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krisek Morondava - A travel report by Krys
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Morondava,  Madagascar - flag Madagascar -  Toliara
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krisek's travel reports

A perfect entry to the eighth continent

  12 votes
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I decided to go to Madagascar, when I saw a great photo of a baobab forest somewhere on the Internet. It was my first long holiday on my own and I loved it. The island became my favourite place on the globe, and Morondava, my favourite spot on it.

Crown Lemur
Crown Lemur
Most of the day we spent on driving through savannah, on a dry land. Driving was based simply on guessing the way. My map was not detailed enough. The local people therefore were the map and many times they said – no, this isn’t village A, it’s village B. The discussions sometimes took quite long because the locals were interested in the conversation and, better else, in tourists in the car.

When the road became an enormous beach – several kilometres long and at least one kilometre wide, the car was drinking the very last drops of the diesel. Being on a massive beach meant that it wasn’t a place to get fuel. However it meant that instead, the level of adrenaline in one’s bloodstream, increased considerably. We poured diesel from spare containers and realised that the car would go just slightly farther than 100km. We had about 100km to go to the first petrol station which was located in… Morondava. That was one third of the way that remained before us and the sun already set five minutes before. Decisions had to be made and I decided to go as far as we could because even if we had to walk the last few kilometres it should not be too far.

After it got completely dark, driving got more challenging. This was due to a few factors like: sand track in the tall and thick bush, wild animals, and rivers to cross. One of the rivers was 400 meters wide and there was no bridge, no ferry. It was completely dark! There was no bridge and no ferry. People lived on either bank of the river helping people cross for a small tip. As there was no turning back for us and we had absolutely no willingness to linger by the river until the sunrise, it didn’t take long to debate whether to take the risk. I was happy I did. It was again an exhilarating experience! The locals simply stood in the river with burning torches marking the places where the river’s bottom was flat and the water was not deep. We crossed! And reached Morondava on the last drops of fuel. It was small but civilised.

Favourite spots:
Well, no surprise that this place blossomed with tourism as climate there was the best on the entire island. It enjoyed the driest weather with plenty of sunshine – more than 10 months of hot beach weather! There were a few sand beaches – one large long beach around the town – empty and idyllic.

On the beach, there were several vessels abandoned by the owners and/or insurance companies. I was amazed to see which countries some of the ships came - Panama or Nicaragua were far, far away from Madagascar. It looked pretty nasty though, because the boats rusted and the beach looked somewhat polluted in places. Pieces of the rusted metal distributed by the wind created health hazard and danger of serious infection. Beaches were however large and it was very easy to find a spot under a palm that was clean and free from nasty sights.

In the town centre there was a giant baobab tree and lively market, which became my favourite spots, too.

What's really great:
Avenue des Baobabs
Avenue des Baobabs
Avenue of Baobabs. I heard about this place long before I started planning to go to Madagascar. So, it was the most photographed spot of the island. Extremely attractive place and terrifically photogenic! The best time to take pictures there was... the entire day. People would claim that the far best time would be the sunset and soon after sunrise and although the light was in fact very good at these times, during the day however, there were less tourists around and locals would pose for photographs eagerly.

During the hour of sunset, it was in fact attractive to see how the colours of the trees changed and the background composed perfect shots of the area. However, sunrise was a lot better because the sky was usually more cloudy, which made the greatest, or better, the most dramatic effect with these magnificent trees. I went to the Avenue several times. And to this day I dream about it. It makes Madagascar look like a different planet.

Baobabs Amoreaux
Baobabs Amoreaux
And yet, there is more to see around Morondava. A first example is the Baobabs Amoreaux, the Communal Natural Monument of Morondava. It features two baobab trees hugging one another like being in love. It is actually quite a nice spot and the trees look amazing! I did not know about this place but I quickly found out from many postcards, which my hotel was selling. There is a lovely legend about this place, too. Two young lovers, who didn’t want to go to war with their king, hid in the forest. They were never found by the troops and when their died as very old people, in the place of their house, these two great baobabs grew.

Kirindy Reserve, a private reserve was pretty, but could hardly rival with other reserves on Madagascar. It is a home of a few lemur species and chameleons - both easily spotted there. But I was disappointed with the place. The staff was lazy. I almost had to beg to get a guide for an hour walk. I was charged three times as much (USD 6) as in a state park.

Avenue des Baobabs
Avenue des Baobabs
Morondava Beach Hotel was superb. It was directly on the beach, and offered a few options of accommodation. I took a little bungalow directly in the sand. It had two beds, one with giant mosquito net, clean shower room, a terrace, a sandy garden with palm trees and a great view. It was not expensive, either (USD20), and its location was perfect: on the beach, few hundred yards from the nightclub, in the middle of friendly residential area and away from posh tourist resorts (not many in Morondava though) and traffic.

Along the same stretch of the beach there were numerous other places to stay. Some almost private houses, the other posher tourist places, but there was enough to fit any budget, really.

A girl at the beach
A girl at the beach
The nightclub near my hotel was called My Lord. And oh my Lord, was it of a good quality! The entire building was made of wood, bamboo cane and palm tree and really well decorated. Its interior could make everyone believe it could actually be anywhere on this planet. Good music! Nice blend of European and Malagasy rhythms.

It was popular too with locals. Guys overdressed dancing with quite interesting folk way, and gorgeous girls, dancing with some mystic sensual intuition. The balance was not right though, as there was a lot less girls than guys. Although most of them very beautiful. I’m not sure why they all 'loved me very much'. Perhaps because of my fresh and beautiful tan. I haven't been hunted since university! There were four girls who wanted to ‘go with me’ – all together. My French wasn’t good enough so I just said that there was only so much water in the fountain. Not only were they four girls – two of them were pregnant! Then I said ‘Allah will forgive only so much’.

Locals usually relaxed near the giant baobab in the centre or around the market. Some wandered on the beaches, particularly the kids playing with whatever stimulated their imagination - tyres, bicycle wheels, kites. I liked the beach, too. It was great to chat to the kids. They would teach me Malagasy and I would teach them English. They did not want anything but just to be around and play.

The beaches were also a favourite spot for ‘working girls’. They were usually very beautiful and could be persistent. However, few spoke English, so what it seemed like a hard way to tell me to go away, worked well, since they eventually resigned from their pursuits as they could not subtly explain what they wanted.

White Sifaka
White Sifaka
Restaurants and bars normally face the ocean so the lunch break or dinner guarantees nice view and the sound of smashing waves. Some of the restaurants and hotels have difficulties with abrasion (coast erosion caused by the sea) as the ocean had already claimed a lot of coast. The huge stones thrown in the water to prevent that did not really take an effect.

There are some examples of properties destroyed at the coast – some submerged already in the water, claimed by the ocean. And there a few very close to the water’s edge that during high tides, usually in the evening, waves could reach several tables inside the restaurant’s open air terrace. One must therefore be careful when selecting tables, unless one wants a surprise free garnish of raw see weed with their skewered giant prawns and garlic grilled lobster.

My favourite restaurant was Les Bouganvilliers - half way from my hotel to the centre. It served the best seafood.

Other recommendations:
It was relatively easy to get to Madagascar. There were a few flight options from London via Paris, Rome, Nairobi or Johannesburg. I chose Johannesburg.

This wasn’t a classical backpacker trip, since I hired a car with a driver. Car rental outside the capital came always with a driver, and wasn’t cheap - USD 70 - 100 a day. There is a good network of shared taxis - minibuses that go almost anywhere in the country. Although it is hard to get to Morondava from the south (Toliara, Morombe). There is an airport though and flights are cheap.

Before I got to Morondava, I visited a few other places on Madagascar, and perhaps I will submit separate reports on them, too.

It is a good idea to take French phrase book. I did not speak French (only few words) when I landed on Madagascar, but after six weeks, I could have a basic conversation. The Malagasy are world’s friendliest people. They smile beautifully, are genuine and express true interest in the visitors.

Published on Tuesday February 12th, 2008

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Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 05:29 AM rating by magsalex

Such wonderful pictures!

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 06:05 AM rating by rangutan

Glossy magazine stuff, wonderful!

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 04:02 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Text and pictures are superb!

Tue, Feb 12 2008 - 01:25 PM rating by davidx

Great report. I saw numerous baobobs near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and they really are something else.
I thought for a minute you were going to say that you had run the car on adrenalin - and I could almost [but not quite] have believed you.

Tue, Feb 12 2008 - 11:10 AM rating by terje

6 weeks with rental cars and driver..... how did you finance that?? :-)

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