This is not really the first time I pack up things preparing to leave for a longer trip, so you might think by now I should be used to do this. But it is different every time I do it. This time I hardly keep anything. A good feeling If you can almost pick up all your possessions and walk to the airport with it.
Even though I have been preparing for month there are certain things that can only be done at the very end. All good friends want to be met for a last time and at the end it is getting very hectic. This all culminates at the very moment you leave. All of a sudden this is all over and it's getting quiet. Off we go for something new...
This time I want to start in Madagascar. Flying over Dubai I get there. Everything got here without problems. OK the huge dent on the frame I only saw a couple of days later. It should not be a problem.
I like that: arriving at the airport, putting together the bicycle and then ride into town. It always gives a good first impression of the country. This is quite good at first but soon I have to cope with an incredible amount of traffic and air full of black exhaust fumes. My GPS seems to lead me through the most narrow allays made of cobblestones. Antananarivo the capital of Madagascar lies at 1200m around a hill so the allays sooner or later get really steep. When I reach my hotel I am quite exhausted and have plenty of first impressions for the day.
After some days in town I start. But it is not this feeling 'hurray here we go again' that I usually have at the beginning of a new tour. Not because I don't like it but the ride out of town is much too dangerous to think of anything else but getting out here in one piece. After 10km the worst is over. There is now very little traffic and soon I am in the middle of the countryside.
I am already on this high plateau and so the road is quite hilly. The first impression is very good. The people are very friendly. Everywhere I look they smile at me. Many greet, but not every single one - perfect. Because I still have to wait for an important parcel I start with a short detour to a park in Andasibe. I am now on the best and most frequented road of Madagascar, not really too busy. There is always a lot of people walking along the road and surprisingly many cyclists. The landscape is a surprise at first: lots of rice paddies and pine forest every now and then.
The park of Andasibe is most known for the Indri. It's the biggest lemurs of Madagascar living here. When I waik up in the tent the next morning it sound as if the fire alarm had gone off. This is the unique sound of the Indri. For 2 days I do walks in the park and discover Indri, other lemurs, Chameleons and other smaller animals.
The first route that I have chosen is already quite challenging. In continuous ups and downs I am cycling over this high plateau and a 60km long construction site forces me to climb impossibly steep hills. But after I have left the construction site behind me it becomes a fantastic track. Rough but no problem to cycle and always passing little villages with these funny houses: red like the earth they are made from, small but two storey high and with a roof made of grass. 'Salut vazaha' (White man) all the kids greet me, as soon as I enter a village and like a bushfire those words travel to the other end of the village. There is hardly any motorized traffic anymore but all the more Zebu-carts, cyclists and pedestrians. People here often walk lang distances carrying heavy loads on the heads. Over 2000m I get here and between the field there is often pine forest.
When I reach Miandrivazo I almost collapse. No wonder with 36º in the shade. It is supposed to be the hottest town in Madagascar. But I have a break here because I load me and the bike in a pirogue (dugout canoe) and together with two boatmen travel down the Tsiribihina river. For three days the only sound I hear is the plunk of the paddle splashing then water and the birds along the river. At night we camp on a sand bank and eat fish from the river and during the day there are always plenty of animals to observe. We start in a dry savanna kind of landscape then pass the Tsiribihina gorge and shortly before we reach the western coast it looks like we just arrived in western Australia: red earth, termite hills, bush and of course the Boab trees. This first impression quickly disappears as soon as we get to a village. It is 3 fantastic days on the river through an otherwise almost inaccessible region.
After the river I make a detour without bike to the Tsingy. An impressive Karst rock formation made of countless limestone pinnacles and a maze of valleys and gorges between them.
Baobabs dominate the landscape from now on. These trees are just fantastic and almost stand guard along the road from now on, most imposingly along the Alleé des Baobabs. In Morondava I reach the west coast for the first time and enjoy some days in the little costal town.
With a taxi-brousse (bush taxi) I return back to the high plateau. Here the temperatures are again nicer for cycling. It is a landscape that reminds me of Indonesia with all the terraced rice paddies if it weren’t for the villages of European-looking multistorey houses. The scenery slowly becomes flatter but now there are everywhere these huge granite boulders flanking there road - very beautiful.
Pic Boby, with 2658m the second highest peak of Madagascar lies in the Parc national d'Andringitra. The access road to the park is already fantastic. A dream of a dirt track with some very steep climbs winds its ways through the valley, passing little villages, rice paddies and granite boulders along the way. With Jeannot, a guide, I climb the peak in two days. Unfortunately there is a lot of rain and on the summit icy 5º cold. A great tour nevertheless it is.
From one day to the next the landscape has changed into a wide open Savannah. Dry grass glows in the blistering sunlight and distances between villages have become much longer. In this region it is mostly the Barra people who live and breed Zebus. In the Parc National de l'Isalo I park the bike again and head off with a guide for a three day trekking. The parks consists of a huge sandstone mountain range with lots of peaks and narrow canyons in between. In those there are many great pools and waterfalls, perfect for a swim after walking across the hot plateau. The park is great and for the first two days we meet no other people and there are lots of plants and animals to explore.
With every day that I get closer to the coast it gets hotter again. I only cycle in the morning anymore but start before 5 o' clock. In Toliara I reach the coast. But there is no beach here yet. For that I have to continue cycling another 30km north. Well better said I push the bike mostly as the track goes right through the dunes and consists mostly of sand, deep sand that is. But then I reach Ifany, a little fishing village with a couple of bungalows. For some days I enjoy the beach and eat heaps of good fish.
On the way back to the north I make a detour to the east coast. It's an every changing ride from the high plateau down into a tropical jungle. Incredible how green it is here. The huts in the villages are now made of bamboo on stilts. All along the road all the exotic fruits that grow here are piled up: Papaya, Mango, Lychees, Durian and some more that I don't even know. But what the east coast is really known for is the coffee, pepper and mainly vanilla they grows here.
With the taxi-brousse I go back to Tana. Actually those 2 month where far to short for this huge island. A bit sad I say goodbye to Madagascar. This country, much more the friendly, ever smiling people here I have really come to like. I will miss the 'Salut vazaha' calls but of course I am also looking foreword to something new, because tomorrow I will leave the island by plane for…