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

Madagascar\'s capital of baobabs. Morondava.

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Morondava is one of Madagascar's sunniest places, has a couple of lovely beaches, good choice of places to stay and is in close proximity to the country's most photographed spot - the Avenue of Baobabs.

Avenue des Baobabs
Avenue des Baobabs
Although Morondava was one of the best spots in Madagascar to visit, there were just three main reasons to visit. First one was the world famous Avenue of Baobabs, the countries most photographed spot. The second one was the Tsingy National Park. And the third one was weather - over 300 sunny days per year. Yet, there were also other, less major reasons, which made the town so attractive.

This was my second visit to Morondava. I was already there back in 2001. I strolled on the beach a bit and hiked to town. There were a lot of changes since 2001. There were a lot more sealed roads and pavements. Back in 2001, Nosy Kely was not paved, had few buildings on it - maybe three of four hotels. Now, there were many more, there were more households and buildings overall, and a few bars and eateries right on the beach. A lot of improvement indeed.

I went to the bank to change €100, but I cringed at the long and slow moving queue. I did not have my visa card with me, otherwise, I would have taken money out of the ATM right there instead. I had to go back to the hotel. On the way, I spotted a bright red Renault 4L. I asked for a driver but he could not be found. A few guys cried his name, but after a while, I said that it was not important and continued to Nosy Kely. But the car caught up with me, of course. I chatted to him about the trip to the Avenue des Baobabs, agreed the price for the tour (50,000 ariary or €16.40) and he insisted we went right that minutes. It did not matter to him how long I was going to take at the spot there. He therefore took me to the hotel for passport and cash card. On the way, we stopped at the bank, I took cash out of the ATM and within 30 minutes I was again standing in the middle of the magnificent Baobab Avenue (Alee des Baobabs). It was a pleasant deja vu. We also continued 7 kilometres farther to see the Baobabs in Love, and then went back to the main avenue for sunset. I managed to capture a few new angles, which I missed 12 years ago.

Favourite spots:
Avenue des Baobabs
Avenue des Baobabs
The Avenue of Baobabs was most definitely my favourite spot near Morondava, and I am sure I was not the only one. Although most visitors swarmed the avenue at sunset, this sand track flanked by giant andasonia grandidieri baobabs looked fantastic at any time of day. The trees' smooth bark subtly changed colour gradually as the golden disc of the sun travelled towards the horizon. The avenue was in the middle of the everyday country. The villagers simply passed along the track casually, walking from one village to another, carrying shopping and water on their heads. The dozens of cameras of the visitors did not bother them. Some guys rode their bikes. Some just relaxed on the grass amongst the shadows of the giant trees. Young boys showed off their pet chameleons, with which they organise fighting matches. I did not see one, but the boys treated these competitions seriously and the matches were apparently very interesting.

What's really great:
Chameleon at the Avenue des Baobabs
Chameleon at the Avenue des Baobabs
I liked the relaxed atmosphere of Morondava and its vicinity. The population was welcoming and friendly. It was very safe to walk about anywhere in town, on the beaches, along the main road. People said high and smiled. The plenitude of activities around Morondava was another of its qualities. The baobabs and villages around. The pirogue rides amongst the mangroves. The pirogue rides and line line fishing in the ocean, and with a bit of luck the whale watching. Deep sea fishing on motor boats. Dhow cruises along the coast. Lemur tracing at one of the private reserves nearby. And trips to the Sakalava graveyards, complete with their unique carvings including the erotic art, which has become increasingly hard to find these days due to looting. Many graveyards are nowadays hidden from tourists, and only a handful is open for visitors - but a guide is strictly required to avoid upsetting the local communities.

Relaxing in the shadow of a grand baobab tree
Relaxing in the shadow of a grand baobab tree
In the town itself, there was not much to see. Morondava had a handful of old and crumbling colonial-Malagasy buildings but nothing spectacular. Yet, Morondava had great, vast beaches and dense mangroves along the river. Still, the most fabulous sight that Morondava had were the baobabs.

In season, there were also whales. However, due to the relatively shallow waters, one has to go some 15 miles deep into the open ocean to meet the whales. And I did it in a small pirogue with an ancient design. Two boys took me. Bir, 17, a quiet one but with a temper, and Lito, 18, a constantly smiling boy. Torti, 28, who sold the trip to me, tagged along to do some fishing. The trip lasted 5.5 hours instead of 2. Madagascar disappeared from the horizon and there was just ocean around. I was mighty impressed with the navigation skills of the teenagers. They had no equipment, no compass, just the sun in the sky. They were quite accurate guessing the time by looking at the sun. I saw no whales.

Baobabs and sunset
Baobabs and sunset
Morondava was one of the two places on my itinerary for this trip where I did not book accommodation before arrival. The other one was Toliara. I was arriving in the morning, so I figured I would have enough time to browse around Nosy Kelly part of the town to find a nice place to stay.

I chose Hotel Maeva right at the beginning of the peninsula. It was the simplest of all hotels I stayed to-date, and the cheapest - at 70,000 ariary per night. It was right on the beach, all rooms had ocean view and the breeze was sweeping the rooms when windows were open. Some rooms had air-conditioning (not sure if it worked as I did not use it) and there were always a couple of fans. Mosquito nets were provided. The hotel had free wifi, which was available all over the venue, including the bedrooms. No credit cards were accepted, but the owners were happy to accept euros at the week's average spot rate (slightly better than offered by bureau de change and banks).

At Jean le Rasta
At Jean le Rasta
The legendary My Lord Club was closed. The alternative, Tapas sour la Nuit, were closed on all nights I tried to check the venue. So, I went to the Chez Jean le Rasta bar to listen to some live reggae music. It was a lively, relatively well stocked bar with plenty of sitting. The music was not bad at all, and Jean le Rasta sang as well. He did two reggae pieces, one about Madagascar and the other about legalising marijuana.

On my last night, Bir, Lito and Torti joined me for a few drinks. Two other friends of Lito's tagged along as well. They initially wanted to go to Tapas, but since it was closed I asked them to take me to a local bar at the beach. There was one near the main post office. We had some beers and I bought the boys some skewers of zebu and grilled fish for Bir, who only ate seafood. It was a good night, but it was hard to communicate. None of the boys spoke French, and Torti got drunk and I could not understand his form of French any more.

Avenue des Baobabs
Avenue des Baobabs
The beaches of Morondava were the perfect hangout, and there were a few beachfront cafes, a couple upscale ones - frequented by the foreign travellers, and a few local ones - best for socialising with the locals. The beaches were vast. Particularly during low tide. The fact that there were not many tourists in Morondava when I visited, most people who were relaxing on the white sand and did some crazy body surfing in the ocean were the locals. The best time to go there for people watching was in the late afternoon, about 3pm. At this time the beach was the busiest.

At the entry to Nosy Kely, the beaches were the widest and there were two or three beach bars and beach cafes with tables in the sand. Best spots to sip cold drinks and sink toes in the sand. In town itself, there were much fewer venues for hanging around.

Grilled lobster at Les Bougainvilliers
Grilled lobster at Les Bougainvilliers
One of the best restaurants in Morondava was the Les Bougainvilliers. I discovered it back in 2001. It only improved over the last 12 years! And although I wanted to try a different place on my first night back in Morondava, I could not stop myself from having a grilled lobster there again, and some other seafood on skewers.

The restaurant, which is also a simple hotel right on the beach, charged 35,000 ariary for perfectly grilled lobsters. I went there twice during my stay in Morondava. And once I had a massive lobster, which was so big that it might have been older than me. The service was swift and friendly. The only drawback of the spot was its ageing decor. I was also not quite sure about the metal plates. But why would I care when I have a perfectly grilled and uber-tasty crustacean to scoff? And seeing that Malagasy people, who could afford it, frequented the venue, as well? Yum, yum.

Other recommendations:
Baobabs In Love, the female is on the left
Baobabs In Love, the female is on the left
Morondava had an airport. It was one of few Madagascar's domestic only airports that did not attract a security departure tax. It had direct flights to Antananarivo and Toliara, when I visited. There was no bank, no bureau de change or ATM at the airport. In town, there were two ATMs, one with Societe Generale (all major cards - reliable) and the other with Bank of Africa (visa only - somewhat unreliable). I only spotted one bureau de change in town, but it offered lousy rates.

Back in 2001, it took two days to reach Tana from Morondava by road. In 2013, the road was reportedly much better, allowing to reach the capital in about 8 hours. Had I known that before booking flights, I would have travelled by car and not by plane.

Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, which is often advertised as one of the nearby attractions is actually about 200km north of Morondava! A journey there takes at least one day. Then to explore the park one needs at least 2 days!

Published on Saturday October 5th, 2013

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