up a darker shade of green than the male we just saw.

Within a few minutes, we found a small family group of common brown lemurs, but they were very high, difficult to see and not very active.  I got a snap of two young’uns,

but that was all that was on offer, really. Towards the end of the walk, I got this photo

which looks like just these leaves, you know? But on closer examination, there’s a cricket there.

That was it for the Andasibe area.  We bade Abraham goodbye and set out on the road back to Tana, so the rest of this post concerns the scenes we saw on that journey.

We passed once again through the substantial town of Moramanga, which is the site of a national monument to the 1947 Malagasy Uprising, a revolt after the failure of Madagascar’s 1945 effort to achieve independence through legal channels. Malagasy nationalists, armed mainly with spears, attacked military bases and French-owned plantations in the eastern part of the island. The French response was, in a word, barbaric. It tripled the number of troops on the island to 18,000, primarily by transferring soldiers from French colonies elsewhere in Africa, and then engaged in a variety of terror tactics designed to demoralize the population. The French military force carried out mass execution, torture, war rape, torching of entire villages, collective punishment and other atrocities such as throwing live Malagasy prisoners out of airplanes. In the 20th Century, for Christ’s sake!

Combining this with the French political skulduggery that gave rise to the 2009 defenestration of a president who was improving the lot of the islanders in many ways, but who was moving in a direction that didn’t suit French interests (which led to the worst economic crisis in the island’s history) leads one to lower one’s opinion of the French political classes. This is further lowered by hearing about its further manoeuvring to prevent his re-election in 2018 by getting the rules of the election changed to exclude him. Furthermore, the French are still pulling political strings and interfering with Malagasy affairs to the point where many locals consider the island’s 1960 independence to be a sham.  All in all, these actions present a very sorry story about French foreign policy in Madagascar.  The celebrations on June 26th – Madagascar’s Independence Day – will be more muted than they might have been had independence truly been achieved.

A feature of Malagasy life – possibly a consequence of the economic turmoil that started in 2009 – is that everyone seems to have a side hustle – farmers, for example, will often make charcoal; the fires that can sometimes be seen dotting the landscape.  We passed one who had finished making charcoal and was busy bagging it up in standard-sized bags, either for his own use at home or, more likely, for selling on. The grass visible at the top of the bags is just to keep the charcoal in.

Every village we passed has an array of (normally, it has to be said, ramshackle) shops, most of which sell foodstuffs.  Occasionally there are roadside markets as well, like this fruit market we passed.

Because the route we were on (National Route 2) is a major route for transporting of goods from the port of Toamasina to Tana, the heavy traffic necessitates much repair work. This does sometimes get done, which inevitably causes huge queues to form.  Drivers therefore often nip out to have a quick roadside pee – so we had a giggle at the “roadworks” sign, which actually appears to be advertising a toilet.

We eventually got past the roadworks, and took a sandwich lunch, once again provided by our hotel, at a pleasant riverside picnic area,

which provided an opportunity to photograph a Madagascan Sparrowhawk, which is just as handsome as its European counterpart.

Some way down the road, we passed a crowd scene, which proved to be a cockfight. Cockfighting is a recognised activity in Madagascar; according to Kenny, it’s not the vicious sport that one finds in illegal and undergound events in other countries, because the fight ends as soon as one bird leaves the arena. It was amusing that one chap spotted Jane videoing and kindly stepped out of the way so we could get a little sense of the flapping and jumping that was going on inside the ring.

Mr. man got a thumbs-up from Jane and gave one in return.  We passed other cockfighting venues, one of which was a permanent arena, advertising itself on its walls.

Another interesting scene we passed was a laundry party,

where many members of a community will get together to do their washing at a stream or other water source.  it’s a great opportunity for community bonding, community spirit and gossip; it can also be a chance, for example after a bereavement, for people to help the healing process by gathering to wash the clothes of the deceased as part of closure.

Everywhere we went, the scenery featured rice paddies.

The journey was torturous as well as tortuous, and it was mid-afternoon when we arrived in the outskirts of Tana and could start to see the city itself.

On the horizon in the photo above, you can see two huge buildings – the Royal Palace (left) and the former Prime Minister’s Palace.

Our hotel for the night was La Varangue, which was simply (and wonderfully) bonkers, evident from the moment you stepped into its courtyard,

into the hallway,

and thence into the bar

where they also had a reception desk.  We checked in, and were led through the restaurant terrace

which has two remarkable pictures on its wall

across a courtyard

to our room, which had a veranda with a nice view across the city.

The restaurant is something of a destination restaurant, and the decor there is just as bonkers as the rest of the place.

The food was very good, and we ended a very enjoyable dinner by having a chat with a Dutch couple we’d met in the primary rainforest in Mantadia; they were on their honeymoon, and, having been in the south of Madagascar heading north, were bound for Mauritius to decompress, whereas we, of course, are now heading south.

That journey southwards starts on the morrow, with a day spent mainly driving in the direction of Antsirabe.  Maybe it will be an interesting drive, maybe it won’t; stay tuned to find out which.




East to Andasibe

Thursday 6 June 2024 – The room that we had this time at the Hotel Relais des Plateaux was directly above the one we’d had on our first visit. It was very similar in size and organisation, however, the bed seemed a great deal less comfortable; but at least we had a chance for more sleep than on our first visit.

After breakfast, we met our driver from last night again. He had brought Kenny, our guide, with him, and I think we’re going to get on well with both of them. Kenny speaks excellent English and has a wealth of knowledge about local matters, including the correct way to spell our driver’s name, which is Haja (with a silent H).

As soon as we got under way, it was clear that it would not be long before our brains were full, as Kenny started explaining things. Some Madagascan history: it used to be split into several separate kingdoms which were perpetually at war with each other until the chap who ruled over what is now Antananarivo used 1,000 soldiers to establish some order and himself as overall ruler – thereby providing the name an (to) tanana (place, city) arivo (1000): the place of a thousand. Some politics: the island became independent from France in 1960; it has six regions, each split into multiple communities; it has a president, a prime minister, a house of representatives and a senate, along similar lines to the French model. He pointed out various plants and trees; told us about many of the places around us, whose names we haven’t a chance of remembering; some useful Malagasy words – excuse me, thank you, goodbye – which we also have no chance of remembering; and all in all it became clear that he is going to do a great job.

The first thing we had to do was to get through Antananarivo.  Given that Madagascar has a population approximately half of that of Great Britain, spread over two and a half times the land mass, and given that the population of Antananarivo is less than a third of that of London, you’d expect that to be an easy job.  You’d be wrong. The traffic was ludicrously heavy, and it took us the best part of an hour before we were free of the capital.  However, we learned a few things as we ground our way slowly along.

As well as the colourful and traditional buildings in many of the streets, there are quite a few funky modern buildings.

There are old cars being used as taxis (this is a Renault 4); heaven knows how they keep them going.

Unless you’re bang in the centre, there will always be rice paddies to be seen.

There’s a sort of “mobile phone taxi” service; if your mobile phone has run out of credit, you can pay for just a few minutes to make your calls.

The influence of France is still very clear.

The entrepreneurial spirit is strong, whether in formal market stalls

or chancing it in the traffic jams.

Madagascar imports fuel wholesale

and appears to operate an informal retail operation on the side.

The outskirts of Tana have many scenes of very colourful (and probably quite ramshackle) buildings,

and as you get further out of the city, the roads can turn feral.

I suspect that the road surface suffers badly because the road we were on, National Route 2, which leads eastwards to Andasibe, also continues on the the island’s main port, Toamasina; hence there’s a very significant amount of very heavy lorry traffic in both directions.

There is actually a railway connecting the two

along which freight is also run.

Kenny explained that some 80% of Malagasy people are farmers, tilling the fields both for subsistence and for selling.  Rice is the main crop, and the people consume it in huge quantities, but there’s still enough left over to export.  However, farming is not a full-time occupation year round, so many farmers have sidelines. One such is using the clay on their land to make bricks; ovens dotted our route, but we couldn’t get a satisfactory picture, sadly.  What we could get photos of, though was another major activity, which is quarrying granite.

This activity is responsible for some of the gashes in the landscape we could see on the flight down from Maroantsetra.  There are other gashes, too

and the impression we got from Kenny is that this is erosion which has deforestation as its root cause. It will be interesting to revisit those photos from our plane journeys, when we have time, to see how much more of the story this extra understanding reveals.

We also noted the dreaded eucalyptus trees, which so dominated parts of our travels in Spain: however here these seem to be non-commercial plantings representing another land owner’s side hustle, as they can be harvested quickly and the timber either used to make charcoal (much used in rural areas for fuel) or used for building work.

Going from the city of Antananarivo through the countryside to Andasibe also revealed a change in architectural styles.  For example, this house shows a typical Tana style,

brick built, with sloping roofing and balconies.  Our route took us out into the country, where clay and mud become a significant building material, based around timber frames and with thatched roofs

and then as we approached Andasibe, into rainforest country, wood becomes the principal building material.

We went through Moramanga, which is a substantial – and busy – town,

which is where we first came across cycle rickshaws as a mode of transport. You don’t see these in Tana because it’s too hilly.  In the UK, these are used only for ripping off carrying tourists, but  here they are a common mode of transport.  It’s ubiquitous, but not quite public transport.  This comes in the form of minibuses; different coloured minivans cover different destinations, but a common theme appears to be the bus conductor, who ushers people on and off and collects payment, quite often whilst hanging off the back of the bus.

What else did we see?  Piglets;

Traffic management for roadworks (known as “go go girls”, apparently);

the rather ritzy railway station at Andasibe, from the days when the railway carried passengers

and which is theoretically going to be used for passenger transport at some stage in the future, but which has done service as a hotel in the past, with lodgings opposite it;

and a slightly weird version of milk for your coffee, which we took at a slightly weird lunch stop at Pizzeria Diary, just outside Moramanga.  (Diary in Malagasy means something completely different from its English sense; I’ll try to find out what for you.)  We had tourist stuff (pizza for me, and tilapia & vegetables for Jane – whilst Haja and Kenny went off to a different part of the place (a staff canteen or something, we posit) and had pork, rice and beans, a traditional Malagasy meal which we would much have preferred to eat. After the meal we ordered coffee with milk, and this is what we got.

This was (sweetened) condensed milk; adding it to coffee made it sweet enough for me to drink, but it had a weird, gloopy consistency.

Quite soon after lunch we arrived at our accommodation for the next three nights, the very swish Mantadia Lodge. To get there, we went through Andasibe village and I hope we get a chance to wander round with a camera, because I think it’s really quite photogenic.

I suppose because we’d “wasted” most of the day getting to the lodge, Kenny had organised a night walk for us which was to happen before dinner (don’t forget that darkness falls with a crash here at about 6pm); this made dinner rather later than we would have liked, but actually I guess there was no other way to organise it, and it gave us a couple of hours off during the afternoon to draw breath.

The walk was at the VOIMMA Community Reserve, a wildlife reserve managed by the local community, just a ten minute drive away, and we were led by a guide called Abraham.  The route was through rainforest, but the conditions were dry, which made everything more pleasant for us.  There are prepared trails through the park, which gives it a more manicured feel than we experienced at Masoala, but there was a profusion of magnificent tree ferns, which we hope to go back and look at in more detail and daylight over the next couple of days.

We didn’t see any lemurs during the walk (barring the glint of a mouse lemur’s eyes at a considerable distance) but there were other creatures to admire.

Finally, Jane found another chameleon just outside our room at the lodge.

We eventually established that this is a male Elephant Ear Chameleon.

Dinner at the lodge completed the day, which, despite being spent almost entirely on the drive, was content-rich and quite satisfying.  The morrow’s plan is for a longer walk around the Mantadia National Park, which is primary rain forest and brings the prospect of some more varieties of wildlife.  Today was a lemur-less day; what will tomorrow bring?