Cooking in tongues savoring the world through food, trails and photos. gas monkey live


At the park office we got an English speaking guide, Joel, for the walk through the park. Joel explained the map of the park and helped us select a route. With Don’s faltering knee we didn’t want to do too much and selected a medium 3-4 hour route that included a lake and a couple of cascades.

Even in the dry season the park is quite green and pretty and was not as rainy as Lonely Planet indicates. According to Joel it hasn’t rained in the past 4 days. Today there is a mix of clouds and sun and windy with lots of cloud movement. It’s warm but a comfortable hiking temperature.

Down the alley of exotic trees planted by the French we stopped to look in the leaves for the smallest chameleon in the world. The same color as the leaf litter you wouldn’t spot (her), the male is smaller, unless you know what you are looking for.

While greener than any place else we’ve been in Madagascar, Joffreville feels shabby with metal shacks and worn out traditional construction. Locals seem more jaded, like they’ve seen too many foreigners. Not the easy “salama” (hello) we experienced in the West.

After the cancelled flight yesterday we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t get bumped on our flight today from Antananarivo to Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). According to Hervé here in Joffreville the Prime Minister was using the planes and Air Madagascar had to cancel all the flights.

The airline sent an email at 7PM last night stating that our flight today had been moved up from 7 to 6AM and that check-in would start at 4:00. Wanting to be near the top of the queue we arranged for a 3:30 transfer from the hotel. The hotel was a little slow with the breakfast box (warm pastries, yogurt, cheese, ham and a banana) we had ordered the night before and the transfer left around 3:40, but still we arrived plenty early and were about the forth group in the queue at 3:50. Check in didn’t start until closer to 4:30.

The smallish plane was full, but I was thrilled to be in the air and on our way. We would land in Antsiranana ahead of schedule and continue on our itinerary as planned. A direct flight, it never occurred to me that the luggage might not make it. For whatever reason they didn’t load all the baggage and about a dozen people, including me, were left without baggage.

When our bag didn’t show up a woman in baggage claim jotted our information down on a piece of paper. I was somewhat concerned as we were not staying in Antsiranana, but Joffreville about an hour away. I and another woman, Katia, a Swiss, were staying at the same hotel, the Litchi Tree. They told us they would deliver the baggage later that same evening or more likely the next day. I didn’t know what to think.

Later that day at Amber Mountain National Park we run into Katia along with her guide. Her guide, not realizing that we know Katia, explains the situation in Malagasy to our guide, who then tells us that she has big problems. The travel agency told the guide that the bag is lost and he doesn’t know how to tell Katia. Now I’m really worried about my bag.

That plan changed when Gary, the owner of Chez Maggie, informed us at breakfast that our flight had been cancelled. Apparently the Finance Minister had commandeered the plane from state-owned Air Madagascar for his own travel. Worse yet there are only 2 to 3 flights per week from Morondava back to the capitol and we had a flight out of Tana to Diego, a city in Northern Madagascar, the next morning.

We spent the rest of the morning waiting and chatting with the other stranded guests, 2 American nurses doing a bit of traveling after a volunteer project with Smiles and a group of Francophones – 3 French and 1 Belgian – at the end of a tour. Coincidently all 6 of them were flying back to Paris in two days. It was fun exchanging travel experiences and practicing some French. Everyone has a story to tell in Madagascar.

It took some haggling to get all the French to agree to a charter and then get their travel agency to pay for it, but in the end it worked out and we had a 9 seater for the 8 of us for 475 Euro per person, about double the Air Madagascar price, which Air Madagascar did refund.

When we arrived in Tana they rolled out the red carpet, literally. The airline office was the snazziest place I’ve seen on the island. Smelling of lemons, fresh and clean, the waiting room is furnished with sleek black leather furniture. The bathrooms have sparkling glass countertops.

The air-conditioning wasn’t working and although there are fans in the room, the electricity goes off between 3:00 and 6:00AM. With no air movement at this hour (windows are kept closed for security) it is way too hot in the room to sleep comfortably. Wifi is available only in the common areas.

The shower was fine with plenty of hot water. A note in the room explains that they run a special pump in the mornings and evenings to regulate the water pressure. Outside of these hours they can’t guarantee the water pressure provided by the city will be adequate.

They have a broad selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, but it’s hit or miss as to the quality of the preparation. We liked the salads. The jardinière included plenty of vegies – grated carrot, sliced cucumber, tomato, etc. The fruits de mer had crab, smoked fish and shrimp.

Gary Lemur, an American, who runs Chez Maggie as well as Remote River Expeditions did us and some other guests a big favor by organizing a charter flight back to Tana after Air Madagascar suddenly canceled our flight. See the following post for details.