Madagascar - The 8th Continent
Past World Cycling Tour - 2010
Met a Japanese cycle tourist in north Alaska, and he talked about touring Madagascar. Years later, I had my chance. Madagascar is a big island, and my time not so big, so I chose the NE quadrant to ride, flying into Maraonsetra, the vanilla capital of the world. Then, I made my way south along rough old roads.
In many places, old bridges or ferries were no longer in place, but local entrepreneurs with canoes or rafts were always around to carry a bike and Canadian tourist across. As I made my way south, the roads improved, and I checked out Ile St Marie, a long ago pirate sanctuary, Taomasina, Madagascar's 2nd city, the lowland coastal area known as Pangallanes, and the national parks in the interior central highlands as I headed up back to the capital of Antananarivo (aka Tana).
Check out the SLIDESHOW
If you hover over the picture below, you'll see forward/backward arrows for navigating. Click on the slide to open in viewer mode (good to see text when viewing with small mobile screen). Some of the comments were packaged after my visit, and may no longer be current.
Madagascar - Route Map
This was not a high mileage ride, as the roads were pretty wild in the north, and I took breaks to relax and check out Madagascar's unique sites and wildlife. Flew into Antananarivo, aka 'Tana'. It was a night time landing, and I remember wondering that a major capital city didn't have the usual bright lights one expects when nearing airports. This was a time of political stresses in Madagascar, with several contesting Presidents. Most of the city was blacked out, with almost no traffic. Spent several days doing excellent walk-abouts through the city.
Flew out to Maraonsetra, a small town up the NE coast, with a decent sized airport due to the fact that it also happens to be the 'vanilla capital of the world'. I had some suspense getting my bike on the plane. It was harvest season, and you could literally taste the vanilla in the air. The only thing remotely comparable I've ever experienced was Manado, north Sulawesi, at the peak of the clove harvest.
From Maraonsetra I headed south along the coastal road, which from the get go was a real adventure. The seaside was beautiful and endlessly fascinating, dotted with tiny communities and farms. Most bridges were washed out, while some others added a little suspense to crossings (check out the slide show). Local entrepreneurs were waiting at almost every crossing to paddle travellers across to the next stretch. My bike got over a dozen canoe rides, and a couple of old ferry rides. Some coastal stretches were a real slog due to deep sand.
(continued after map)
A few hundred years past, Ile St Marie was the feared pirate HQ for the Indian Ocean. Today, it's a tropical paradise where I kicked back for sun, snorkelling and eating. Then south to Taomasina (still called Tamatave by some, a holdover from French colonial days), Madagascar's main port and second city. Went out to several wildlife reserves, then took a boat south (see dotted line on route map) into the Canal des Pangalanes, a series of natural rivers, waterways and man-made lakes that extends for over 645 kilometres (400 mi) and runs down the east coast. Stayed in a wonderful resort, heading out by boat for daily adventures.
Then back on the bike to head west up into the interior highlands and Tana, with another multi-day stop over at a remarkable cluster of National Parks near Andisibe. Some serious wildlife viewing. Truly memorable.