Madagascar 2020, part 1 (Antananarivo)

Like in the case of most of my travels, I had been dreaming of going to Madagascar for years. I don’t know what it was linked to this island that sounded so attractive to me and that kept lingering on in my mind. In any case, about a year and a half before the actual journey, when I was buying tickets to Brazil, I realised that the same airline company also had a flight to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, for which it also gave a nice discount from time to time. And thus I waited for the time of the discount, my friend Sneža with whom I travel most often was informed where she would go the next time and that she should get the money ready, so when the offer of the cheaper tickets was on, the tickets were bought. In the meantime I also bought a guidebook. In other words, the journey’s framework was ready.

Madagascar story, part 2

Madagascar story, part 3

Then, at the end of October 2019, I started to make more concrete plans and to think of the roads we were to take. A dear friend of mine had mentioned earlier that he had a friend who privately takes groups to Madagascar, so I contacted her via internet (she did not live in Serbia) in order to get some first-hand information. She was very kind, responded to my contact right away and she was also very eager to share with me her knowledge of this, generally speaking, rather unknown country. The problem, however, arose when she started to impose too much her ideas about how to travel, as well as to transfer her fears onto me. Taking into consideration that this was all happening during a very difficult and extremely stressful autumn in my life, with a lot of obligations and different private “dramas,” I really did not enjoy somebody intensively passing their own fears around and imposing their own travelling style. I believe that it was all with the best intention, but I still did not appreciate it. Then I consulted with Sneža, telling and explaining it all to her, and I asked her if it was ok with her if I simply organised our journey as I usually do. Her answer, full of support that we expect from our friends, was a clear and absolute – yes!

Madagascar story, part 4

Madagascar story, part 5

Let me clarify. Very often with Sneža, but many times without her and alone, I have not been travelling with agencies for a long time now, I go to more or less distant and often “exotic” destinations and there I travel by local transport, stay at more modest places and eat mostly where the local people eat, often buying my food in supermarkets. Moreover, I actually adore supermarkets and grocery shops. They are one of my favourite places for “shopping” since I love food and I’m not too keen on typical souvenirs.

Madagascar story, part 6

Madagascar story, part 7

Still, in line with our mature age, neither Sneža nor I are prone to problematic and risky behaviour and thus I was completely puzzled by that woman who intensively started to talk about grave dangers throughout Madagascar and that I must in fact do exactly as she told me if, presumably, I was to get out alive. ??? After this initial confusion and even a wave of paranoia, when I imagined Sneža and myself trembling with fear and spending all the time in a hotel in Antananarivo (since the airplane tickets had already been bought), which faded away after a while, I began slowly to organise our stay in Madagascar.

Madagascar story, part 8

Madagascar story, part 9

To start with, another door opened – a friend of my friend’s sister works for a large travel agency in Serbia and she had already been in Madagascar on business, thus getting some contacts there. Then, the two of us spoke on the phone, I explained to her what I was interested in and then she gave me the email addresses of her contacts and this set the things in motion. I also had a guidebook by a publisher which on the basis of my experience I consider rather reliable, so I could then collect several offers. This was all because, as it turned out, Madagascar does not have a very wide network of asphalt roads, plus those roads that are paved are often in a poor state. There is local transportation, certainly, but the difference in the duration of a journey between the public transportation and a rented vehicle seemed quite significant. On the other hand, we were to go there during the rainy season, meaning that the dirt roads could easily turn into mud, which could consequently make any type of vehicle prone to getting stuck in that mud. To cut the long story short, in the end we agreed renting a vehicle, a 4x4, as well as an English-speaking driver. Never before had Sneža and I travelled in such a “grand style.”

Madagascar story, part 10

Madagascar story, part 11

Also, I bought us the domestic plane tickets in line with my travel plan and then I filled all of this up with hotel reservations. It all seemed perfect on paper, but we were yet to see how it would all function on the spot.

And then something happened that filled me with great quantity of content and pride, as well as positive energy. Namely, an acquaintance of mine told me once that when she travelled, either on business or privately, she always informed our respective embassies. When I was in Brazil I also had an episode when I called the Serbian embassy in Brasilia and that was a very positive experience for me in terms that the woman who was our General Consul there was exceptionally kind, attentive and of great help. Thus, one day I sent our travel plan, including all the flight numbers, names of hotels, their addresses and phone numbers, the name and the data of the car-rental and driver’s agency, as well as our names and passport numbers to the Serbian embassy in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia since they also cover the territory of Madagascar. I was totally surprised when I received the answer within half an hour. It was the Ambassador himself who responded, he wished us exceptionally kindly a happy journey and to enjoy this beautiful country, and then he also gave us all the possible contacts, including all of his, as well as those of the General Consul. In addition, he gave us the data of our Honorary Consul in Madagascar, but I had already known that, so I sent to the latter a short note informing him of our imminent arrival. Be as it may, I exchanged a few mails with the Serbian Ambassador and after a couple of days I also received a note from our Honorary Consul. What I want to say was that I was delighted, primarily with the kindness and efficiency of our ambassador, and I was very honoured and felt very proud that representatives of our country were so nice, kind, attentive and helpful. This was all taking place a couple of weeks before the journey, so it filled me with additional quantity of positive energy. And that was exactly what I needed.

Madagascar story, part 12

Madagascar story, part 13

We started with our journey at a very early dawn at the beginning of January. We flew via Paris and there we had extremely tight transfer time (the plane from Belgrade was late, there was a complete lack of proper organisation at the airport in Paris and the employees we asked gave us totally incorrect information), but it all ended well and we boarded the plane that flew directly to Antananarivo. The flight was over 10 hours long and I found it interesting since that was my first flight of such duration that was taking place during a day-time and over the same day. Namely, the time difference between Madagascar and the central European time is two hours. We left Belgrade around 7 am and were supposed to land in Antananarivo around 10 pm CET, which was midnight local time.

Madagascar story, part 14

Madagascar story, part 15

So, we arrived well, but we faced an unpleasant surprise at the airport – our luggage did not come with us. Because of the delay of the flight from Belgrade, at the huge airport in Paris there was no time for transferring our backpacks from a plane at one end of the airport to a plane at the other end.

Madagascar story, part 16

Madagascar story, part 17

Never, ever, can you feel fine when your luggage does not reach an airport together with you. This is particularly unpleasant when it happens at the beginning of a longer journey where you keep moving on, without staying in the same place for long. Unfortunately, I have my fair share of experience with this – my luggage did not arrive when I landed in Quito, Ecuador, or in Casablanca, Morocco, or when I went to Madeira, Portugal, but the situation was worst by far when I was in Sri Lanka – the luggage did not travel with me both when I landed in Colombo or when I returned to Belgrade. The good thing in all of this though was that my bags did arrive eventually. Another good thing is that through experience one tends to learn a few tricks.

Madagascar story, part 18

Madagascar story, part 19

To start with, we first went to the lost luggage counter, but what was interesting this time was that they actually called us via the loud-speaker system, so we did not have to wait for all the luggage to be loaded onto the belt and taken away by their owners. This way we already had a “love letter” from the air carrier waiting for us at counter. Thanks to modern technologies, as soon as they realised in Paris that they had (in our case) surplus luggage that was already supposed to be on its way, they contacted their office at the destination and those there prepared an envelope with our names (we were not the only ones) with a formal note inside, the telephone number we could call, our case number, etc. The girl at the counter told us that the next flight was in two days, which was an utterly unwelcome piece of information, since according to the plan the two of us were to be at a completely different destination by then – Nosy Be island in the north of Madagascar! The girl told us not to worry and that they would organise the transportation of the luggage all the way to our hotel on the island.

Madagascar story, part 20

Madagascar story, part 21

In all of this there is one quite practical problem. Namely, by the rule, all the things you are taking with you on a trip are located in the luggage transported in the body of the airplane. In other words, when you get to the destination, but your luggage does not follow suit, you don’t have your hair brush, or your tooth brush, or deodorant, or anything practical or what you need simply to make yourself presentable. A lot of air carriers have a tendency to play dumb in such situation, while you, confused, sad, miserable and down with that note on the lost luggage, simply tend to leave the airport and go to your hotel or wherever you are staying. Thus, in Quito and in Casablanca, the first thing I did the following morning was to go to buy deodorant, tooth and hair brushes, since at the hotel I had at least soap and a towel. For men, the problem is added to by the issue of a razor and shaving cream. Then, with time, I realised that air carriers often have sets containing precisely such small items, but this needs to be asked for. Also, some give money as first aid to buy wardrobe, because in addition to these personal hygiene items, you normally don’t have any change of clothes, which is especially important when you go to a different climate zone. In other words, if you leave your home in the middle of winter, dressed in warm pants, sweatshirts and jackets, and then get to a tropical destination where the air temperature exceeds 30 degrees C, while the air humidity is enormous, then you are in an extremely dire situation, since all your summer clothes have been lost somewhere in that luggage universe.

Madagascar story, part 22

Madagascar story, part 23

Having this in mind, we asked the girl at the lost luggage counter if they had any “first aid” and then she told us to go to the counter of the air carrier. We did so and this turned out to be a good thing. Not only because we got that set (which also included a simple white t-shirt that was to serve as a pyjama top), but also because we finally got the right information. Namely, the next flight was due already in 24 hours, which meant our things were supposed to arrive before we flew away from Antananarivo. We agreed on the possible options with them and gave them the address of the hotel we would be staying at, as well as the phone number. By the way, the extremely kind and helpful representative of the airline said that if we needed wardrobe and if we went shopping, we should make sure to keep the receipts which we would, once we are back home, send to the airline in order to get a refund. Needless to say, this does not mean that the air carriers are ready to pay for branded goods and a ton of clothes, but it is certainly good to know.

However, as hard-core travellers with previous unpleasant experience, Sneža and I always carry in our hand luggage the clothes to change in the first day, as well as the basic hygiene supplies in their mini versions which can then come with us into the plane – just in case the airline does not give us anything. This also means that we do not have to waste valuable time on the first day and go to shops looking for clothes.

Madagascar story, part 24

Madagascar story, part 25

For this reason, on the first morning of our stay in Antananarivo we had breakfast at leisure and soon arrived Mikaia, the agent from Madagascar with whom we had agreed the vehicle and the driver.

Madagascar story, part 26

Also, let me mention something about the name of the capital of Madagascar. It is very often abbreviated to Tana. This is good for those who have problems with long foreign names. Another thing that needs to be emphasised is that the inhabitants of Madagascar are called the Malagasy and this is also the name of the language spoken on Madagascar – Malagasy. This is just a small note with which I’m closing this introduction to my journey around Madagascar.

Verica Ristic

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