Saturday, October 29, 2011

We got up to leave a little early today. When we had been at the park entrance the other day a little after 7, we saw a long queue for cars trying to cross the river, and the ferry held only a couple cars, so we were trying to avoid the queue. We left at 6:30, and were one of 3 cars on our ferry, with 2 cars on the ferry immediately proceeding us. Being Type A personalities, we thought of this as some sort of race, nevermind the fact that for most of the drive we couldn't go over 30 km/hr and that there was no passing lane anyway. Oh, and we weren't driving the car in any event. Neverminding that, we were happy when we passed the 2 cars from our boat a little while after the Manambolo river when they stopped for what we assume was a bathroom break.

Since the scenery was the exact same we saw the other day, we lookd for items that we might have missed. There were some fire-red trees every so often - alas they were too far away to tell if the red was from flowers or from a flush of new leaves. TV had mentioned a tree named Hildegardia that got a flush of bright red leaves - perhaps these were they? We also saw many more Hyphaene's, all of which must have been very tough for getting through so many fires. There were no Baobabs; we wondered when we would first see one on the drive south.

About halfway between Bekopaka and Belo Tsiribihina (pronounced Sira-beena) we saw the two cars from the boat that crossed before we did. They had stopped for some reason, and were just starting up as we came up behind them. Richard was able to pass one of them (by taking an alternate path through the dirt which proved to be faster) but not the other. We got the impression that he wanted to be "first" as well, but for a different reason. Being first in a group of cars means no car is kicking up dust in front of you, and since all the cars "air conditioning" was rolled down windows, not driving behind dust has major advantages. We were stuck behind the same car the rest of the way to Belo Tsiribihina, resigned to eat its dust. We did see the first couple Baobabs about 3 hours out of Bekopaka, about an hour before Belo Tsiribihina.

We had lunch in Belo Tsiribihina, which we hadn't expected, but made sense as it was the only city around for hours in either direction. The issue was that it wasn't even 11am yet. The lunch was good, with grilled zebu steaks and pommes frites. We were the second (boooo) people in the restaurant, but over the hour we were in there numerous SUVs showed up and numerous white tourists poured into the restaurant. We suppose the local folks are used to this, with almost no car traffic save for an hour in the middle of the day. After lunch we walked around for about 10 minutes to check out the local markets and stores along the main drag. There was a large market, which we'd call in a Farmer's Market in the US. Here, and probably most places outside the Western world, its just a market.

We drove down to the river to board the ferry for the south side of Belo Tsiribihina, and something interesting must have been going on, because on our drive a whole horde of children ran by and veered off to the left of where we were waiting for the ferry. Once down at the river, we looked left and there were hundreds of people sitting and standing on the riverbank, only we couldn't tell what for. Our best guess - and it was only a guess - was that they were waiting for the equivalent of the UPS truck to come.

We were the first car onto our ferry, which consisted of a double-canoe covered with wood planks to make a platform, lashed to another double-canoe with its own wood planks. When we got on, there was only the single canoe, we saw them lash the second canoe on while we were waiting for the ferry to fill up. When they lashed on the second canoe, we were now on the "back" of the ferry, and we were also on the far left. So while we were the first on, we would definitely not be the first off. One of the vehicles that came on our ferry was one of the vehicles from our ferry ride in Bekopaka. Another of the vehicles was the French couple that had been on the same excursions as us in the Tsingy the previous two days. The ferry ride seemed to take a lot longer than when we drove in, perhaps because we were going upstream, and perhaps because we were right next to a loud and smelly diesel engine. No matter the reason, there were two boys walking along the riverbank that kept up with us for most of the 15-20 minutes it took to get to the other side.

When we got off the ferry, we were the 6th off out of 7. But we immediately passed one vehicle in town, since they stopped to pick up provisions, and another vehicle leaving town, since they got stopped by the military and we did not - we were up to 4th place. After a little while, we saw two of the cars stopped, with people out of the car. As we drove by, we saw that they were looking at a Sifaka that was in a tree right next to the road. Since we had already seen many Sifakas, we just kept on going, now in 2nd place. We couldn't see the vehicle in front of us, so at least there wasn't any dust, but we wanted to be in 1st.

The scenery south of the river had changed considerably, either because it just did or because we were now in the Kirindy Forest, which is protected land. The brush was much thicker now, and there were many more Baobabs. Also south of the river, the road was far better. Theoretically one can fly into Belo Tsiribihina on a small plane to cut the driving time. But since the drive from Morondava to Belo Tsiribihina goes faster, has better scenery (all the Baobabs, including Baobab Alley), and the grueling 4 hour drive from Belo Tsiribihina to Bekopaka would need to be done in any event, we couldn't see the advantage of flying into Belo Tsiribihina.

About 90 minutes south of the river, we passed the vehicle in 1st, who was stopped at a road stand. We were now in 1st, and weren't more than an hour or so from the "finish line" in Morondava. We were happily driving along for 15 minutes or so when the vehicle we passed now passed us on the left (the road was wide enough) at a fairly high speed. They got in front of us and then slowed down, which seemed to irritate Richard, who tried to pass them back. But they wouldn't let us pass, and we got a ton of dust in our face - bad times all around.

Just as we were entering the Morondava area, we veered off from the main road to go look at a special Baobab tree. It was about 3km off the main road, near a small village. It had a huge base, and looked like two giant Baobabs had intertwined and curled around each other. It was apparent that everyone stopped here, as after we stopped (again, we were 2nd) at least a half dozen other vehicles came by. All the tourists were very nice and polite, allowing the people who were "waiting in line" a chance to get photos with the tree first. We got our photos, then headed back towards the main road. In the village, however, we saw a couple of kids who had climbed a good way up one of the Baobabs, which gave an interesting shot.

Not long after we got on the main road, we got to Baobab Alley. Richard asked us if we wanted to stay for sunset. That would have been great, except it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. So we told him we'd just hang around for 10-15 minutes, and we could both get to our destinations (he lives in Morondava) early. Baobab Alley was again spectacular, with the sun a good deal farther to the side than a couple days previous, where it was almost overhead. We tried to get pictures from as many vantage points as possible, figuring it would be a long while (if ever) before we'd be back. Crystal saw a group of baby goats, and pleaded to get one (not one of these, but one in general) before Justin mentioned that it would eat all of our plants and the dogs would probably try to eat it.

Shortly after leaving Baobab Alley, we made a right turn and - voila! - we were on a paved road again. It was so nice to not being constantly jarred up and down and side to side. Even better, after a couple minutes on the paved road, we passed the vehicle that had passed us an hour or so earlier - first place! We got to the heart of Morondava in about five minutes, and it was full of people enjoying their Saturday afternoon. We were driving west, and we figured we had to be getting pretty close to the ocean. We passed the turnoff from the airport, and pretty soon we realized there were no more buildings coming up, so we were right near the ocean. We veered left, and drove along a coastal road that had a bunch of beachfront hotels. We couldn't remember which hotel we were staying at, so Crystal looked it up - the Palissandre. It was across the street from a bay, so we were on an isthmus with few neighbors.

When we got out of the vehicle, we could see a nice walkway up to the lobby, and a pool just beyond that, with the beach just beyond that. Also, it was probably closer to 75F than the 95F we had up in Bekopaka, with a nice breeze off the ocean as well. We checked in, and then had to walk through the sand to get from the lobby to our room. All of the rooms are individual chalets that are up on stilts from the sand, seemingly all with views of the ocean. We weren't sure whether the body of water was properly called the Indian Ocean, or whether it was the Mozambique Channel. We tried to think of whether we'd ever set foot in the Indian Ocean, and the only thing we could think of was when were in Phuket, but that might have been the Andaman Sea. Either way, the water was very warm, warmer than the pool at the L'Olympe in Bekopaka.

Our room had both a television and an air conditioner, both of which were welcome changes from the past several days. There was also a giant bed and giant bathroom with the largest stone sink we'd ever seen. We headed over to the bar and grabbed some drinks, but left after smokers sat down on both sides of us and proceeded to blow their smoke right into us - not exactly the relaxing time we were hoping for. At dinner, there was a band with an acoustic guitar and a bongo drum. We heard them play "La Bamba," which seemed a little out of place, and also a bunch of French songs that we didn't recognize.

Justin thought they should play some Bob Marley, with the instruments they were playing and the setting. Within 10 minutes, they had played both "Is this love" and "No woman no cry" - go figure. We made sure to videotape this, as it was one of those random events that you remember about your trips almost as much as the people you meet and the things you see.