The train station was a huge building in the middle of nowhere
Less than one month before I arrived in Ethiopia, the new Chinese built railway started running a passenger service between Addis Ababa and Djibouti City. The total duration of the train ride is twelve hours with three stops on the way, but I just joined from Dire Dawa which was an eight hour journey.
The whole experience was a bit surreal. Getting to and from the stations was a hassle, as they both were located far outside the cities. It felt a bit strange driving into the countryside and then seeing this huge, brand new railway station.
Once on board it was still a bit strange. They had carriages with first class sleepers and second class, but these were only used by the staff. They had a restaurant carriage, but with no food served. People just brought their own and bought from a lady who was just another passenger but was offering everything at a premium price.
The landscape was pretty nice with views over plains with lots of Acacia trees, goats, baboons and camels. Price of the journey was a bit steep at 20$/over three times the bus price but the ride was ten times more enjoyable.
When arriving in Antananarivo, I really had to ask myself if I was still in Africa. Most people were small and had an Asian look. Except for the baguettes, the food was also 90%, usually with a unidentifiable peace of meat. Most places that was all that was served, so Madagascar has not been my favorite destination for food.
The sights and just the feeling of being here though is quite incredible. This is the place where two continents meet and a place where a lot, like the Citroen taxis and the old colonial buildings have been left unchanged since colonial times.
It has also been one of the cheapest places I have been. At the Analakely Market I was able to get original looking converse shoes for less than two dollars! Most places I found hotel rooms around 5-6 dollars and a 16 hour bus ride was about 5 dollars! Considering the accessible sea port with cargo arriving from the east and locals making about 1 dollar a day, most things were really cheap.
The Analakely Market where you will find anything you need
Fresh fruit juices here are just 15cents!
I spend four nights in the capital with my Cameroonian couchsurfing host who introduced me to the student life in Ankatso. Although there are lots of sights in the city, like the UNESCO heritage site of Royal Hill I just spent the time here chilling with my host as traveling around in Madagascar was quite exhausting. Still, it has been one of the most unique places I have visited and I know I will be back again soon.
The Ankatso student district is full of rooftops where people sit and drink beer
The view from my CS host in Ankatso
Port Louis city center reminds me of Waikiki, Hawaii
The bus system in Mauritius is pretty amazing and going from the South to the North I only had to change bus once in the Port Louis. The capital city was almost like Waikiki in Hawaii, being well developed with lots of brand clothing shops and American fast food restaurants. I had a walk up to the city fortress for a view and visited the free UNESCO protected museum called the Aapravasi Ghat, which explains the history of the Indentured labourers (halfway slaves) of the sugar plantations.
Grand Bay city, the church and beach
Once in the North I visited the Mont Choisy Beach known as the most beautiful white sandy beach in Mauritius. The beach by sunset boulevard was also surprisingly clean with turquoise water and was a great place to sit and watch the sun set in the ocean.
Charmel waterfall, the seven colored earth and the giant tortoises was other must visits that made my Mauritius visit complete. As a bonus, when my couchsurfing host was driving me to the airport we randomly saw some pyramids on the middle of some sugar cane fields. Reading up on it, these pyramids have no name or no known history. Some were claiming that they were connected to the pyramids of the Pharaohs or to the ones in the Azores, others just claim that they are just a pile of rocks. Anyway it was cool to see something that is not mentioned in guidebooks that still remains a mystery to scientists.
For those who have been following me through the last 170 countries on this blog, you probably have heard me go on at those people who just go somewhere to stay in a luxury resort and are screened from the food, culture and people of the places they visit. This time it was my turn, as my couchsurfing host was living in Paradis resort on the south side of Madagascar where he let me stay and use the facilities. And I have to admit, it was pretty nice too!
We did not just stay inside the resort though. My host had a car and took me to the famous flic en flac beach, rose hill city center and the viewpoint known as Baie du Cap. The roads were amazingly good driving through kilometers on kilometers of sugar cane fields.
Having spent the last months roughing it in East Africa, it was really good to come to Mauritius where everything is comfortable and available. It for sure is the most developed country in Africa and deserves its nickname “the Singapore of Africa”.
Baie du Cap viewpoint
Morondava is a small city on the beach, but it is not the place you would go if you want a typical beach holiday in Madagascar. The beaches there are quite empty, but once in a while you will see some locals going there to poop. The water was also the same color as the poop so I decided to not go for a swim while being there.
Like most of the coastal cities in Madagascar it is mostly Muslim, but this place had a very laid back, almost Caribbean feel to it. The main gathering place for the evenings football match and later for live music was a bar called “Oasis- Chez Jean le Rasta” where I spend the last night and got to say goodbye to the French group I had been taveling with the last days.
The beaches in Morondava were completely empty. Even when the sun was setting!
When our three day canoe trip was coming to an end, we were drifting through a forest of beobabs-a type of tree which looks as if it was upside down with its roots in the air.
We got out of the canoes in a village called Antsiraraka where we had to walk and ride ox carriages for more than an hour to get through the muddy paths leading to the road where a 4*4 was waiting to take us to Tsimafana where I was able to catch a taxi brousse going south to Morondava together with one of the guides who were going the same way.
The whole three hours of driving down was full of baobab trees along the road. Especially beautiful was it to see them as the sun was setting, leaving just a silhouette of the beautiful trees with a burning red background.
We reached the Baobab Avenue after dark where the only light you could see around was from the bright stars in the sky. We camped next to the visitors center, paying a guy 2$ to stay awake by our tents all night.
Waking up in the dark and watching the sun rise behind the baobab trees was just as nice as seeing the sun set behind them. I got to spend a good hour alone at the site before tourists were driving in. That was also the time when I got in a pus pus (cycle taxi) and taxi brousse to Morondava.
I must say that my three days spent camping and canoeing on the Tsiribihina River has been one of my favorite travel experiences. The landscape and program was similar to when I was paddling on Orange River in Namibia and the Zambezi River in Zambia, but here we were traveling in comfortable “mokoros”(dugout canoes) where a crew was doing all the work of paddling, cooking and making camps at the nights.
On the way we stopped at villages, camped at sand banks and ate in the canoes, but my favorite stop was the Anosinampela waterfall, where we could have a swim after roasting the whole day in the boats.
I was hoping to see more wildlife, like lemurs and maybe some idris while we were on the river, but all we saw was a freshwater crocodile. The experience was more about finding inner peace while drifting down the river and enjoying the landscape. It’s something I would happily do again, once my sunburn has disappeared of course.