The expedition through Madagascar started bright and early the morning after the Independence Day celebration. The tour would take us through the mountains of central Madagascar, descend into the lower plains to the southwest and the Oceanside town of Morondava, and then north again to the Grand Tsingy de Bemahara National Park. Our driver/guide picked us up at the guest house and we were off. Yes, in order to see the wilder things in Madagascar, apparently it is necessary to rent a 4×4 with a driver included.
One thing I will never forget about Madagascar is the smell of burnt earth. Throughout the central region empty fields were used to turn the red earth into bricks, baking them with makeshift kilns. The first day of driving took us through rolling red hills and terraced rice fields, passing through tiny villages and towns. Madagascar is known as the “Red Island” due to the high amounts of iron oxide in the soil. The weather was cool in this area, with days in the upper 60’s and nights in the upper 40’s. We stayed the night in Antsirabe, one of the bigger towns in central Madagascar.
The next day was another relatively uneventful four hundred miles of driving, descending from the mountains to the much warmer and flatter southwest region of the island. The landscape looked like a cross between arid scrubland and jungle plants. The road got worse and worse along the way to Morondava, but the 40 miles or so of bad roads was worth it for the destination along the western coast of Madagascar. Our hotel here was probably our most memorable of the trip so far, with an ocean view and sunset that was stunning.
Our final day of driving was ahead of us, about 120 miles that our guide told us was going to be pretty rough driving. “Finally,” I thought, “I get to see why we needed to have our own driver. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?” Oh, it could. Eight hours later, when we arrived in the town of Bekopaka, just outside of the Grand Tsingy, Dana and I agreed that was the worst road either of us had been on in our entire lives. The last 50 miles or so were the worst, as the temperature eclipsed 105 degrees (and of course no air conditioning in our truck). We passed through a wildfire, had the path completely blocked by herds of random cattle, and the road was so poor we couldn’t go much faster than 10 miles an hour. I was waiting for the truck to drive through a crocodile infested river, but unfortunately that never happened. We did get to cross two rivers by makeshift ferries however, and that was easily the closest thing to Oregon Trail we’ve done on the entire trip.
With no chiropractors within 750 miles of us, we did our best to stretch out and relax for the next three days in the Great Tsingy National Park and the majestic sunset along Baobab Avenue.