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

Toamasina. Madagascar's capital of pousse-pousse.

  8 votes
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Tomasina (aka Tamatave) still carries remnants of glory. It has remarkable mansions and wide alleys lined with tall graceful palm and travellers trees. Countless man-pulled rickshaws (pousse-pousse) vividly decorated add plenty of colour.

Toamasina's pousse-pousse guys
Toamasina's pousse-pousse guys
A 20 seater Twin Otter aircraft usually operated flights from Nosy Boraha to Toamasina. It was an experience that should always be recommended to any at least moderately adventurous traveller.

I am sure that everyone else would also try to exercise as much imagination as possible, trying to understand the physics about flying, trying to calculate the length of the wings and then multiplying it by the strength or thrust of the prop-engines, dividing it by the sum of the people on board multiplied by the g-force of the planet, etc. Calculation like that without a calculator is a challenge on its own and combined with waiting and watching the actual aircraft landing - doubleplusexciting!

At the airport, before they let you on board, it already started to be very interesting and highly unusual when, apart from the luggage, they also weighed you. It gave the first thrills, stimulated imagination (particularly if you had not seen the plane yet) and it was quite funny. Well, in my particular case, it was also, hmm... motivating!

There were always locals observing you closely and examining the amount of your luggage. If you happened to be smaller than average and not weighing a lot, plus your luggage looked lighter than others, many of the Malagasy people would gather around you, even follow you to the toilet, if they had to, in order not to lose you from sight, and then upon the check-in procedures and weighing they would claim the luggage allowance you would not use.

The aircraft itself looked fine, but to observe how it landed definitely gave you strength! There were one or two pilots and one additional piece of crew, who didn't give security briefs or anything that would resemble a safety demonstration. I decided to sit at the emergency exit and kept one bag on the floor under my feet, the camera tripod leaned on the emergency exit and the other bag on my lap. Well the flight was fine, a bit bumpy in the clouds but the views, again, were excellent!

Favourite spots:
Travellers Tree and Toamasina's harbour in the background
Travellers Tree and Toamasina's harbour in the background
The pretty nice town of Toamasina on the east coast was also the largest and the most important port of Madagascar. The seaside promenade was long and quite attractive with the view of the ocean and the port. Some huge vessels parked literally on the beach! The beach was also quite nice and large. Interestingly, a lawn extending from the ocean front avenue, merged with the hot and powdery sand.

The beach was not only utilised as the ships parking lot, but also as a football pitch. It was big enough and I have to admit that I did not realise straight away how important this football matches must have been. I stepped several times on the ‘pitch’, which was not very well received. I should have known better seeing the teams dressed in proper football uniforms. This is what happens when you are not a ‘kill-for-it’ football fan. Nevertheless, I just did not know that on Madagascar it was normal to play important matches on the beach!

What's really great:
Toamasina's central alley with the palmtrees
Toamasina's central alley with the palmtrees
Furthermore, I thought it was again quite unusual for a Malagasy town to have wide and long avenues, most of them planted with palm trees. Normally, like in Antananarivo (the capital city) for example, streets were narrow, dark and practically without pavement. Not in Toamasina! They were wide, had spacious pavements and green areas in between. It was quite evident that before 1994, when the Cyclone Geralda stroke the island with exceptional ferocity, this town had been an urbanistic pearl of Madagascar.

So far, so good, but one of the most terrible annoyances of Toamasina, however were the 'working girls' along the main beach avenue. They were all extremely beautiful and disgustingly aggressive. I honestly didn't know what they were counting for! All tourists did know that AIDS was a serious problem in Madagascar, where, in addition, there was still little publicity of illnesses passed through exactly what the 'working girls' do.

Canal of Toamasina
Canal of Toamasina
Toamasina was the town on Madagascar with the largest number of pousse-pousse (rickshaws). They were much more than ordinary taxis. The owners of the pousse-pousse were quite aggressive, in a friendly way, in inviting tourists for the ride (persistent or assertive might be better words, actually). But it was locals who mainly used them. Tourists were obviously charged more, but given the fact that it was a hard work I believe £0.15 per kilometre it was not a lot. I decided to go on the ride with one of them. His name was Francis. He was ever so happy to take me. It was the right choice. This poor lad took me for a tour not only in the town but also to the Canal des Pangalanes, where people lived on boats or in wooden houses at the banks of the canal. Had I not taken on the offer to go on the ride, I would have never got to see the canal. I heard about it, but I was not sure how to get there. It was amazing what I saw there – it had the National Geographic feel and look.

A street in from of Hotel les Flamboyants
A street in from of Hotel les Flamboyants
Hotel les Flamboyants, on the corner of Blvd Liberation and R de la Fraternite, where I stayed, was a mid size hotel located in a colonial mansion. It charged about €10-15 for a single room with air conditioning. It had nice balconies and the rooms were spacious with en-suite bathrooms. Bathrooms might have been slightly better scrubbed for my liking, but the setting was charming and looked like it once had a class. It was comfortable and in a safe area of town. Pousse-pousse guys monitored the front door 24x7, so there was always transport available.

There were about 15 good accommodation options in town. Hotel Les Flamboyants belonged to the upper category, but it cost approximately 65% less than Miramar or Neptune, arguably the best ones. Hotels in this category were supposed to accept credit cards, but that was a myth, apart from Hotel Joffre, which did (cash advances, too!).

The rock bottom options, like Hotel Plage (right next to Neptune) or Capucine charged about £3 a night.

Toamasina's oceanfront
Toamasina's oceanfront
There were a few late night cafes and a couple of clubs, which attracted a mixed crowd. The nightclubs were full of working girls. The disco near Hotel Plage, the Queens Club, was the most popular and lively. It was safe, if you were able to successfully say 'no' about three thousand times to sex with strangers, whom you would likely never see again in your life. The club was open most of the nights and it was the hottest on Fridays and Saturdays.

Toamasina was a town of fair size and amongst the pretty colonial buildings, every here and there, someone had stand selling snacks and simple drinks, almost all night long. There was not much action around them, but they were small pockets of socialising and catching up on the gossip. Plus the snacks were so cheap that it is impossible to denominate them in £, €, or $.

Every time Francis and I passed some other pousse-pousse, I could spot a little jealous looks of the other rickshaw-ers. I would like to speculate that there were two main reasons for this jealousy. First, something’s telling me that this was the main one, that Francis had a job with a vazaha (a white man), and therefore could expect a good pay – better than theirs. Second, that I was on my own and Francis did not have to carry the entire family with their shopping from the food market, like most of the others. I could also see and hear that the others were commenting something, usually with a smile, on which Francis would react with a grin. They were right.

Riding the pousse-pousse was the ultimate hangout. Plus the lads knew about all the secret places around the town and beyond. It was also the best method to see the town. There was nothing stopping you to take a snack and drink on board and relax!

Restaurant at the beach
Restaurant at the beach
Toamasina was one of the better places on Madagascar for fine dining. The best restaurant in town belonged to Hotel Neptune. It had a pavilion on the beach and was famous for its seafood platter and Sunday brunches.

Interestingly, the better places to eat were Chinese, like La Pacifique, Fortuna and Jade, the latter being more expensive. I almost tried them, but then I thought that there was no point of spending money on 'foreign' food on Madagascar.

Instead, I tried the samosas at the Adam & Eve (near Joffre hotel) and tried arguably the best pizza in town at the La Papillote. Both were also great for people watching. Particularly Adam & Eve with tables on the pavement.

For samosas, the best options were the street stands (huge cooking pots placed on carts) frying them as you waited. Very cheap and super fresh, and best to meet the locals, and mainly kids, who came in small groups to buy a couple of hot snacks and sometimes biscuits.

Other recommendations:
Although there was no evidence that AIDS had spread out widely on the island, however there had been few official reports and statistics on this matter. The prostitutes cruised the seaside boulevard only during the hours of darkness and therefore during the day the seafront was safe and relaxing.

Once one chose to visit the beach in the night, however, I have tested two effective ways to get rid of the hookers: it was almost enough to say that this was fady (a Malagasy word for superstition, taboo) or be very specific that she rather would have to pay you since there were so many other girls interested in having sex with a ‘vazaha’. The latter option was actually more effective than the first one.

In the good years, there was a fabulous train running from Toamasina all the way to the capital, taking about 20 hours. When I visited, the tracks were being repaired and no trains were running, but it was one of government's priorities to get the train running again.

Published on Wednesday November 12th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 12 2010 - 03:45 PM rating by porto

Top Drawer, as per usual Krys. :)

Thu, Nov 13 2008 - 06:12 AM rating by rangutan

One of the hidden corners of the world. interesting also just reading about getting there!

Thu, Nov 13 2008 - 04:31 AM rating by jorgesanchez

You are a machine to write 5 stars reports

Thu, Nov 13 2008 - 04:02 AM rating by achalek

What can I say... Another 5* report. Thanks Krys.

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