Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Location: BLR, DXB
|Posted: Fri Jan 26, 2018 1:01 pm Post subject: I like to move it mo..... hmmm Madagascar + Reunion (part 1)
|There has been a long break in TRs, I guess I've been lazy. My last 3 holidays nada .... I did plan a South African safari TR but never got around to the writing bit. In my defence the other holidays the past year were a Caribbean cruise (hard to TR) and a Nepal trek to Everest base camp (also hard to write .... maybe?)
What's the first thing which comes to mind when we hear Madagascar?
... Oh ok ... there goes my highly original idea of naming this thing.
R and I hadn't been on holiday just the two of us in over a year. 20 months since Ecuador in Feb '16 to be precise I had my leave dates confirmed well in advance the big decision was where to go. Quite a few places on our list, but the season/time of year always comes into play. October .... hmmmm? I was keen on Madagascar and it didn't take any effort to convince R she was instantly in! What tilted it for us was the fact a lot of the natural beauty won't be around much longer the way things are going
So 10 days vacation meant a 9 Madagascar 'safari' it would be. When my work schedule came out I got a few extra days off at the end so we had a few extra days, Mauritius didn't interest us. Reunion? Yeessssss!!!!
There are a lot of pictures to go with my usual random info- the 2 part TR seems to be the norm. A new country (Reunion unfortunately doesn't count) 3 new airlines and 5 new airports.
So a little bit of history about this extremely diverse country. I knew it was a bit like Australia (as in most of the animals aren't not found anywhere else) but the extent and variety of endemic (only found in one particular place) species was incredible. The formation of Madagascar is a bit complicated, it broke away from Africa and India Hmmm ok basically it was part of one of those ancient continents, the west part broke away from what's now Africa and the rest broke away from what's now India. That means the island is ancient it was formed when dinosaurs roamed then evolution apparently took its course. I say apparently .... because ... apart from the Foosa there are no major predators (not counting eagles/snakes etc). The Lemurs evolved from monkeys and spent MILLIONS of years living a fairly cozy life free from that mild worry of being eaten by other creatures. This island is 1500km north to south and at some points over 500km wide and until 2000 years ago was human free. How did no predators evolve over 50-100-200 million years? Mr. Darwin?
This day was mainly travelling. Leave home at midnight get into the hotel in the evening sort of day but not super tiring. Getting to Antananarivo is ... lets say medium complicated? Viable options were via MRU, JNB, ADD or NBO. Actually the last 2 were not so easy, and except for MRU the others didn't have daily flights to TNR or had inconvenient timings/transits. Emirates flys twice a day to Mauritius both a380s so I figured getting there wouldn't be an issue and booked cheapy standby tickets. Heck was I wrong, thanks to Loadmaster Ojas I changed that to a confirmed Annual Leave Ticket and that's the only reason we made it on those flights. Who knew October is peak MRU season ... or is it always tourist season there?
There was a screw up on my part which pinched. Long story short- we get standby travel on Air Mauritius so I was keeping an eye on MRU-TNR loads and they looked ok. 2 days before the trip I tried to book them and nope ... no luck. Turns out we get standby travel ..... just not on that sector I wound up having to buy last minute roundtrip ticket which cost 4000 dirhams haye haye haye. Airline employees always crib when they have to spend real money on tickets and 2000 dirhams per person for a 2 hour roundtrip flight pinched. Only myself to blame.
DXB = Dubai
MRU = Port Louis (Mauritius) , Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Intl.
Not much to say, overnight flight boarded slept woke up had breakfast and we were there. I had the waffles.
There are no visa worries for Mauritius. We had to show the passport control chap the onward ticket and that was it, passports stamped and we collected our suitcases then headed straight upstarts to checkin.
A few fun informative pics of the airport. Concorde, wow imagine seeing her at this airport wow.
They had and have a lot of heavy metal visitors.
An AI 707
3B-NBI = a340-300
MRU = Port Louis (Mauritius) , Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Intl.
TNR = Antananarivo (Madagascar) , Ivato International
I don't remember the last time I flew a 343!! I was the excite! We were one of the first to check in there wasn't much of a line anywhere so by the time we got past security+duty free we had an hour or so to kill. Our credit cards gave us access to the MK lounge (there are 2 lounges both MK I didn't see any other one?) which had some nice apron views.
Very very good looking aircraft but it had oldish interiors, a very islandy theme with all types of blues. Ancient IFE which only showed a map + each leg space area had a ginormous IFE box. The cabin smelt a little dirty and the meal was quite bad. The chicken had no taste (not that chicken ever does ...) but the whole meal was tasteless. Somehow they messed up (some version of) chocolate cake 😱😤 Hooowwwww? Wasn't a particularly great flight apart from being a 340.
Madagascar has visa on arrival. This was an experience.
Anyway I'm getting ahead of myself, inflight instead of the usual immigration forms most countries have the cabin crew handed out little booklets which had the various immigration + health declaration (3) forms .... you tear off those pages and hand it to whoever. You keep the booklet which had bits of information + ads/deals on restaurants etc.
An abandoned Air Madagascar 343 was depressingly wrapped up on the tarmac. Alongside her was a military C-130 and next to us a Kenyan ERJ. A TK330 followed us in from MRU. TK fly IST-MRU-TNR but don't have traffic rights on the MRU-TNR leg. They landed behind us and I'd be surprised if 25 people got off that plane
No aerobridges or buses we walked to the terminal. The first step was the health form. R and I were the last few off the aircraft so there was a bit of a line ahead of us but it moved quickly. The cheeky health inspector lady took our form then asked for a 'small gift' with a big smile on her face. Guess she figured there was no one behind us so she could try her luck .... who knows 😕. I played dumb and feigned language barrier. She kept saying gift I kept saying tobacco and no cigarettes ? Write something? Sorry don't understand etc etc. Basically acted like I wasn't carrying tobacco and didn't have a form to fill out, thank god she lost interest and we moved along. Never experienced that before.
Next step was paying for the visa which was 25 euros a person paid in cash thankfully all this we knew in advance. No receipt given you just hand over your passport + money and the lady stuck a sticker and scribbled something and gave it back. This was also fairly quick. And she didn't ask for a gift.
Step 3 was the slowwesstttt we waited almost 40 mins. There was a single counter (with 6 people in one cubicle and one just outside) doing god knows what.
So ... follow me if you can. The first person #1 was a friendly chatty chap who said welcome to our beautiful country where are you from yada yada, he looked at our passport then handed it to #2. #2 was the big shot, she had 3 stripes on her uniform. She scanned the passport and typed stuff into the computer. The passport then moved along the desk and were added to a big pile of passports (the backlog). Chap #3 was doing the hard work. He was writing on the visa plus typing something else into his computer. Once he completed his bit he handed over the passport to #4. #4 checked to make sure things were in order (I guess? ... we also have lots of #4s in India.) #4 handed the passports to #5 who was standing on the outside of the cubicle. He read out the names and finally gave the passport back to the few dozen people waiting. #6 and #7 were security guards who also hung around looking intently or disinterested at what was going on.... I guess both? Some passengers were discretely handing over USD bills to #2 to get their work done. Hmmmmmm 😂🤔. Actually it all seemed pretty out in the open and wasn't very discrete.
Anyway after waiting and waiting our visa formalities were done. Went thru the green channel and showed some officer our visa. Literally 7 feet away stood another chap. Yup you guessed it, did the exact same thing. Looked at our visa then let us thru. Sheeesshhh I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad there are more faltu place than India 😜
I converted some money at the airport (the ATM wasn't working). 3020 Madagascar Ariary (that's their currency) for 1 $USD. It wasn't a bad rate tho. A loonnnggg drive into town there's basically one 2 lane road with traffic everywhere. But here's the thing about Africa - everything is clean! Compared to India I mean. Barely any garbage lying around, no spit stains. Pavements were clean. This seemed like poor version of India but cleaner, which In my experience is most of Africa.
Checked into the Pallisandre Hotel quickly freshened up and went for a quick walk. We were told not to walk around the city at night, it got dark by 1830 so a short walk and we went back for dinner.
Our driver (same chap as yesterday) was picking us up at 0730 for our drive to Andasibe. So 0600 alarm then shower then breakfast. Almost every morning from now would be an early start.
Breakfast at the hotel was great! Fresh croissants heavyish but wow + crepes + a yummy pain chocolate were the highlights 😋. They had a local Malagasy breakfast as well which was a soupy rice with vegetables personally I didn't like it much a bit tasteless.
Soon we were on our way to Mantadia national park in Andasibe which is 16,000 hectares. It was only 150 km away but took 3 hours to get there.
First stop was Peyrieras Reserve which is a small private reserve about 2 hours away- basically insects and reptiles. We first went to see the crocodiles then the chameleons (both were playing hide and seek). Fortunately we could bully the chameleons- look for them and hold a few. Got to hold many types and even fed them grasshoppers. I have a cool video in slow motion. Saw a bunch of snakes and frogs and millipedes and geckos. I don't remember the assortment of varieties 😱 but there were lots.
Our guide caught a few of these monsters. No way i was brave enough to hunt/grab them
This country reminds me of India. The rice fields + cows. The narrow roads with no pavements and people everywhere. The small shops with coke/pepsi/cell phone carrier adds (also Airtel) + selling samosas and biscuits. Except cleaner.
After Peyrieras we continued to Andasibe.
The highlight was the Indri- the largest Lemurs (easily identifiable since they have no tail). The baby clings onto the mothers front for the first 3 months then switches and clings onto the back till 6 it's months.
We saw this stick insect, Diablo something because the female eats the male after mating Nature can be weird ehhh all the dumb males line up for that?
Giraffe long neck beetle. Wonder how it got its name?
That night we went on a 'night walk' to see the nocturnal animals. It was just an hour roaming close to the road armed with a torch but it was fun! We did manage to see a mouse lemur ... don't ask how our guide saw it. It's a tiny creature he spotted it clinging to a branch. Anyway this species was discovered fairly recently I think 2005? Mouse lemurs are tiny, 40-48 grams and are solitary.
Went to Mantadia national park it's about 16,000 hectares.
Saw a lot of black and white ruffed lemurs with the bushy tail, they acted like monkeys grooming one another and licking their tails etc. Walked and trekked for 3 hours maybe.
Checked into Vakona Forest Lodge and had a yum lunch at the hotel. We had heard so much about the local delicacy Zebu so ordered Zebu steak with much excitement. It's basically a cow ... beef steak so it was good.
Ramdon tree near the hotel which I liked, and god know what moth but it was huge almost as long as my fist (and then the tail)
Went to a nearby reptile park in the afternoon and saw more chameleons and geckos and wild ducks. Most of these species (95% of which are endemic) we saw in Peyrieras and on our night walk yesterday.
Fun facts ::
- Did you know the gestation period for some chameleon eggs can exceed 400 days?
- the Palissandre tree is one of the most expensive local timber and used to make furniture.
- The biggest animals in Madagascar are the Nike crocodile and Zebu. Both animals were brought in …. not native to the island.
The Nile crocodiles lay eggs 50 cm beneath the sand .... then they're collected and put in incubators. If it's over 30 Celsius it's a Male, less than 30 is a Female.
The baby crocs are kept in baby enclosure till they are 2, then moved to the middle enclosure till the age of 12.
The Foosa really exist .... and they don't look like wild cats more like big mongooses. Again, this species is endemic to Madagascar but hard to see in the wild. You would have more luck seeing them in some western regions but their biggest threat is habitat destruction.
The Foosa are the largest carnivorous mammals on the island, and one of the few predators (probably why there used to be so many Lemurs)
Next was Lemur Island. It was completely touristy but lots and lots of fun!! We crossed the little stream by canoe and got up close and personal with a few lemurs (these were the domesticated + greedy ones). Then we walked around the island and took a canoe ride + managed to spot a few more.
On our canoe ride we saw 3 golden sifaka plus a smalley.
The small lemurs were bamboo lemurs, they just hung around the trees and liked being fed. The Common Brown lemurs were the larger chaps who jumped on our shoulders and were only interested in (and not shy in taking) food. They seemed to love banana. We also saw a few black and white raft lemurs who were as usual being antisocial higghhh up in the tree tops.
common brown lemur.
Nmom nom nom
Spent our last day near Andasibe trekking. Saw more black and white raft lemurs and also the golden lemurs (diademed sifaka)
The forest of Mantadia is just a small part of the whole (and extremely endangered) ecosystem. Over the past decades the forest has been chopped + burnt + cleared down to make way for agriculture and timber logging. A bit of the national forest is preserved in these parks but not enough. Most of it will be gone in the years to come along with the wildlife .... most of which can't be found anywhere else on earth.
Here are some pics of the trek. Well it was supposed to be a 5 hour trek, it was more like a 4 hour walk with an hour of trekking but hey it was lots of fun.
Nope that's not a plant.
Indri (babakoto) the largest lemurs wake up late and sleep early. Lucky buggers. When primates (all animals actually) move around their digestion slows as energy is diverted to heart and muscle ... so they also spend a lot of time resting to digest their leafy diet of complex carbohydrates. Again lucky buggers. Somehow they can leap 10 meters horizontally.
They prefer young leafs but also eat fruit/flowers. Indri cohabitate well with other lemurs in the forest because they eat different parts of the tree. (the picture below explains it well). Good thing ... since the 'island' was basically forest and full of lemurs there being not many predators and all.
Indri live in family groups of 2-5 individuals. The adult male and female stay together for life with the female being dominant and decides which direction the group will take thru the forrest. The male defends the family from danger.
As most lemurs are the Indri are endangered. They are found only here since the island broke away so many millions of years ago during the Jurassic period. The indri have one baby every 2-3 years + don't breed well in captivity which makes it extra important to look after them in their natural habitat.
We were done just before lunch and started what felt like a long drive back to Antananarivo even tho it was only 150ish km. Stopped and had a not very nice zebu steak and rice for lunch.
When we got into Tana I needed to exchange more money. Most banks and currency exchanges (went to 4) don't accept $100 bills which is all I had. What to do? Either use an ATM or exchange money at the airport again. I asked about using my credit card to withdraw but that rate was terrible. Surprisingly the airport rate the next dat was the best there was so it all worked in our favour.
Went to a cafe nearby for dinner and hit the sack early, tomorrow would be an early and long day.
Early 0315 wake up for a 0415 checkout. It was too early for breakfast so the hotel packed somethings small for us, a croissant and a chocolate pastry of some sort and juice. No traffic as expected that time of the morning but there were quite a few people on the road, including a few sports/football teams starting.
TNR domestic was a basic terminal as expected, we needed to show the e-ticket and passport to enter. Two check in counters ... which merged into one so that took a while. There were 2 ATR flights leaving around the same time and our flight was full. Security check was super quick and easy (no taking out laptops and blah blah) and the waiting area was big enough. It had a basic cafe and comfortable wooden seats. Boarding announcements were mainly done in French and Malagasy, ours didn't have an english announcement in fact I only heard one in English for the flight before ours. There were no information screens of any sort in the departure area so good thing there were only 2 flights and only one gate to board from. No aerobridges or buses ... you walked on the tarmac and could take pictures! How civilised.
That's not our plane, in fact I don't think it was going anywhere nobody was left in the waiting area. The terminal is the one on the right.
5R-EJB = ATR72-600
TNR = Antananarivo , Ivato International
DIE = Antsiranana , Arrachart Airport
Quick flight, around 1:20 mins? We got a decent raisin roll and choice of water/coke/tea/coffee/hot chocolate. The magazine was pretty funny..... and not translated particularly well. My first 72-600 ride! Couldn’t tell any difference whatsoever over the -500 😬
Diego-Suarez is one of the county's 6 provinces and how the airport got its brilliant IATA code. DIE The province was named after the 2 Portuguese chaps who went there howmanyever years ago. Now Antsiranana means 'north something' and has a big naval base.
That's the entire airport. Bags arrived on a single conveyor belt and we were out in 5 minutes.
On the way stopped to see a few local residents.
Our guide and driver met us and we set off to Hotel Nature Lodge to check in. The rooms weren't ready but it didn't matter we had some refreshment a yum mangoish juice (forgot what it was), a few snacky things then changed into sneakers got lunch packed (sandwiches) and set out for the day activity. Today would be around 4 hours of walking.
Amber Mountain National Park - in Diego Suarez
Didn't see much wildlife today but had an amazing guide and learnt a lot about the forrest, the trees and the ecosystem. For me the hierarchy is animals-habitats-birds. Sorry bird lovers But our guide talked about trees and plans and birds and fruits and vines and whatnot ... he was super informative.
Fun facts ::
- This is a rain Forrest, the trees all have moss due to the moist climate.
- There are 176 types of palms, the one we saw the most was the travellers palm. Which isn't a palm at all it's part of the banana family.
- It's very hard to find ant nests on the ground, they are in the trees because of the humidity and to keep their home safe during rainfall.
- One of my favourite trees the Jurassic tree is actually a fern - an ancient tree fern not changed much from jurassic times. It grows verryyyy slowly around 5mm a year and it has no fruits/seeds so if it gets cut it dies.
Our picnic lunch spot.
Walked down to this lake formed on the mouth of an extinct volcano. There were a bunch of birds (don't know what) and after that we visited and a few waterfalls one of which was sacred to the tribe that used to live off this forest.
After a few hours walking (thankfully most of it was in the shade) we headed back to the hotel and took an afternoon nap. Leisurely evening chatting with fellow tourists and playing with 2 silly cats- there was no internet out here which was good.
Joined: 19 Dec 2011
Location: New Jersey/CCU
|Posted: Tue Jan 30, 2018 3:09 am Post subject:
|A fascinating photo journo. I like it.
Joined: 09 May 2007
|Posted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 10:30 am Post subject:
|Was fun to read. Madagascar looks like a fun place, great pics
Joined: 04 Sep 2009
|Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 8:17 am Post subject:
|Fantastic read NiT!
Causal Determinism : We are hardwired to need answers. The Caveman who heard a rustle in the bushes and checked out to see what it was, lived longer than the guy, who assumed it was just a breeze.
- Greg House
Joined: 16 Dec 2006
Location: Bangalore, India
|Posted: Wed Feb 28, 2018 12:04 am Post subject:
|What a fun trip. That being said if the sightseeing is basically animals and more animals, I'm not sure I'd be that excited. Glad you guys managed to get on a vacation - else the NiV acronym was getting stale
We miss you Nalini!
Joined: 28 Oct 2007
Location: New Delhi
|Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 10:35 pm Post subject:
|When I did manage to reads this extremely impressive first part, I typed in a reply...which does not seem to have made it. Damn it. My carelessness, I guess.
the fun in reading stealthpilot's trip reports starts from the witty comments (Madagascar, here), exotic routes, exotic planes, and loads and load of wildlife, natural beauty, and of course, man-made ones as well! And did I forget exotic food?
You do manage such a lovely history and geography tutorial, that it becomes very tough to put down, once one starts reading it.
What lovely history to put the geography into context!
An A343 these days...and that too an exotic airline like Air Mauritius. Wow!
Great job on the language barrier part with the unscruplous person's advances! Amazing...
And when it comes to the wildlife and greenery...you are simply beyond compare. Breathtaking!
Joined: 22 Dec 2006
|Posted: Fri Mar 16, 2018 4:59 pm Post subject:
|Superb Pictures and a lovely TR!!!
* Good you chose an ALT on DXB - MRU ....
* I feel for you on the vacation aspect ... A330 to A380 is a tectonic shift!
* Walking on tarmacs is my favourite thing ... glad you got to do it in TNR
* So it was "DIE" another day
Thanks for sharing ....
P.S is it the first time R has featured in your TR?
Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Location: BLR, DXB
|Posted: Tue Mar 27, 2018 9:57 pm Post subject:
|Thanks for going thru it Sabya + AmJo + RiS
Holidays were had, just never TRed them . It is a bit far but worth it IMO.
Thanks for the comments + the support and kind words as always sumantra.
|Good you chose an ALT on DXB - MRU ....
P.S is it the first time R has featured in your TR?
You can say that again
No idea, but maybe actually heheheh.
Joined: 16 May 2017
Location: Bangalore, Ann Arbor
|Posted: Fri Aug 31, 2018 8:58 am Post subject:
|Really nice TR!
Pictures from the wild were excellent.
The immigration experience you had at Madagascar, very interesting indeed. I thought that doesn't happen anymore, at least at Airports!
Nice pictures of the 340, a great aircraft!
|All times are GMT + 5.5 Hours
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