At last Madagascar! More than thirty years ago, when I was export manager for Elf in Paris I was supposed to come here to settle some business matter with an important customer who decided to see things our way just a few days before my departure. The trip was cancelled of course and I have had to wait all these years before coming here.!
Madagascar is a strange place with strange animals, the lemurs, that are found nowhere else on the earth. The first humans to settle here came from Africa like all of our species, but instead of crossing the 500 km strait directly, they waited more than a hundred thousand years before coming very indirectly via Malaysia less than 2000 years ago.
Arabs visited the island during the first millenium but did not stay. Beginning around 1500, a number of attempts to settle the island were made by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British but the most successful seem to have been pirates of diverse origins who took local wives.
Trade with the Europeans led to the development of local kingdoms over which the Merina tribes of the central highlands gained hegemony in the late 18th century thanks to European weaponry provided by competing British and French agents. Eventually, after much intrigue and infighting between Protestant British and Catholic French missionaries, France became recognised as the colonising power in Madagascar in an agreement that recognised British sovereignty over Zanzibar in 1890.
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Antananarivo was a short hour and a half flight from Reunion. The first thing I did when I got here, was to confirm my onward reservation to Mahebourg at the airport office of Air Mauritius. Having been bumped off flights a number of times, I am now careful to confirm my reservations more than once whenever I can. This time, I was lucky again as the local Air Mauritius agent, Eric, had just finished his shift and he offered me a lift into town on his way home.
Eric even brought me to the Hôtel Roger which I had chosen in my Lonely Plant guide book as being "a good choice in the upper range of the bottom-end hotels". My room there was not too bad but it soon became evident that the place was renting rooms by the hour. I did not mind, my room was OK and it was not too noisy but my inner alarm system kept ringing when I went out to eat that evening, so I decided to move to another part of town.
I moved to the mid-range Hôtel Jean laborde right in the center of Tana (short for Antananarivo). It was more expensive but the service and the food were excellent. I can recommend it without hesitation.
The laborde was a friendly place full of regular customers. I met an interesting bunch of gem seekers and dealers who stay here when they are in Tana. Dealing in raw gems is a dangerous business here as it is everywhere, Colombia, Brazil, Myanmar, India or Australia.
Here, I'm having a beer, or two, with Dominique Réchain, the owner of the place.
The Place de l'Indépendence is the heart of Tana, banks and fancy shops are here. There are even two cybercafés in Ratsimilaho street that you can see in the center of this picture.
The Zoma Market, whose brown roofs can be seen at the bottom of the stairs from the Place de l'Indépendence, is a major attraction every day but more particularly on Fridays.
Here is another view of the Zoma Market. Unfortunately, there are no crowds for it was taken on Sunday when it is closed.
The broad avenue "Araben my Fahaleovantena" connects the Zoma Market at the far end with the railway station behind me.
Naturally, after the last picture, I just have to show you the railway station.
Moving now south of the city center we come to Anosy Lake with the monument to the dead heroes of World War I erected by the French when Madagascar was still a colony (and its young men made good cannon fodder...).
I often try to meet people on the internet before visiting a new country. Internet contacts, like François and Annie Folio shown here in front of their home, make me feel less like a foreign tourist and more like a friendly visitor.
Rice is the staple food in Madagascar and it is grown everywhere some flat land can be irrigated like these paddies around Tana.
There are flowering bushes everywhere, even around this isolated farm in the rice fields near Tana (that can be glimpsed in the background).
From Tana, I flew Toliara (Tulear) on the southwest coast via Taolagnaro (Fort Dauphin). This is a view of the flat land around Tana as we were leaving.
In Toliara, I stayed at the Hôtel Central on Boulevard Philibert (in the middle of this picture looking south).
Toliara's small museum was closed for repairs when I was there.
Unemployment is a serious problem in Madagascar, consequently, travellers have to be alert to avoid theft and ensure their personal safety here, like anywhere else in the world where desperate poverty is encountered. These jobless youths hanging out near the Toliara market are best avoided after dark.
Left, a market scene, right a big Catholic church.