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krisek Toliara - A travel report by Krys
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Toliara,  Madagascar - flag Madagascar -  Toliara
15490 readers

krisek's travel reports

A gateway to world's grandest beaches and baobabs.

  9 votes
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Toliara (aka Tulear) on Madagascar's west coast, just few miles north of the Tropic Of Capricorn, is a very pleasant city. It boasts the largest rickshaws in the country, excellent social life, fine dining and cafes. It is a few miles from super beaches.

Toliara travelogue picture
Toliara is one of the nicest places, or towns in Madagascar. It is similar maybe to Toamasina on the eastern coast, but with wider avenues and palm trees. And with better food and larger pousse-pousse (for taller and darker people!) than those on the east coast and the centre of the island.

The most important aspect of Toliara’s advantage over Toamasina is a lot nicer weather. The disadvantage however is – no beach. Instead, there is mud, mangroves and excrement, yes a brown substance that exits people's backsides. When I read in the guide book that one of the travellers reported that one of the most comfortable hotels in town promised the room with 'vue de la mer' they instead received one with 'vue de la merde'. It was true when I visited, too. I was thinking about it on my way to Toliara, but was not sure how to imagine it. Unfortunately, now I have seen it and smelt it myself!

The city centre is pleasant and somewhat organised but the uptown looks like a village with small bamboo-palm huts, the whole range of animals and agricultural fields. It was not surprising for me anymore at this point, as I have seen similar combination at the earlier stages of my trip, including the capital, Antananarivo. It was actually interesting to see such consistency.

I came to Toliara to rent a robust car to take me to Morombe for the total eclipse of the sun. I booked it in the capital, and I just needed to get there to pick it up. It did not work that way, as the guy, who had committed to my booking, rented the car to someone else. I was in trouble and a large proportion of my time in Toliara I spent on maintaining an acceptable level of adrenaline, looking for alternative transportation and even trying to find a place to sleep. But I loved it.

Favourite spots:
Toliara travelogue picture
At sunset of the first day, a bit before the time I found my next night arrangements, I had bought some woodwork, or better woodcarvings, (masks, zebu, people) to make my day. That was an interesting, long, and a good day so it was important to make sure it was ended properly. I decided to play a bit with the ‘artists’ there and started twisted conversations. I did not speak French, or Malagasy for that matter, and had to improvise most of the time, but it was funny as my vocabulary was based on Luis de Funes films.

I decided to get some gifts to my friends back in Europe and browsed through the local art. They had many different items over there, including seashells, starfish, bracelets, wooden animals. I liked the tall, super slim woodcarvings of people. I was joking with the locals that the sculptures were representing vazahas (white people), because they did not carry many of the African or black people features. There was a lot of discussion about it and a lot of laughter.

What's really great:
Toliara travelogue picture
I simply refused to believe that these were actually Malgasy people, and the artists would try harder and harder to convince me that they were actually Antananarivien people from the capital. In fact, the people in the east did look a lot less than black people and those who lived in the south and west of Madagascar.

It was a good trading activity and all of us shook hands at the end of the deal. I bought a few very tall and super slim carvings representing people from the Malagasy capital. And a few masks as well. I was not sure whether that was such a good idea, as I was just at the beginning of my holiday, which meant that I would have to carry these items until my last day on this island. Somewhat cumbersome, but I felt good – shame about my rucksack.

In Toliara, I liked the avenue near the ocean, which was lined with tall palm trees. It was tidy. In the centre, I liked the central square. I had a couple of pavement cafes. Perfect for a snack, people watching and meeting tourists.

A city 'beach' of Tolilara
A city 'beach' of Tolilara
Toliara was very nice and in the winter very, very warm. It should be very easy to imagine how hot it gets in the summer, despite the rain and wind. Although it was a nice town there was little to do. There were tow interesting museums. One called 'museum' on the Boulevard Philbert Tsiranana had a good collection of rare masks and Sakalava erotic tomb decorations. The other museum - Musee de la Mer (route de la Porte) was a little less interesting, unless one was an ichthyologist. This museum had a very rare coelacanth (related to lungfishes and tetrapods) which was believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period, until a specimen was found in 1938. Now, it is sometimes found in the area.

Outside of town, I knew that there was the Tomb of King Baba, who died about 100 years ago. He might have been a descendant of the Masikoro kings of Baba, reported by the British navy in the 18th century. I planned to visit it, but problems with my logistics prevented me.

Toliara travelogue picture
There were no rooms available in any of the hotels in the town!! Everything in Toliara was booked because of the president's visit. A lady from Chez Alain (a good accommodation option, actually - near the bus station), Elianne, who helped me with renting a different car, promised to find accommodation for me for the next night. What a very nice and helpful person! She found an en suite room in Hotel Transit for about $25, near the museum.

Hotel Transit was not bad, but well overpriced. It was going through a redecoration process and some rooms were better than others. Still, the area was safe, the garden was getting better and the garden bar was very pleasant. What most important however, was the beauty of the receptionist named Iovainina. She spoke quite good English as well, what made her even more attractive to me. She was very serious and very responsible, looking after everything and everyone. She was the perfect supervisor.

There were about 20 other hotels in Toliara.

Toliara travelogue picture
There were three funny 'maintenance' guys working in my hotel. I invited one of them for a drink at the hotel’s garden bar and he very politely asked whether he could take his two friends with him. As soon as I agreed, the entire hotel’s male service team (six men) was sitting with me at the same table drinking their local THB beer.

They actually could not believe that I would buy the entire round for them. I was wondering what type of tourists went to Madagascar, who would not buy a beer to a local, friendly person. I do not mean a random person in the street, but the one who actually works to make sure that your stay is as pleasant as possible.

After they had three beers each, they dragged me to a local bar. I mean local bar, somewhere in a hut where the ‘bar’ is located somewhere in the backyard and from the sitting area one does not even see the ‘bar tender’. I was taken through those parts of the town that I have not visited. In complete darkness! The bar was super! Very busy.

Toliara travelogue picture
It was kind of a liquor shop with a sitting area for immediate consumption. It was very interesting there. It felt like in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, in thickening smoke of the local cigarettes, amongst the frivolous crowd of locals relaxing and forgetting about the whole world. I was the only foreigner over there, the local music was played loud and the atmosphere was very special and naturally became unforgettable.

The guys from the hotel could not be more cheerful necking down one beer after another. We spent a couple of hours there and they eventually wanted me to go to the Za Za club with them, but I could not agree as I was leaving to Morombe the very next morning as early as 7 o’clock so I had to be fully operational. The Za Za, near the ocean front, was an upmarket place, which I would normally avoid anyway. Unless one was with a group of people - easier to avoid the working girls. But for locals it was a dream of a place to talk about for a few months if attended.

Toliara travelogue picture
The restaurant L'Etoile de Mer, just across the street from the hotel, where I stayed the first night, was really good. I could not resist from having garlic giant prawns. And fish soup! Absolutely amazing place, large in a wooden pavilion, with great service and seafood not from this planet! Everything was so tasty and fresh, that there are no words to describe. The menu was long and they made different versions of everything - from local sauces to Chinese spices. When I went there, it was still a bit early, so the restaurant was not very busy. The service was very efficient and friendly. I spent about £4 there and I could not believe how much I had to eat. They had a patio near the avenue (picture opposite) - perfect for fresh juices during the day.

There were no beachfront bars or restaurants in Toliara. The beach was not that great anyway, but meybe one day it will be cleaned up. The city would benefit from this enormously, and the restaurants would be popular.

Other recommendations:
Toliara travelogue picture
The nearest beaches were in Ifaty 2 hours (27kms, 16.8 miles) away on a very rough road with expensive and limited transport. People who eventually went there said that it was absolutely worth going. Even if you are on a tight budget, you should save some on the way and stay in a resort in Ifaty. Although I wanted to visit Ifaty, a beach resorts place, but I could not figure out the transport how to get there, bearing in mind that I had snooze in Toliara to get on the Land Rover to Morombe. On my way north, I was travelling through the village of Ifaty, but I could not see any resorts, as the beach was still approximately 800 meters from the main road. Unusually, I was not allowed to drive on the beach. One should therefore bear in mind that if not having made reservation or deciding where to stay, the exploration of the area would involve a lot of walking. Resorts were not close one to another. The village of Ifaty itself however was lovely enough. People looked happy there and calm.

Published on Wednesday November 12th, 2008

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Thu, Nov 27 2008 - 11:53 AM rating by marianne

as ever, amazing!

Thu, Nov 13 2008 - 06:16 AM rating by rangutan

Amazing report, country-of-its-own.

Wed, Nov 12 2008 - 01:32 PM rating by pesu

Thanks, Krys, very funny again, indeed. I like how you try to 'maintain an acceptable level of adrenaline', how you descibe your L. de Funès - French and that you buy wooden gifts at the beginning of your holiday.... :-)

Wed, Nov 12 2008 - 12:35 PM rating by tokyomike

You had me at "gateway to beaches"...until I read about the merde. lol

Dude, your writing is insanely good. There ought to be a "6 star" rating for reports like this. And that 2-tree photo is sick. I love it! The story of the night out with the locals is also amazing, and is the kind of thing travellers live for. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading this report, Madagasgar is now on my list of places to visit. My only very serious criticism is that this report would have been enhanced with a photo of Iovainina, ya tease! lol

Stellar report! Thanks!!

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