Day 3 Antsirbe – Morondava The rain from the previous evening cleared into a beautiful fresh morning that marked the start of today's 490km journey. So, it was an early start with a hearty breakfast of bread, fruit, cereals, cold meats and some local hot dishes of fried donuts, beans, rice, sausage, cassava, and crepes (as you may have gathered the food has been delicious this adventure).
The first part of our drive out of town was through, yet again, a bustling melee of pedestrians, hand-drawn rickshaws, zebu carts, cars, trucks and buses. It wasn't long and we emerged onto wider, quieter tar roads on the NR34 heading west towards Morondava.
Along the road, we passed many small villages that do not have running water. There are public water points where water is collected in large yellow plastic bottles and taken to homes and shops.
Bustling Roads Water Collection Points Bus Fully Loaded
Just before our lunch stop at Miandrivazo, the heat starts to build as we descend from the highlands and the countryside changes to rolling arid hills.
The afternoon drive takes us through an area that has a different tribe - the Sakalava - who have the strongest African influence with darker skin and words that come from mainland African languages. Many of the women wear their hair in two buns like Princess Lea from Star Wars.
There are Nile crocodiles in this part of Madagascar. As we crossed one small bridge, a young boy was holding up two young ones. As we get closer to the coast mango trees start to appear in their hundreds, heavy with green mango's.
Sakalava Boy with Nile Crocodiles
After a long day on the road, we arrived in the small town of Morondava in the early evening. Our hotel, Trecicogne is set on water amounts the Mangroves, gets the "top pick" in the Lonely Planet.
Day 4 Morondava - Bekopaka
Today our adventure to Bekopaka would take us past the iconic avenue of Baobabs en route to Bekopaka.
After marvelling at how we managed to get all the cars into and out of the parking, some excellent Tetris skills were put to the test, we set off just after 7 AM to get an early start.
Tight Squeeze Start of the 4x4 adventure Dusty Red Track of the RN5
Arriving at the avenue of Baobabs is spectacular and they are as magnificent in real life as all the famous pictures that portray them. Madagascar is home to six of worlds nine species of Boabab and this area despite being very arid is covered with many Baobabs forests. We explored the avenue of Baobabs for us just over half an hour with many locals keen to see if we had any ‘’Bonbon''.
Iconic shot in the Avenue of Baobabs
After the avenue of Baobabs, we started along the dusty red track of the RN5, the real start of our 4x4 adventure and thankful that we had not traveled in the wet season as the road looked like it could be a serious mud obstacle course.
The rest of the day included two ferry crossings which are a bit more like pontoons. Boarding and disembarking the pontoon is always an exciting experience – in case you missed it, here is an entertaining clip with some commentary from Mike on boarding a pontoon.
Pontoon Crossing Madagascar Style
We arrived in Bekopaka just as the sun was setting, Olympe de Bemahara with its whitewashed walls is our base for the next three nights while we explore the surround Tsingy.
Day 5 Tsingy de Bemahara
We set off to explore the world heritage site of Tsingy de Bemahara National park. Tsingy which translates to ‘’the place where one cannot walk barefoot’’ is filled with spectacular limestone formations formed over hundreds of thousands of years with the movement of wind and water. The Tsingy is incredibly diverse spanning over 250km long and 11 spices of Lemurs.
Morning Paddle down the Manambolo River
Before our walk in the Tsingy we took a Pirogue (Madagascan canoe) down the Manambolo River and through the Manambolo gorge. Tsingy is a sacred place to the Malagasy with Vazimba tombs and Sakalava graves dotted in and out of the limestone forest. Our guides Zara, Roland, and Jamie, take us through the correct etiquette when visiting the site. Pointing with straight fingers is a big no-no!
Briefing before entering Tsingy Amazing limestone formations Exploring the Stone Forest of Tsingy
We were fortunate on our adventure to spot some Von der Decken's sifaka Lemur's, one of the largest species in the area, with a new born. The bird life is also interesting but sparse with is sighting a Greater Vasa Parrot, Dimorphic Egret, Cuckoo Rollers, Black Wing Stilt, White Faced Duck, Madagascan Kestrel and Billed Roller.
Our walk took about 1H30 to cover 500 meter due to the rugged terrain, and with the midday heat building, we headed back to Olympe de Bemahara to enjoy an afternoon relaxing by the pool!
Day 6 Tsingy de Bemahara
Due to the enormous size of Tsingy, we planned two days to explore this fascinating area. The area was so remote that is did not welcome tourists until 1998 when a Southern Section has declared a national park. The Northern section is an Integral Reserve, so tourists are not allowed to enter that area.
Today's adventure saw us split into two groups, with 1 group opting to do a longer more adventurous hike with some steep climbs and the other group enjoying a walk at a more natural gradient. The walk through the limestone pinnacles and caves brought us across many fossils in the rock formations. There were also some very adventurous suspension bridges to keep us on our toes.
Adventurous suspension bridge to keep us on our toes
We spotted several birds including Paradise Fly Catcher, Namaqualand Dove, Sunbird, Rock Thrush, Alouette, Giant Coua, and Robin. We came across a few more Lemurs, Sportive Lemur, Red-fronted Lemur and some smaller animals such as the Tsingy Banded Mongoose and Red Forest Rat.
It was a sweltering day, but the experience was well worth it. The pool at Olympe de Bemahara had our name on it after a good day’s adventure!
The Pool! A welcome sight after a hard day adventuring